DIY Multimedia Centre

While I’m not a die hard A/V nerd, I’m a fan of watching movies and a number of TV shows. Hence why I have a reasonably large, eclectic collection of DVDs. It was only a matter time before I would build myself a multimedia centre at home, but I’m being careful to keep it modular so I can adapt it to new technologies as they appear. Alas, I built it in stages, with a flat screen TV coming near the end. The following is an account of my current setup, in order of acquisition of each component.

When I was buying a DVD player a few years ago, I was careful to make sure it was future-proof. I’m very glad I chose to get a Pioneer DVD player, primarily because it is one of the higher end DVD players which can do 1080p upscaling quite well, and it’s relatively easy to make region-free with some IR codes and a laptop or a palm pilot.

Next came a computer; a 2007 vintage Intel Core 2 Duo Mac Mini to be precise. It does a fairly good job of driving the TV at 1080p, but with the help of a Toslink+DVI–>HDMI convertor. By and large, we run Boxee (a fork of XBMC, but with a more remote friendly UI in my opinion) and Apple’s Front Row on the Mac mini, as front ends to the media collection. I have grand plans to proxy specific traffic via the US so I can take advantage of Boxee’s additional features like Hulu, etc outside the US), but I perpetually keep meaning to find the time to do so.

The keystone of the system was my flat screen TV, bought mid 2009. After ~2 years of research and much anticipation, I finally decided upon the Panasonic 42" TX-P42V10 Neo-PDP Plasma TV. Why Plasma over LCD or LED? Plasma defaults to black unlike LCD, so it’s better for movies over gaming. As for LED, it was too new (ie unproven) and relatively expensive. Panasonic’s Neo-PDP was ultimately alluring since it lacks many of the legacy burn-in problems plasma has been plagues with over the years, not to mention being ultra thin (the TX-P42V10 is 50mm thick!) and low power* (power consumption is ~300W when on , <5W in standby). If that wasn’t enough, the TX-P42V10 has an ethernet port (it’s awesome being able to ping my TV to double check if it’s left on!), so it can talk to YouTube, flickr, etc. I also find it entertaining that deep within the TV menu the “system license” option prints the GNU License onscreen.

The glue that keeps everything together is a single remote control, the Logitech Harmony 885 controls everything (even Mac OSX on the Mac Mini via Remote Buddy) flawlessly.

In time to come, I fully expect to swap out the Mac Mini + DVI–>HDMI convertor to the 2010 Mac Mini with native HDMI output, as well as a Logitech Sqeezebox system to stop requiring the TV to be on to just to play music, as well as having a proper surround sound speaker set, once I find a wireless or semi-wireless surround sound set to adapt to my partially wired living room setup.

All in all, this media nerd is very happy. ๐Ÿ™‚

* I’m a power conscious nerd who loves numbers, but that’s worthy of another (planned) blog post at a later date.

Jaded, on the West Coast

So, I’ve been over here in San Francisco for a week and the weather is quite like being at home in Ireland – chilly gusts of wind, unpredictable rain showers, etc – the only difference is when it’s sunny, it’s slightly warmer (and by slightly I mean twice as warm).

So far, my work trip here is going well, I’ve done many things and I still have lots to do. I’ve started to feel a bit jaded in the last few days which is probably due to the combination of jetlag and work. Last weekend was spent vegetating and doing very little. I didn’t actually venture further than a few blocks from Union Square (which is a block from my hotel). This weekend, I plan on being a bit more of a tourist, probably with a trip to Alcatraz and spending some time trying to take scenic or interesting photos.

Not much else has happened during my trip. The dollar is still rediciliously valued, so shopping still feels like I’m pillaging. ๐Ÿ™‚ US online stores are still stupid, they initially take and then ultimately refuse non US credit cards, since they’re baltently fraudulant. I guess I need to find someone to go visit a Fry’s with. The food, particularly sushi and Mexican food, as expected is fantastic, particularly compared to what’s available in Europe.

I’ve also getting annoyed with US TV networks again. I became a big fan of Studio 60 after only a few epsiodes, but it’s now been put on hiatus mid season, which is never a good thing. Maybe it’s because Amanda Peet popped last weekend, but I’m probably being too much of an optimist. It’s a shame if it doesn’t return, too many TV shows I’ve enjoyed watching – The West Wing, Alias, etc – have all ended, leaving not a huge amount on TV. Sure, CSI is entertaining, but they are formulaic.

Maybe I’ll find something else to watch, now that I’ve become a Joost beta tester. Early impressions are that Joost is quite shiny. The UI is very nice and from my initial glances, there is a lot of content available. I’m looking forward to playing with it when I’ve more time.

