I bought a new TV
It was a surprise even for me… I just wanted to get some information about the offer at the moment on the market. However, I found a device which was on sale, and fulfilled most of my wishes: full HD, brilliant picture quality, and what was the most important, ability to connect to the TCP/IP network.
As it usually happens, taking the TV home and switching it on rose completely new questions. How to connect it to the network at my home, if network devices in my home are located in my small working cabinet, which is in the other part of the flat? And, in general, how to build a second “IP island” at home?
Cabling or expensive adapter?
Unfortunately, due to warranty, support or whatever considerations many manufacturers (especially Sony) does not allow third-party devices to be connected to their products if there is possibility to control that. And such a possibility exists in case of a USB WiFi adapter. The result is that I would have to buy a WiFi adapter which costs round about 5 times more than a usual one. It is not an option for me not only because of the price, but mainly because I don’t like much that approach and also because it is an interesting challenge.
Other option would be the cabling. (Any standard Ethernet/IP device can be connected) But I am loo lazy to drill holes, make and hide somehow cable holders. And anyway, I didn’t want to have one more cable across my flat.
Low-cost routers and the “wireless client bridge”
At this moment I tried to remember what I learned about possible working modes of a router in a WiFi network. I knew that even a low-cost home WiFi router is capable to work at least in two of those modes. Therefore I decided to solve my problem with a cheap home-class WiFi router. As I will show later, I was able to solve more than just connect my TV set to the home network and the Internet.
Some words on connection schemes in WiFi
First of all I have to emphasize that this kind of hacking is possible on routers manufactured after the first wave of such devices. Large number of those devices nowadays – or maybe even most of them – are Linux-based. If you buy such a device, you will have possibility to play around with operating system on it, or even upload a completely new operating system to the device. You can find a long list of such devices on the DD-WRT website. (It is about compatibility with DD-WRT in particular. Other sources like Gargoyle or OpenWRT may have different lists, but if you can find your device on such a list you may be sure that your device allows modifications in its software)
An average home user usually has not enough knowledge and even intention to use these devices in more sophisticated way. Because of that the built-in operating system allows only partial configuration of advanced features and vendors are aiming to provide very simple and restricted interface for setting up the router for usual home environment. But now we need more!
Let’s take look on different working modes a router can provide for us! I found that one of the best sources of this information is at the DD-WRT website. (BTW the DD-WRT is the best choice to keep with in this task, however due to some incompatibility issue I had to use another source)
As you can see, there are four different possibilities to interconnect routers and extend your WiFi network at home. Analyzing those possibilities I decided that the one I need is the “Client Bridge” mode. With this mode – in fact – the wired network will be extended by connecting two switches with a wireless connection. It is important to understand that we will still have a single wireless access point in our network, so there will be no change in the way of connecting to our home network for devices we used earlier.
Custom firmware for my router
Searching appropriate operating system – firmware – for my router I found three possible sources for that which seemed to be suitable and easy enough for use:
Reading through those sites I decided that the one I like mostly is the DD-WRT. It is really feature-rich and they provide a user interface which allows the basic router setup and many advanced tuning of the system too.
In Gargoyle I did not find so much possibilities for fine-tuning the router through the interface, but i liked it due to its simplicity in the user interface.
At the time I searched replacement firmware for my router the OpenWRT seemed useful mainly for real geeks. If one wants to do hard tricks with the router, familiar with Linux console and also with internals of IP routing, than OpenWRT is a good choice. However, we need now something simple!
As you can guess, I did my first experiments with DD-WRT. I could set up practically any working mode seamlessly but the “Client Bridge”. It turned out that my router was really cheap… As a result, it had some compatibility problem with DD-WRT so I tried Gargoyle. And it was successful. Although, I would prefer DD-WRT, and I also recommend using it, the following example will show set-up in Gargoyle. Everything I will show is about standard client bridge mode. So one can interpret parameters from the example below and do the same in DD-WRT. (Of course you can also prefer Gargoyle due to its simplicity. In that case just repeat what I will show.)
You may notice that I did not write anything about downloading, flashing, accessing user interface and others. It is because you can find all that information perfectly written on websites of operating systems I mentioned. I recommend following their guidance during setup of the new OS on your router.
Setup of the connection
Assuming that the new operating system has been successfully flashed to the new router it is time to connect it to the main access point. For that some settings on the main access point has to be checked and/or changed. Those changes will not influence other devices connecting to it.
Parameters on the main router
The first thing we have to check on the main router is the setup of the local network on it.
These settings are the default ones for my main router (Linksys) except the host and domain name. You will have your own name settings here. This screen is important because of the “Start IP address” of the DHCP server. As you can see, the lowest address the DHCP server will assign to the connecting hosts (on the LAN and also on the WiFi side) will be the address 192.168.1.100 and the highest is 192.168.1.149. That way we will have free addresses below and above this range. That we will use during setup of the connecting router.
The setup of the WiFi network on the main router is more interesting.
Here I applied some restrictions on the wireless side. I found that this way my routers (they are from different vendors) can keep up with each other more reliably.
