The House That IP Built
A residence with real backbone.
Text:\ Andy Ciddor
Images:\ Dean Schmideg
Open the racks of any modern building and there’s no doubt about the outcome of the battle of the protocols between the AV, entertainment, telecommunications and data processing industries. From way out, on the far-right of the field, came the US Defence Advance Research Projects Agency armed with TCP/IP, a network protocol suite so robust, reliable and flexible, that it has swept all before it. Now pretty much everything, even in the residential technology sector, can be delivered over an IP stream – except of course, the water.
When a couple in Melbourne’s inner South-East brought in architect Ian Perkins to design a sweeping renovation and major extensions to their Edwardian home, he invited Connected Living’s Sasha Apel to talk to his clients about the possibilities for audiovisual facilities in what was effectively a new construction within the shell of the house.
“From the outset it was clear the clients were interested to know about every possibility that could make their home more flexible, more adaptable and easier to live in,” explains Apel. “They were accustomed to using information and communications technology in their workplace, making them open to ideas and technologies that have not yet been widely adopted in residential projects”.
“We were initially discussing how the various audio and video sources could be shared around the house, but the scope of the work just kept expanding until it became clear that what we were doing was specifying a residence with an IP backbone – and then things really got exciting.”
HD OVER IP
The video requirement for was for the distribution to six of the new Samsung D series screens of Blu-ray HD playback, Apple TV plus an HD feed from the Foxtel iQ cable video receiver. This could be either live from cable or replayed from the PVR incorporated into the iQ set-top box.
Rather than attempting to do this with dedicated UTP cables, baluns, distribution amplifiers and a switch matrix, Apel chose to use Just Add Power’s 1G ‘HD over IP’ product. This system handles each HDMI (2D or 3D, plus audio) source as a separate VLAN on the household gigabit Ethernet network. Every screen has a local receiver box connected to the Ethernet LAN. The receiver selects the appropriate VLAN for its program, then scales and converts the data stream to HDMI. After some discussion about potential arguments and priority program selection for the parents in the main lounge room, that room was eventually allocated a dedicated local Foxtel box and its own Blu-ray player. The wisdom of that decision will no doubt save decades of family squabbles.
Source selection, cable channel selection, replay transport control, and flat panel control, along with the audio zone controls for each room are achieved through local ‘universal’ RF (433MHz) remote handsets on the household RTI control network. Because the electrical contractor had already started work on the project before Connected Living was consulted, the C-Bus lighting network is not directly integrated with many of the other functions in the house. However, a gateway between the RTI system and the C-Bus has been established and will be exploited for future integration.
Once there is a gigabit LAN and 802.11n WiFi running to every room in the house, the possibilities begin to expand, so it makes perfect sense to route the cable broadband feed onto the same LAN for distributed internet access. And you may as well use the network for audio distribution while you’re at it. A Xiva musicm8 serves as the network repository of music, ripping discs and serving out audio to a range Sonos ZonePlayers delivering music via wired Ethernet and the Sonos wireless mesh, to wherever it’s needed in the house.
If you’ve got the LAN in every room, it would be pretty pointless to throw in runs of telecomms two-pair to a couple of rooms for phones and an answering machine, particularly if the client is familiar with the capabilities of a modern PABX in their business.
The installed Pika WARP Asterisk VoIP PABX includes all of the unified messaging features you would expect in a modern multiline PABX, including voicemail, videomail and a couple of PSTN (POTS) ports as fallback. The existing household PSTN copper line has been retained for those days when the cable broadband connection takes a sabbatical.
In addition to the single cordless handset, the six fixed handsets are Grandstream’s GXV3140 multimedia phones with video screens and built-in cameras. These terminals not only allow for video calls around the house and the potential for video calls via SIP/VoIP when everybody finally implements it in the same way, they also tie into the household security and monitored-entry system.
The 2N Helios IP door communicator panels, located at the font door and the front gate, include full duplex VoIP audio, H264 video and relay contacts suitable for operating a remote door release. Connected to and powered by the Ethernet backbone, these panels allow remote video and audio monitoring of the entrances via any of the telephone handsets along with door release. The panels are also configured to provide keyless entry to the front gate and front door. With a few more lines of code they could probably also be configured as phone handsets, TV remote controls or games terminals.
A gigabit TCP/IP network that’s handling up to three HD video streams, half a dozen VoIP camera phones, audio streams running in all directions, internet access, local printing and file backups and visitors popping in at the front door for a cup of sugar, is going to be a slightly frantic place. While the VoIP PABX puts on a brave front and tries to manage the Quality of Service (QOS) of its own voice calls, it’s the big VLANs full of HDMI that really eats big chunks of bandwidth if the video streams aren’t to stutter and jump. It’s hardly any wonder then that Just Add Power insists that its systems operate on networks with managed switches and QOS management.
One of the more interesting tasks for Connected Living during the installation and commissioning of this soon-to-be-frantic household network was balancing bandwidth allocations in the main network managed switch. The QOS priorities chosen put smooth, coherent VoIP calls at the head of the queue, followed by the HDMI streams to the monitor screens, then finally the streaming audio. It seems that mundane tasks like email, file transfers, printing and web surfing will only get the table scraps of bandwidth at busy times in this household.
While Connected Living has gone for broke with IP functionality, and built in the potential to expand the current system to include such possibilities as video conferencing and IP TV over broadband, it has also acknowledged that future owners of the property may not feel so technologically inclined. To that end it has included a little POTS phone wiring, an MATV system and runs of RG6 to each screen in case anyone should chose to watch their TV off the air. Belt, braces and piece of string.
Connected Living: (03) 9029 4343 or www.connectedliving.com.au
Remote Technologies Inc.: www.rticorp.com
Just Add Power: www.justaddpower.com
Grandstream Networks Inc.: www.grandstream.com
2N Telekomunikace: www.2n.cz
Sonos Inc: www.sonos.com
Pika Technologies Inc.: www.pikatechnologies.com