Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mobile Marine WiFi Entertainment

This blog post is not about a specific app but was written about my quest to develop a wireless entertainment system for my boat. You could also use this design in your car, RV or van too.

I have been trying to design an entertainment system for my boat for some time. The design had to use readily available hardware for audio and video, it had to be wireless, it had to be reasonably priced and mostly plug and play if possible.

I did not want to have to run a bunch of speaker wires and video cables around the boat along with a separate stereo unit which would be out of date in a few years. I was looking for a total wireless solution that would work with the way I listen to music these days.  Nobody drags around CDs or DVDs around anymore. With the advent of mobile devices and tablets almost everyone now carries around all the entertainment they will ever need in the palm of their hands.  

At home I have a wireless network, an Apple TV and a stereo all connected to my flat screen TV.  It allows me to play music, radio and videos from the Internet, computer, iPad or iPhone all to my stereo and TV.  My goal was to build a wireless system like this for my boat.

If your yacht is big enough you will most likely have a generator or inverter that will provide you with 115v service.  To make this work on my smaller boat I needed a 5 volt solution for a WiFi router and a 12 volt solution for my Apple TV and flat screen TV.

WiFi Routers:

The first bit of research I did was to find a portable WiFi router that could be powered by 5 volts from a USB outlet.  It only took a quick search to find a whole slew of them that would work.  I could simply plug these into my computer or a DC power outlet with a 5 volt USB adapter.  It was that quick, my WiFI was up and running. These USB adapters only put out about 1 to 2.1 amps so make sure your router does not require more current than that.

Many of these USB powered routers act as a WiFi router, an Access Point or client. Some of the newest one also act as a 3/4G hotspot and some can operate off of a rechargeable battery.

The TP link router uses a 5 volt micro USB connector which can be powered from a computer, your phone charger or a DC outlet adapter.  The TPLink TL-WR702N is compact wireless N router with 150 mbs.

The TRENDnet  N300 TEW-654TR operates off of a 115V charger or the optional 5 volt, 3mm barrel adapter that plugs into a USB outlet.  This unit is a 300mbs N router so it should handle the heaviest traffic on your onboard network.

While your are away from the dock your on board router will not be connected to the Internet.  The network will still act as your onboard entertainment backbone.

I did have one problem with my iPad when the router was not connected to the Internet.  My iPad
kept trying to connect to the Internet through my router and would not allow me to connect through my iPad's Verizon data plan. 

To correct this I had to create a static IP address in the Wireless settings for the onboard router and leave the Router and DNS setting empty.  This allowed my iPad to connect to the Internet through my Verizon data plan while still being connected to my onboard router.

Apple AirPlay:

If you own an Apple iPhone or iPad you may be familiar with Airplay.  It is one of the coolest features that Apple has created to broadcast and control your media.  Apple designed this wireless protocol for sending data over a WiFi network to Airplay compatible devices. With AirPlay you can wirelessly stream videos, music, and photos from your computer, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to Apple TV and stream music to AirPlay speakers or receivers, including Apples AirPort Express.  There are now dozens of Airplay compatible apps and devices including Pandora, Vevo, YouTube, Netflix, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

On your iPhone or iPad, Airplay can be turned on from the Apple services menu as seen in screen shot to the left. Simply swipe up from the bottom of your iPhone or iPad screen to display the menu. If you have other AirPlay devices on your network they will show up here. I have an Apple TV and an iHome Airplay speaker shown in the menu above. Airplay from your iOS device only allows the selection of one device at a time.  To be able to stream to two Airplay devices at the same time you will have to use the Apple Remote App with iTunes on your computer.

I found an app called Whaale that allows playing music on up to 6 Airplay speakers from your iPhone or iPad.  This app does what the Apple Remote does not. You can play multiple sources to multiple speaker too. The app gives you access to all your music files on your device.

One cool feature of Airplay is that I discovered is that I can play music on my iPad to my iHome Airplay speaker.  I then opened the Apple remote app and I was able to play movies or music from my iPad to my Apple TV at the same time.  So I could listen to music while my wife watched a movie all streamed from one device, simultaneously, Wow, now that is Rocket Science!

iTunes:

Music and Video can also be played from your networked computer with iTunes over Airplay.

Open iTunes and select the Airplay icon on the top of the screen.  A drop down menu will show you the Airplay connected devices and allow you to select single or multiple devices. You can control the volume of each device from iTunes also.  If I had other Airplay speakers connected they could be simultaneously selected so I could play music to all the speakers at the same time.

Apple Remote App:

Apple's Remote Control app adds some additional functionality and control from your iOS mobile device.  Make sure to have iTunes on your computer running and enable Sharing. Add your Apple TV and your iTunes library to the remote. First the Remote app will allow you to remotely control what is being played in your iTunes Library on your PC or Mac. It will allow you to search, select, control and play the movies, music, TV shows or Podcasts that are in your collection.

