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Thread: New multi-room A/V system - Ideas?

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    Default New multi-room A/V system - Ideas?

    I could really use some help if anybody is willing. I have to start by saying that Iím not very worldly in the area of A/V, itís a whole new world for me and Iím doing my best to learn, but itís not easy starting from almost nothing (most Iíve ever had before it a TV and satellite box in the living room).

    I am refurbishing our home, itís an big old farmhouse and as weíre a large family (five children), I thought, while Iím ripping the plaster off all the walls, Iíd put in a multi room A/V system. Trouble is, I have a very limited budget once Iíve bought the TVís themselves, so Iím trying to figure out what I can achieve still.

    Basically, what I want ideally is visual and audio media in eleven locations (six bedrooms, guest room, kitchen, living room, play room and cinema room) and further if possible audio media also in the dining room and in the two bathrooms.

    I think I have TV and Satellite mostly figured out, with the exception of the cinema room anyway, my proposal is to use a Labgear TV distribution amplifier (similar to HDU681S but more outputs) with five inputs of two sky+HDboxes, the tv ariel, and FM ariel, a DAB ariel and 12 outputs (so I have one spare). This will only work with Coax, so only standard resolution (no HD), but except for the cinema room that is fine, and will delivery two sky channels, freeview, fm and dab radio to all the rooms, and by adding magic eyes and a global super plus combiner I can even control the sky boxes from each room if I want to. Total cost (excluding cabling) is about £300 plus the tvís in each room

    But that leaves me still with three main problems to solve

    1) I also want to be able to deliver recorded media to all of the rooms, independently, so mainly music (back-up cdís or downloaded music) and back-up dvdís, would also be nice to watch stored home movies and photos. Iíd like to be able to control the delivery of this media, in each room, with some kind of remote controller. Iíve considered
    a) Sonos Ė But for 11 main rooms plus a further 3 zones, itís going to be very expensive, and still wonít solve visual media, I do like that it gives me access to Napster though, and I donít know if any of the other solutions can do that, can they?
    b) Apple TV Ė Seems to have some potential, put one in each room, give each family member an ipod touch, but I apart from 11 apple tvís and 6 ipod touches, I donít really know what else I need to make it work, presumably some kind of central device with itunes running (can I link 11 apple tvís to one itunes) and can I put home movies and back-up dvdís into itunes?
    c) Other streaming devices like boxee or xbox360 or ps3 Ė Again, seems to have some potential, with one in each room, though less clear how to control the devices, although seems like they can handle wider variety of media and can use a standard NAS drive at the hub to store everything, but is it a better or worse solution than apple tv? Any thoughts?
    d) A central media server or media PCĖ Getting out of my league to understand these, so much content on the net, so many conflicting articles about how good or bad they are, and not clear to me what combination of central device and client device Iíd need and what costs would be, any support on options here would help, but again, I am looking for a budget solution.
    e) I even thought, what about just a laptop in each room, directly connected to the tv, either with itís own local storage, or also still having a NAS on the network Ė But naturally more expensive than b) or c) so probably not best budget option.
    f) what am I missing, or which of the above would be most stable and easy to use

    2) I need to figure out the cinema room Ė In there I want a projector and screen, and want to be able to watch the sky+HD and the HD recorded media, in HD, and have surround sound, 5.1, so how to integrate this with the rest, but have it in HD? Any ideas?

    3) If I can, Iíd like to be able to have a pair of corner speakers in each room, so the sound can either come from the TV, but also can come out of speakers instead, but I am lost how to achieve this (have never used speakers before, only tv). What is the difference between active speakers and passive speakers, how do I get the sound to go from my TV, to the speakers, what do I need in the middle and how much does it cost, or can I directly connect speakers to my TV, if so, what kind? I am not an audiophile, they donít need to be the worlds most amazing speakers, just basic room speakers to deliver a nice stereo sound, better than comes directly out of the TV itself.

