Archive for the ‘Home Entertainment’ Category
The subwoofer we had in our home cinema setup died a few weeks ago, so I did my research and found a nice replacement. The only thing I didn’t spot was the fact it never goes into standby if there’s no signal (unlike the old one). I tried using some eco plugs which turn off peripherals when the TV was turned off.. but it learns the TV remote signals, and completely turns the TV off as well.. meaning that you have to hit the power button twice to turn the TV back on; that doesn’t work well with the Harmony all-in-one remote we use.
What I decided to do was buy an Energenie socket, which can be switched on/off wirelessly from a Raspberry Pi. The kit comes with 2 sockets and a transmitter to attach to the GPIO headers on the Pi, and costs about £20.
In my subwoofer scenario I basically want it switched on when the TV is on, and off when the TV is off. The TV has a Chromecast plugged into it which is visible on my local network. If you’ve got a Smart TV on your network, maybe that’ll be visible in the same way. So when the TV/Chromecast appear on the network, we know to switch on the power socket.
Here’s the small Energenie transmitter attached to the GPIO headers on my B+.. it’s pretty tiny and the case I’ve got still fits over the top. Notice the small hole where you can attach an aerial.. if you want extra range, then you’ll need to solder one on.. I added a 135mm wire, since the range I got out of it just wasn’t enough to get from the dining room cupboard to the living room.
To put this together, we can use the Raspberry Pi Network Spy code I wrote in my previous blog posts on element14;
All we need is a new PHP page that’ll call one of the functions we’ve already written.. we need a list of the MAC addresses that are currently visible on the network, then check whether the Chromecast is there. Once we know whether the TV/Chromecast is on or off, we then call a Python script that will turn the Energenie socket on/off.
Here’s the PHP;
The Python script could follow the Energenie example script, but there’s actually an even more simple Python package which I’ve used in this project. To install it I did the following;
sudo apt-get install python-pip
sudo pip install energenie
Then I wrote this helper Python script (which we’ll call from PHP) that accepts a couple of parameters, like this callenergenie.py [on|off] [switch_number];
from energenie import switch_on, switch_off
print ‘Please specify arguments like this callenergenie.py [on|off] [switch_number]’
print ‘eg. callenergenie.py on 1’
print ‘eg. callenergenie.py off 2′
on_or_off = sys.argv
which_switch = int(sys.argv)
print ‘Switching on ‘, which_switch
print ‘Switching off ‘, which_switch
Now that we’ve written the PHP & Python, all we need to do is run the PHP every minute to scan the network and do the switching. We’ll do this using another cron job;
*/1 * * * * sudo /usr/bin/php /var/www/arp-chromecast.php
One of the nice features of the Humax HDR-Fox T2 is that it’ll stream your standard definition recordings over your network to DLNA clients. I’ve had a it streaming video onto a PC running XBMC, but wanted something more portable for catching up with some TV whilst I’m getting ready in the morning.
As long as your Android phone is relatively recent, there are a bunch of DLNA clients.. the one I’ve had the best results with is Skifta. Then I’ve got MX Player installed which will handle video playback. The thing I like about MX Player is the gesture control for skipping through the program (swipe across), and adjusting volume (swipe up/down).
I’m running that on a Samsung Galaxy S3, and it works really well. It’s just slightly too small when it’s across the room. It would be better on a tablet, and I have a Blackberry Playbook (from their developer programme).. the only problem has been the lack of a DLNA client.. until just recently, when I found KalemSoft Media Player.
The app is currently being sold at £5, which was a bit more than I’m used to paying.. but the reviews were almost all really good, so I gave it a go. Here’s the app running with my Humax HDR-Fox T2;
As you can see, it’s really fast to browse the folders and start playing back video. It even manages HD if you’re running the auto-decode package, although I had buffering issues when trying to play it back over my network.
