Some Interesting Connected Home Stats

Click here to see the entire info-graphic.

- Rick

Ten Reasons You Should Dump AT&T Broadband Now

Last update: December 24, 2013

This article has had over 40,000 views! Thanks for reading it.

Over ninety percent of AT&T’s 10 million U-verse TV subscriber also pay for AT&T’s high-speed Internet services. While the U-Verse TV service is very good, there are many reasons you should get rid of your AT&T broadband now.


Ten Reasons You Should Dump Your AT&T Broadband Service

1. You’ll Save Money for at Least a Year

Broadband speeds vary, but there is a good chance you’ll save money for a least a year when you switch broadband providers. That’s because you can take advantage of special introductory offers. By switching from AT&T’s Elite DSL to Time Warner’s Standard Internet, we are saving $10 a month. But that’s just the first of many reasons to switch.

Netflix ranks AT&T DSL speeds next to last place

Netflix ranks AT&T DSL speeds next to last place

2. DSL Speeds Are Slower than Cable

We paid AT&T extra for 6Mbps, but rarely saw speeds that high.


Cable modem download speeds are typically two times faster than DSL.That’s because DSL providers like AT&T cap speeds at 3Mbps. To get faster data rates, we decided to pay extra for AT&T’s 6Mbps Elite plan, but Speedtest tells us AT&T’s is slower than 75% U.S. broadband providers. They give AT&T a “D” grade during peak usage hours. Our data speeds weren’t always that low, they sometimes peaked around 5-6Mbps, but the data rate jumped around so much, the average was often lower. A recent government study found that AT&T only delivers 87% of the speed they advertise, while Cablevision, Comcast, Mediacom, Verizon and ViaSat all deliver speeds that are greater than advertised. Netflix also rates ISPs and unsurprisingly, AT&T DSL ranks near the bottom of their ratings shown above. U-verse also underperformed cable-based broadband from Time Warner and others..

A recent government study found that AT&T only delivers 87% of the speed they advertise

A recent government study found that AT&T only delivers 87% of the speed they advertise

3. AT&T Seems Unable to Provide Consistent Data Speeds

DSL speeds should be more constant than cable speeds, but we found the opposite to be true. In the beginning, AT&T delivered speeds close to 6Mbps most of the time, but over the past four years we’ve seen our average speed drop dramatically. As you can see from the chart on the right, we’re not getting near the amount of data we’re paying for. Worse yet, AT&T’s data speeds frequently drop to almost zero.

Notice how our download speeds used to vary from zero to 3 Mbps

We wanted to believe the problems we were seeing were caused by a defective piece of equipment, but we’ve had techs from AT&T in our house three different times. The AT&T techs replaced our home gateway, DVR, set top boxes, connectors, splitters and other hardware, but none of the changes fixed our problems.

4. AT&T’s Customer Support is Horrendous

AT&T has the worst phone support I’ve ever experienced. They hide the customer support phone number on their site and then make you jump through hoops to get it. The site asks: Which of these four customer types are you? What is your Zip code? What type of support do you need? Then you finally see a ‘Call Us’ button. Now you enter AT&T phone tree hell. “I see you’re calling from 858-731-5252,” says the computer voice. “Is this the phone number where the problem is occurring?” “No,” I say. “Please say the 10 digital account number on your bill?” I say “I don’t know it.” “What type of service do you have? says the computer voice.” I answer.

Be prepared to jump through hoops on their website before you’re given a customer support phone number

I spare you the rest of the poorly written script. Often you’re presented with options that don’t apply with the problems you’re having and there is no way to go back — without hanging up and calling back again. I’ve had AT&T’s customer support line hang up on me before as well. The bottom line is that it can easily take 15 to 20 minutes before you’re able to talk to someone. Some of the AT&T Tier 1 techs are clueless. Be prepared to be asked to power cycle your hardware — even though you tell them you already did this before you called. Several times their network has been so bad they weren’t able to even analyze my hardware. In the end they always end up rolling a truck anyway because there is rarely anything they can fix over the phone.

5. AT&T Has One of the Lowest Data Caps & Throttles Those Who Exceed It

If you stream a lot of video, you are very likely to have your data speeds limited by AT&T. Most cable companies have limits of around 250GB, which isn’t that easy to reach. AT&T throttles users after 150GB a month. Although that seems like a lot of data, it’s not. If you stream movies or TV shows, or have kids who love YouTube, your family could consume more than this amount of data. Verizon doesn’t impose any type of cap on its FiOS and DSL lines. Time Warner has no specific limits, but can respond to excessive usage.

6. AT&T’s Network Has More Latency Than Others

We live in a new home that is hundreds of feet from the central office, so the quality of our broadband connection should be great, but we see horrible latency often. Occasionally these delays make it seem like we have to wait 15 to 30 seconds before web pages update. I used a site called Pingtest.net to prove the quality of the AT&T network in my area is poor.

