Home Media PC

Articles about my project building an open source audio/video media system.

First Look at the Neuros LINK

I built my first home media computer over four years ago. Its primary uses were web streaming video, local music files, and the occasional communal web surfing during living room gatherings. Unfortunately, the system had reached an age where ATI dropped support for the display in their accelerated (proprietary) drivers, and the open source drivers couldn't keep up with full screen video. To make matters worse, in that time I've upgraded the display from an 800x600 Sony picture tube to a 1360x768 Samsung high def LCD.

The old computer was choking to keep up. It was time for an upgrade.

This weekend I replaced the old media computer with a Neuros LINK. The LINK is an open source media computer. It's constructed of standard, off-the-shelf OEM components. It runs on Linux, configured and tuned for media center operations. It costs $299.

The New Music Media Format

When I heard that Apple announced it was dropping DRM from music in the iTunes store, my first response was to say, "Yay!" My second was to pat myself on the back.

That's because the Apple announcement may end up revolutionizing the music format of choice. Right now, it's MP3. Thanks to Apple's decision to make their music portable and copyable, it may change to AAC, the format used by the iTunes store.

Several years ago, I ripped all my music CDs, about 450 of them. It was a laborious and tedious task. It was complicated by my decision to first rip to a lossless FLAC format and then transcode to MP3. The transcoding part was automatic, but took a very long time; it's a computationally intensive process. It would have been a lot easier to just rip to MP3.

Purchasing a Down-Spec Television

I've blogged before about my home audio/video setup. The confluence of big recession-fueled discounts and product ownership envy (my wife bought herself a new car) induced me to buy a new television this weekend.

You might expect, given all of my interest in A/V tinkering, that I'd buy a top-of-the-line set with the best specifications. I didn't, and I thought it might be interesting to explain why.

My plan is to replace a Sony KV-30HS420 30 inch widescreen CRT television with a larger flat-screen set. The very best 40 inch LCD televisions are in the $1200-1400 range. We're talking 1080p resolution, 120Hz refresh, 10000:1 contrast ratio.

A/V Wiring Diagram: Now with Netflix Player

A couple months back, I posted a wiring diagram for our audio/visual setup.

I mentioned that I was going to have to rewrire to add a Netflix Player by Roku. That's a device that connects to the Internet and plays content from the Netflix "Watch Instantly" service on your TV.

The rewiring went fine. Now, I'm finally getting around to posting an updated wiring diagram.

As I noted in the previous article, we depend on a Logitech Harmony 880 remote control to make sense of all this. With the added complication of these wiring changes, that's even more true than before.

Home A/V Wiring Diagram

A/V wiring diagramOne of my projects for the weekend was to sit down and do a wiring diagram for the A/V setup. The system has grown in complexity, and it's reached the point where I can no longer figure out connections in my head.

The final straw was last week, when my wife ordered a Netflix Player by Roku, a device that connects to the Internet and streams video provided by Netflix. I was pretty sure we had the connections for it. But when she asked whether she should order the high-def cable package, the best I could do is say, "Uhhh, maybe?"

So, this weekend I mapped out all the connections and did the wiring diagram I needed to figure this out. You may view the PDF of my current A/V wiring setup.

last.fm Submission Flakiness

I have amarok configured to submit tracks played to last.fm. If you go there you can see what I've recently listened to.

I get frequent errors in the amarok status bar such as

Failed to submit 'Mining for Gold' and 8 other tracks

and

Failed to submit several tracks to last.fm

I Googled the messages and found many reports of the problem, such as this thread. Most people pointed their fingers at a server problem. I was skeptical.

When, however, I tried to log into last.fm through the web interface and saw it intermittently fail, that confirmed for me that the flakiness lives in last.fm servers.

I saw this thread that suggested resetting the password--even to the same password--cleared the problem. I tried that and it worked. Before, I had dozens of songs pending to be posted. After, they all went through.

Here's hoping that last.fm eventually fixes their infrastructure problems.

FAIL: Album Cover Guesser

screenshoot of music album cover guesserI was using the Amarok "Album Cover Manager" tool to fill in the missing cover artwork in my music collection.

It has a "Fetch Missing Covers" button, which goes to Amazon and retrieves the artwork it needs. The lookup often makes mistakes, particularly because I tagged artists in a discouraged "Lastname, Firstname" form. Still, it's easier to fetch them all, then go back and manually fixup the ones it got wrong.

I ran it over several hundred albums. It made a lot of mistakes, but none quite so hilarious as the one to the right. The album cover you see is what it selected for London Calling by The Clash.

Media Center Network Control

My media center PC is an ASUS bookshelf computer running Ubuntu Linux and KDE desktop. I use it primarily for music, running the Amarok music player.

Our house is pretty small and open. I can see the entire living room from my desk. I often play music on the media system while I'm working. The annoying bit is that I have to get up from my desk and walk over to the living room anytime I want to fiddle the controls.

I wish I had a good way to control the music from my desk. I've been puzzling over this for a whilte. I've tried various ways to control Amarok remotely and none were satisfactory. Then it dawned on me that I was missing the obvious: I didn't want to control just the media player but the whole desktop. I can do that using something like Virtual Network Computing (VNC).

Music Metadata: The Artist Sorting Problem

This weekend, I've been blogging about issues related to the metadata stored in my music files, such as song title and performer. Today I wrap up with one final problem—one I've yet to solve.

When you walk into your favorite music store, the music is binned and organized for easy browsing. I want the same for my digital music. I can't, and I haven't found a solution yet, and that's frustrating me.

Music Metadata: The Compilation Problem

In my previous blog entry, I discussed creating the metadata for my music collection. The metadata are stuff like song title and artist, which are stored in the music file.

The chuckleheads that run the music industry won't give us metadata, which is one reason why CDs are dying. So, we have to turn to third party services to get them. There are free services that do this, but you get what you pay for.

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