KalemSoft do a PC service which will share all your video from there too; I’ve found it works really well.. better than TVersity, and the built-in Windows media sharing stuff, both of which seemed to take ages to index my stuff, and then didn’t even work well after that. Apparently it can be configured to share stuff out over the Internet (password protected too), but I don’t need that feature. It can also stream live TV if you’ve got a TV card.
The Belkin 54G wireless access point I’ve been using for a few years has been suffering since we extended the house.. there’s just not enough range on it, and it tends to temporarily lock up if it’s hammered a lot.
Finding a replacement took a lot of research, but I eventually decided on the ASUS RT-N56U, costing about £85, after reading some great reviews, including one in PC Pro. It’s worth reiterating that it doesn’t contain an ADSL router.. so if you’re on that type of broadband you’ll still need one of those in your set up. I’m happy with that, since the master socket isn’t where I want to place the wireless router anyway.
Configuration was straight-forward, aided by a decent web interface. As soon as I plugged it in I upgraded the firmware to the latest version from ASUS. I’d also seen that there are unofficial firmwares from a Russian group which are meant to fix a bunch of stuff & add new features. I’m sticking with the ASUS firmware unless I hit stability problems or find that I want to tinker later on. I certainly like the option to have a customised firmware should the need arise.
After having it running for a few days I’m really impressed with the speed and coverage across the house. It allows you to either use one SSID for 2.4Ghz and one for 5Ghz.. which lets you decide which band you want a device to use. Or set the same SSID for both, and it’ll automatically switch you over to the fastest band according to the signal strength. I was in the kitchen, and it connected on what must have been the 2.4Ghz band (due to the distance), then moved to the living room where the speed shot up & was obviously using the 5Ghz band.
Here’s a table showing how the signal strength has been affected by the upgrade;
|Signal Strength (dBm)|
And here’s my unboxing video;
In the last few weeks the price of the Blackberry Playbook has plummeted further, to £169 in the UK from retailers such as PC World. At that price it deserved some research into what it offers & whether it’s worth a look. The tablet itself is solidly built, with a decent amount of processing power & good multi-tasking abilities. There’s an app store that offers a fair number of apps, including the obligatory Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, and useful stuff like free VNC clients.
The 7″ screen looks crisp & vivid, and isn’t as cramped as I’d imagined it would be. I’d viewed someone’s Samsung 7″ tablet so knew what to expect. Browsing the web on it is slick & fast, plus it’ll play Flash videos, so iPlayer, 4oD and other sites all work on it without a hitch.
The OS is soon to get v2.0, and that’s where things get even more interesting; that opens the Playbook up to the Android Market, allowing it to run a majority/proportion (not sure which yet!) of Android apps. OS2.0 will also offer MKV support, but what codecs are actually covered is unclear.
Built-in storage is limited to what you initially purchase (e.g. 16Gb), and there’s no SD card expansion. However, if you root the Playbook, there’s a method to add USB-host functionality, allowing you to attach USB flash drives.
A micro-HDMI connector allows it to mirror the display to a TV without proprietary adapters & it just works!
Here’s what you need if you want to hook it up to a TV (a few different cable lengths included):
Micro HDMI to HDMI adapter = £3.56
And here’s what you’d need to connect a standard USB flash drive
For the back of the car, I’ve gone for a generic headset mount that can also mount an iPad:
And to protect it from scratches and minor droppage in the house I bought the official faux leather convertible case, which beats the hell out of the horrible case it ships with.
After a few hours of research I knew it was a good deal, bought one & haven’t been disappointed. It *is* a bargain for what you get :)
After the untimely death of my Topfield box, and less than stellar performance of the 3view box, I ended up sending that back & buying the Humax HDR-Fox T2. Since I bought it over a year ago there’s been a huge amount of progress on a custom firmware which enables you to install ‘packages‘ that add a whole bunch of new features, including;
– Web-based interface for controlling the box, searching the EPG, etc.