Pingtest gives AT&T a “D” grade for line quality

The ping measurement tells you how long it takes a “packet” of data to travel from your computer to a server on the Internet and back. Whenever you experience delayed responses in Internet applications this is due to a higher than desired ping. A ping below 100 ms is expected from any decent broadband connection. You’ll notice I sometimes see delays as high as 150ms. That’s why AT&T gets a “D” grade here as well. Again, these results vary. Sometimes I see faster ping times, but this result shows how serious AT&T’s problems can be.

7. AT&T Doesn’t Allow You to Purchase Your Own Equipment

AT&T provides their subscribers with a home gateway or cable modem. As far as I can tell they do not allow consumers to select their own hardware from a list and use it with AT&T services like Time Warner and other service providers do.

We decided to purchase our own cable modem

This policy limits your options. Time Warner supports cable modems from Arris, Motorola, Netgear, SA, SMC, Thomson, Ubee and ZyXel. We decided to purchase our own DOCSIS 3.0-ready cable modem from Motorola after reading a large number of reviews on Amazon. This prevented us from paying a monthly rental charge, and will give us access to much faster speeds if we decide to upgrade our service plan in the future.

8. You Don’t Need DSL to Keep U-Verse TV

For the past two years we’ve wanted to cancel our AT&T DSL, but were told by their phone support reps that we needed to keep our DSL in order to get AT&T U-Verse. It turns out this is completely untrue. I wish we would have figured this out earlier. It would have saved us much frustration.

9. AT&T Hardware Doesn’t Support Advanced Wireless Technologies

If you’re a U-verse customer, you must use AT&T’s home gateway. The 2-Wire gateway that we were provided with has a built-in wireless router that doesn’t reach some of the rooms in our house. It also doesn’t support provide 5GHz 802.11 wireless support which is supported by our iPads and Samsung smartphones. This allows us to use a network that is much less congested than the normal 2.4GHz network all of our neighbors use. More info. The AT&T home gateway also doesn’t support advanced wireless features like 802.11n or wireless bonding (which increases data speeds).

After switching we saw our speeds go up dramatically

After switching we saw our speeds go up dramatically

10. The AT&T U-Verse Home Gateway Limits the Quality of Third-party VOIP-based Phone Systems

In order to get the best quality with VOIP-based phone systems like Ooma or Vonage, you must connect directly to a broadband modem or to a router that can prioritize voice over data. The home gateway which AT&T provides only allows this when you pay extra for AT&T’s VOIP service. Even without changing the settings on our router, our Ooma phone system already sounds better because it’s not starved for data all of the time.

Was It Worth Switching?

It’s been well over a year since we cut the AT&T DSL cord. Was it worth it? YES! Switching was fast and easy and saved us $120 in the first year.

After switching to cable modem, we saw our speeds go way up and all of our problems go away. Here are some more details:

  • Our download speeds increased more than 800% to over 16Mbps over Wi-Fi. Our download speeds over Ethernet are up to 27Mbps — even though we only pay for a Standard plan that is supposed to cap out at 15Mbps.
  • Our upload speeds now range from 1 to 3 Mbps.
  • Our latency decreased 80% from 150ms to 21ms.
  • Our data speeds are much more consistent and rarely jump around the way they used to.
  • We’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of our OOMA VOIP telephone service.
  • Our cable service has been very reliable. We’ve experienced only a few hours of downtime over the past 18 months.
  • It’s Time For You to Switch

    You owe it to yourself to investigate the alternatives to AT&T in your area. There’s a good chance you’ll save money and end up with faster data speeds. In less than a week you can switch. Installation is often free, and only takes about an hour. There is no configuration you have to do on your end. Just connect the cable from the new modem to your wireless router, and you’ll be enjoying faster speeds in minutes. Of course your mileage may vary, you might want to check with others in your area to see what their speeds are before making a change. In our case, switching was a smart thing to do.

    - Rick

    Note: This article isn’t intended to be a plug for Time Warner Cable. They are used for comparison purposes, because they are the only cable provider in our area. Make sure you look into all options in your area – including fibre-based broadband solutions like Google Fiber and Verizon’s FiOS.

    Copyright 2013 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.


    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    Optimizing Your Network for Multimedia Streaming

    Last updated: January 5, 2014

    This article has had almost 6,000 views. Thanks for reading it.

    How to Optimize Your Home Network for Multimedia Streaming

    Wireless devices can be found many places in a typical home


    Wireless networks can be found in almost every home and office. Setting up a Wi-Fi network for normal use is easy. But when you try to stream high-quality video, you’re likely to experience occasional stuttering or rebuffering. According to a study, almost one in five U.S. Internet users are unable to stream 720p HD video reliably. In some states, 40% of consumers cannot do this. When problems like this occur, you can do several things to improve the situation:

    1. Use an uncrowded channel – Make sure you’re not sharing the same Wi-Fi channel with others close to you. Many 2.4GHz wireless access-points default to the same channel when they are powered up. This can make congestion worse and lower your throughput. Download software like Farproc’s free Wifi Analyzer to get a visual picture of your network. It even tells you which are the best channels to use. Most routers will allow you to set the channel using your web browser.
    2. Utilities like this one tell you which wireless channels to use.

