Inside guide to multiroom video

Usually most people with video throughout the house have stacks of equipment in each room.

Typically there'll be a TV in the bedroom with an additional VCR, DVD player and set-top box, all sitting underneath.

But think how much better - and neater - it would all be if you could have a single monitor in each room that was capable of displaying pictures from all of those sources as well as being able to access the internet using a wireless keyboard and mouse?

All this is now perfectly possible, of course. All you need to do is decide on the number of sources you want to watch, then the number of rooms you would like to watch them in. Finally, you need to work out your maximum budget for the installation.

If it's just a single video source, two room set-up comprising flat screen and additional cabling, you could do this yourself for as little as £500.

However, if you're looking to get a complete system for the entire house, including plasmas for the main rooms and Tile TVs for the bathrooms, then you could be looking at nearer £100,000.

Custom installers, such as those belonging to CEDIA, routinely fit multiroom video facilities as part of a digital home set-up and they will be prepared to work closely with you in order to meet your individual requirements.

Wireless video distribution

The easiest, if not necessarily the best, way of distributing video around the house is to use wireless technology. Video senders which transmit on the 2.4GHz frequency were once illegal but they are now perfectly above-board.

Several are available, but among the best we've looked at are the AEI DigiSender and the Philips SBC VL1400. Both can relay video from several sources to a second room up to a distance of 30 metres away.

However, the main drawback is that pictures are subject to interference crackles, and quality will only be about the same level as VHS tape. For those who want to integrate their digital TV system into a home network, comprising entertainment, IT, even lighting and heating systems, it's possible to use Wi-Fi technology.

Though it uses the same frequency that video senders operate on, it's a much more flexible solution. Typically, most products are still 802.11b-based wireless devices for streaming data, MP3s and viewing JPEG images.

However, new 802.11g devices, such as the Philips Streamium SL400i, are now available which are far more suited for video streaming in the home.

While 802.11g offers a theoretical bandwidth of 54Mbps, in the real world it is around 10Mbps: about the same as most wired connections and enough to support at least one high quality MPEG-2 (ie, DVD quality) video stream from a digital source (most digital broadcasts have a bandwidth between 4Mbps and 8Mbps).

However, like its analogue video sender counterpart, Wi-Fi is far from ideal for video distribution. The biggest problem is that you can't currently use the technology to distribute live broadcast video around the house.

Instead you either have to download video (ie, DivX) files from the web or capture them from a TV card or via a video input and store them as a file on your hard drive. With the arrival of the Media Center Extender later in 2005 this may change, though the product will only work with Media Center PCs.

Single source, two rooms

For a slightly more stable but equally costeffective solution it's best to use co-axial cable, ideally CT-100 grade cable or above. This is the same cable that you probably have from the TV aerial on the roof to your TV set.