Sonos, one year in… post one of two

I suppose this starts with the scale of system you want.  Sonos, as a kit, can allow you to hide all the amps, the wires, while even your speakers can become invisible; see the Amina branded by Triad “DesignerSeries” in walls (as hidden by plaster skim coat).  The trade off, like many things, is flexibility of the system and certainly its future upgradability.  The strength of the Sonos, as most people will tell you, is the software controller. It is available for nearly every platform, mobile and desktop.  The Sonos units tap into to countless internet streaming music services as well as your locally (or cloud) stored music library.  The controller app is built for humans and allows seamless multi-room/multi-zone control.

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I received a Sonos Play:3 kit with wired to wireless Sonos Bridge for work rendered last year and also got a used Sonos ZonePlayer 80.  My tower speakers in the living room are old Advent Heritages.  I bought a used pair of 100 watt AudioSource monoblocks at some point on eBay  (replacing the 1979 Denon PMA 850 that finally stopped working).  In my office I ended up with a pair of Pioneer SP-BS41-LR’s that a friend didn’t want and an Emotiva mini-X a-100 50 Watt ‘Stereo Flex Amp’.  I took the spare RCA output of the external DAC that lives next to the ZP80 in the livingroom and sent it to the Emotiva in the office.  The Play:3 lives in the upstairs bedroom.

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I’ll start this by saying, for most people looking for kitchen or small room audio, the Play:3 and the newer and more compact Play:1 represent exceptional value.  This is of course not “architectural audio” with invisible plastered speakers, or even in-wall (grilled) speakers; rather the Play:1 and Play:3 are small powered speakers that sit on a shelf or desktop, sound good and happen to look nice as a bonus.  The price points of the Play:1 & 3 represent the “blue ocean”; people simply want to listen to their music collections or to Pandora, TuneIn Radio & Spotify (and literally dozens of other streaming services) – but control it easily from an application on their phone or tablet.  There will be those who argue the $200-300 is a lot to pay for a small powered speaker, but there is nothing else out there that does it quite as easily and elegantly as Sonos.

For bigger rooms that don’t have a television or projector the Play:3’s can be setup in software as a “stereo pair” giving an even larger sound stage.   Granted for most kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms a pair of powered speakers may be overkill (and/or examples of where you’d rather not see the speakers).  For users with existing audio setups the ZonePlayer 80 (now called Sonos Connect) has two digital audio outs (SPDIF Coax & Toslink) and a pair of RCA stereo outputs and inputs.  If you already own speakers you want to power, the Sonos Connect:Amp adds in a high-efficiency Tripath  (Class T/D) 55-watts per channel amplifier to the Connect (taking away the RCA stereo output jacks but adding a single RCA mono-subwoofer LFE output).

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In the next post of this series I’ll go into why using the Sonos system is a pleasure and what I’ve done to get the most out of it (including the local  Mac Mini audio server) and my thoughts after a year of usage.

Fixing LadioCast crashes & 10.9 SSH issues…

Had some issues when scripting LadioCast broadcasts, started to cause it to crash repeatedly.  The .plist file to delete is com.kawauso.LadioCast.plist from the Library.  Should return the application to defaults.  There was an update to the application in October, so it’s possible this error handling behavior was fixed, but uninstalls did not appear to delete the .plist.

Also, updated to 10.9 “Mavericks” on the server and pretty much all SSH functions stopped working.  Briefly got them working again, but so far it’s been a bust.  Will back update to 10.8 with a fresh re-install.   This machine was an upgrade from 10.6 to 10.8 to 10.9, so it’s possible in all of this OpenSSH failed, but regardless a lot of users have had issues with SSH and 10.9.  An alternative is to run a standalone Linux server or something like a Synology NAS.  Seemingly more reliable those.

Event Handler Script for LadioCast

Added this AppleScript to LadioCast to update from Spotify Radio to Sonos with proper track metadata when on local radio:

set lastName to “”
set lastArtist to “”
set lastAlbum to “”
repeat
tell application “Spotify”
set trackName to name of current track
set trackArtist to artist of current track
set trackAlbum to album of current track
end tell
if trackName is not lastName and trackArtist is not lastArtist and trackAlbum is not lastAlbum then
set lastName to trackName
set lastArtist to trackArtist
set lastAlbum to trackAlbum
tell application “LadioCast”
set metadata song to trackName & ” – ” & trackArtist & ” – ” & trackAlbum
end tell
end if
delay 15
end repeat

Seems to work. In LadioCast you can choose this saved script to run as an “event handler” when playing your Icecast stream. One field from Sonos “TuneIn Radio” that I still haven’t been able to propagate is “On Now” but the track metadata shows up correctly under “Information” and Sonos updates each track via Growl.

Avoiding the analog: Icecast2 for OS X, Sonos & Spotify Radio

Apparently, Spotify has finally released their Radio API to certain content management platforms, but until it’s built into Sonos the only way to actually get Spotify Radio on my ZP80 was to use the analog line-in.  What about creating an Icecast (Shoutcast, Podcast, etc.) local radio station that I tune in to on the Sonos locally? This would then avoid the analog hole (until I add a phonograph line stage).

There were a few sources I had to use to make this work, and I’ve only built/tested this under 32 bit 10.6.8 Snow Leopard (so your mileage may vary for 64 bit and/or more modern OS X machines).  Joao Ricardo’s blog post of  “Icecast Radio in Mac OS X” turns out to be a great starting point.  Note, that he recommends installing MacPorts, which may not strictly be necessary if you have Homebrew already installed.  I have not tried to port Icecast via Homebrew, but I imagine the installation would also work, as others have had success.   For example, here’s Josh Dzielak’s tutorial for Icecast & Darkice using Mountain Lion and Homebrew

So yes, per Joao’s instructions:

1) Install MacPorts (note: there are several dependencies, read up before you even install MacPorts)

2) In Terminal$: sudo port install icecast2

  • If doing Homebrew$: brew install icecast
  • Icecast vs. Icecast2?  I don’t know. You tell me internet, you tell me.
  • This took like 30 minutes using MacPorts on an old 32 bit Intel machine

3) Install Ladiocast.

