Building our New Games Room – Part 3 – Networking and Lighting

Join us in this new series as we put into practise products from our store, knowledge from our how-to guides and the wider community and experience working with gaming setups, retro and modern, for many years. From the ground up we will be building a new games room in a spare bedroom, looking at how to get the most out of the available space and what gear we would recommend.

Welcome to part three of our new games room build. Sorry that this update took so long, we were having some problems with our accounting system since a new update rolled out for the new EU Strong Customer Authentication. This caused me a lot of extra busy work. After that, we had all the hassle of moving to the new site and hosting plan. Enough with the excuses however, now we’re all stuck in lock down it’s a great time to work on your gaming setup, so let’s get on with the build.

Unless you plan on only using consoles from the fifth generation or earlier, you are going to want to install some kind of network in your games room. Unless you plan on only using modern consoles, you will need to install some kind of wired network and in fact the best solution will probably be to have both a wired and wireless network available.

Why not go wireless for everything? Adding wireless capabilities to consoles like the PS2 or original Xbox is difficult. Furthermore, gamers often prefer wired networks since they are more likely to achieve high speeds and reliability compared to their wireless counterparts.

Netting the Ether

In part one of the guide we hired an electrician to install us some Ethernet sockets into the room. These sockets connected directly to our router through the roof space, effectively building a home network.

Two Ethernet sockets aren’t going to get us very far though, so it is time to buy some network switches. A network switch allows you to connect multiple devices to one Ethernet connection. You can add several switches to your network, basically placing them wherever you need them. There are some limitations but it’s unlikely that you will bump into them when installing a home network.

Network switches – Managed or unmanaged?

When it comes to choosing Ethernet switches you have the choice of managed or unmanaged. Bigger capacity switches often come in both types. Understanding the difference between the two isn’t really difficult. A managed switch has software that lets you change or manage the connection. In a corporate environment you might use this to restrict bandwidth to certain devices, for instance.

For a games room, or even a small office/home office setup, it’s unlikely you would want or need a managed switch. The only reason you might want to do this is to restrict children’s access to online gaming at certain times of the day or night and in this instance there are better and more consumer friendly tools that will allow you to do that.

Having decided that we don’t need a managed switch, it’s simply a case of choosing a switch, or switches, that have enough capacity to run all our devices. Choose a relatively robust, well reviewed model, since online gaming can cause some heavy network packet lifting and sifting. The two models we chose for our setup were:-

Switch 1 – Netgear Gigabit GS116

Netgear network switches always review well and the GS116 is a solid, well performing switch supporting 16 10/100/1000 (gigabit) ports. Simply plug it in and connect your devices up, no configuration necessary. These switches are available everywhere, so check with your favourite IT reseller.

Remember, to get gigabit speeds you will need at least category 5e network cables. Many cables sold as category 5e actually fall well short of the spec, so you may be safer going for category 6 for all your gigabit network gear.

Switch 2 – Netgear 100mb FS116

Why an older, non gigabit switch? Simply because we had one, purchased many years ago, that was still in perfect working order. Consoles like the original Xbox, PS2, Dreamcast and even the Xbox 360 never had gigabit Ethernet connections so would not benefit from being attached to a gigabit switch. Devices like HDMI switches with Ethernet connections aren’t going to benefit from faster data transfer rates either.

Recycling this old switch for use with these older systems makes perfect sense. If your older IT gear still works perfectly there’s really no reason to replace it.

If you don’t have an older switch to recycle and you need more than 16 Ethernet ports, you might be tempted to go for a 24 or 48 port switch. A word of warning if you do this, it’s very common for these bigger capacity switches to contain fans, typically smaller fans which can be quite noisy.

Wi-Fi, because cables still suck

Having a Wi-Fi access point in your games room is still highly desirable. You or your guests might want to check their phones, tablets or laptops for game walkthroughs or just to feed their social media addiction. Of course, you may simply be able to use an existing access point in your home for this. If not, you can easily install an access point into your Ethernet switch and instantly Wi-Fi enable the room.

