Orbi vs. eero in a house that’s already (somewhat) wired for ethernet

There’s a million comparisons already out there between Orbi, eero, and the other wireless “mesh” routers for home use (like AmpliFi, Luma, and Google WiFi). But because people are always looking for reviews to match their unique homes, I figure I’d toss this out there, see if it helps anyone still debating what to purchase.

Why am I just comparing Orbi and eero? Because I already had an eero set-up, but wasn’t 100% happy with it, so I thought I’d try out an Orbi. According to tech review sites like The Wircutter (which do much more comprehensive, all-purpose reviews than I can ever do), Orbi and eero tend to duke it for the top two spots.

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The Orbi units quite literally tower over the eeros. That alone, might be a deciding point for many users without much vertical space for a wireless router.

First up: What’s my house’s set-up like?

When we moved in a few years ago, consumer-grade wireless mesh routers weren’t a thing yet, so I converted some phone jacks into ethernet jacks. That way the cable modem could be hooked up to two different wireless routers on both ends of the house.  Both wireless routers would be set up with the same wifi credentials (network name and password).

ONE CABLE MODEM/ROUTER –> TWO WIRELESS ROUTERS (ON OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE HOUSE)

The upside to doing it that way? I could use equipment I already had (two Apple Airport routers) to cover the entire house.

Or so I thought.  There was still a dead spot in my daughter’s room, which lies between two bathrooms (notorious wifi killers).

Also: The hand-off between the two (identical) wifi networks wasn’t always seamless as you moved from end of the house to the other, no matter how much I tweaked the network settings.

The two-router system worked okay overall, but it could be better (especially in my daughter’s room). So when eero came out, I had to give it a try.

I bought a three-pack, spreading them around the house.  I plugged two directly into the wired ethernet ports. The third went in the middle of the house — right on top of the dead zone.

So what was wrong with the eero set-up?

Not much, actually. It really worked great for the most part. Set-up was easy, and I got great coverage with high speeds throughout the entire house, BUT:

  1. The eero units don’t have many ethernet ports. (Only two per device) So I had to keep my old Apple Airport units around as dumb ethernet hubs. (With their wifi capabilities turned off.) The need for additional devices to provide more ethernet ports added complexity that would prove to be a problem down the line.
  2. My Philips Hue lights started acting up.  There was a very annoying (and very inconsistent) delay when using my phone to adjust the smart lights.  The delay was not there when using the dedicated Philips Hue light switches we had around the house, which don’t use wifi (they use their own proprietary wireless signal). It was also not there when I adjusted the lights when away from home.  The delay (which effectively rendered my phone useless as a light switch) only happened on my home wifi network.
  3. I have a dedicated computer as both a Plex server and an iTunes media sharing machine. (Meaning, as long as the computer is on, I should can access a trove of media content from any other computer or device in the house.) Both Plex and iTunes media sharing stopped working in the early days of using the eero. After hours unplugging all the equipment and re-plugging them back in in different configurations, I eventually got iTunes media sharing working again, but not Plex.

One thing that was always suspect to me about the eero: Its constant need for internet access just to keep your local network functioning (even if you don’t need internet, like just wanting to connect to your Sonos speakers, Hue lights, etc.) Eero routers need to check in with the servers at eero headquarters just to function properly. Could that be creating some kind of proxy issue that’s confusing the Hue?  The complexity of the network — a cable modem with a built-in router, two Apple Airports used as ethernet hubs, and three eero devices, all on the same network that’s both wireless and wired simultaneously — made things too complex to troubleshoot with ease.

One way to simplify things: Just get the Netgear Orbi!

The average American house only needs two Orbi units (compared to three eeros). And each Orbi unit has a bunch of ethernet ports built-in. I could finally do away with those Apple Airports (or any kind of ethernet hub)!

Also: The Orbi doesn’t require an internet connection just for the barest of functionality. With the Orbi, If your internet goes down, your home network should still stay up!

So I thought I’d give Orbi a try, and if it worked, give my eeros to a family member with simpler networking needs.

How did Orbi work out?

Long story short, not great for my needs.  Remember how my home has some wired ethernet ports?  One of them is in the family room. I plugged the “main” Orbi unit into the ethernet port in this room, and then plugged my Sonos, Blu-Ray player, and Apple TV directly into the Orbi. (No additional ethernet hub required!)