    3. Avoid overlapping channels – Use the channels 1, 6, or 11 when possible, because they are non-overlapping.
    4. Upgrade for more speed – If you have an 802.11b or 802.11g wireless router, consider upgrading to an 802.11n or 802.11ac router. Both are capable of faster data speeds and also support the less crowded 5GHz band. Some 802.11ac routers are capable of speeds over 1Gbps.
    5. The 2.4GHz band is much more crowded than the 5GHz band

    6. Use the 5GHz band if your devices support it – The 5GHz band is faster and not as susceptible to interference from cordless telephones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, Bluetooth devices and wireless keyboards as the 2.4GHz band. It’s also much less crowded and should be used as long as your devices support it, and you are not too far away from your wireless access point.
    7. A low-cost Wi-Fi Booster

      A low-cost Wi-Fi Booster

    8. Extend your range – If your problem is signal strength-related, consider using a Wi-Fi booster/repeater or wireless access point with better antennas like this one. By adding the $40 Wi-Fi booster shown on the right, I was able to increase my download speeds by almost 400%. An even better option for those who have a wired Ethernet network is to purchase a second router that supports 802.11ac. Make sure to set it up as an access point where you connect the first router to the port 1 and NOT the WAP port. Also make sure to disable the DHCP server. More details here.
    9. Consider wireless alternatives – When you’re having problems steaming HD video, you may want to consider wireless alternatives like HomePlug Powerline AV adapters. If you go this route, make sure your adapter is HomePlug AV-compatible so you can mix and match devices from other companies. According a recent article in Maximum PC, last-generation Homeplug AV 200 adapters were supposed to be capable of speeds of up to 200Mb/s. Even though they only got real world speeds were 60-70Mb/s, that’s enough for a single HD stream. Newer devices support the IEEE 1903 standard which is capable of theoretical speeds up to 500Mbps and real world speeds up to 100Mbps. These speeds are even faster than you can get over standard Ethernet wiring, so you should be able to stream multiple HD movies at once in your home using multiple adapters. Consider the TP-Link AV-500 TL-PA511KIT or eNetgear Nano 500 XAVB5101 adapters. Those are two of the best affordable adapters available today. Both should be capable of real world read speeds of over 62Mbps and real world write speeds over 54Mbps.

      Another good wireless alternative are MoCA adapters, which transmit multimedia data over coax cable. Both of these are capable of higher data rates and more reliable than most wireless routers.

    10. Test your download speed – If you stream media over the Internet, you should know what your download speed is. Even more important than the peak speed is the average speed. Watch whether the data rate is consistent, or fluctuates a lot. There are several good sites and apps which do this. More info.

    An Ethernet Over Coax MoCA Network Adapter

    Dual-Band Wi-Fi FAQ

    Do all 802.11g/n products support dual-band?
    No. 802.11ac was designed specifically for the 5GHz band, however, so it seems likely all ‘ac’ products will support 5GHz.

    Who makes dual-band routers?
    Most wireless routers sold over the past few years support dual-band. Examples include: Apple’s Airport Express, all ASUS routers (RT-AC66U, RT-N65U, RT-N66U and EA-N66) the Linksys N600, N750, N900 and AC1750 as well as routers from Netgear.

    Here are just a few of the smartphones with 5GHz Wi-Fi support

    Here are just a few of the smartphones with 5GHz Wi-Fi support

    Do you have a list of mobile devices that support 5GHz Wi-Fi?
    Here are a few of the devices which support dual-band Wi-Fi. Note: This list is not current. These days most mobile devices support 5GHz.

    • Amazon Kindle Fire HD
    • Amazon Kindle Fire HDX
    • Apple AirPort Extreme (2009 and later)
    • Apple computers with Wireless-N support
    • Apple iPad
    • Apple iPad 2
    • Apple iPad 3
    • Apple iPad 4
    • Apple iPhone 5 (and later)
    • Apple TV (2nd and 3rd gen.)
    • ASUS Nexus 7
    • BlackBerry PlayBook
    • Google Nexus 10
    • HTC Droid DNA
    • HTC Rezound
    • HTC Windows Phone 8x
    • LG Nexus 4
    • LG Nexus 5
    • Linksys EA-3500 wireless router
    • Linksys E-4200 wireless router
    • Linksys EA-4500 wireless router
    • Microsoft Surface RT
    • PCs with Wireless-N support (most, not all)
    • Samsung Galaxy Premier
    • Samsung Galaxy Nexus
    • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
    • Samsung Galaxy Note II
    • Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8
    • Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (and later models)
    • Samsung Galaxy S II
    • Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket
    • Samsung Galaxy S III (and later models)
    • Samsung Galaxy S III mini
    • Samsung Galaxy S 4
    • Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (possibly other sizes as well, but NOT the Galaxy Tab 2)
    • Samsung Nexus 10
    • Slingbox 500

    Where can I go to find out if my devices supports Dual-band Wi-Fi?
    Search for your device here. It’s dual-band if there is a “1″ under 5.0 GHz transmit and receive.

