Wireless A/V

I did a fair bit of web research before buying and returning a 2.4GHz A/V sender yesterday but it turns out I didn’t use the right search terms: including the frequency in the search is revealing. Basically, 2.4 GHz is the frequency used by 802.11b and 802.11g, and also by many cordless phones. Interference is pretty much inevitable unless you have the luxury of not having any close neighbours who have wireless networks and then, if you’re lucky, you can set your wireless network to one end of the spectrum and the A/V system to the other and most A/V systems will be happy (some of them use pretty much the entire spectrum, so not then).

Various solutions and proto-solutions:

Use the 5.8GHz spectrum? No. Firstly, people are already starting to get cordless phones in this spectrum in order to avoid interference on those so it’s just deferring the problem until there’s just as much noise in 5.8GHz. Secondly, all A/V systems I’ve found are analogue (FM) modulation and analogue use of the 5.8GHz spectrum is illegal in Australia. (Such systems are sold nonetheless, usually with the disclaimer that unless you’re buying them exclusively for use in the US and other countries, you don’t want them, nudge nudge, wink wink.)

Use digital modulation in either 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz (which is legal)? Well, this ought to be possible. A lot of cordless phones do exactly that and advertise it heavily. However, this just doesn’t seem to be an option with A/V systems: they all use analogue, pretty much. The one possible exception is the AVLabs AVMagic system, which is alleged to use 802.11g. But that’s only stated in a few reviews of the product (using identical wording), not on AVLab’s homepage and not on places where the system is actually sold, which makes buying it a bit of a risk.

Buy one of the many products by the consumer router companies (Netgear, D-Link…) which claim to be wireless media players or digital entertainers or similar? Well, possibly. However, most of these require software to be installed on my (Windows or sometimes Mac, ie no) PC which streams signal to it. Or often it streams just straight out files, which means that in future it may well not be able to read my new-fangled format of the twenty second century media files. In fact, most of them don’t support Ogg Vorbis. Plus they’re pretty DRM-happy. I don’t know anything about DRM from a technical point of view, but I know what I don’t like.

Use a second computer sitting near my speakers in various ways (make it my media centre, stream some audio to it)? Again, possibly, but I do rather like having only one 24/7 computer in my house (noise, power, impending heat death of the universe). If I could get a wee fanless PC in Australia with enough grunt to decode a stream and run a sound card for the kind of prices I see at cappuccinopc.com, then probably. For more than about $400 at the absolute most, not so much.

Buy a mini-ITX board and little case and build it yourself, lazy bones. This is me we’re talking about. I was once warned away from sewing machines due to my lack of patience and short temper. I’ve never built a computer either, and you want me to start with an eeny one? (I did once change a CPU. It went OK. Except then I had to get someone help me underclock it, and it made me the least cool 22 year old on the planet.)

Get your man to do it. He’d probably eventually try, maybe if I had a gun or something, but just as I worry that during the process of building it, I’d go crazy and throw the motherboard across the room with a ninja scream, he worries about his hand tremor. The hand tremor that gets worse when he worries. And besides, c’mon. Why can’t we substitute money for time? Paying for fiddly things to already be done is awesome.

Reconfigure the house network so that everything lives near the speakers? Kind of a pain because the aerial connection and the telephone jack (ADSL) are separated by about ten metres, which includes doorways and cupboards and stuff. We like using the computer itself as the router for a bunch of reasons. In fact Andrew really likes it and strongly discouraged me from playing around with it. (He probably remembers the first time I set up PPP over ethernet, which took two hours of yelling. On my birthday. This comic is the story of our relationship, except that every so often we switch roles.)

Buy another set of speakers? Given how much the current set cost, the ‘buy another computer’ solution is better.

So what are you going to do? Not sure. Maybe a Squeezebox. (Open source server, uncompressed streams.) But man. C’mon wireless revolution, get with the program.