futur3gentleman $10K Wireless Entertainment Setup
Over the last decade, I have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in the pursuit of entertaining myself and friends via a Rube Goldberg-esque audio/video setup. It never ends because when technology advances so must my setup. As a result, I am always being forced to learn about new gadgets and the hacks required in order to use them the way I want.
My current system is almost completely wireless and mostly invisible - thanks to my love of projectors. Depending on your home, budget, and tech savvy, you can scale it up or down; regardless, this has worked incredibly well for me and I wanted to document it before it changes once again.
- Computer: Apple Macbook Pro
- Computer: Apple Mac mini
- Direct Attached Storage: Drobo 5D
- Wireless Router: Netgear Nighthawk AC1900
- Wireless Speaker(s): Libratone Zipp (x3)
- Projector(s): BenQ W1070 & BenQ W1080ST
- Media Streamer(s): Apple TV 3 (x2)
- Computer: Custom Built Gaming PC
My laptop is my main computer, and I work on it the majority of the day. Because of this I also use it for music playback in my office and throughout the house.
The wireless speaker in my office is directly connected to my laptop via an 1/8" male-to-male audio cable so there is no audio delay when I want to quickly watch a YouTube video or just play a music clip. Otherwise it takes about two seconds for the wireless audio to kick in.
When I want to play music to one or more speakers wirelessly, I run a piece of software on my laptop called Airfoil which lets me beam audio from any source on my Mac to any/all the wireless speakers - while keeping the audio in sync!
Other than buying a complete Sonos system, I am not familiar with any other way to do this - and I've looked.
My Mac mini is connected to a Drobo 5D which allows me to upgrade my hard drive space over time by simply adding new, larger drives. It can accommodate up to five 3.5" SATA drives and allows for one or two disk redundancy. In total, I currently have 9.94TB of available space with 69% currently being used.
The Mac mini is running Plex Media Center and serves video from my media collection on the Drobo 5D to any device on the same WIFI network running a Plex client.
PlexConnect for Apple TV 3 & earlier: While Plex is available as an Apple TV app on newer Apple TV models, the two models I own need to be slightly tweaked in order to connect to Plex. Full details are available at the PlexConnect wiki, but in short, I had to give the Mac mini a static IP address (via the wireless router), run a python script & map the DNS settings on each Apple TV to the static address of my Mac mini.
We have two projectors - one mounted in the living room and the other floating between rooms as is needed. Right now it is in Hannah's office, but regardless of the location this setup allows its user to connect to our media collection via Plex through the Apple TV and project it on the wall up to 150 inches.
The wireless speaker in the kitchen can have music sent to it via any iOS device on our WIFI network via Airplay.
In addition to that, any audio playing from my laptop via the Airfoil app will be played in sync with the other speakers it is being beamed to. If you add more wireless speakers to your network, they will just show up in Airfoil and allow you to send audio to them as well. While I have three of the same type of speaker, you can mix and match types using Airfoil.
Living Room / Bedroom
Our living room is where we do all of our entertaining, and in addition to featuring the same equipment and setup used in Hannah's office and the kitchen, we also have a gaming PC which I am still in the process of completing.
We project a 1080p image on the wall at 105 inches and despite being a little off perspective and having a cat shelf mounted along the left side of the frame, it is an entirely different experience to view things at that scale. Seriously, sell your TV and buy a projector. The reason you don't know how good they are is because stores don't market them to you.
This projector is the exact same as the one in Hannah's office, but it has a different lens which allows it to project the same size image in a shorter distance - hence the 'ST' at the end of the model number. 'Short Throw' projectors are excellent for apartments, especially since you can put them away when not in use (if you don't mount it to the ceiling like I did).
The speaker currently receives audio via the Airfoil app from my office when we are entertaining friends and is simultaneously connected via 1/8" male-to-male audio cable to the Gaming PC. When our housekeeper comes over, she just connects her phone to the speaker using this same audio cable and anyone without an iOS device can do the same. With all of this said, we are currently using the built-in speaker on the BenQ projector when we watch movies & TV - and it is terrible. I really should just buy another very long 1/8" male-to-male audio cable, get a small switch for each 1/8" cable, then connect it to the speaker - but until I do that, this is my reality.
Conclusions & Future Thoughts
- I could consolidate the Mac mini and Drobo into an NAS device for Plex, torrenting, storage, and backup, but I like having an extra Mac on hand and I have used versions of the Drobo for years with no issues. Depending on your needs this may be a no-brainer for you and I am seriously looking into either purchasing or building a NAS in the future.
- Before I could seamlessly play music throughout my entire apartment, I never realized how much my ears strained to hear whenever the audio source was in the distance. Additionally, it is a really luxurious experience to hear audio at a consistent volume as you walk around your home.
- I would buy two or more additional wireless speakers if it meant that I could create a 5.0+ surround system on the fly in conjunction with Plex. This concept would really be fantastic for someone like me that would prefer to have a speaker in each room the majority of the time and a really engrossing movie experience a few times a month.
- Consumer-grade 4K projectors do not yet exist, but having owned two projectors that can easily fill my entire wall with a picture, I can see many useful applications for 'home projections' similar to a Magic Mirror.