    Is 5GHz Wi-Fi faster than 2.4GHz Wi-Fi?
    It you refer to the chart below, you’ll see some routers are capable of higher data rates when using the 5GHz band. More info.

    Chart courtesy of Maximum PC

    Is there a downside when using 5GHz Wi-Fi?
    Yes. Not all devices support 5GHz Wi-Fi. Also, the higher frequency signals of 5GHz networks do not penetrate walls as well as 2.4GHz signals. This limits their reach inside some homes.

    How can you force your devices to use 5GHz Wi-Fi?
    ‘Forget’ the 2.4GHz network and connect to the 5GHz one.

    What’s better than 802.11n?
    802.11ac is a new wireless-networking standard which is capable of speeds that are almost 3x faster than 802.11n. You can learn here about it here. In addition to higher throughput, 802.11ac has wider coverage and improved power efficiency. Although real-world speeds won’t always exceed 1Gbps, 802.11ac should be capable of speeds of 500Mbps at distances of 50 meters. Apple’s Macs now include support for 802.11ac. All premium routers now include 802.11ac support as well. Asus shipped a laptop with support for 802.11ac over a year ago.

    Is anything else being done to improve streaming of multimedia around the house?
    Yes, companies like Qualcomm are working on technology called StreamBoost. When combined with 802.11ac, this is supposed to improve performance by managing network traffic. StreamBoost-compatible products let users to see all the devices connected to their network and monitor the real-time bandwidth usage of every device.

    What comes after 802.11ac?
    According to this blog, “802.11ad improves upon the wireless capabilities introduced in 802.11n. Ideally, 802.11ad will allow devices to communicate over four, 2.16GHz-wide channels, delivering data rates of up to 7 Gigabits per second, even for mobile devices with limited power, a significant improvement over both 11n and 11ac.” More info about 802.11ad.

    There are also people who say G.hn is the next big thing in home networking. It uses existing home wiring including coaxial cables, phone lines and power lines. You can learn here about it here.

    More about what lies next in networking.

    Another good article related to this topic.

    If you follow the above guidelines, you should be able to stream high-definition videos without problems. Let me know if I missed any good Wi-Fi tips.

    - Rick

    Copyright 2013-2014 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged. Network photo courtesy of Apple.


    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    Ooma Telo is the One of The Best Land Line Replacements

    If you’re still paying for local phone service, it’s time to switch to an Internet-based phone system. Over half of Americans no longer use a land line, according to government data. Internet-based phone systems let you to make long distance calls for a fraction of the cost of a traditional landline. In some cases, there is no monthly charge whatsoever. There are quite a few different companies offering voice over IP (VoIP) phone solutions, so it’s important you do some research before buying.

    What The Experts Say


    Speaking of research, I came across this blog post which compares most popular VoIP systems. After reading this, I decided Ooma was on my short list of products to consider. This wasn’t the first I’d heard about Ooma. I first heard about the Ooma Telo at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters. One of their senior technical managers told me he was using Ooma at home and recommended it highly. I also noticed Consumer Reports ranked Ooma as the #1 phone service. In their study, Ooma beat Skype, Verizon FIOS, Vonage, Cox, U-verse and all other VoIP services. These two recommendations were all I needed to take the plunge and purchase an Ooma Telo.

    How Much Will You Save?


    Phone rates vary. I was paying about $45 a month for my landline. The Ooma website has a nice little calculator, which estimates how much you will save using Ooma. In my case, the savings were considerable. I’ll save at least $1245 dollars over a three year period. Also, my Ooma hardware will pay for itself after only 5 months, not 7 months as the chart shows. That’s because I paid only $180 after tax and shipping.

    Ooma Pros

    This is a partial list of the advantages Ooma has over a conventional landline and other VoIP systems.

    • Unlimited free local and long distance anywhere in the U.S. Save hundreds of dollars a year over the cost of a conventional landline
    • Ooma Telo Handset

      • Does not require a computer like magicJack or Skype. This results in extra savings because your computer does not need to be left on
      • Better voice-quality than Skype, magicJack or any mobile phone
      • You can use your existing wired or wireless phones with it
      • Cheaper than Vonage – Even with the hardware cost and the optional $10 a month Premier Plan, Ooma is still often cheaper than Vonage for a year of service
      • Setup is easy and only takes about 10 minutes
      • Has an built-in answering machine for voice-mail. Caller ID, voice mail, call waiting are all free
      • Doesn’t have the annoying delays that VoIP systems like Skype sometimes have
      • Has a wide range of features and accessories, including a wireless handset, wireless adapter, Bluetooth adapter and a mobile HD app

       

      How Good is the Sound Quality?

