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Outdoor speakers

As the weather starts to warm up (hopefully soon), we will be spending more time outdoors. Sitting back and listening to some tunes is relaxing as well as fun. Take a look at some of your options.

Mounted speakers: There are a variety of speakers that can be attached to the house or porch. These speakers are weatherproof and come on a swivel mount to direct the sound down. Our preference on the high end is Bose 251 Wall Mount Outdoor Environmental Speakers and for a mid-range speaker the Polk Atrium 5 series.

Rock speakers: For those who want to hide their sound in the garden, rock speakers or environmental speakers are very popular. The Niles Audio rock speaker delivers years of worry free use in all types of weather conditions and sounds fabulous. Another style of garden speaker (and Lew’s personal favorite) is the Bose Free Space Environmental Speaker. This speaker is buried about 2/3 of its height into the garden and provides a rich warm sound to any patio, pool or garden setting.

Planter speakers: The only planter style speaker that is worth purchasing is the Niles Audio speaker in either terracotta or weathered concrete. Niles knows what they are doing to ensure this is a quality speaker that looks good and will last.

Other speakers: In addition to the above, there isn’t much you can’t do with outdoor speakers. Several manufacturers make an in ground speaker system that is scalable and designed for flower beds and around the yard.

Sophisticated, elegant and powerful, today’s outdoor audio is capable of delivering state-of-the-art performance.

Banish the Buffer

Go to any neighborhood social media group site and you’ll see posts from people asking how to cut the cable cord and go towards 100% streaming. You can definitely save money by cutting out cable TV from your bill and only subscribing to the Internet. However, to avoid buffering or a choppy picture, you need to make sure your home’s network is never the bottleneck in your streaming video pipeline. Here are 3 steps to follow if you are considering cancelling cable TV.

Step 1: Select the right plan from your Internet Service Provider.

You will want to subscribe to a plan that promises the right speed and data allowance for your needs. Netflix only requires 5MbPs of bandwidth for an HD stream and 25Mbps for 4K Ultra HD. This is a good starting point but don’t sell yourself short. Those are the requirements for just one device. It doesn’t account for multiple devices in your home using your bandwidth. Every smartphone, computer, smart TV, cable box, streaming stick and game console may be sending and receiving data at any given moment. That can put quite a burden on the bandwidth.

In addition, just because your service provider tells you that you get 50 or 250Mbps, that doesn’t mean that you get it all the time. The feed that runs to your home is shared by your neighbors so it can clog up from time to time when everyone is using it at the same time, which is pretty much every evening. You will probably get pretty close to the maximum bandwidth at 3:00 a.m. but not at 8:00 p.m. Fortunately for you, we live in one of the best areas in the country for bandwidth (notice all those data centers going up), so you have a better chance of getting good bandwidth speeds than many other people in other parts of Virginia and the rest of the country.

In addition to bandwidth received into the home, check on data caps and download limits. ISPs can cap usage of bandwidth based on the plan you have. So, if you are switching to 100% streaming, you will want to be sure that your cap is very high or unlimited (if available) and that you have no restrictions on downloads, so that you don’t max out early in the month. Your bandwidth won’t stop but it will slow down considerably.

Step 2: Equipment

Just because you have Internet coming to the house doesn’t mean that it gets through the house well. The modems/router that ISPs provide are not bad, but there are better ones on the market. Your ISP may even recommend better modems/routers. We use equipment from various manufacturers depending on the environment. Our preferred manufacturer is Ubiquiti Networks, an unknown name but a wonderful product.

In addition to a better modem/router, you might consider adding Access Points, a device that allows Wi-Fi devices to connect to a network. The AP usually connects to a router (via a wired network) as a standalone device, but it can also be an integral component of the router itself.

