BOCS Extender Review by David BaldwinAbout the author: I consider myself to be a home theater enthusiast. I have loved to tinker with electronics and computers as long as I can remember. This interest led me to pursue a degree in electrical engineering and a career with a leading semiconductor manufacturer. I am tolerated by my lovely wife, son, and daughter. I also enjoy offroading, golf, and most sports.
When I began looking for a whole home audio and video distribution system, I had a few key objectives in mind.
The first objective was to be able to watch Tivo’d shows in our exercise room. My wife and I are pretty busy between our careers and our kids activities and don’t get as much time as we would like to watch TV. Up until now, we only had basic cable available there. It seemed as if there was never anything on worth watching when we made some time to exercise, but we had loads of shows on the Tivo’s that we never got around to watching and couldn’t watch in the gym.
The next objective was to simplify our system to make it easier for everyone to use. This included grandparents, babysitters, even our housekeeper. Nearly every TV in the house had a different remote control and miscellaneous complexities that caused nearly everyone to have some problems, or create some new problems for me to figure out. Can you spell time sync?
The third major objective was to add functionality without increasing and if possible to decrease our associated monthly costs. The thought of adding a 4th Tivo in the exercise room was troubling me. On top of that, I really had no convenient place to put the box in our exercise room, which led to a side effect of the BOCS system that my wife is thrilled about. More on that later…
The final major objective was to choose a system that would allow for a reasonable level of expansion including HD (High Definition) distribution at some point in the future. Assuming that most or all AV (Audio/Video) sources will transition to HD in the future, I wanted a system that would support both SD (Standard Definition) and HD sources.
As you undoubtedly deduced from the title, I at least tried on the Extender SD product from BOCS, a company based in Boulder, Colorado. www.bocsco.com
Read on to see how the system held up to my evaluation…
BOCS has agreements in place with a large network of regional and internet electronics resellers and is rapidly expanding. I’m more technical than most, so I opted for purchasing over the internet and installing the system on my own to save some money. If you prefer to have someone else install the product for you, contact your local Home Theater Installer and ask for quote.
BOCS is currently offering an Introductory Starter Kit on their web-site for just $299 and includes the main extender box, along with a special cable combiner (opposite of a splitter), a Remote that is both IR and RF capable, and a comprehensive wiring pack that even includes a tool to trace your existing cable wires back to you central cable splitter. This is a great deal, because the suggested retail price for the kit is $499 and competitors’ products are less integrated, therefore more complex, and also more expensive.
This basic kit provides everything you need to distribute up to three audio and or video sources throughout your entire home via your existing cable system. This system also continues to distribute your existing cable television signals throughout the house. You only need to add additional remotes at TV locations were you want to control the remote AV sources. The remotes have a suggested resale price of $49, but I found them from major internet resellers for less. They even make an RF extender product that will increase the range of your remotes in larger homes.Executive review for those not interested in all the “Techy Details”:
We are having a great experience with this product in our home. The product works as advertised. The product is well documented on BOCS’ website. The sales and support staff is knowledgeable and very helpful. Order placement was relatively straightforward. My order did have a minor delay, but BOCS made up for it by paying the shipping costs and throwing in a free remote! Who does that anymore???
I was impressed with the packaging of the product. It was double boxed with plenty of bubble wrap, peanuts, and foam and even had all edges of the outer carton well taped. The quick installation documentation was printed clearly on nice glossy paper and the full manual is included on a CD-ROM, which should save a few trees. The product itself was impressively constructed. It has a solid metal case, with rubber feet, and quality connectors and cables. The remote is impressive, with logical button layout and well placed impressions in the back so that it doesn’t slip out of your hand.
The installation procedures were well documented and it was relatively straightforward for me to install. If you don’t feel comfortable changing a few connections at your main cable splitter, connecting cable boxes and such, or programming universal remotes, you should probably call BOCS or your local AV Installer before making the purchase.
The product operation really blows me away. The picture and sound quality is very clear throughout my entire home. It is very easy to use and will be in my home for a long time to come!
BOCS demonstrated their HD expanders to this system at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show. This unit will be an add-on module to enable a HD input that accepts component video that most HD sources have outputs for. BOCS is currently working on their plans to release the HD expander product later this year. I’ll be among the first in line to upgrade my system!!!