    HelpÖ Please, anybody that has better knowledge than me, Iíd appreciate help on any or all of the above, and I going off in wrong directions, am I missing things that would do the job betterÖ Already the above is the result of nearly two weeks of surfing and trying to learn, going round in circles and feeling very out of my depthÖ. Am I making a mistake separating the tv from the recorded media, is there a better Ďall in oneí solution, on a budget? Hope someone out there might be able to help meÖ

  2. #2
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    Default extra info

    Specifically my requirements are to have:

    Audio and Video in 11 rooms, and audio only in a further 3 rooms which are linked with the same output as three of the original 11 (so just sub zones), ideally with the sources all being in a central hub (a rack in a cupboard). I want each media point to have independent control of what they watch or listen to, so in fact to be able to do 11 different things at the same time and control what they are doing with a remote, at the media point.

    As an idea of budget, excluding the cabling, projector, speakers and televisions, sky boxes and ariels (so mainly focusing on switches, remote controllers, IR extenders, servers, clients, drives, streamers, amps if needed) I am trying to come in somewhere between £2000 and £3000, the more complete a system, the more integrated and centrally controlled, the more functionality, the more I would spend I guess... Of course, if my expectations are entirely unrealistic, then I need to be told that and told what budget I should be looking at... I do however prefer to compromise on my requirements where possible, to keep within budget

  3. #3
    Automated Home Legend TimH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_m View Post
    What is the difference between active speakers and passive speakers,
    Picking-off the easy questions first

    Passive speakers don't have a power supply to them - you plug in speaker cable and turn the amplifier on. These are (perhaps) the more traditional type of speaker.

    Active speakers are powered - most computer-type speakers are active, as are iPod docks, etc. To get sound out you need to turn the speakers on *and* feed them with a "line level" or headphone-type signal.

    Be careful with subwoofers as they can be either type (or sometimes both). Make sure you don't feed speaker-level outputs into the "line-in" input...

    I'll have a think about the rest of it and come back with a more complete answer later
    In the meantime, I don't have experience of the Apple TV solution but if you were to use a PS3 you'd have local control in each room / zone and use the local TV to see what you're doing with audio selection and obviously watch DVDs etc. The PS3 also does allow you to watch the BBC iPlayer directly via the console as well as the ITV and 4od replay services too.

    Just one more thing to think about - what size / type of TVs are you planning for your remote rooms (e.g. bedrooms?). Sky distribution over coax will work but you'll be right at the bottom of the quality scale. It's probably fine for small portable sets but you might be disappointed with the picture on an xx" LCD / plasma.

    HTH,

    Tim.

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    Moderator toscal's Avatar
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    I would go for something like XBMC, Boxee is an offshoot of XBMC.
    Its quite feasible to build an XBMC system for about 300 to 400 pounds maybe less if you use ebay or get a good deal.
    For more info click here
    I have an XBMC connected to a NAS device in the garage. This has all our music, photos and films stored on it. It was a bit of a pain getting all the DVD's ripped and onto the server, but now as its only one or two its not bad.
    XBMC can store DVDs as either complete DVDs or in a variety of video formats such as Divx, Xvid, MKV and others. There is also a variety of plugins from BBC iplayer, TVCatchup and many many more.
    My XBMC is based on an Ubuntu 10.04LTS system, and works very well. My 7 year old daughter can use it with out any prompting.
    For control I use one of these
    Though this one might be better.
    There is also a plugin for the Sonos system for the XBMC.
    The Sonos system can be expanded as a later date. So I would select only a couple of rooms then maybe every so often add another room. That way you spread the costs.
    IF YOU CAN'T FIX IT WITH A HAMMER, YOU'VE GOT AN ELECTRICAL PROBLEM.
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    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your help so far, appreciate it..

    Starting with speakers then, as you have... If I want speakers up in the corner of my room, to replace the sound coming directly out of the tv, do I need passive or active speakers (I assume passive as I can't think how to get power to speakers that are up in the corner of the room)... And do i need something between the tv and the speakers, some kind of receiver or amp?

