HD Video Distribution

I never thought that I would be doing so much research into Digital HD TV as I have been. What first got me going with it was when I decided to get rid of our Dish Network bill. We bought and antenna for the attic and got two DTV converter boxes (SpeedStream, Like'em). I was amazed at the picture quality and I think that it is better than the signal I got from Dish!

So, that is the back story. Now my church (The Chapel) has been making the move to recording and showing our services in HD. In the past we would just throw the video and audio into an RF modulator on some unused channel like 66 and all would be well. The problem is that we have wide screen HD TVs everywhere now and an RF modulated signal looks horrible!

So after looking at several pricey options of HDMI and Component extenders I came to the conclusion that it would be quite expensive. I was about to make the recommendation that we just make the largest TV in the lobby HD by using a Component extender box (about $300 - $500) when I started wondering if we could make our own DTV channel. All of out new TVs have DTV QAM tuners in them so I thought it could be a great solution.

The first company that came up in my searches was from http://www.computermodules.com/ but at about $10,000 was way out of my price range. I almost gave up but last night after some more searching I found the Zv100 from http://www.zeevee.com/. For $500 I can get one of the first consumer level VGA to QAM modulators! This may be just what I need to get HD video to all 7 of our HD TVs in the building. That is only $72 per TV and we can use our existing cable! It would cost me way more to buy and install extenders and I don't think that I would get as good of a signal.

So, next week I plan to give them a call and see if there are any down sides that I'm not seeing at the moment. One of my main concerns is delay between the input and the output. Because these are in the lobby, you will hear audio from the auditorium as well and I don't want there to be a noticeable delay. The other downside that I hope I can work around is the fact that this unit is designed to be connected to a computer and uses USB for control and for audio. So, I can connect this unit to the video system easy enough, but it will be more difficult to get audio to it. I'm thinking an old Dell with a good audio card to take the house audio in and then send it out to the Zv100 via USB.

Some other notable new video devices that I came across while researching are:
  • WD TV HD media player - I saw this at Best Buy and it got me thinking about using it for HD streaming or digital signage. It is designed to work with external storage such as WD's "My Passport" external hard drives but will work with any external hard drive or USB flash drive. It boasts HD up to 1080p and has HDMI connectivity with Digital Audio as well as composite video and stereo outputs. The menu looks slick too. The down sides? Well, there is now Ethernet so you can't steam anything or manage it remotely. Beyond that it's not bad for $130 and is even available at Best Buy.

  • SlingCatcher - I know SlingBox has been around for a while but they didn't impress me too much. I was looking for HD and the SlingCatcher only provides 640 x 480 resolution at this time which is weird because the PC client supports 1024 x 768. It is packaged nicely in a shiny black enclosure. Seams over priced for $300.

  • Hava Platinum HD - Not bad for $150. It provides much of what a SlingBox would do plus it also has DVR features if you add an external hard drive. The downsides are that they don't have a device like the SlingCatcher to receive streams. You can only send to phones and other computers at this time.

I'll let you know what I think of ZeeVee if we get one!

If any of you are sending HD to lobby TVs, post some comments! I would love to hear!


Comcast for Mundelein

Can you believe that only one of our four sites can get Comcast? Turns out it is our Mundelein campus so we jumped on the option. Initially Comcast told us that they would have to trench from the back of our property to the building across our new parking lot. I was hoping that would not be the case.

I met the installer out there on Friday to discuss what we were going to do to get the service to the building. He said that it was already there. Confused I had him show me and sure enough there was a green pill shaped junction box right next to our power transformer! I had assumed that it was a phone junction!

So, after a quick install we now have 16 Mbps down and 2Mbps up Internet for about $100 a month! After some speed tests I found that it was about 14 Mbps down and 8 Mbps up! This is going to help our Internet needs tremendously once our Opt-E-Man fiber network is in place. Going to test with the 5 port SMC modem/router they provided but then need to look for a better firewall. Looking at SonicWall this time.


In the distance, its, Opt-E-Man!

Soon we will have fiber run to all four of our sites! Libertyville and Mundelein are all set and Barrington should finish today. That just leaves Grayslake and we will have our end of the work done. Then it is just up to AT&T to get rolling on the fiber installs.

This will really open some doors in the future having fiber installed. We will be able to expand our bandwidth by just making a call! Of course we are at AT&T's mercy with pricing and turn around. We can only hope they will be a little quicker once the fiber is installed.