      If you use Ooma with a good DECT 6.0 wireless phone, it sounds much better than Skype, magicJack or any mobile phone. It would probably sound even better, if the 2-Wire Gateway provided with AT&T’s U-verse service allowed me to give Ooma priority. Even with Ooma sharing bandwidth with everything else on my crowded network, I never get any echos or delays. Is it perfect? No. Occasionally, I hear other artifacts and small dropouts, but they aren’t very obvious and normally go away after a few seconds. I also bought their Ooma Telo handset because I heard it had even better sound quality, but it sounds a lot like my Panasonic phone. Since I’m signed up for their Premium package, I can have two different conversations going on at once. I have noticed the sound quality does drop when I do this, but it’s still acceptable.

      Ooma Cons

        No system is perfect. Here are some of the negatives of the Ooma Telo system.
      • Higher initial cost than most other VoIP systems ($179 currently)
      • Ooma is not entirely free. You still have to pay monthly taxes of $3 to $4
      • Some cable-based phone systems have slightly better voice-quality than VOIP systems.
      • Ooma does occasionally have short drop outs in sound. You hear these most often when you're listening to your messages.A loud click occurs when the Ooma answering machine starts recording
      • International calling costs an additional $9.95 a month for 1000 minutes. Right now, you can call Canada is free3-way calling and some other optional features cost an extra $10 a month
      • Not as good for travel as magicJack or Skype, because it requires a 5.5” x 7.5” box

       

      Ooma is not entirely free. There is a small monthly fee.

      Activating Your Ooma Telo

        Setting up an Ooma system takes about 10 minutes. First you go online to Ooma.com/activate.
      • Next, type in the activation code found on the back of the Ooma Telo box.
      • Then enter the area code for your new Ooma phone number. It doesn't have to be the same as your old area code. If you want to keep your old phone number, you must pay a one-time $40 fee which  is waived if you subscribe to Ooma Premier.
      • Now enter your contact info and address. This is used for 911 services.
      • Next, enter your billing information. This is used to pay your monthly taxes and any upgrades you decide to add.
      • Finally, select a password and answer a security question.

       

      Setting up an Ooma Telo is easy

      System Setup

        Once you’re activated, you’re only three steps away from making a phone call:
      • Connect your Ooma Telo box to your cable modem, DSL modem or home gateway. Although it’s best to connect your Ooma box between your modem and router, it works fine if you connect it to an integrated modem/router.
      • Connect your corded or cordless phone to the Ooma box.
      • Power up the Ooma Telo and wait for it to update its software. This took 5-10 minutes on the first Ooma box I installed and was not required on the second one.

       
      That’s it! Now you’re ready to make free local and long distance calls. When you turn on your phone you should hear Ooma’s special dial tone.

      Is Ooma Right for Everyone?

      No. Ooma is a good system but it’s not right for everyone. VoIP-based phone services are not ideal for:

      • People who can’t lose phone service when their power or Internet is down
      • People with alarm systems that communicate via landline. Ooma recommends you maintain a basic landline  for the purposes of your alarm system, or move to a cellular-based alarm panel
      • Someone who doesn’t want to have their Ooma answering machine in the same room as their modem or router. Installing a Ooma Wireless Adapter or HomePlug network addresses this problem
      • Those with wireless phone systems where the base station can’t be moved near the Ooma phone box
      • Those without a high-speed Internet connection (like all other VoIP systems except cable)

       

      Scare Tactics

      Porting your phone number can be a little intimidating for DSL users.

      • They say you need to contact your broadband provider and request a dry loop DSL
      • They also warn there could be cancellation charges. No one I know has been charged for this
      • They also say it could take up to two weeks to port your number. In my case, it took about 4 days
      • They also warn your broadband or TV service could go down if the the port isn’t done correctly. We didn’t lose service.
      • They also say you must call your phone company after the number port to cancel your service

       
      I’ve done two separate number ports so far, and had no problems with any of the things listed above. Both were in homes with DSL and an IP-based TV system (e.g. AT&T U-verse). The only thing that you should be aware of,  is the fact your communications bundle pricing could go up if you got a discount for bundled phone service before. Normally this will be about $10.

      Ooma Extras

      Ooma charges $10 extra a month for their Premiere features. The Premiere package has so many features, I can’t go into them all here. I listed a few highlights below. You can read about the rest here.

      • Instant Second Line  – Allows you to make or take two simultaneous calls from a single phone number
      • Blacklists – Help you block telemarketers. This is one of my favorite features and the main reason I spent the extra $10
      • Multi-ring – Lets you answer calls from your home phone or cell phone
      • Message Screening – Allows you to listen-in as the caller leaves their message
      • Send to Voicemail – Allows you to transfer a call to your voicemail
      • Voicemail Forwarding – Lets you forward voicemail, so that you can listen to it from your favorite email program
      • Do Not Disturb - Allows you to roll your calls into voicemail without ringing your phone
      • Personal Numbers – Allows you to select additional phone numbers in any calling area in the U.S.

       

      Summary

      I’ve been using Ooma now for about six months and have no major complaints so far. My only gripe so far is the loud click the person calling you hears when you pick up the phone (or the answering machine starts recording). No one in my family has said much about the switch so far, which is good news. I love the ability to blacklist telemarketers, and have it setup so they hear a disconnected number message when they call. The bottom line is, Ooma Telo a good replacement for your landline and the savings are substantial.