– Smartphone optimised web interface
– Auto-filing script for placing series linked programs in designated sub-folders
– Remote scheduling interface for setting timers on the box remotely
– Recording trimming to cut off unwanted segments of recordings
– Custom TV portal (offering Sky Player support)
– And loads more!
There are some videos on YouTube that show a lot of these features in action, together with a guide showing exactly how to install it onto your box. It’s a simple, and reversible process & the guys that have worked on it have helped improve the features on the box no end!
Due to a clash with a toddler and my Harmony 555 all-in-one remote I bought a Harmony 600 in September last year. In the last month it’s been repeatedly rebooting/restarting. A new set of batteries sorts the issue out, but only for a couple of weeks, and then it starts happening again. There’s a thread on Logitech’s support site which talks about the problem, so it’s not an isolated issue.
The good thing is, that after raising a support ticket on Sunday, it only took a couple of message exchanges before they said it was faulty & shipped a new remote. They don’t even ask for the old one back, since they can de-activate it on their servers so that it can never be updated online.. pretty much rendering it useless, because there’s no way to update it without using their online app.
Kudos to Logitech for sorting this out so quickly! Really impressive.
I’ve been looking to replace my ageing Xbox which has reliably run XBMC for over 7 years with a box that can handle HD content, as well as acting as a NAS & download server. The Zotac ION box caught my eye, since the latest media center apps now support hardware acceleration for video playback & the nVidia ION GPU is supported.
I bought the kit as a bundle from Mini-ITX.com and fitted a 32Gb SSD for the operating system, and a 1TB Western Digital Essentials HDD which would be attached via USB & powers down when not in use. The shopping list looks like this;
– Zotac ION-ITX-A Motherboard with Dual Core 1.6GHz Atom N330
– 2GB or 4GB DDR2 800 RAM included
– M350 Universal Mini-ITX Enclosure
(bundle costing £233 from Mini-ITX)
– OCZ Onyx 32GB SATA II 2.5in Solid State Disk
(about £50 from Amazon)
– 1TB Western Digital Essentials
(about £45 from Amazon)
For the OS I wanted to use Windows 7; that’s what I’m most comfortable writing scripts + code for. The Linux distros for XBMC Live look pretty good, but there was too much of a learning curve involved for adding in the extra features I wanted.
Installing OS From USB
Since there’s no optical drive, I opted to install Windows 7 from a USB key. I actually used a 4Gb SD card from my camera & a SD card reader, and followed these instructions to make it bootable & have the Windows 7 installation on it. Installation went without a hitch.
After installing the OS, I updated with the latest nVidia drivers, and started installing apps like XBMC. The latest Dharma release of XBMC supports hardware acceleration using DXVA2, however I was unable to get it working with 1080p content & gave up after a couple of hours. I then tried Media Portal which worked perfectly with whatever I threw at it. There’s a brilliant guide on how to configure Windows 7 and MediaPortal by Rhys Jones, which is useful to follow if you want to optimise your HTPC setup.
Next up was getting the remote control working correctly. I had a cheapo CyberLink remote, plus a Harmony 600.. I used the Cyberlink IR Reciever & mapped up keys into the Harmony 600. Some of the buttons worked, some didn’t. I ended up re-mapping the numeric keys to certain MediaPortal features using one of the plugins. I also re-mapped the MCE Green Button so that it runs MediaPortal (see this guide.. scroll to the Green Button heading).
The HTPC also acts as a NAS + handles any downloads, so I’ve written a bunch of scripts to handle certain situtations.
– Timed execution of certain download tasks using Windows Scheduler. Making sure that the tasks don’t bring the HTPC out of sleep.
– Execution of scripts when the HTPC is brought out of sleep (like making sure MediaPortal is running)
Keyboard + Mouse Control
For times when I need a keyboard, I’m running Unified Remote on the HTPC and the client on my Android phone. This allows me to control most aspects of the HTPC via my phone, without having to buy extra hardware like a wireless mouse/keyboard.