Thursday, February 1, 2007

Whole-house video distribution on a budget

So, I finally "perfected" my distribution system for TV in my house, and I thought that my findings might be useful for others. The general idea is that I wanted to get the signal from two Dish Network DVRs and an HD OTA antenna to every TV in the house. This way, I could install an HDTV on any outlet I wished and also watch shows recorded on either DVR in any room. Any room with a TV, that is. Obviously, there are fancier ways to achieve this, but I wanted to keep it cheap.

I've had Dish Network for quite a while and always took advantage of the fact that control over tuner 2 on their modern receivers can be set to respond to radio frequency. Technically, you can set it up for tuner 1 as well. The general idea is that you can send the signal from tuner 2 to a remote TV and still control the receiver via RF without having to install an IR-forwarding system. So, the key was to figure out how I could combine the signal from both receivers and my HD OTA antenna. Then, I found this 3x8 distribution amplifier. It takes in 3 signals, amplifies all of them, and outputs 8 signals. Plus, it has the bandwidth to handle HD. This was enough to feed all of the TVs in my house. I left the amplifier for the OTA antenna in place as it is required to get a quality signal and added a second, one-input/one-output amplifier for the long run up to the attic for the TVs on the second story.

Since the OTA antenna picks up both analog and digital signals, I had to find channels for the signal from the Dish Netowork receivers with little interference. In the end, I opted for 63 and 69. Unfortunately, the signal degrades faster over the coaxial cable runs as the channels get higher, but anything lower had too much interference from the OTA channels. So, any TV in the house can watch Dish DVR 1 on channel 63 and DVR 2 on channel 69. Those with ATSC tuners can also watch the HD channels from the antenna. No HD feed from the one Dish DVR that does HD, but I can at least watch HD recordings down-sampled to SD. To watch HD from that receiver, I just use the primary TV hooked to tuner 1 via HDMI.

To make it easy to remember, I set the remote code for the receiver on channel 63 to 3 and that for the other on channel 69 to 9. By simply changing the remote code on the UHF Pro remote, I can control either receiver. Add a UHF Pro remote from ebay for each TV around the house, and you can watch whatever you like, wherever you like.

All-in-all, everything works quite well. The only major negative (depending upon your perspective) is that it leads to upgrading your other TVs to HD TVs. If you've got the signal coming out of every port in the house, why not have a TV there that can display it in all its HD glory! :)


Benoit Lheureux said...

I'm trying to do the same thing, but just for SD (we haven't upgraded to HD yet). We'd like 2 DVR's to simultaneously record up to 2 programs while watching 2 other live or recorded programs. The trick is distributing the output of *2* DVR's throughout the house. I can do that w/one DVR now. Any chance you'd be willing to discuss this -- after reading your informative post I'm still not quite sure how you pulled it off. Thx

Craig said...

If you are using Dish Network DVRs, you can set tuner 2 to output on one of many different channels. Let me give a simple example if you wanted to feed 2 signals to a single TV... 1) Set one DVR to output on channel 40 and the other to output on channel 60. 2) Attach coaxial cable to the outputs of both DVRs. 3) Combine the two coaxial cables using a 1x2 coaxial splitter that you would normally use to got from 1 wire to 2 (just use it backwards). 4) Now you just have one wire carrying both signals. You can hook that wire up to a single TV and watch one DVR on channel 40 and the other on channel 60. It's kind of like old VCRs outputting to either channel 3 or channel 4.

The next step is to reliably get the two signals into the one wire and distributed to multiple TVs. This is where the splitter/combiner comes in. I used one that could take in 3 signals, combine and amplify them, and push the resulting combined signal out to eight different TVs. It works the same as the simple situation above, but it allows you to involve more TVs.

To be honest, though, I wrote this post quite a while ago. If it were available in my area, I would be switching to AT&T U-Verse. The concept of a whole-house DVR with 4 tuners that can feed both SD and HD to every TV in the house is very appealing.