This system will succeed in meeting all of my major objectives when the HD expander is released and works to my satisfaction!!!Read on for all the “Techy Details”:
I don’t have anything else to add in regards to the order placement and packaging other than some photos.
The installation turned out to be a little more difficult than I originally anticipated, but not because of the BOCS system, but rather I had two bad RG6 coax cables/connectors and an issue with my current cable distribution amplifier not working in conjunction with the included BOCS Supercombiner. The crazy combination of these multiple issues led me through a confusing debug path into the wee hours of the morning.
After running in circles for a while, I finally set up a 17” LCD TV, a single cable box, and the extender product right next to my distribution panel. I quickly discovered and replaced the bad cable and then through further analysis bypassed my existing cable distribution amp and found that the Supercombiner’s integrated amplifier actually performed better and was able to drive all of my TV outputs very well. One final problem made it easy to identify a bad RG6 F-connector that I promptly replaced.
With everything working at the distribution panel, it was time to go back to the family room, where my HDTivo and 52”LCD are located. After cranking up the amplifier gain with a few button presses on the remote, and programming the remote for my equipment, everything was working great except that I couldn’t get the Live TV button to work with my HDTivo. After trying all of the different Tivo codes and having the same issue for every one of them, I was getting ready to contact BOCS, when I came across the ability to learn A/V source codes into the extender. With just a few button presses, I taught the extender the LiveTV code from my Tivo remote and all was fixed!!! I am really impressed with the remote and the extender’s control flexibility.
With this setup working, I pulled my wife’s SDTivo (Series2) out of the master bedroom (without her knowing) and set it up in the family room. I programmed a second remote in the master bedroom to work with the 32” LCD TV. I had to program the Live TV code into the extender again for the second input. I ran into an issue trying to run the RF output from the first Tivo into the RF input of the second Tivo as it shows on the instructions. I tried to use the local TV output to the second Tivo, but that didn’t work either. I ended up using a standard cable splitter to drive the RF input on each Tivo from the STB Out connector on the extender and then everything began working great.
OK, now I was feeling really impressed with the functionality and the picture quality and was ready to move the whole setup down to my Home Theater equipment rack and add the third Tivo, also a Series 2 SD Tivo, from my Game Room as my 3rd AV input. This was graduation for the BOCS Extender product as far as I was concerned. I wasn’t about to reorganize and rewire my entire AV Rack unless I knew this system was a keeper!
I connected everything up the same as I had done with the first 2 Tivos upstairs. I programmed the LiveTV button again into the extender. I used a larger splitter to handle the 3rd Tivo box as I did when adding the second box. Everything just worked, until…
Ladies and gentlemen, if something is going to go wrong, it’s going to be when your skeptical wife is asking you to show her how to watch her favorite show in the Master Bedroom before she goes to bed. When I moved the components from the Family Room down another level to the Home Theater and placed it in a rack full of equipment on the complete opposite corner of my 4200square foot home, the remote control operation from the Master Bedroom became intermittent. My wife stopped short of demanding that “her” Tivo be immediately returned to its original location.
After reassuring my wife that this problem was easily resolved, I quickly placed an order for an RF Repeater along several more remotes to complete my SD installation. The repeater was easily added to the system and resolved the control issue from the Master Bedroom. See the diagram below for my complete system block diagram.Additional Notes:
This system would make it really easy to integrate a Windows Media Center computer in a SD resolution mode using a video card with composite video out today and should support HD video when the HD expander becomes available with a video card supporting component video output.
This system would also make it very easy to add CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) system (Video Security). Someone rings the doorbell and you hit one button on the remote from any TV and you are instantly looking at the CCTV video feed.
There are some other great Ideas on the BOCS website including integration of video and music from a Sony 400 Disc DVD/CD changer or even an Apple IPOD.
You should even be able to distribute Blu-Ray via Component Video output when the new HD expander becomes available. I have a Sony Playstation 3 with an IR Remote add-on and look forward to experimenting with its ability to serve media over BOCS.
Based on a recommendation from BOCS’ website, with three Tivo’s in my home, I assigned a Tivo to my wife, one to my kids, and the final Tivo to myself. This will make it even easier for the family to manage and watch our favorite content from anywhere in the house without conflicts.