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Sharing MCE to multiple television sets

By this point, I assume that everyone has gotten their Media Center PC working the way they like it, and are able to output the image to a television set.  At some point, you will find yourself wishing that you could share that MCE experience on all of the television sets in your house (I know I did).

There are a couple of ways to accomplish this, including but not limited to:

  1. Media Center Extenders
  2. Wireless video senders
  3. A/V modulation

While I’m a huge fan of MCX (Media Center Extenders) I’d like to focus in this article on #3, AV modulation, as a cheap solution to sharing your Media Center experience throughout the house.

First, let me get some of the techincal terminology out of the way…  “A/V Modulation” allows you to broadcast an audio and video signal over your cable TV lines, in effect creating your own private TV station that works everywhere in the house.  If you’ve ever been to a hotel that has a “hotel channel” then you’re seeing one example of modulation – they’ve inserted their own channel into the mix so that you can get hotel information from your room. 

There are several companies that sell equipment for modulation, I personally use a very basic system from Crossbar Media called “AVCAST”.  While not the highest-end equipment, they put everything in the box that you’ll need and make it brain-dead simple to use.  If you buy the kit, you’ll be able to insert MCE onto your own channel, you’ll be able to use the MCE remote from any room, and you’ll be sure that your signal isn’t going out to all of your neighbours.  Good stuff.

There are actually two things that need to come together so that you can broadcast MCE throughout the house:

  1. Broadcast the audio and the video from the MCE to the TV
  2. Receive the IR remote commands from the TV to the MCE

BROADCASTING

Broadcasting your own private channel inside your house is a good thing, but first you need to find an empty channel that your cable TV provider isn’t using.  If there is a free channel in the 70s or 80s, then you’re off to the races.  If not, you’ll need to determine which channels you don’t actually care about in that range and block them out using a notch filter.  If you order the AVCAST kit from Crossbar, they generally throw a notch filter into the box.

The next thing you’ll need to concern yourself with is ensuring that your new private channel stays within the walls of your house.  The notch filter will help with that, but AVCAST also throws in a “CableCaster“ which will both amplify the signal and ensure that your private channel does not get broadcast back out to your neighbours. 

The key component for broadcasting in the AVCAST system is their modulator, which they call the “MediaCaster”.  From your MCE PC, run an RCA cable from the “TV Out” port to the “Video In” port on the MediaCaster.  Next, you’ll want to find the “audio out” on your MCE PC and put a splitter on there, so that you can run the audio to your PC speakers and to your MediaCaster.  Now that you’ve got a free slot for the audio out on the MCE PC, run a cable from the “Audio Out” port on your MCE PC to the “Audio In” port on the MediaCaster. (Note that while you’re plugging in both a left and a right audio channel, the avcast only broadcasts in mono).  Select a broadcast channel using the selector on the MediaCaster, plug in the coax cables and the power, and you’re now broadcasting your MCE throughout the house.

USING THE REMOTE

So, now you have the MCE broadcasting to every TV in the house using your own private TV channel.  It sure would be nice to be able to change the channel wouldn’t it?  In order to do that, you need to send the Infared (IR) signals from your television set back down to the MCE PC.  The AVCAST kit includes the parts you need to do this, they call it their “IRCaster”.  The IRCaster goes on the TV end, and senses any IR remotes that are being used in the room.  Mount the IRCaster somewhere near the TV so that when you point your MCE remote at the TV, the IRCaster can pick up the signal.  The IRCaster will send the signal back over your coax cable to the MediaCaster.

At the MediaCaster end, plug the “IR Blaster” into the MediaCaster (one end looks like a small phone jack, the other like a small piece of black plastic).  An IR blaster is used to take the signal that was detected from your remote control and “blast” it at the MCE PC.  Stick the IR Blaster directly onto your MCE remote receiver and test it out.  The MCE remote receiver should blink indicating that it is receiving a signal whenever someone at the TV end hits a button on the remote control.

Once you have the IR Blaster working, you should be able to watch the MCE and control the MCE from anywhere in the home.

OTHER PIECES

In the original kit, you get all of the pieces you need to get your private “MCE Channel” working but there may be some additional parts you require.  Personally, I went out and got and additional IRCaster/IRDetector so that I could control MCE from two different televisions in the house.

MY SETUP

Media Center PC – My MCE PC is located in the basement, churning away and doing its thing recording TV and responding to all of the requests I make of it.

Family Room TV – The family room TV is set up for beta testing the next version of MCE, if I told you I’d have to kill you.  ;-)

Kitchen TV – The kitchen TV has an IRCaster attached to it so that I can control and watch TV, pictures and music from there.  I tune into channel 80 and just “go”

Bedroom TV – The bedroom TV has an IRCaster as well, and once again I can do everything via channel 80.

WHERE TO GET “STUFF“

There is a guy on eBay selling the avcast equipment, I’ve purchased some of my items from him and would recommend him as a seller.  Be aware that I don’t think he throws in a notch filter with his kits, so if you need one be sure to find one elsewhere.  Click here to see what he’s got in stock.

You can also buy Avcast directly from Crossbar Media.

I’ve found that Radio Shack always has the cables and splitters that I need in stock, again I’d recommend them for any parts you need.

Enjoy sharing your MCE everywhere in the house!

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