    They don't need to be anything fancy, just better than TV speakers, maybe multimedia PC speakers would do the job, but I can't see how to fit them into the corner of rooms as they seem only to be designed to sit next to a PC but I want to run cable up behind the plasterwork...

    Are there any speakers which plug directly into PS3 or apple tv that you are aware of? Or directly into a TV? Or that could be powered by CAT 5 cable which I could run up to the corner of each room I suppose? Or on my budget do I need to forget having speakers in the rooms because I actually need a receiver in each room to really make it work?

    With the coax delivering the tv, we will be using 26" LCD flatscreen tv's in each room... I have no idea what quality will be like, but I've been told that to distribute HD around the house (to rooms, some of need a length of cable around 50 metres long as we're going up into the loft first), would cost many thousands of pounds... So I want to find a way to get HD into the cinema room (don't know how to do that either though, as it's also 50m of cable from the hub) but probably have to live with standard res in the rest of the rooms...

    hope you can help further Tim, thanks.

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    Default xbmc

    Hi Toscal,

    I confess, I know nothing of XBMC - If I should see it as something akin to boxee, does that mean I need one of the described XBMC systems for each room in the house, plus the NAS drive? I assume that would cost more than 4k to set up, or am I getting it wrong?

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    Moderator toscal's Avatar
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    You need one XBMC per room, and then one NAS for the whole system.
    As for cost it all depends on the spec of the machines you use.
    My machines spec is 1GB of memory, an AMD 64x2 Dual core 4000+ cpu, dvd rom drive a 30Gb hard drive and a Gigabyte GA-68SM-S2 mother board. I was fortunate to have these bits and bobs just lying around.
    Personally what I would do is possibly look at a worst case scenario as regards to room occupation. If there is 7 of you in the house how many rooms can you occupy at once.
    Also I would think about only having maybe 5 or 6 XBMC that can be accessed from any room. These could be centrally located and then using possibly an iPhone or iTouch or web browser on any other device to control them. That way you could be in the lounge pause a film and then pick it up in your bedroom where you left off. You would need an AV distribution system, and I would recommend something that is based on CAT5 or higher cabling.
    It is also possible via an sql server to have a centrally located database for all connected XBMC boxes if you want.

    The one I have is from Abitana
    IF YOU CAN'T FIX IT WITH A HAMMER, YOU'VE GOT AN ELECTRICAL PROBLEM.
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    I think Toscal's suggestion is a good one. Look at how much you will actually need. It might be better to focus on making the main rooms topnotch and speccing the satellite rooms a little less.

    I'd also make this suggestion to use your budget wisely - couldn't you use the TV speakers instead of speccing individual ones for each room. For every room that used only the TV speakers I reckon you save at least £100 (speakers and amps).

    With that £100 saved you can buy an Apple TV for each room. You can install XBMC onto the Apple TV and these can then stream content off of you NAS. The Apple TVs come with remotes that can fully control XBMC, or if you have an iphone or ipod touch you can use them. So your cost per rooms are basically just TV + wiring + Apple TV (£100). This is pretty doable.

    As time goes on add extra speakers if required. If people are mainly watching TV it will be cost effective. If they mainly listen to music, then obviously the audio quality won't be as good and you'll have higher running costs (in keeping the TV on as opposed to an amplifier and speakers only).

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    Hi Rarem,

    All sounds like solid advice, thanks for that. Quick question then, I like the idea of the simple system you describe, and I understand you putting XBMC on the apple tv to widen up the formats it can cope with and allow use of a NAS drive, but can I install XBMC on the latest generation apple tv's or are you suggesting I buy some of the first generation machines?

  10. #10
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    Hi Steve - No, you just need to buy the second generation one, the little black one. It's very cheap, fast and quiet because it has no hard drive.

    You will need to jailbreak it and install XBMC onto it. If you don't know how to do this there are many tutorials online. Have a read, it's very easy but if you don't think you can manage it, then don't go this route as it will mean that it would be too difficult for you down the line. It is very easy though and you sound more than capable of doing it.

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