Published On: July 7, 2014

Internet Bandwidth Problems and How It Can Screw Up Your Home Theater Experience

Published On: July 7, 2014
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Internet Bandwidth Problems and How It Can Screw Up Your Home Theater Experience

My family is going through, as Jules in Pulp Fiction calls it, a "transitional period." We sold our house in Los Angeles just over a year ago and quickly bought another, 1950s-style, original-condition house about 1.5 miles from the beach....

Internet Bandwidth Problems and How It Can Screw Up Your Home Theater Experience

By Author: Jerry Del Colliano

pulp.jpgMy family is going through, as Jules in Pulp Fiction calls it, a "transitional period." We sold our house in Los Angeles just over a year ago and quickly bought another, 1950s-style, original-condition house about 1.5 miles from the beach. The new house needs pretty much everything redone, and the progress is going, well, slower than my already painfully slow expectations. We've done construction before, and we know nothing gets done on time, and everything is 35 percent more expensive; still, we are really delayed.

When we sold our house, we rented a three-bedroom apartment in downtown Brentwood, not too far from where Ron Goldman (from the now 20-years-old O.J. Simpson case) used to work at the Mezaluna Restaurant, which is now a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (eat your heart out, Adrienne). The apartment was fine for the first six months, but then some UCLA graduate students from Dubai moved in below us, and they smoked both cigarettes and weed nonstop. You would walk in at 6:00 p.m., and our home looked like Cheech and Chong were living there, as the ventilation was below sub-standard. It was terrible. People laugh at the next problem; but, to make matters worse, a cute blond woman moved in next to us, and her master-bedroom wall was shared with ours. Despite having two layers of both drywall and 0.75-inch-thick MDF plywood between us, at three in the morning, we could hear this Range Rover-driving, Hollywood cutie snoring with a low-frequency power and volume normally reserved for an SVS subwoofer. It was time to move...and move we did, even though the house wasn't anywhere close to done. We still had 12 months before we were going to be able to move in.

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speed.jpgThere were many costs associated with this unexpected move, but the one that hurt the most in moving from the apartment to a condo was Internet performance. The new condo that we are now living in is better in almost every way than the apartment: It's quiet, it's larger, it has new high-end appliances, and it's got nice hardwood floors with nicely detailed molding and more. What it doesn't have is suitable Internet. At the apartment, we had both DirecTV (for TV) and Time Warner Cable (for Internet), and one trip to Speedtest.net showed download speeds of over 105 Mbps. That is fiber-optic-like speed and, in my humble opinion, is more luxurious than a Sub Zero fridge in the modern world we lived in. For example, we were able to download Gravity with full Blu-ray 1080p video and 7.1 audio in about three hours via the Kaleidescape Store. When we moved over here to the nice condo, we were locked into Verizon DSL. Yes, DSL...The neighborhood is wired for Time Warner, but the building has long-term, exclusive contracts with DirecTV and Verizon; thus, you can't have your own Internet brought in. Scary. A trip to Speedtest.net at the condo shows a pathetic 4.7 Mbps down. Contractually, Verizon owes us a download speed of 7 Mbps, but they can't and won't do anything about it, as I have called (and even begged) for them to help. They simply refuse to do anything, with 45 to 60 minutes wasted every call.

Going from 105 Mbps to 4.7 Mbps, with under-1-Mbps upload speeds, is like moving from Manhattan to Mogadishu in terms of sophistication. Wanna stream Netflix in 4K to be really cutting-edge? I could've done it at the apartment, but now I can't stream Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, or movies at ANY resolution with any level of reliability. I have to actually think about streaming my media during the day when people are at work. When I need to update my computer's software, I have to take the machine to work and do it there, as it may never get done at home. Forget backing up my computer to the cloud? It likely will never get done. At peak times, even loading a Web page or downloading email can be terrible or impossible. Bad Internet is something you might not even wish on your worst enemy.

How hard is to get good internet? Read on to find out . . .

ID-100237236.jpgI tend to never give up, so I tried making my Sprint iPhone a hot spot, but guess what? Sprint has lousy coverage in my condo. Literally, I can't make a call from most places inside my home. Sprint says they are going to upgrade the repeaters in the next three months, but I don't believe them, and I won't be here forever, either. Next, I tried to see if Sprint's industrial-grade 4G repeater would be a reasonable solution. It couldn't get more than one bar. I had my IT guy, who lives nearby, stop by my place and try his iPhone, which got a solid connection and 18.5 Mbps down. Hey, that's workable. We get 25 Mbps at work, and that's great.

With a solution in the works, I went down to the Verizon store to pick up a 4G hot spot. They immediately pushed for the two-year contract, but I wasn't sure I wanted to make that kind of commitment; so, I bucked up $200 and $100 per month, respectively, to get data on my iPad (which I had shut off a year ago, since I used it mostly on wireless) and this USB-charged, portable hot spot on a month-to-month basis. I brought the little sucker home and found it to be super simple to use, with only one button. The performance is pretty variable. At first I was only getting 6.8 Mbps down, but later I was getting upwards of 13.5 down. What concerns me is that, without using it for Netflix, software downloads, or anything really that bandwidth-intensive, I have already used four GB of the 10 GB that I spend $100 per month to get. Can I upgrade to more bandwidth? Yes, I can. Have I ever had to think about the volume/size of files I download and how I use the Internet as both the publisher of an online publication and/or a home theater and music enthusiast? I haven't worried about issues like that since the long-gone days of dial-up.

ID-10069298.jpgHow has this situation changed my daily entertainment routine? I now take my laptop to work and download new shows there to save bandwidth and to get faster download speeds. Forget downloading anything from the Kaleidescape Store until we move. At $10 per additional MB on the 4G network, a movie upgrade to HD from K-scape might cost me $1.99 at the store but upwards of $400 in bandwidth. I am not paying that, even for Caddyshack or Fletch. This is no joke.

There is a lot of talk about net neutrality in the news these days. Internet providers want to merge with phone companies that make their living charging for bandwidth and speed. You need both to stay on the edge of cool AV technology these days. Think about how many Web-based services we use in a modern AV system, including firmware upgrades, Pandora, Netflix, Amazon on Demand, CinemaNow, and so many others. Your TV might have 100 apps, but can you afford to run them if these Internet providers are allowed to merge and charge you for the volume of downloads? We give $3,000,000,000 per year in foreign aid to Pal-E-Stan (as our President calls it), but we are just hoping that Google or someone else wires our country with fiber-optic Internet? Did having a robust Interstate highway system help grow our economy and help provide security to our country in the 1950s? Absolutely, yes. Is providing people world-class Internet all over the country at a price anyone can afford good for our economy? Also, yes. Home-based businesses rely on Skype and other workplace apps just as much as our AV systems rely increasingly on Web-based entertainment applications.

If you feel strongly about this topic, perhaps pop your congressperson an email or letter (they count letters more for some reason) to let them know where you stand. They certainly hear from (and often believe) the lobbyists in Washington. Perhaps they will listen to the people who actually vote for them. Perhaps not, but at least it's worth a shot.

How fast is your connection? Have you had issues downloading or streaming media? What type of connection do you have? If you have fiber or something really fast, how do you use it? Do you bundle in TV and phone with your Internet? We want to know.

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