A Superior Home Theater Network for 1080p Media Streaming

Getting my home theater network organized and running like a well-oiled machine is critical for me because when I have downtime, I want the best experience possible, instead of constantly rebooting devices to avoid buffering. I wanted to share how I got a rock solid and fast home network set up with three goals:

  1. High quality streaming of 1080p content from online services like Vudu, Netflix and iTUnes Movies on Apple TV.
  2. Streaming from in-home media servers (DLNA)
  3. Super-fast downloads of updates and content on media devices like the PS3

Solid Inter-room Networking

Of course the best solution for this is a house that is wired with gigabit ethernet  to all relevant rooms. Our house is older and like is the case with most folks, is not wired with ethernet (gigabit or otherwise) across all rooms. So the first challenge was how to reliably get high bandwidth network connections between rooms. The three things I tried:

  1. INFERIOR. First, I tried to connect each device (that supported it) via wireless to the home wireless router. The streaming was just not rock-solid and high bandwidth enough for 1080p. Bandwidth reported by TV and PS3 was in the range of 1.5 – 5 Mbps in my case. Just not enough.
  2. DECENT. I then tried using a router in “ethernet client” mode  - where it connects to the home network via wireless N, then provides four local ethernet ports, with the TV, PS3, Roku etc. connected by wire. Again, the streaming was just not rock-solid and high bandwidth enough for 1080p. Bandwidth reported by TV and PS3 was in the range of 3.5 – 10 Mbps in my case, a slight improvement, because positioning one device (the reverse wireless client device) is easier than trying to give multiple devices (PS3, Roku etc.) better wireless exposure via positioning. The device I had tried: SMCWEB-N  EZ Connect™ N Pro Draft 11n Wireless Access Point/Ethernet Client.
  3. SUPERIOR. I finally discovered powerline adaptors. The performance of these vary from house to house, room to room, but here’s what I got: rock-steady bandwidth of 200-300 Mbps, with much lower latencies. My device of choice: Netgear XAVB5001 Powerline Network Adapter Kit (XAVB5001). I tried various wall sockets (close to where I needed it) and checked bandwidth with a laptop in find which one gave the best performance. Wasn’t much variation for me.

Reliable Broadband Solution

Even though I am not a fan of cable TV (we use DirecTV for live TV today, waiting for the day when live TV is totally internet based – oh how I wish Google TV was available in Austin, Texas), I am a HUGE fan of cable modem for broadband from personal experience. We have Time Warner’s DOCSIS 3.0 based wideband service: 50Mbps down, 5bps up – it is ALWAYS at that level, barring an occasional service disruption (once a year or so). If you have something similar with fiber or otherwise that is at least a constant 20Mbps and rock-steady, you’ll be fine for 1080p streaming from the internet.

Services and Devices for Superior 1080p Quality

Below are my personal observations and preferences.

  • Vudu HDX – available on Samsung TV, and on the PS3. Do not use this anymore as Apple TV 1080p movies are a buck cheaper.
  • Netflix: available on Samsung TV, PS3, Apple TV, Roku 2 XS – I have discovered that the picture quality is best on the PS3. Apple TV and Roku are similar.
  • iTunes Movies: available on Apple TV – I use for all my paid content: movies, and TV show season passes or single episodes.
  • Amazon VOD – does not seem to be 1080p, although Prime has some things that Netflix does not. Actively use Prime from time to time, but not for paid content.
  • Hulu Plus – does not seem to be 1080p, and I dislike ads on a paid service. Canceled this promptly.
  • DLNA client for media streaming: I use the PS3 for this.
  • DLNA server: I use a Windows 7 laptop for this, with an attached 3TB USB harddrive.
  • Youtube on the PS3, and movie trailers on the Apple TV.

My Network Hardware List

Here’s the “parts list” of my home network (relevant to home theater and media streaming), including model numbers of things I actively use, by room.

Study (Internet access)

Cable modem: Ubee DDW3611 DOCSIS 3.0 (8×4) Wireless (802.11n) Cable Modem Gateway:  I have it configured as a cable modem only (disabled wireless and DHCP).

Wireless Router: ASUS ASUS RT-AC66U Dual-Band Wireless-AC1750 Gigabit Router.

Powerline Adaptor: Netgear XAVB5001 Powerline Network Adapter Kit (XAVB5001): one side installed in the study, from wireless router to powerline device plugged directly into wall socket.

Living Room (Main home theater)

Powerline Adaptor: Other end of Netgear XAVB5001 device plugged directly into wall socket behind home theater.

Gigabit switch: D-Link 8-Port Gigabit 16 Gbps Desktop Switch (DGS-1008G): Connected to powerline adaptor, and connects my TV, Apple TV, PS3, DirecTV HD DVR (via DIRECTV DECA Broadband Adapter).

Master Bedroom (2nd media room)

Powerline Adaptor: Single unit Netgear XAV5001 Powerline Network Adapter (XAV5001) device plugged directly into wall socket.

Gigabit switch: D-Link 5-Port Gigabit Desktop Switch (DGS-1005G): Connects TV and Roku 2 XS.

Sunroom (3rd media room)

Powerline Adaptor: Single unit Netgear XAV5001 Powerline Network Adapter (XAV5001) device plugged directly into wall socket.

Gigabit switch: D-Link 5-Port Gigabit Desktop Switch (DGS-1005G): Connects TV, Windows HTPC (DLNA server, USB drive with movies), Slingbox HD (connected to DirecTV receiver).

 

Feel free to share your experiences with setting up a home network!

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