      - Rick

      Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

      Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

    Connected Home Best Practices

    Last update: February 17, 2013

    This article has had almost 300,000 views! Thanks for reading it.

    Back in 2009, there wasn’t much information around to help people set up a home network for multimedia, so I wrote an article called Connected Home Best Practices. This is an updated version of that article.

    Connected Home Benefits

    Before I get into any details, I thought I’d mention some of the benefits you might experience if you follow my guidelines below.

    • Watch all of your of your movies on any TV in the house without inserting a disc into a DVD player

      You can use a game console like this to access your media

    • Access your entire music collection of CDs and downloaded music from your receiver, computer, tablet or smartphone. You can even play different music in every room if you want
    • View any photo you’ve ever taken on any TV in your house or any mobile device
    • Drag and drop photos from Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket or Picasa Web onto a device to view them
    • Access your media 24/7 without turning on a computer
    • Copy media from your computers to mobile devices with needing a cable
    • Access all of your media from a game console
    • Have media automatically copied from your mobile device to your backup drive when you enter your home

    These are just a few of the things which are possible with a multimedia network and connected devices.

    Step 1 – Preparing Your Media

    This first step is to collect all of your media assets. If you haven’t scanned your analog photos and digitized your home movies, you should consider doing that first. If you have DVD  movies, you might want to consider converting those to digital files as well. There is already a lot of info on the Internet about this, so I’m not covering it here. Here are some important things to consider as you prepare your media to be shared.

    Some people digitize their DVD movie collections for easy access

    1. As you create your digital media library, try to use formats which are supported by the devices you plan to use. If you’re using AirPlay devices like Apple TV, you should use the following: AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV audio; JPEG, GIF and TIFF images; H.264, MPEG-4 and Motion JPEG video (up to 720p). More info. If you’re using DLNA-certified devices you should try to stick with MP3 or LPCM audio; JPEG photos; and MPEG-2, MPEG4, WMV9 video. More info.
    2. Avoid buying copy-protected media when the same content exists in a legal, unprotected form. Unprotected media is superior because any device can play it and you’ll never have to worry about losing your licenses.
    3. When ripping audio CDs, choose high-bit rate MP3 or linear audio (WAV) over FLAC or Apple Lossless (ALAC), because not every device can play these formats. If you insist on lossless audio make sure all of your devices can play the format you plan to use.
    4. It’s essential that all of your music files have accurate ID3 tags. Your media server uses these tags to create its navigation trees. If any of your music files are missing artist, genre or album tags, those artists/genres/albums won’t appear in the navigation tree. You can still access that media from the song list, but it’s more time consuming. Tip: Software like Tag & Rename, can convert filenames into ID3 tags.
    5. Avoid editing metadata using iTunes or Windows Media Player unless you’re sure the changes you make are stored in your media as a standard tag format. Older versions of iTunes and Windows Media Player stored changes in the local database, so they would be lost when a file was moved. It’s better to use specialized software like Media Monkey, which enters metadata directly into an ID3 or EXIF tag, so it can be imported by software on any Mac or PC.
    6. This drive backs up 2TB of media for only $159

    7. Create separate folders for each artist in your music library. Each artist folder should contain separate folders for each album. Each album folder should contain a JPEG file for the album cover. Normally this file is named “folder.jpg”. Your media server will use this file as album art. You can also embed album art in each music file as an ID3 tag, but doing this with file formats like WAV can cause problems with some media players.
    8. It’s a good idea to create separate folders for each year in your My Photos folder. Inside each year folder, you should have subfolders for different photo albums.
    9. You may want to also use software like Windows Live Photo Gallery to add tags or descriptions to your photos.
    10. And last but not least, make sure to perform regular backups of your media. After you do all this work, you won’t want to lose it.

    Step 2 – Selecting a Media Server

    1. If you want to access your media without a computer on, you’ll want to get a network-attached storage device (NAS). Make sure your NAS has an embedded media server. Beware of older or inexpensive NAS devices. Some of these have memory limitations or slow CPUs have problems with large media collections.
    2. Do not encrypt the data on your NAS (at the partition or at a file level). The performance hit which occurs when you do this  is massive and the drop in transfer rates is likely to cause problems streaming video.
    3. A NAS provides 24/7 access to your media

    4. Avoid using software like Microsoft’s Windows Media Player or Apple’s iTunes to share your media files. Premium media servers like TwonkyServer (and others) are faster and more reliable. They also support more devices and file formats.
    5. Make sure the virus scanner on your computer or NAS is not a CPU hog. Poorly designed virus scanners can cause skipping  problems during playback.
    6. Avoid running software firewalls like ZoneAlarm (unless you know how to configure them so they don’t cause problems). Make sure your software firewall isn’t blocking any of the ports it needs to function. Check the manufacturers’ site to obtain this info.
    7. Avoid storing media on a network share. It’s better to share content from a hard drive in the same device where the media server resides. Network shares increase the traffic on your network and can be unreliable.
    8. Don’t nest your media deeply under many levels of folders. Doing so, can slow down media scanning and increase the size of your media database.
    9. Be careful which folder you select as your watched folder. Do not select a folder your Operating System constantly updates, like a Temp folder, bit-torrent download folder, or the Windows System folder. A watched folder with lots of changes can slow down your media server.