Unlike the eero, the “satellite” Orbi unit cannot be plugged into 2nd ethernet port (nor would you want to).  It’s supposed to go in the center of the house.  So that’s where I put it.

The resulting wifi network was great. Covered the whole house, and the download speeds even clocked a bit higher than with the eero.

BUT:

What about that second ethernet port on the far side of the house? As far as wifi coverage is concerned, I didn’t need it anymore. But I still had to have my Philips Hue hub in that room (for proximity to the Hue light bulbs in our bedrooms). And the Hue hub NEEDS an ethernet connection.  So I still had to use the ethernet port in that room.

And that’s where the Orbi was useless.  No matter what I did, the Philips Hue hub was basically invisible to my Orbi-centric home network.

Here, let’s follow the signal from my phone to the Hue Hub:

On my phone, I hit a button to turn on a light –> My phone is wireless connected to the Orbi system via wifi –> the Orbi is connected via wired ethernet to my cable modem/router –> the cable modem/router is connected via ethernet to an ethernet hub –> the ethernet hub is connected to both the Philips Hue hub –> the Hue hub connects wirelessly to the various Hue bulbs in the house (via something other than wifi).

Oh, and also in the mix is an AppleTV, which is necessary to make HomeKit work. (HomeKit is Apple’s system for controlling smart home devices from your iPhone’s home screen.)

The fact that the Hue hub had a wired connection that went through the cable modem/router before going to the Orbi kept it treated as a second class citizen on the network. (as far as I could tell)

With the eero, there were no second class citizen devices.

So back to eero I went, and that’s what I’m using now, simply because the eero system incorporated my two wired ethernet ports into my home network better.

Yes, I still sometimes have a bad delay when using my Hue lights, but it still works most of the time. And that’s better than none of the time.

So if you’ve got a home network that’s a mix of wired and wireless connections…you might find a system like eero to be more your liking. Results may vary, though, as no two homes are exactly alike.

Review: Kamerar QV-1, a good LCD viewfinder at a great price

There are two kinds of camera accessories. Those that directly affect the quality of the images/audio you record and those that merely affect the experience of capturing it. Examples of the former: lens filters, specialty microphones, and light kits. Examples of the latter: carrying cases, external monitors, and focus assisting devices.

LCD viewfinders are in the second group. They’re accessories designed to help you see better what you’re shooting. They take the image from a camera’s LCD screen and funnel it into an eyepiece. They won’t change how light reaches the image sensor. They won’t give you the ability to record shots you wouldn’t otherwise be able to capture (for the most part). They just make shooting a better experience, particular in certain circumstances.

Those circumstances include shooting in sunlight, where an LCD can be hard to see. They are also beneficial with handheld shots, as your head can now provide additional stability to the camera. And regardless of where or how you’re shooting, LCDs on the back of cameras — which nowadays run about 3 inches in size — aren’t ideal when it comes to focusing. An image that looks in-focus at 3 inches could turn out blurry on a bigger screen. Eyepieces, which fill your field of vision with the image being captured, have a major edge in that area. So if you have a camera that doesn’t include an eyepiece, or it has one, but the eyepiece isn’t of much using when recording video (as is the case with most DSLRs), an LCD view finder can be a lifesaver.

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Like the Carry Speed VF-3 and VF-4 viewfinders, the Kamerar QV-1 is designed for hobbyists on a budget or a professional just getting started. The Kamerar bests both those models on price, though.

FYI: I didn’t even know this product existed until I saw it on Cheesycam.com. If you’re interested in buying this, you’ll want to check out their take on it, which gets more into detail on what specific camera models it works well with.

Like the Carry Speed viewfinders, the QV-1 mounts to the bottom of the camera via a special baseplate (that comes with it). To me, this is preferable to viewfinders that attach directly to the back of the camera (via glue or rubber bands or straps of some kind). The baseplate that comes with the QV-1 uses a magnet to hold the viewfinder in place. This is a nice touch. The magnet is strong enough that you never worry about the viewfinder coming loose when you don’t want it to, but it’s easy enough to remove when you don’t need it.

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Magnet out.

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Magnet in.