Step 3: Wire it

It will be some time, before Wi-Fi ever gets to the point that it is as good as hard wiring, maybe never. If you really want to get the most out of your streaming, get as close to the Internet Service Provider’s source as possible through cabling. Take a look at the devices that will stream the most and look into getting those hardwired. Combining hard wiring with good Wi-Fi equipment can tremendously boost your bandwidth. Stay away from Wi-Fi extenders, they are not always the best fix and sometimes make network performance worse.

Streaming Channel costs

Don’t forget to look at the cost of the channels that you want to stream. Hulu, Amazon, NetFlix, etc. all charge for their streaming services. If you want to stream all of them, it could end up costing as much as your cable cost you, so identify which one’s you really like and need and forego the others.

Cost vs. Benefit

The upfront cost to cut the cable can be a little pricey, but not paying monthly cable bills over time will definitely pay off in the long run. Consider these costs the same as you would any home improvement.

Choosing between projection and Flat Panel in Your Theater Room

We are getting close to being in an age where a Flat Panel TV is the same size as a projection screen. Actually, there are now TVs as large as most standard projection screens. The Samsung 110 inch 4K TV introduced at CES in 2013 for $150,000. If that price tag is too high, you can opt for a 90” now for around $9,000. You wouldn’t think 20 inches would cause such a price difference, but the technology to create those additional 20” of screen is far more complex than one would think.

So, should you choose between an affordable 90” TV or perhaps a 100” screen and projector. The screen would run around $1400 and a decent projector around $3000, totaling $4400. It appears then that the projector and screen is far less than the TV. Not really. You have got to add sound to the projection system and to be honest, you need to add it to the TV as well, as having a $9000 TV without surround sound is like having lakeside property without a boat.

So, adding sound to the TV would probably bring the total cost closer to $12,000 and the projection system to $14,000. You can now see how the pricing differences are getting closer. Bringing the TV size down to an 85” instead of 90” TV will close the gap completely.

That said, how do you choose?

Think about where you are putting your TV or projection system. TVs can still have a quality image with light within the room. That said, if you don’t have a way to darken your room completely, you should probably opt for the TV. If you do have a windowless room with a ceiling that can hold a projector, then perhaps the projection system might be the best choice.

Installation costs are comparable for both if you are installing surround sound speakers. There will be labor costs to run wiring and mount the projector, but there are also labor costs to mount a large TV vs. a fixed projection screen, which is easier. Of course, if you opt for an electric retractable screen, then your screen costs and labor costs go up for the projection system.

The best thing to do is get a comparison estimate for both if both options are appropriate for your room.

Networking problems and Expansion

When to call your communications carrier and when to seek help elsewhere

You don’t call the electric company when your electrical outlet doesn’t work or when you need a new outlet put in? You call an electrician. You don’t call the water company when you want to change out a toilet or have a plumbing problem? You call a plumber. So when you have an Internet problem or need to expand your Internet within the home, don’t call your communications carrier, i.e. Verizon or Xfinity?

Verizon and Xfinity spend millions of dollars on advertising and they make themselves sound like once they sell you their service your home is all set for getting high speed Internet “no matter what”. They don’t tell you that you are buying a service, nothing more, and that there are many internal factors that affect the way that service will work for you.

When there is a problem outside of your home at one of their boxes, and even between your house & the cable modem/router hook up, they may fix it. When there is a problem within your home, that is not a bad router or DVR, you are on your own. We often recommend to our customers that you contact your service provider if your router or DVR seems to be the problem because you are renting those from your carrier, therefore they are responsible in providing you working units. However, if your service provider finds that both are working, then they can no longer help you, and it’s time to move on.

Their technicians are trained to set up your service and explain how it works. They are trained to recognize a bad router or DVR. They are not trained to analyze your internal network infrastructure to identify why you don’t get the full speed to different rooms. They will not run cables through your walls. They do not understand your existing network and AV system, so they might just rearrange things to put in their product, because that’s what they were hired to do, set up THEIR system.