There aren’t a lot of special considerations for buying your access point. Some older consoles, like the Wii, may not be able to connect to an access point that’s limited to 802.11n clients. More limited still is the Nintendo DS which doesn’t support modern Wi-Fi security, though there is scant reason to try to connect an original Nintendo DS to the internet any more.

Wi-Fi access point – Ubiquiti Networks UAP-AC-LITE WLAN

Ubiquiti Wi-Fi devices are much loved within the commercial sector and by IT professionals. Delivering solid performance, these dual band devices will ensure all your devices get maximum throughput.

These devices have a reputation of being difficult to set up but I don’t feel this is fair. There are a lot of options you can configure, but getting a simple network up and running using their iOS based app didn’t take long at all and adding a guest network to the access point was equally painless.

Finishing up – UGREEN Cat7 Cat6 Cat5 RJ45 8P8C Network Keystone Jack In-Line Coupler

The name is rather a mouthful for this simple little device, which joins two Ethernet cables together. Obviously, you can use one of these adapters to easily extend an Ethernet cable. You can also use them to conveniently route an Ethernet socket somewhere it might be needed. For example, in our room the network switches are hidden away behind the media unit. By using one of these little couplers and an Ethernet cable, a single socket can be routed to the front, allowing for convenient connection of any temporary consoles or classic computers we might be testing or working on.

Games Consoles and Security

Games consoles and gaming PCs are often considered a security risk because of the way they tend to use sytems like UpnP on your router to arbitrarily open up ports to the internet. Add in the fact that, if you are a retro gamer, you will be dealing with legacy devices that haven’t had security patches in some time and you can no doubt appreciate some of the risks you will face.

An in-depth discussion into network security is beyond the scope of this article, but remember that, as a home user, you are less likely to suffer from a coordinated attack on your network than a business might be. Take sensible precautions especially if you do run your business from home. Have an off-site backup in the cloud or at a friends house to protect against ransomware attacks and keep your PCs and browsers up to date. Finally, when you’re not using that old Windows XP games box, turn it off, not even the most elite of hackers can remotely attack a computer when it’s turned off at the wall.

Lighting

With the network all figured out, we can bring our attention to the lighting in the room. Lighting has come a long way from the basic bulb and with a home network we can do all kinds of exciting things.

Philips Hue

The Philips Hue system of smart lighting has a huge range of bulbs, light strips, switches and accessories. All sorts of effects are possible, if you have the space and the budget.

We already had the required Hue Bridge in our home network, so adding Hue lighting to the games room was an obvious choice. For our games room we went for four Philips Hue White and Colour Ambience GU10 Dimmable LED Smart Spot Lights. The lights were positioned to throw colours all around the room.

Keep in mind that coloured lights often appear quite disappointing if you have darker walls or furniture, so consider that before you spend lots of money on them.

Finally, we had space for just one Philips Hue Play light bar. This tucked in behind the monitor (more on our monitor choices in another article) and gives the media unit behind the monitor some nice ambient light.

For convenience, we also replaced the existing light switch in the room with a Hue dimmer switch.

Samotech smart light switch cover installed over the old “dumb” lighting switch.

To replace the existing room switch we used the Samotech light switch cover, which allows an existing, dumb light switch to be covered over with one of the hue dimmer switches, no wiring or re-wiring necessary.

hueDynamic for Hue

There are lots of fun apps for the Hue system that can sync your lights to your music, configure your dimmer switches or set a schedule for while you’re out of the house. The best one for Windows, in our opinion, is hueDynamic. Not only does this app give you all the power of Hue on your desktop, but it can sync your lights with your gameplay too. This works well in first person shooter games, where moving into a darker area will result in the room lights dimming to match the more spooky atmosphere. It’s also great for more trippy shooters like Tempest 4000 or for any party games.

With networking and lighting decided, the next step is possibly the most crucial, the AV system. What monitor, or monitors will we be using? Which speakers and AV system and how will they all fit together? Find out what we chose in the next article.

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