The included baseplate is compatible with some tripod heads right out of the box (those that work with Manfrotto 501PL-type plates). But if it’s not inherently compatible with yours, that’s not a huge deal, as it’s designed to be used in conjunction with whatever baseplate goes with your current tripod head. I don’t have the “right” kind of tripod head, but, as you can see below, it still works well with the QV-1.

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Now, I wear glasses. One concern I did have is whether or not it’ll have an adjustment to compensate for my poor eyesight, since most viewfinders don’t work well with glasses. There is a “diopter adjustment” that allows you to change the position of the “glass” (which is really plastic) inside the viewfinder ever-so-slightly. This can help compensate for people with poor eyesight. But it didn’t work for me. My eyesight was just out of the range the diopter could correct (which, to be honest, seemed to have a very limited range). Fortunately, this turned out NOT to be a deal breaker, since the generously sized eyepiece works well with my wire-framed glasses. I don’t have to remove my glasses to use it, which is great.

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The QV-1 also fits snuggly right up against the screen, with no light leakage, which I’ve heard is a problem with other view finders that mount from the bottom of the camera.

The QV-1 comes with an allen wrench used to tailor the location of the viewfinder to your particular camera. I’m only using this on a Canon 5D Mark III. The Mark III has a 3.2 inch screen, which, at the moment, is still an atypical screen size (3 inches is more common). But the QV-1 works well with it. It doesn’t seem to block any of the image, nor does it block any of the buttons on the back of the camera (or the battery door on the bottom of it). Again, if you’re interested in whether or not this will work with your camera, I’d check Cheesycam review and this web page from people who sell it.

The main selling point for me, though, was the upgraded kit which includes a rail system. This kit comes with QV-1 and the baseplate it attaches to AND with an additional base and two 8 inch long “rails.” The rails are 15mm in diameter, which is a standard dimension in DSLR gear circles. I look forward to using these rails to add a “follow focus” (which makes keeping focus easier when shooting video) and a matte box (to block excess light from leaking into the lens).

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The base that comes with the rail kit has a sliding quick release that’s a lot easier to use than the “not-so-quick release” that came standard on the tripod I already have (it’s technically a quick release, but the baseplate is square and a little finicky to lock into place… not very quick at all).

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The above photos show how QV-1’s baseplate slides into the “rail base.” By keeping the rail base on top of my tripod pretty much all-the-time, I’ve upgraded the tripod head substantially at a minimal cost (and definitely less than the cost of a new tripod).

The other thoughts on the product:

Build Quality — Lots of plastic. It definitely “feels” like a budget item. But there’s nothing flimsy about it. I would still describe the build as “solid” overall.

Instructions — There weren’t any. The kit only comes with a handful of items, each with it’s own clear purpose, but some documentation would’ve been nice. I can see some people who are really new to DSLR videography being a little unsure what does what.

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Features — In addition to the nice magnetic mechanism that allows the viewfinder to be easily removed when not needed, the eyepiece can also be “flipped up” so other people can see the LCD screen while still having some shade from the sun.

Strap — It does come with a strap, so you can keep it around your neck when not needed during shoots (since it’s way too big to fit in a pocket).

Competition — In this price range, you can get a “loupe” that more or less serves the same purpose as an LCD view finder. A loupe is a smaller magnifying device that is meant to be held over the LCD so you can get a better look at your footage. If you want an accessory that’ll aid in handheld shooting, though, a loupe won’t cut it. You need a viewfinder that mounts onto the camera.

CONCLUSION

I’ll definitely be keeping the Kamerar QV-1 LCD view finder (which I purchased with my own money, like all the products I review). The kit that includes both the view finder and the rail system is less than $150 as of this writing. Products in the same ballpark as the QV-1 could be had for that price alone, without the rails. Will the product hold up over time as well as some more expensive models? That remains to be seen.  I’ve only had it for a couple days.  If you’re on a budget and want both a viewfinder and rails, consider this. If you just want a view finder, even better, especially if you can get the $65 price.  Is this an “essential” accessory, though? Not really. If you’re not shooting a lot of video — particularly handheld video — you might not really benefit from it. If you wear thick glasses, you may have issues. And if you just need something to shade your LCD from the sun, there are cheaper ways to do that. But if you’re a videographer looking to experiment with more complex set-ups, this appears to be a great first step.

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