Understanding what your communications carrier offers you will help you avoid wasting tons of time and money. For troubleshooting Internet problems, we suggest you go to their website (yes, you’ll have to use your cell phone if you have no Internet) and go to their support page. Go through their questions and find out if the problem involves their service or their product and do what they tell you to do. Note: Complete outages are generally a carrier problem. Poor speed inside the home is rarely a carrier problem.

Communications carriers are used to people calling them with problems. You can call and they can tell you if the Internet is down in your area. If it isn’t, they can run a diagnostic on your home. Calling them to complain about slow Internet or its reach throughout your home will be a complete waste of time. This is when you seek out a network specialist to identify how you can improve your home’s infrastructure. Sometimes it is a simple router move (which may or may not involve new cabling). Other times it is more than that, i.e. installing additional access points and other networking products. This is not something that Verizon or Comcast can or will tell you, so don’t take a day off work to wait for them to tell you they can’t help you.

Why your Fast speed Internet isn’t performing at a Fast Speed

I pulled this quote directly from Verizon’s website.

“Fios is the fastest internet available.1 Period. Why’s that? Because Fios provides a 100% fiber-optic network to your home. So get the best internet with the 100% fiber-optic network.”

They are being 100% honest in this statement. The key word is “to” your home. Chances are you got lost in the rest of the verbiage, and didn’t notice that tiny little word in the middle “to”. In small print they state “Fastest Wifi based on Internet speed plans and maximum router throughput available.

“Maximum router throughput” is another way of saying that your router has to have no obstructions to any room in your home and needs to reach every room to get their high speed.

Communication carriers bring Internet TO your home. How it works throughout the home is based on so many other factors.

Location of Router: The communications carrier will only have a few choices as to where to put your router because of where the cabling comes to the house. You can’t just move it anywhere you want without also adding cable and the communications carrier are not going to run wire within your home.

Construction of Home: Some home’s have much better WiFi than others simply because of the materials used within the walls.

Number of devices: Think of the Internet cable coming into your home as a river. It moves very fast because there is nothing in the way. Then think of the inside of your home as all the tributaries and streams that come off the river. They don’t move anywhere as fast as the river because the water from the river splits apart to them. The same happens in your home. Once the cable is in your home, the broadband splits apart to every source that needs it. The more sources being used, the slower it runs.

Speeding up your Internet within Your Home

There are ways to get your Internet up to speed within your home. Sometimes it is simply moving the router, though this most likely will require running additional cable if your home doesn’t have the hard wiring needed to move it.

One of the best ways to expand your network is by adding access points. An Access point (AP) connects directly to a wired local area network, typically by Ethernet, and the AP then provides wireless connections using wireless LAN technology, typically Wi-Fi, for other devices that cannot use wired connections. APs support the connection of multiple wireless devices through their one wired connection. (Source: Wifi) In layman language…access points spread out the Wi-Fi coverage area. Please note that correctly installed Access Points are NOT Wi-Fi extenders. They operate in a completely different manner when compared to a Wi-Fi extender.

Other products, such as Extenders/Repeaters take an existing signal from a wireless router or wireless access point and rebroadcast it to create a second network. These work in some cases but are not always a complete fix for expansion of your network’s broadband.

The best fix is to hardwire what you can. Hardwired components tie directly to your communications carrier’s wiring so there is nothing to interfere with the speed and quality. Not everything has to be hard wired. You might hardwire your main audio system and then expand its reach with Sonos via WiFi. You might hardwire your TV, but be fine streaming on your laptop without plugging it in to a wall.

Something to keep in mind is that networking is based on industry standards. EVERY manufacturer must comply with these standards. If they did not comply, then interoperability between different manufacturer’s devices would not exist. Do not buy into the marketing names. “Panoramic Wi-Fi” is not different from other manufacturer’s Wi-Fi, while equipment standards like 802.11n vs. 802.11AC make a difference.

So, the next time you watch a communications carrier commercial, whether it be Verizon, Xfinity or some other….keep in mind the word “to” because they are bringing all that great bandwidth TO your home, but not necessarily “throughout” your home.