Sunday, March 28, 2010

That's entertainment, not! How Machiavellian can you make it?

Kate and I kept our sailboat in Midland Ontario, and cruised Georgian Bay for many years. Our entertainment system consisted of a good battery powered boom box, and a 5" black and white TV. Since most of the places we gunk holed in, had no television reception at all, the TV was only used occasionally to provide me with a news fix when we were in a larger port. The boom box was used all of the time, you gotta have tunes, and these things always worked.

Entertainment systems on boats are becoming horrifically complex, and are some of the most technically challenging jobs I do. Most installations I deal with have a few things in common. The first is the lack of any wiring diagrams. If you've ever stared at the back of your new television, there must be an almost infinite number of ways to connect systems together, and no two boats are ever wired the same. This is already making my head hurt. The second thing, is access is alway difficult. Unlike your system at home, you can't just pull the cabinet away from the wall, sit behind it, and sort out the wiring. Why, it's a boat of course, and easy access is against all of the rules. The last common element, is every TV/Sound system installer's label maker is broken, why else would all of this wiring be unlabeled?

So how complex can it get? The picture below is an example. This is a sixty foot late model trawler. What you're looking at on the floor, is a two terabyte Alienware Hanger 18 Vista based media server. Having Bill Gate's operating systems on a boat always makes me nervous.  In the cabinet on top, is a powered HDMI  splitter. Below it is a JVC Hybrid amp/source selector, and below that is a AV back up UPS unit. What you can't see, is the audio encoder that talks via ethernet to the Colorado Vnet music server that is located in the pilothouse. Add to this touch panel displays, Ipod interfaces, two large external USB hard drives, surround sound system, vessel wide, zoned speaker system for music, keyboards, mice, dongles, and a drawer full of remote controls, and OMG, next to no documentation. On top of this, the system was installed by a home theater company, that was located at least a thousand miles from the nearest ocean. Oh yes, another installer later modified the system, to the point where almost nothing worked. In the mix is the fact that the home theater installers apparently were not aware of the shore CATV cable system in the boat, because it was never connected to anything, and the same for the SeaTel system. I think they were just mysteries to the installers, and no TV's for you, only monitors. The sound has to be routed through  the music server, and then to speakers via the touch screen displays.

It's going to be all okay. After some e-mailed photos, along with some long discussions with the very helpful original installers about how the thing worked, and some sleepless nights pondering the issues, almost all the problems are solved. The few minor ones left are now solvable. The monitor in the main salon was changed out for a TV. The CATV system was located, connected, and the vessel is now plugged in to Comcast cable at the dock. For the first time, since the boat was built, the owner has been able to watch TV on the boat. None of the equipment fit into the cabinet, and I modified it so it now does, and the door can now be reinstalled. A fan system has been ordered, to cool the cabinet because the Alienware gear gets hot enough to cook eggs on. All of the wiring is being labeled, and I am preparing installer notes to help the next poor soul who has to deal with this eclectic collection of advanced technology.

So when Bob and Carol sit down with me to talk about the television, and sound systems on the boat, I give them the following advice:

The more you want the system to do, the more complex the system becomes to install, and operate. Bob wants high def TV in the cockpit so he can watch ESPN. Okay this is fine, but Carol wants to watch Oprah in the salon at the same time. Alright I can do this, but it's another receiver, a new remote, and more wiring. The kids want MTV at the same time in their cabin, sigh, another receiver, and remote, and more wiring. Bob also wants to plug into the dock cable system, and wants on air TV reception. Some of the sets have digital tuners on the boat, some don't. Now a digital converter has to be added to the boat, along with another remote, but alas this remote is an IR remote, and a way has to be found to convert the signal to RF. Carol  wants all of the receivers and black boxes to be out of sight, so things are installed in places like closets, and under beds. AC power now has to be pulled to each location, and outlets installed. Did I mention the KVH system, and the three Blueray DVD players? Now Bob says he wants it all to run on one remote, argh, (yes it is a real word) it's a boat, not a movie theater!

I'm sure you get the point. It's hard enough to do this at your home, but it can be extremely difficult to do this on a boat. Last year I did a system like this, and pulled over a thousand feet of wiring through a sixty foot boat. And now you want it to work? The documentation to explain how to use all of these systems, in their various manifestations becomes substantial. 