High Speed

Things have been moving along with our Opt-E-Man installation. The directional boring has been done at Libertyville and Barrington and the trenching at Mundelein is scheduled for tomorrow. After we get our conduit done we will just be waiting on AT&T.

We will also be getting Comcast cable Internet at our Mundelein campus because it is the only one that can get it. More details on that when we get it installed.

Also, today our Communications team now all have Gigabyte access to our network in their new office space. We are using an 8 port Dell gig switch and it seams to be working well.


Who would know?

If you are an IT person you know what it is like to sometimes work real hard on something that doesn't get noticed. You may take pride in that. One of our wire closets has gotten quite bad over the years and needed to be rewired. We had a switch go last week so now was the perfect time.


Not perfect but much better!


The System is Down!

Not Cool.


The ActiveSync buzz has been going on here at The Chapel since Apple announce that the iPhone would now support it. We in the IT department wanted to try and get our systems setup before the launch but just couldn't do it with everything going on. The time has come though and we have now added another level of connectedness to our Windows Mobile and Fruit Phone friends. We wanted to wait until we made the switch to Exchange 2007, but just couldn't wait that long.

Good news is that we have it setup and working now! To be honest it wasn't has hard as i thought it would be thanks to a great how to I found at http://www.petri.co.il/. The fix was pretty easy and we can now get iPhone users setup pretty quickly. One advantage the iPhone as well as Blackberry has over Windows Mobile is the uniform platform. What I mean is that I have tried to setup a few Windows Mobile devices and depending on what brand and model it is, the setup screens are different.

So, another system to support but much happier iPhone users.



I may not be the worlds worst blogger but I'm not that good. So here's an updated on what has been going on since my last post (in no particular order):

  • Found out baby Good #2 is on his/her way! ETA, some time in late May.
  • Started a MS Access class with my wonderful wife. Yes, that is a nerd date night.
  • Started a MS Access database for HR.
  • Started to Twitter.
  • Installed our first SAN @ work. Dell MD3000i.
Tonight I plan to configure Active Sync on our exchange server for all the fruit phones and Windows Mobile phones. Going to decommission a 24 pt Cisco switch that is no longer needed at our Libertyville campus and move it to our Grayslake campus and clean up wire closet. Run P2V on a server an move it to the SAN.


Am I the only one who hates iTunes?

Ok, I tried iTunes several years ago when the first iPods and iPod Nano's came out. Didn't like it. Now, for my birthday my wife got me a new 4 gb iPod Nano so I have to use it now. So I downloaded the latest (7.x) and gave it a shot. I thought they would have improved upon their offering in the last few years but it doesn't appear that they have. I don't claim to know iTunes in and out but here are my thoughts:

(After talking to my brother who works for the dark side at a Mac store and is a "Mac Genius" I have updated my list)


  • No "Mini" or small player mode like Windows Media Player or every other music player. (I think Win Media does a great job in putting it in the tool bar) There is a "Mini" by clicking on the "Restore Down" button but it doesn't look that good.
  • Can't add play list by right clicking. You have to go to the menu or remember the hot keys. I guess that goes back to Mac's stupid single button mouse. There is one more way by clicking the "+" at the bottom of the screen.
  • Most players let you view your music by Genre, Artist, and Album as iTunes does, they just do it much better. You can customize what you want to see a little more but I still don't like how it is laid out.
  • No "Visualizer" as you would expect. I think they mean "visualizer" in the terms of video's. The Visualizations aren't big things, they are just cool if you are playing music for some sort of event and you want something showing on the projection screen.
  • Isn't working with my iPod! It won't show up any more! It seams that whatever method they use for communication to the device is finicky.
  • Doesn't sync with other portable devices without 3rd party add in.


  • Is supposed to work with the iPod.
  • Has iTunes store.
  • Can play video.
  • The biggest like for me would have to be Nike + for the iPod. http://www.apple.com/ipod/nike/

The likes are quite short but I could go on with the dislikes. I am just surprised that Apple is so popular with their iPod line and iTunes but their product in most cases is lacking. Feel free to disagree.


Much to do!