    Step 3 – Choosing a Connected Media Player

    There is no single media player that’s good at everything. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Here are some suggestions which will help you to choose the right media player for your needs:

    1. Consider buying products which have been DLNA-certified because they normally undergo a higher level of testing than other connected devices. You can search for DLNA-certified products here.
    2. Not all DLNA-certified devices can be externally controlled. Make sure your media player can accept media which is pushed from your computer or mobile device. Many devices only can pull media using their remote controls. You can find a list of devices that meet this requirement here.
    3. If you’re having problems with a device, check to see if a newer firmware update addresses those problems. Keep in mind installing new firmware can create problems, so you should only do so if you know it will fix a problem you’re experiencing, or you can revert to a previous version if needed.
    4. The Sony PS3 is a photo and music player, but you can't beam media to it.

    5. Before using a game console as a media player, you should be aware of their limitations:
    6. You cannot beam media from your PC or mobile device to a Sony PS3 or Nintendo Wii. The Xbox 360 can accept pushed media, but only when it’s in Media Center Extender mode.
    7. Game consoles do not support as many formats as other digital media players.
    8. The Xbox 360 does not display all of the items in the Twonky navigation tree. As a result, you won’t see things like By Folder, Artist Index, Artist Album, Genre Index, Genre/Artist.
    9. Most game consoles, connected TVs and Blu-ray players can only play a limited number of media formats. Because of this, you’re often better off purchasing a low-cost connected media player, like a WD TV, which supports a wider range of formats.
    10. What to look for in a connected photo and video player

      1. Make sure your digital media player can automatically scale photos so they appear full-screen. Not all connected media players and TVs can do this.
      2. Apple TV handles pushed slideshows well

      3. The best digital media players, like the PS3, have nice transitions in-between photos and let you play music in the background while you are watching a slideshow. Xbox 360 has a nice zoom transition effect on photos. At this time, there are no media players other than Apple TV, which can display a continuous slideshow of photos pushed from a computer or mobile device. In most cases, a black or blue screen appears in-between each photo. If you experience this problem, use the remote which came with your device and select a folder of images to view. If you do this, you should see nice transitions between every photo.
      4. Don’t assume all media players can stream 1080p videos. Some can only play 720p, or have stuttering problems when they play 1080p.
      5. Don’t assume your connected TV will be able to play all popular media formats. Most DLNA-certified TVs can only play MPEG-2, AVCHD and a few other formats. Don’t expect 3GP, QuickTime, DivX, MKV or YouTube videos to play on these devices. If you want to play YouTube videos, you’ll need a Samsung TV, Sony TV (2011  or later), Xbox 360 or a WD TV Live.

      What to look for in a connected music player

      1. Should be able to play all popular music formats (e.g. MP3, FLAC, AAC/M4A, ALAC, WMA and Ogg Vorbis).
      2. If you don’t have a connected receiver you should connect a media player your stereo receiver.
      3. Don’t assume that all media players can accept music playlists that are beamed from computers or mobile devices. Some only allow one song to be sent at a time.
      4. Don’t assume all connected devices can have their volume changed externally. Most stereo receivers disable this feature.
      5. Look for media players which can be grouped so you can have the same music playing in different rooms of your home. Examples: Linn multi-room music systems, Philips Streamium players, Sonos ZonePlayers, etc.
      6. If you have a great stereo system, make sure your media player has an optical output or good audio converters (e.g. Linn products, Sonos Zone Players).

      What to look for in a media controller


      Your computer or mobile device can act as a media controller. They can be used like a remote to play/stop or skip media. They can also stream media directly to certain devices.

      1. Should work with DLNA-certified devices and AirPlay-certified devices like Apple TV.
      2. A good controller should be available for Android and iOS mobile devices as well as Mac and PCs.
      3. A good mobile controller should be able to automatically hand off it’s playlists to an always-on device like a NAS. That way playback will not stop when the mobile device leaves the network or goes into power standby.

      Network-related Advice

      Not all home networks are ready to stream high-definition video. Here are some suggestions which will make your home network multimedia-ready.

      Wired Network Tips

      1. Connect your media players using a wired connection when you have a choice. Wired networks capable of much higher throughput. Cat 6 Ethernet is up to 5 times faster than 802.11n wireless and less likely to have stuttering problems when streaming HD video. 802.11g Wi-Fi is fine for streaming music and photos, but can be problematic for HD video. The data-rate required for DVD-quality video is 9.8Mbps, while Blu-ray is around 40Mbps. Although it seems like a 54Mbps wireless router should be able to handle this amount of data, in reality, it probably can’t. Wired connections also don’t “drop” or have range problems like wireless connections do.
      2. Don’t back up your computer while you’re trying to stream HD video. This can cause videos to buffer.
      3. Don’t connect any of your PCs or devices to the “Internet” or “Uplink” ports on your router or switch.
      4. If you want to stream HD video over the Internet, check your Internet connection speed using sites like this. Most HD Internet movie streaming sites recommend a download speed of at least 3.0 Mbps.
      5. Use Cat 5e or Cat 6 network patch cords and cabling. They cost about the same as regular cable and could be a little faster.