First I restricted the “Network Mode” to “Wireless-G Only”. You may try to leave this setting as it is and allowing Wireless-N mode too if both of your routers are supporting it at the same speed and if your router can reliably stay connected at high-speed of that type of the connection. In my experience the Wireless-G speed – 54Mbit/sec – is enough for a home network if yo do not want to move large files between networked computers frequently. It is enough for sure for the media renderer function of the TV set even for HD content.
The “Standard Channel” is an important parameter. I must be set on the connecting router to the same one you set here. It is possible that you will have to play around a bit with this parameter if you are living in an environment with many neighboring WiFi routers around. If those routers are set to the same channel than the radio frequency of the given channel may become “crowded” and your connection on that channel may become unreliable. If so it is necessary to set up a channel here other than used by near-by routers. (You can check your environment with an Android phone using a WiFi analyzer application)
The last thing we have to know on the main router is the WiFi security setup.
These are the recommended settings for home routers. These settings will determine some security settings on the connecting router.
Parameters on the connecting router
In case of using “Gargoyle” as the firmware on the connecting router things are really simple.
First of all you have to choose the “Wireless Bridge/Repeater” mode at the device configuration. If the mode is set the screen will show parameters for the selected mode.
Make a note of the “Bridge IP” setting. In order to work properly, the bridge device must have a manually set static IP address. This address must be outside of the range set for the DHCP server of the main router. The “AP/Gateway IP” is the address of the main router. It is 192.168.1.1 by default on most of home routers. (See the main router settings)
As far as we need “Client Bridge” mode but not “Repeater”, the later must be disabled. Other parameters must be set in accordance with ones on the main router. (The “Transmit Power” is not relevant in this regard. You may want to experiment with that and leave the setting at which the connection is most reliable.)
What we can do now?
A lot! And this is the most exciting part of our deal. Having even a very basic TV set you can now turn it into a Smart TV, media center, communication center or whatever the IT today can do for you.
I bought a TV set for which the vendor provides some Internet services. Connecting the TV to the newly fine-tuned router with a simple Ethernet cable the Internet access is ready for the TV.
If the TV set is really capable to connect to the network, there will be for sure some set-up screen for setting network parameters for it. Home routers usually configured to provide services for automatic IP configuration using DHCP. In most of home environments there is no point to change that. If you did not change that on your main router (the access point) leave the network setup of your TV on automatic option. (That is usually the default)
After that you will be able to use any network enabled services your TV set provides.
Media sources at home
This is a more exciting question. Most of network enabled TV sets are built without an operating system (nowadays built Smart TV systems are exceptions). That means you will not be able to use network services like file sharing, and media player functions are also usually restricted to playing media files from USB storage devices. What to do with your mp3 music, family photos and videos in that case? In order to solve that problem first we need to understand the difference between a media player and a media renderer.
Media player is a device having a very simple embedded operating system and some software for media playback, or a more sophisticated software (Windows Media Player, MPlayer, QuickTime, etc.) running on some robust operating systems. The TV set may have the first type of the media player but usually does not have a full operating system therefore it will not be able to use your media files shared on your PC.
In contrast to that, network enabled TV sets usually have a so-called media renderer function. This function is less than a media player. It can not do anything with a file system (pendrive for example). But it can receive a media stream through its network interface from a special media player software, a media server.
Most devices in this regard comply the DLNA standard. On the other side which is the server-side we also have some options. The Windows Media Player built-in to the Windows 7 operating system (and some older versions too) is also understands the DLNA specification. You just have to enable access to your media files from the home network:
As I mentioned before, a DLNA media renderer can receive a specially formatted media stream. In order to fulfill that most of your media files have to be re-coded on-the-fly during playback because their internal format is not like the renderer needs. I found, that Windows Media Player is not too strong in this. The re-coded media stream looks sometimes ugly on the big screen even if it looks perfect playing on the PC. At the same time there is no any problem with sound tracks and pictures.Searching for solution to that problem I found the PS3 Media Server. One would think that not owning a PS3 console I may do nothing with that player. But the essence of it is not the PS3 but the DLNA! It has much better re-coding capabilities so the media content streamed and rendered on the TV looks practically perfect. It is absolutely suitable for watching content where HD quality is not very essential. (Due to the nature of media compression technologies the drawback of streamed playback will be noticeable on fast changing, very detailed pictures. It will also depend on the power your PC has. More powerful PC – better quality of the movie on the TV)
Hey man! I have a switch just behind my HD screen!
Yes. The recognition was like in the header above. And as usual, new questions, problems and ideas came.
Most of modern TV sets have input connectors making it possible to connect devices requiring a display. So why not to use the HD screen instead of a usual display? And this is the moment, when having a switch behind, a D-SUB or HDMI connector on the back panel opens up a lot of possibilities turning the TV into anything the modern IT can provide.
Just a closing comment: Keep an eye on the “Raspberry Pi“! Small, silent, highly customizable and fits easily behind the screen. Coming soon…