So much going on I haven't had any time to blog! Here is a quick list of things that have happened in the last few months:

  • Moved our server room to make room for more children's space
  • Installed new firewall and DSL at one of our sites to ease the traffic on our P2P T1.
  • Tried and failed at getting a Mac server setup. Because it's a Mac shouldn't it set itself up?!
  • Planning out our new Opt-E-Man setup for multi-site video! Sweet HD video coming soon!
  • Setup new VMWare Server Host and several VM's.
  • Making progress on SharePoint and our church dashboard project.
  • Setup Cisco SSL VPN. (ASA 8.x has much better SSL VPN than 7.x!)
  • Moving from ACS to Fellowship One at the end of the month!

Hopefully more to come and some pictures!



Today I made the worst single click of my life. Apparently, one click can delete one group in Active Directory or a whole OU! Once you have said "OK" to the pop up, all is lost. I mistakenly deleted an OU that has all of our staff when I meant to delete just one group.

Well at least I have backups. I have used our CA Arcserve 11.5 backup software before to restore deleted files and it has worked OK. That was until today. I went to restore the system state and found out that it was not as granular as I wanted. I just wanted to restore one OU but my only option was to restore everything. I though that would have to do so I went to restore it and it failed. Right away I called up the tech support (that's what they re there for right?) and had a guy walk me though it. We thought we had it and I hung up.

Nope. Didn't work. I tried a few more things and then called them back. After a 3 hour conversation with the over seas tech support (Sometimes hard to understand but they stick with it) he wanted to call it a night and see if some others in the group would have answers. I reluctantly said OK. He just kept trying the same thing over and over again any way so I tried a few things of my own.

The error we kept getting was because when you restore the system state, you have to bring the system up in "Directory Services Restore Mode" which logs you in with that account. The backup software however runs on local or network credentials and therefore kept having issues. I finally was able to get the right combination of credentials for the services to run with and it worked!

I can't wait to tell the tech support guy tomorrow when he calls back that I figured out in 30 min what he couldn't in 3 hours!

This is one more time when tech support has let me down. But at least my network is back up! Time to make to set a backup schedule in Windows Backup to make sure it works next time!


TeraStation Update

The TeraStation works! I am waiting for the Cisco Gigabyte up links that I ordered for our switches so that it can kick up the transfer speed. Right now it they are just connected to 100 Mb links.

I had one TeraStation at our Grayslake site and one at our Libertyville site. This was going to be my plan but it came clear early on that our T1 wouldn't be able to handle the replication traffic because I couldn't schedule it to run at night. So, I moved the one at our Libertyville site to our youth building on the same property in Grayslake. There is a fiber connection between the two sites and makes backups a breeze. So far things are working well. My last automated email status update said that it was up to 7% usage.


Buffalo TeraStation Pro II

At The Chapel, our Communications team creates several gigabytes of video's and pictures each week that we need to keep. The problem right now is that our video team is keeping most of these video's locally on their machines. That is bad as you may know.

Our short term solution is to go with two Buffalo TeraStation Pro II, 2 TB NAS devices. I have heard some good things about them and their price tag is hard to beat (about $0.50 a Gig!).

So we are running both of these in RAID 5 and backing up from one of them to the other.

  • Cheap
  • Rack Mount
  • Several RAID levels including RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 and JBOD
  • Web management
  • DFS and automated backups
  • FTP and AFP support


  • The management of the hard disks and RAID doesn't have as many features as I would hope.
  • Buffalo's implementation of DFS is a far cry from what you get in Server 2003 R2. You also can't throttle the synchronization bandwidth.
  • The documentation is OK but you can tell that it has been translated and it doesn't go into much detail on DFS or FTP configurations.
  • When you join the unit to Active Directory you can't use FTP anymore.
  • Only one NIC


SBC + Internet = Angry

I have been pretty happy with my DSL for a while now. Recently, I changed my plan to allow us to have DSL at home without having a home phone (Save big $$). I thought that my account had changed weeks ago and I hadn't had any problems nor was I told that I had to make any changes. That was until this morning.

I used my DSL connection last night to remote into work and it worked fine. This morning I discovered that I could not access the Internet or work. After troubleshooting my problem with SBC for 50 Minutes I finally got. I reset my modem and reentered some information and it's working now.

Speed test results. I guess that is what you get for only $24.99 a month.


SharePoint Training

I spent this past week at NorthWoods Church in Peoria Illinois at a FREE (for the most part) SharePoint training. I want to give big props to MindSharp and Bill English for donating their time and materials to bless 35+ church IT workers. The training was first class all the way from the accommodations to the training materials. We are planning on using SharePoint in some big ways this coming year at the church. Thanks guys!