      Wireless Network Tips

      1. Dual-band Wi-Fi routers like the Linksys N600, N750, N900 over AC1750 are better for multimedia streaming because they support the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The 5GHz band is much less prone to interference. Use the 5GHz band if your devices support it and range is not a problem.
      2. If you have problems with wireless devices on your network, consider power-line networking alternatives like HomePlug Powerline AV adapters. If you go this route, make sure your adapter is HomePlug AV-compatible so you can mix and match devices from other companies. According a recent article in Maximum PC, last-generation Homeplug AV 200 adapters were supposed to be capable of speeds of up to 200Mb/s. Even though they only got real world speeds were 60-70Mb/s, that’s enough for a single HD stream. Newer devices support the IEEE 1903 standard which is capable of theoretical speeds up to 500Mbps and real world speeds up to 100Mbps. These speeds are even faster than you can get over standard Ethernet wiring, so you should be able to stream multiple HD movies at once in your home using multiple adapters. Consider the TP-Link AV-500 TL-PA511KIT or eNetgear Nano 500 XAVB5101 adapters. Those are two of the best affordable adapters available today.
      3. Another good wireless alternative is Ethernet over coax MoCA adapters like these. Both of these are much more reliable than wireless routers. They are also capable of higher data rates. However, HomePlug is not without problems, it sometimes has issues with split-phase wiring and surge protectors. When using HomePlug, avoid using an AC power strip and plug the unit directly into the wall.
      4. If your wireless devices are having trouble seeing your media server running on your LAN, check your router to make sure that multicast is enabled.
      5. To increase performance, you should try to use wireless channels which do not overlap with your neighbors. If you have an Android device, you should download the “Wi-Fi analyzer” app by FARPROC. It shows which channel has the best signal strength.
      6. Try to place your wireless router in a location where it is as close to your media players as possible. Every time the signal has to pass through a wall it drops in strength. 5GHz wireless loses more signal than 2.4GHz when going through walls.
      7. Be aware that cordless phones, baby monitors, wireless security cameras and microwave ovens can all interfere with 2.4GHz wireless networks.

      Router Suggestions

      1. Having devices connected to both wired and wireless networks at the same time can cause problems. If you can’t see your media server or some media players on your network, this could be the cause.

        Free apps like this make it easy to see wireless congestion

      2. Use DHCP because it makes setup easier. Don’t use fancy network setups with multiple subnets and hubs. Doing so can introduce latencies that cause problems with UPnP data.
      3. If you want to be able to stream multiple HD videos at once, make sure there are no 10Mbps routers or switches on your LAN. Use Gigabit Ethernet switches instead.
      4. Some routers and switches work better than others for media streaming. Problems with media playback stopping or stuttering often go away when a new router or switch is used.
      5. Changing router settings can also sometimes improve media streaming performance. Before changing any router setting, make sure to write down the old setting, in case you need to go back to it. If you have a busy network, collisions can occur that reduce your throughput. Lowering the fragmentation threshold can improve performance by reducing re-transmissions. Try setting the fragmentation threshold to 1,000 bytes and see if that improves media streaming. Be aware that using smaller packet adds extra overhead, so you shouldn’t set this value too low. Setting the threshold to the largest value (2,346 bytes) effectively disables fragmentation. Do not change this setting if you are not having media streaming problems. Another parameter that some users experiment with is the UPnP Advertisement Period. Some claim lowering this parameter can cause devices to appear faster on the network.
      6. If your router has a setting to enable or disable UPnP, it’s important you understand what this setting does.
        1. “UPnP AV” is a streaming protocol that allows UPnP software to discover and communicate with other UPnP devices. If this is disabled, you may not be able to discover media servers or media players/renderers on your network. This should be enabled for proper operation.
        2. “UPnP IGD” (Internet Gateway Device protocol) allows software to automatic configure port forwarding for remote access. This setting does not have to be enabled to browse or stream media. In some countries this setting is disabled by default because it can make it easier for hackers to punch a hole in your router’s firewall and gain access to your network. Keep this disabled, unless you need to allow remote access and do not know how to configure this manually. If the router lists UPnP without more details it probably refers to UPnP IGD. Check its manual to make sure.

        The Final Word

        If you’ve made it this far, you know what you need to optimize your home network for multimedia streaming. I hope you find some of this information to be useful. If you have any additional suggestions, please leave them in the Comments section.

        Thanks.

        - Rick

        Thanks to Christian Gran, Jim Pfeifer, Angela Scheller, Cindy Vivoli, Ken Clapp and pcfe for also contributing to this article.

        Copyright 2009-2013 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

        Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

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