Everything is now installed, and working properly, the boat leaves port, and that night I get a call. Bob can't get the dock cable to work. Now Bob, did you push the button marked "Shore", and has the TV's input been changed from "HDMI" to "TV"? Did you auto program channels from the local marina cable feed? And so it goes on. Bob and Carol use the boat about seven times a year, only in the winter, and forget everything they  knew when they arrive next winter.

The following is a set of directions I prepared for a 44' boat that has several users. It is a very simple system, with a KVH M3, shore cable input, and a on air digital converter, but without directions to refer to, it wouldn't be usable for them. There are four TV's, and one of the Raymarine E-120's displays is being used. There are some additional notes at the end.

Television Operation for Bob and Carol's Magnifico 44’ Yacht

To watch satellite television KVH/Direct TV

Set desired TV’s to channel "4". (Port side Raymarine E-120 set page to "Video 1")
Press "SAT" on the push button box on top of the stack.
Make sure the KVH receiver is on. Green, Green, Green/Flashing Green. Flashing Green on the rightmost LED means it’s searching for signal, solid green means it has acquired the satellite.
Use the Direct TV remote to change channels, if it doesn’t, press the SAT button on the Direct TV remote.
If the  KVH receiver is showing Green, Amber, Amber, it means it's asleep. Press "SAT", then "On" on the Direct TV remote.

To watch local air digital channels

Set desired TV’s to channel "3". (Port side Raymarine E-120 set to page "Video 2")
Press "ANT" on the push button box on top of the stack.
Using the Apex black remote control, make sure the power light on the receiver is turned on, and is green, not red. Use the Apex remote’s "On" button to change the light to green if needed.
Use the Apex remote control to change channels, and the individual TV’s remote control for volume control. For the Raymarine display, volume is controlled by the Clarion stereo system.

To watch local cable channels (Marina cable)

Press "CBL" on the push button box on top of the stack, and plug in coax cable to the dock..
You have to change each TV from "Air" to "cable" using the menu function with each TV’s remote, and then do the auto programming channel search function for each TV. Remember to change it back when done

Dealing with the flying saucer in the cabinet.  

If the black Apex remote is not working, the battery needs to be changed. Open the battery compartment of the Apex remote, and remove the first battery. This is a battery, and a RF transmitter. The battery will slide out of the battery case/transmitter. It is about half of the size of a regular AAA battery. So far so good. Now go to the flying saucer in the cabinet, and open the bottom of it, to expose the battery compartment (there is enough loose wiring to do this) Take out the charged battery, and replace it with the battery needing charging. Take the fresh battery, insert it into the battery/transmitter case, and put it back into the remote control. 

Errata, Cabbages And Kings

The KVH takes some time to acquire the satellites.  If you are not seeing a picture, do the following:

Go to the Raymaine display, and set it to Video 1. You should see at a minimum the Direct TV logo. If it is not there, make sure you have Green, Green, Green LEDs on the Direct TV/KVH receiver. If not use the Direct TV remote to turn it on. If there are no LED’s, showing, turn on the receiver by pushing the "On" button in the lower left hand corner of the box. "No Signal" on the Raymarine video page means something is not turned on.

Double check that the TV’s are on the proper channels. "4" for Direct TV/SAT, "3" for on air reception.

Make sure the push button box is correctly set. CBL for dockside, ANT for on air, and SAT for KVH/Direct TV.

The stereo must be on 88.3 FM for the sound to work with the system. This is preset button "1" on the stereo, if someone hasn’t changed it.

No chart detail on the Raymarine chartplotter, go to the chart page, press "Presentation", and turn "Declutter" off.

If your Raymarine system beeps at you every few seconds, push and hold the WPTS/MOB button until is stops. You held the button down to long and activated the MOB alert.

Raymarine to dark to see? Press  the red power button once, and then press the 4th soft key button at the bottom, going from left to right. This puts the unit back in day mode. 

Can’t find the Video button on the port side Raymarine at the bottom? Press and hold "Page" until  the page set up screen appears. Select one with the video option, and press "OK". Then push page, and select the video camera at the bottom 

Help? Call Bill Bishop

This is a very simple system, you should see the directions for a complex one! 

So boys, and girls, remember, on a boat, simpler is always better, so don't bend over backwards to make it complicated, or you will never learn how to use it. By the way, instead of TV, there are also books, watching the sunset from the cockpit with a glass of wine, and some cheese and crackers, and gasp, even conversation. Oops, Kate wants to talk about feelings, isn't that basketball game on?