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Raspberry Pi as a Wi-Fi Bridge

Raspberry Pi are fun little devices. They’re a bit like rabbits in that they tend to multiply. We started out with one as a replacement for a failed Squeezebox, and now have 6 or 8 of them around here. Most are media players running PiCorePlayer. The availability of the Pi4 inspired me to deploy one as a media server, running PiCorePlayer with Logitech Media Server. Yet another Pi4 hosts our local instance of Home Assistant.

Of course, with several RPi deployed it only seems sensible to have a spare on hand. So I usually have a Pi3 and Pi4 readily available for whatever tinkering occurs to me. Earlier experiments with Dicaffeine for example.

We recently installed a new television in our living room. That room had been without a TV for years, but it was decided that a particularly large open wall would be a good place to put a larger TV. A new Vizio M65 now fills that void.

The Vizio M65 is the larger and newer brother to the M50 that’s been in our family room for several years. In 2016, 50” was the largest that was deemed acceptable, both in terms of price and spousal approval. In 2020, it seems that 65” is the new normal and price/performance sweet spot.

The new TV is installed. It connects to our Wi-Fi without issue. That satisfies the requirement for access to Netflix, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access and Disney+.

However, we’re still a Tivo* household. So, HDMI input #1 is connected to a Tivo Mini that streams content from the Roamio Pro in the family room. Tivo mini are neat little devices, but they connect to MoCA or Ethernet…no Wi-Fi.

Ethernet vs Wi-Fi

I believe that something that can be connected via Ethernet should be connected via Ethernet. Wi-Fi is primary only for mobile devices. So, I will eventually pull Ethernet over to the new TV, but that will take some time. In the short term we’ll use Wi-Fi, which meant I needed a wireless bridge to connect the Tivo Mini to our Wi-Fi.

Raspberry Pi 4 as a bridge

I could have just bought a wireless bridge. I’ve used one from TP-Link in the past. But it occurred to me that a RPi 4, with its AC type Wi-Fi, should make a decent bridge with just a little effort. And I had one sitting right in front of me in a nice Argon NEO case.

With just one visit to Google I found exactly what I needed, instructions to setup Raspian Light as a Wi-Fi bridge. I loaded Raspian to an SD card using Balena Etcher and I was half-way there.

The instructions detail a bash script that does the hard work. I just had to get that script loaded to the Pi4. Raspian Lite has no desktop and the Linux command line is not a comfortable place for me, so I decided to enable SSH on the Pi and login using PUTTY from my desktop. That way I could copy & paste the script from notepad into the nano text editor running on the Pi.

Here’s an outline of the process:

  • Boot the Pi and login to the local console.
  • Use raspi-config to change the root password and enable SSH.
  • Connect from my Windows desktop using PUTTY.
  • Invoke Nano and paste the bash script, tweaked to reflect our Wi-Fi.
  • Save the script.
  • Exit Nano.
  • sudo run the script and watch the magic happen.
  • Reboot the Pi.
  • Connect a laptop to the Pi via Ethernet and verify connectivity to the outside world.

The whole process took about 30 minutes. Thereafter, I moved the Pi4 over to the living room and connected the Tivo Mini. Once the Pi booted, the Mini was able to see the Roamio, successfully streaming both live and stored content. Win!

Now that I knew this was a workable solution, I wanted to know how well it was working. So, I installed Bashtop (used previously here) to gain some insight into the load on the wee computer as I ran a speed test from an attached laptop. I ran the speed test several times, using different target servers.

The bridge maxed out our admittedly modest Comcast connection. Further, the CPU load on the Pi4 seemed slight. While the Pi4 got warm, as they do, it was not substantially burdened.

What About the Pi 3?

While I had solved the problem of the moment, I was left wondering if a Pi3 would be a similarly good solution? Since I had one handy, I repeated my little experiment with the older model Pi.

The Pi3 has an older Wi-Fi interface than its newer brethren. This explains the slower speed test results, even while the CPU has some room to spare.

Close

There’s a certain folly to this. Either model Raspberry Pi, a case & SD card cost more than a cheap Wi-Fi bridge. However, I had this hardware on-hand and I won’t need the bridge for long. It’s a temporary solution until I can pull Ethernet to that location. That means getting under the house for an hour or two, which is a project for an uncommitted weekend with cooperative weather.

P.S. – To make the video captures the workflow was as follows:

  • Raspberry Pi HDMI out (1080P) >> BirdDog Mini >> vMix 4K.
  • Laptop HDMI out (1080P) >> Camlink >> vMix 4K.
  • Run vMix at 4K30 so the individual captures are shown 1:1 for clarity.

*P.P.S. – Yes, I know that Tivo Roamio and Tivo Mini are old, not 4K or HDR capable. A lot of what we watch is not in 4K or HDR. Where possible, we use the built-in apps on the TV. Tivo’s newer products have proven less than appealing for various reasons. Further, it seems that they’re abandoning the retail DVR market entirely.

P.P.P.S – I have since learned that Tivo did offer an optional Wi-Fi dongle that would allow a Tivo Mini VOX to work over Wi-Fi. It’s offered by WeaKnees, a specialist in all thing Tivo. At $59, its no cheaper than using RPi as a Wi-Fi bridge, just a little tidier.

Further, it will not work with our older Tivo Mini which does not run the firmware with the New Tivo Experience. We have not updated to that firmware. Along with a reworked UI, it includes forced playback of ads prior to playing previously recorded content.

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