Even though most of this blog is about work related stuff, it’s always fun to put your knowledge into fun stuff at home too. Since my fiance also works with IT, she also thinks this is quite cool (thank god!) but still, I think the setup should be wife-friendly and just work. I hate it when you have the popcorn ready and prepared to see a new episode of your favorite TV show and the freckin crap doesn’t work. But still, the setup is quite complex. We can remote control every device (including switch off the light) from our iPhones using OpenRemote, I can stream the content wherever I am on my mobile device and much more.
If you have a particular setup you want to know more about, please comment and I’ll put a post regarding it…
I’m lucky to have a 100 Mbit Up/Down Internet connection for around 4€ a month. The firewall is a basic home firewall which more or less only do NAT and port forwarding to my Plex Media Server and it’s also the AP for the WLAN. I used to have one of these below (Linksys WRT54GS) running DD-WRT but it couldn’t cope with 100 Mbit so I switched it for a standard Gigabit one. Still looking for a good Gigabit wireless router that can support DD-WRT. Got any?
Basic 8-port Netgear GS608 Gigabit switch. Sure, I could use the firewall which has 4 ports, but since I need Gigabit internally (ever tried unrar:ing files on a network share on 100 Mbit?) and there were no good Gigabit routers back then. The Cabinet is in the hallway and all other cable connected devices are then patched to the rest of the apartment (we got at least 2-4 Cat5e patch outlets in each room so I guess we’re quire lucky there).
2. AirPort Express
The AirPort Express is patched to the network using a cable and another cable for Audio to the Receiver. We don’t use it as a WLAN access point but use it for Airplay to be able to stream music from our iPhones and Spotify directly to the Yamaha Receiver. We like the idea sitting having drinks at the dinner table and change songs etc.
3. Mac Mini
The Mac Mini (OS X Lion 10.7) running Plex Media Server (but all media is stored on the NAS) and Plex Desktop Client. I used to run XBMC on an old Xbox, but Plex is the s**t. Plex makes it possible for us to watch movies, TV Shows, stream Music, wtch Photos, Shoutcast etc. But what makes it cool is the possibility for online content such as HD stream TV-channels, browse YouTube, Vimeo etc. Sure, you could do that from the OS but Plex is made for sitting relaxed in the sofa with just the Apple Remote and possibly the neat Apple Wireless remote keyboard. And on top of that, I can stream all my Media on my iPhone wherever I am in the world. Below are some screenshots from Plex.
4. iTach WF2IR and OpenRemote
The Global Caché iTach WF2IR is a neat little device for those who want to remote control all their IR and other devices at home. In short, this device is connected to your WLAN and has 3 outlets where you connect IR emitters which can send IR signals to control your IR device (receiver, TV, Mac mini etc). Want to know how I did it? Read here.
I also have a small additional device connected to the iTach which makes it possible to send RF signals to turn on/off/dim lights anywhere in the apartment. More info on that here.
The iTach device itself can’t do much, but the software I use is OpenRemote which is an open source project. You have a controller installed on a server (I have it installed on the QNAP but can be installed on any machine that has Java JRE) which communicates with the iTach and tells it what to do. Then you have a Panel which is the device where you control everything which is available for iPhone, iPad and Android or as a web interface. Then you use the Online Designer to create the panels. You login to the web based designer with your personal account and use the drag’n’drop interface to create a remote control exactly as you want it and you also specify what will happen when you press each button.
Once you have created the panel, you tell your controller to download the new panel you just designed. Then you start your Panel software on your iPhone device and it will automatically download the latest panel from your controller and you can start remote controlling all your device.
You can also create macros, so I have a button called Good Night which I usually press when I go to bed and what it does is makes sure the TV and Receiver is switched off in the living room and that all the lights are switched off before we go to bed. Geeky? – yes! Simple? – well, it took me a few days to get all this working 😉
5. Mini Server
I used to have all media stored on this Mini server with a Mini-ITX motherboard but since I used it for so much other testing and development (running VMs, automated downloading and scripting) which caused some frustrating downtime, I decided to move all media to…
A dedicated QNAP TS-219P NAS with 2*1TB HDs. Main purpose are shared folders for Movies, Music and Pictures which is then accessed and indexed in Plex. It also runs the OpenRemote Controller software (here’s how) which has to run 24/7 to be able to control devices. I used to run the Controller on the Mac Mini but to save the environment a few kW:s I got it running on this device instead and make sure the Mac Mini goes to sleep when not in use.
Both me and my fiance has iPhones. When we are at home they’re connected to the WLAN to be able to send signals to the OpenRemote Controller on the NAS which then sends signals to the iTach WF2IR which then sends IR signals to devices and RF signals for the lights. One really neat feature of Plex iPhone software is myPlex which makes it possible for us to reach all our media wherever we are. The iPhone connects to myPlex which gives you the possibility to browse your Media archive and when you stream the content it’s streamed directly from your Plex Media Server over the Internet. So no, it doesn’t store all your media at myPlex but rather gives you the possibility to access it. Hint: you configure a specific port forwarding on your firewall to forward to the Plex Media Server.
As in the lab, I use my HP EliteBook 8440p and my fiance got a ultra thin Sony Vaio Z21V. Yes, I’m jealous :). I also run Plex Desktop Client on Windows and also myPlex which makes it possible to stream my media when I’m on a business trip and spend a boring night at a hotel somewhere in the world – as longs as I got Internet connection.
The rest is pretty straightforward with a Receiver and speakers in the living room. The Mac Mini, PS3, Wii are connected to different inputs on the TV (I can switch input using the iPhone and OpenRemote). In the working room I got an external screen for our laptops and the bedroom has a standalone TV, but the plan is to get a Plex client for that one too, either another Mac Mini or maybe hack an Apple TV2 or maybe a Raspberry…