June 5th, 2005

Consolidating the media

Today I have mostly been trying to work out which wire is connected to what, while struggling to get behind the TV.

There's a good reason for this, as I've finally been removing the VCR and the Hi-Fi MP3 player from our ever-growing stack of consumer electronics.

The two are finally being replaced by a digital media player that connects to the TV and gives us access to the server with all our MP3s. I'm currently using a Pinnacle ShowCenter (mainly as there was one lying around the house), as it lets me plug in a wireless card rather than running ethernet from the lounge to the switch in the office.

The media server software is intended for Windows client PCs, but I've been able to install it on a Windows Server 2003 SBS box. It's a workable solution - despite the fact that the media software running on the server needs to build its own MSDE-based index. I actually quite like this approach - I've always been suspicious of Access-based indexing tools. One useful feature of the ShowCenter is that you're not limited to Pinnacle's own software, and there are open source alternatives. If I was feeling really adventurous I probably could write my own - as the client device is hardware implementation of a rich internet application, hitting specific PHP pages on a web server and then re-rendering them for a TV display.

On the client side, the box has lots of outputs, and takes various 802.11 PC Card devices. I'm currently using a bog-standard Orinoco 802.11b card, though it does seem to support several 802.11g cards that I can try out in future. However, I tend to find that 802.11b speeds work well enough for streamed MP3s. The TV UI is reasonable, and works quite well at a 10 foot range. Of course, it does mean another remote control, but as I've removed two devices from the lounge, I'm still ahead. All I have to do now is to learn just what each button does. The client box doesn't just do music - it will display DIVX movies (so I'll need to get it talking 802.11g for those!) and digital photos. It'll also pick up internet streaming radio - either using the default services, or adding your own choices.

And of course there's the "Oooh! Shiny!" factor, with a nice metal case and plenty of blue LEDs on the front...

It'll do until we put a Windows Media Centre 2005 PC in place.
  • Current Music
    Steve Hackett - Live Archive (Disc 2) - I Know What I Like