The remote app can also be used to remotely control your Apple TV and allow you to select Music, Movies and TV shows just like you do with the supplied Apple TV remote control.

Finally, use the remote to control and play iTunes Radio on your PC, Mac or Apple TV.

Select the Airplay icon in the remote app to control what devices you want to stream to. Listen with AirPlay Speakers, computer speakers or Apple TV.

Single or multiple devices can be selected by toggling the Single/Multiple selection in the tip right of the pop up.

Apple TV:

Apple TV is one Airplay device that allows you to connect your mobile devices to your stereo system or onboard TV display. At $99 bucks it is well worth it. The Apple TV can connect wirelessly to your WiFi network or through a wired network cable. It has an HDMI cable to connect to your TV or monitor. 

Connect your mobile device to your onboard WiFi network. Music and Movies can now be played on your mobile device and sent wirelessly to the Apple TV and monitor.  The Mirroring function of AirPlay can also be used to display anything you have on your iPad onto your TV or monitor. This includes any marine charting or instrument display apps.

The problem with Apple TV is that it has a 115 volt AC power supply in the device. You can use a small 12 volt DC to 115 v AC inverter plugged into your power outlet or you can hack the Apple TV and replace the AC power supply with a 12 volt to 3.3 volt DC-DC power supply. There are several videos on YouTube to help you make this conversion. It does involve dismantling the Apple TV and some soldering. This will no doubt void your warranty but that is the price for a mobile Apple TV.

This teardown article confirms the Apple TV 2nd generation power supply voltage is 3.4 volts at 1.75 amps. Do not attempt this if you are not familiar with electronics.  You can also power the Apple TV with a 5 volt USB cable. This involves replacing the 115 volt power supply with 5v to 3.3v DC step down regulator like this one.


Airplay Speakers:

I used to play music from my iPad to a Bluetooth speaker.  It worked fine but the disadvantage with Bluetooth is that my device could only connect to one speaker at a time.  The sound quality was not as good since the audio was compressed.

I recently purchased an iHome iW3 Airplay speaker. The advantage of Airplays is that it allows multiple speaker to be connected to and selected on the same WiFi network.  Multiple iW3 Airplay speakers can be connected to my WiFi network and can be all played at the same time.

The iW3 is a nice size at 4.6 inches square and 9.3 inches high. It has better than average sound with SRS True Bass. It sits on an 115 AC/12 DC volt charging base. I purchased this one on Amazon for $75.  The Apple Store has them listed for $199.00  It is rechargeable and comes with a USB connection on the back for charging your iPhone and an auxiliary audio input jack too.

The iHome speakers do come with an app called  iHome Connect to help connect them to the WiFi network and enter the network password if needed. The treble and bass can be set using the app while your device is connected to the speaker.

I did not cover 12 volt displays or TVs. A search of the Internet will bring up a few options for you to use.

Well, I hope I have given you a few ideas about going wireless for your onboard entertainment system. 12 volts and wireless is the way to go.  So thank me now! This setup will definitely save you from drilling a bunch of holes all over your boat.

What are you using for an onboard entertainment system? Comment below and share your stories and ideas if you like.



~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark

9 comments:

  1. Some good tips there. I have had what I think is an easier/cheaper solution on my boat for some time. An Apple Airport Express (an old one), which acts a wireless router and has an audio out port which is connected to the Aux input on the stereo.

    The rest is Airplay from my iPod, iPhone or iPad. The only drawback is the need for a small (and inexpensive) inverter as the Airport Express works on 120V

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  2. Adding to my comment above. This obviously works for audio only. For video, I bring an Apple TV from home and plug directly to the TV for the weekend. AirPlay streaming via the same Airport Express wireless network.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous,

      Hey thanks for the comments! It is always good to hear what other people are doing. I like the Airport Express idea, the 3mm auxiliary jack would work great if you already had a stereo installed.

      WiFi routers are cheap these days and I wanted one with a small current draw and powered by 5V DC. My router, Airplay speaker and Apple TV all cost me a total of about $200. I plan to add another Airplay speaker soon.

      Rock On!
      Mark

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  3. I am looking into purchasing surround sound for a room that it would be very difficult to get the wires to the rear speakers. I was looking into getting some type of surround sound where the rear speakers are wireless using either Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. My price range is on the low end around at max 400 dollars. If you haven ideas of a surround sound please comment, thanks!
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  7. Perhaps the most important factor to consider is the method with which the audio source communicates with the Wireless Speaker . This determines the compatibility of the system, as well as its range of operation. You might choose Bluetooth or WiFi. But which one is best for you?

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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