What I did after posting last night’s blog

I mentioned last night that I was forcing myself to finish writing a blog entry before I could get on with making iPlayer happen on my Freesat box. And having hit the Publish button, that’s precisely what I did.

It was a little more involved than that. In an ideal world, the iPlayer would be beamed from space into my satellite dish, down the cables through the cellar and then up into my Freesat box and onto the telly,  just like that. That would be awesome. But in the real world that doesn’t happen; you have to get the iPlayer off the internet like everyone else; hence the ethernet socket in the back of my Freesat box.

This presented a minor problem. My router’s at one end of the living room with a couple of PCs plugged into it. My telly’s at the other end of the living room, and up until now anything connected to it that needs to get online has had to do so wirelessly. There is a ten metre network cable coiled up behind the telly, but that’s for the very rare occasions when I need to put the other Xbox online. I already have ten metres of S-video and audio cables running from here to the telly; adding a permanent network cable would be pushing my luck with the other half.

What to do? I’d considered moving the router next to the telly so I could wire the Freesat box and consoles to it and connect the PCs wirelessly, but I’m reluctant to not have a PC connected directly to the router. So I looked into Homeplug options; slightly cynical about the idea of networking through the mains wiring, but then I haven’t really been paying attention to the tech since it was first mooted as a possibility in the 90s, and I had it marked as a flaky networking solution for people who don’t know about networking. For all I knew they might have got it working properly by now.

So I asked on Twitter and got a couple of very positive responses from people who know exactly what they’re talking about, and quickly acquired a pair of these. Got home, did my blogging duties and got to work putting them into action. There was a bit of faff sorting out plugs at the router end – these Homeplugs are a bit wide, and I couldn’t safely get one into a socket and a plug in the socket next to it, so I had to dig out an old four-gang and do a bit of rearranging. The other Homeplug went in next to the telly and was hooked up to the back of the Freesat box.

It couldn’t be that simple, could it? Well, yeah. It was. Looked up the instructions for making the iPlayer work – it’s a little Heath-Robinson while it’s still in the beta phase – and after a short pause I had iPlayer on my telly.

Now, I’ve tried the iPlayer on the Wii and it’s all right, but not broadcast quality. Since this version works online as well I didn’t have the highest hopes for it, especially as my downstream’s a fairly rubbish 2.5Mbps at best. Navigating the menus is really slow; I hope that when it comes to a full roll-out there’ll be a firmware update for my box that installs the iPlayer client instead of having to stream the whole damn thing.

Once you’ve found what you want to watch (not much choice at the moment; I presume it’s a beta thing) it’s amazing. Expecting disappointment and constant buffering I tried the high quality option for a laugh, waited about ten seconds while it did its thing, and last week’s Have I Got News For You appeared, as close as damn it to broadcast quality. A few artefacts noticeable after cuts, but nothing you could reasonably moan about. I didn’t really want to watch HIGNFY but I wanted to see how the tech coped, so I left it playing while I did other things, listening out to see if it paused to buffer. Not a bit of it. It’s an incredible piece of work.

If you have the means, I’d strongly recommend it; I think it only works on Humax FoxSat receivers at the moment but a bigger roll-out’s to follow, and an ITV player’s on the way as well. And I’m totally sold on Homeplug, too; next step, I think, is to buy a small hub to put by the telly, connect that to the Homeplug and then wire all my consoles. And maybe buy a tiny little PC that I can use as a networked media player so that I can retire the aged Shuttle that I currently use and get rid of the S-video and audio leads running round the skirting board.

That should earn me some brownie points.


1 Comment

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One response to “What I did after posting last night’s blog

  1. Mike H

    Yeah, forgot to mention the mahoosive size of the Homeplug devices. The Netgear ones even interfere with the switch if they’re on a wall socket. Would love to know what the Netgear designers plug stuff into in their lab!

    Been looking to replace the somewhat ageing Xbox (original) with XBMC, but there’s way too much choice right now. e.g. http://hd.engadget.com/2009/12/09/ask-engadget-hd-whats-the-best-way-to-stream-divx-from-nas-to/

    Finally, have to agree with the iPlayer on the Humax box. Amazing picture quality, but the menus need some TLC – hopefully debug/beta code as you mention.


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