How to Set up RV Media Center in Simple 7 Steps?
We enjoy a dazzling array of entertainment options. Forget the VCR connected to a TV. We can now connect to our chosen streaming media with smart phones, laptop computers, and televisions.
Cable and satellite TV compete with DVD players and more modern media; their greatest advantage is not requiring bandwidth or a wireless connection. Yet it is a waste of space and power to have multiple devices for your viewing pleasure.
Let’s learn how to set up an RV media center in 7 simple steps.
Here are 7 Steps to Setup Media Center in an RV
Step 1: A Budget for Materials
Before you start planning which cables and software to get, create a bill of materials. The core items for your RV media center are an energy-efficient LED HDTV, a lockable RV TV mount, a decent hard drive, multiple microSD cards, an HDMI cable, a wifi repeater and a media center with remote control.
The TV mount allows you to set the TV where everyone can view it will protecting it while the RV is moving. The HDTV allows you to enjoy your movies and music videos. You can look for a TV designed for RVs that is designed to run off a 12 volt DC outlet.
A hard drive can play DVDs or music CDs while storing downloaded files and run software, though some choose to use a formal media server like the Kodi or Plex models.
The microSD cards allow you to copy instructions from the internet and transfer it to your media center and run software updates for the smart TV, as well.
The wifi repeater allows you to view streaming media off the internet assuming you have a wireless internet connection available to you.
Step 2: Media Server Hardware
When you’re selecting media server hardware, consider what other devices you are using. For example, a Windows media server, for example, will have a hard time talking to an iPhone or Mac computer.
Other brands of media servers are device agnostic, meaning they’ll connect to Android phones and Apple devices without issue, assuming you install the necessary drivers and computer programs. If everything you own is Apple, go for an Apple TV.
Once you’ve decided what media server hardware you want, you can buy the right cables to connect everything. You might want to pick up the cables necessary to connect to local cable TV hookups, though only a few RV parks give you this option.
Determine "how you are going to power"
You also have to determine how you’re going to power it all. If you’re going to run the hardware off the RV house battery, energy efficiency is a necessity. Low power devices are worth a premium in these cases. If the TV can run off DC power, that is the ideal.
After all, you’re losing energy in the conversion from AC to DC power. That loss is even higher if you’re using an inverter to convert DC power from house batteries into high quality power for a television.
Don’t forget 12 volt DC car adapters for devices like the hard drive and everything else that needs to be powered from the RV’s electrical system. Avoid using old RV converters to power media centers. They don’t meet the less than 3 percent power harmonic variation required for safe use with smart electronics.
In short, if you try to save money with an old RV power converter, odds are you’ll short out your media center, connected laptop or both.
Step 3: Media Server Software
The best media server software is one that is plug and play with every device you’ll connect to it and whatever devices you want to use with it. For example, if you have a Kodi app on your Apple phone to control your media center at home, you might as well have the Kodi app on the media server.
If you enjoy Netflix, you’ll obviously need to install the Netflix app on the media server. If you are running everything Apple, install the Airplay software so you can stream media to any Apple device – including your media center and new TV.
Learn how to adjust the bandwidth their app uses before you use it so that you minimize the disruptions that come from running high def shows through a 3G free public wifi hotspot. You’ll want at least 1.5 megabits of speed to be able to live stream video through a wifi hotspot.
The alternative is downloading movies for several hours while connected to local wifi and shore power so you can watch the movie later. Note that bandwidth demands tend to be greatest late at night and early in the morning. People are watching movies before going to bed or checking email and news before they pack up in the morning.
Learn how to reduce the fidelity bitrate of streaming music services you use on your phone, too, since you could burn through your data plan allowance in two or three days of continuous usage.
Step 4: Media Server Configuration
What kind of configuration does a media server require? You may need to set up partitions so that you can save massive media files to the system with a minimum of space. You may want to create directories to save photos and video and then back them up.
This step also includes downloading and installing all the media apps you like such as Netflix, HBOGo and Apple TV. The streaming media apps have no costs associated with them unless you’re paying for a premium service.
You may want to get in the habit of removing apps when you get home if you’re concerned that you’ll cancel the service in the future. Fortunately, apps don’t hurt anything otherwise. They consume little power, and at most, you have to pay a couple of dollars to download them to your device.
We don’t recommend trying to display media playing on your phone through a cable to the TV. That will drain both the phone battery and house batteries.
Step 5: File Syncing
File syncing starts with setting up a file syncing script on the media server. This takes a long time on wifi, so you want to connect a laptop to the media server to send commands to the media server. This allows you to set up a temporary directory and then set up directories for file backups.
You can set up hosts for your RV when it is on the network so that you can see and share files with it without having to reference its IP address. This is the time to set up SSH keys for default users and set up other user accounts. (For example, a kid’s account may only be able to access the Disney movie file folder.) You could also set things up to not need a password or password prompt to log in in the future.
The synchronization script should run as root so that it has access to all local files it backs up. The root user account may need SSH keys generated so that it can access the rest of the network.
When the SSH daemon is restarted, you should be able to log in as a root user on the server and ssh directly to the media center without having to go through passwords. And you can set up a cron job that synchronizes the files over the local hardware.
Configure it so that it doesn’t try to sync with your laptop or other device via the wireless network. Once in a while, you’ll want to delete files so that the media center doesn’t run out of memory.
Step 6: Installation
Installation refers to the physical installation of the media center, TV and other items in the RV. We list this next to last because it is so much easier to download and configure files while everything is connected to a laptop or desk top computer at a work table in your home.
If you have a cabinet in the RV designed for an old fashioned television, you can reuse this cabinet to house the TV. You should put the USB drive and media center in a cabinet behind or below the TV so that it isn’t thrown around when you make a hard turn while driving.
Plug in the devices to each other and their respective power sources.
Step 7: A test of all the above
How do you test your new RV media center? Turn on the RV power, turn on the devices, and try to run an app. Verify it can connect to the wireless network and play a show.
Close the app and test the next app or website you use to access media. Test every app, program or website. This is the time to save passwords locally.
Access your file partitions. Can you view video and photos saved there? Can you access all levels of your de facto server?
A few luxury motor homes come with full media centers today. However, those who own older RVs or cheaper new ones have to come up with a way to access modern entertainment with a minimum of devices and power draws.
We’ve provided an overview of how you could set one up in your own RV, though the hardware and software combination and configuration will vary based on your own setup.