Fluke…

I got a pleasent surprise a few minutes ago, flicking around the movie channels on Sky+. I stumbled into Coldblooded, one of my all time favourite films, which at just begun a few minutes earlier. (It’s a hilarious black comedy film; Jason Priestly is a newly appointed hit-man who takes yoga and has no remorse. Think Grosse Point Blank, with lots and lots of extra sadistic black humour. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

I’ve been looking for it on DVD for years, but it doesn’t appear to have ever been released on DVD, or even VHS for that matter. Horray for Sky! It’s scheduled again in the early hours of Thursday morning, so I’ve already set it up to record for me. Now all I have to do is work out some way to encode it in XviD off the Sky+ box…

/me strokey beard

Well, that sucks!

NBC cancels The West Wing ๐Ÿ™

I really like the West Wing. Sure, the last few seasons haven’t been as good as the brilliant first 4, but I’ve still enjoyed them. Season 7 is pretty good so far, even though there has been a big spoiler in recent weeks… ๐Ÿ˜

Other than my thoughts on that news, I’ve nothing to report. I’m currently quite busy, messing with Perl CPAN modules which can talk XMLRPC, for a college assignment on Web Services. I also have a large amount of work to do on my fyp. ๐Ÿ˜ With some will power and determination, I should be able to just get down and start getting things done quickly…

Oh, and since I don’t expect to be posting again in the next few days, Happy 21st on Friday Nรณirรญn!

A Small Topping Of Clarity…

Hmmm, now it makes sense.

For years, ever since I was 12 and saw it in the cinema, I’ve been a fan of the film The American President. It has even been on my DVD Wish List for a while now. So, when I was out shopping this evening, I gave into temptation and bought it for myself. Then looking at the DVD box, things began to make more sense…

I knew there were a few stars from it who went onto becoming cast members of The West Wing, but I didn’t realise it’s at least 4 actors and actresses, not to mention the key – Aaron Sorkin, is responsible for writing them both. It’s all so clear now…

In other news, I finally (after 6 weeks of waiting) received my copy of Time Management for System Administrators this morning. By page xiii, the first page of the preface, it says “I’m trying to say that system adminsitration is not a job. It’s a lifestyle.”. Yes, I think I found the right book for me. I can acknowledge I don’t usually know when to let go.

I’m definitely going to be interested in the tips given in this book, particularly the email on managing your email… ๐Ÿ™‚

The Long Weekend…

I’ve been quite busy this bank holiday weekend.

After a full day of lectures and a tutorial on Friday, I met my friend Michelle for a few drinks, which resulted in drinks in The Porterhouse, Captain Americas and Smyths in Renelagh over the course of the evening. All in all a long day, but a good night.

Then on Saturday afternoon, Ciara and I went to see the Nothern Nocturnes art exhibition in the National Gallery. It’s very good, definitely worth a visit before it finishs in early December. Saturday evening, I met Ben Mako Hill, Debian and Ubuntu activist/general geek in the Schoolhouse. We shared a few interesting anecodes, bother nerdy and non nerdy.

On Sunday, I had a nerdy dinner out in Pizza Hut with Colm and Colin, with proper supervision for all 3 of us of course. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Today, I’d planned to do some college work and outstanding paperwork, as well as do some work around the house, mainly plan and begin the Great Rewire ™ (since the attic in my house is currently being converted along with other building work). In the end, I never got around to any college work, but I’ve begun a proper structured Cat5 cabling setup with 4 to 8 Cat5 cables running into practical room of my house. I intend to use Cat5 for everything, including cable TV, Sky Digital/Plus satellite TV, telephones, my LAN and just about anything else I feel like.

Results…

I’ve had an interesting time recently. I went along to the Inaugural IE-NOG event last Wednesday. The talks were interesting, the session in the Schoolhouse afterwards was good fun and I even got to match some faces to the names I see on mailing lists nowadays… ๐Ÿ™‚

On Saturday night, I hosted a small barbeque at my house. We had good food (especially the home made cheesecakes for desert) and good fun hanging out and watching parts of Live8.

Today, I got my long awaited results from my exams. I failed 2, Statistics and Compile Design I/Software Engineering.

I’m not overly shocked by Statistics, I’m not a huge fan of expressionistic mathematics. It’s too similar to writing essays in my mind, mathetmatics shouldn’t involve lots of choices, just correct and incorrect methods. Compile Design/Software Engineering wasn’t expected, but is manageable.

At least I passed AI with room to spare and I have escaped from the dreaded OS/Networking course which was obviously meant to produce a long line of O/S and Networking programmers, nothing more. It was clearly based upon a single O/S book and a single networking book, neither of which were wonderfully good. The O/S lecturer is even misguided enough to think that the question “Are threads and processes the same?” can be asked as a true/false question. The correct answer is “it depends on the O/S”. (You can tell I swing both ways between Linux and BSD… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway, tomorrow I’ve a job interview meddling with a few Linux web servers, so off I go to do something constructive with my evening…

Great Expectations…

Hmmm, went to see Revenge of the Sith last night. The film was ok, the plot was good (could have been better), but the reviews were right, the script and the direction really did let it down.

One thing I did see yesterday which I really, really (can’t stress that enough) enjoyed was the season 5 finale of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. It was a double feature, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Very good story and let’s just say the Tarantino Autopspy is a sight to be seen… ๐Ÿ™‚