4) Install Soundflower.

  • Reboot machine.

5) Make sure your admin/user has access/rights to “icecast -c /usr/etc/icecast.xml” as well as wherever an error for Icecast’s “access.log” and “error.log” files.  In my case they needed to added to /opt/local/etc.  You’ll need to adjust access with “chmod 755″ in this example.

6) Start playing some music on your Icecast server machine.  In OS X “Sound Preferences” make sure “Soundflower 2ch” is set as the “output device”; you can also “option + click” on the volume in the at the top right menu and select the source.

7) From Terminal$: icecast -c /usr/etc/icecast.xml

  • At this point Terminal will need to be open, obviously you can set this up as a background process, run on startup, etc. see Josh’s article linked above.

8) From within Ladiocast choose “Soundflower 2ch” as your source, click on the “main” button in Ladiocast.  You should see music bars making music.

  • From the menu in Ladiocast click on “Streamer 1” choose Icecast.  Set 127.0.0.1:8000 or whatever you machine’s IP is for the server.  The default user and pw is located the XML file.
  • For encoding, especially to work with iTunes and probably Sonos, I set it to AAC 320 kbps.  Ogg may in fact work with Sonos, I’ve not tried it.
  • Click “Connect” at the bottom there.

9) In a web browser, type in the IP for the Icecast server.  If said machine is localhost use 127.0.0.1:8000 which is the default port for the service. Click on the .m3u link and open in iTunes/Winamp or similar.  If you have music bars making music and you have a .m3u created you should hear music (double check OGG vs. AAC).

10) Final step: open the desktop Sonos App. Click “Manage” from the menu bar and then “Add Radio Station” and the enter http://127.0.0.1:8000/stream.m3u (or whatever your IP is for the Icecast machine).  Create that as a favorite radio station.

11) Works for me.  If you want an Icecast radio station globally on WAN, well, poke those holes. Google a bit.  That’s not this blog entry.  Let’s hope Sonos adds Spotify Radio sooner than later.

 

Follow Up, 212+ Installation

C was here for a few days. Our last project was getting the Cooler Master Hyper 212+ installed. Installation went pretty well. We likely used too much thermal paste, but nonetheless, it reduced my CPU temperatures by about 20 degrees Celsius, so I’d say it works. It can often be found on sale for $25 from Newegg, so really if you have a large enough computer that’s running hot, this seems like a no brainer. I’m not entirely certain the CPU temperature readings were always correct, but I figure it’s better to err on the side of over cooling.

The one trifling problem I’ve had in my “Almost Vanilla” *OS*X*86 install was not achieving a full power off after shutting down. I found many threads related to power & sleep issues, but I finally found the one thread here referencing the specific settings for the BIOS on my Gigabyte G41M-ES2L motherboard. The answer was this:

Power Management Setup:
ACPI Suspend Type: [S3(STR)]
Soft-Off by PWR-BTTN: [Instant-Off]
PME Event Wake Up: [Disabled]
Power On by Ring: [Disabled]
Resume by Alarm: [Disabled]
HPET Support: [Enabled]
HPET Mode: [32-bit Mode]
Power On By Mouse: [Disabled]
Power On By Keyboard: [Disabled]
AC Back Function: [Soft-Off]

Although it turns out HPET Mode: [64-Bit Mode] works just as well. The crux was the three options below Soft-Off by PWR-BTTN, those three all must be disabled. Now when it turns off the case isn’t consuming 90 watts. Which is still a lot for any computer, but I try to only use it as a part time server for media backup. It consumes 5 watts in its “OFF” state but at least now it shuts down fully.

At least…

The prices on high quality heat sink fans have come down. I recently converted the old Intel e5200 htpc/server into an “OSX”86 server. It turns out that you can now fill the 4 SATA drive slots with about 12TB of storage now for like $100 (I’m joking, but storage is cheap). Right now it only has a single “green” Seagate 1TB drive, but at least I don’t feel constrained any longer. In theory I could’ve continued running 10.04 Ubuntu and Netatalk, but I figured it was worth trying to get a native AFP server going. Lifehacker had a really easy to follow post and it’s pretty quick now as a 1GigE backup/media server (my original build used “compatible” hardware). Faster than the 4 year old Time Capsule when transferring large files, that’s for sure.

But yeah, Intel’s stock coolers, at least in the LGA 775 chipset models appear to be terrible. The 212+ cooler requires a backplate, so I’ll have to pull the motherboard, but once this thing is installed I should be able to run Handbrake 24 hours a day and hopefully the CPU won’t go above 50C. Currently this thing idles at 57C, as the stock heat sink just doesn’t seem to mount flush.

Cooler Master - 212 Plus Cooler

Cooler Master - 212 Plus Cooler

Bottom heat-pipes, direct contact

Bottom heat-pipes, direct contact

Eye Oh-Ess Four Point Two

A classmate of Z’s mentioned that the iOS 4.2 update was a worthy upgrade specifically for its ability to stream audio to Airport Express Base Stations (from your iDevice). Of course I didn’t really believe him, you know, because I already have a Mac Mini server and I can stream via iTunes from my laptop.

Sure enough, after I updated to 4.2 on the iPod Touch I’ve enjoying the streaming feature, though it depends on your setup. My old amp, a late 70’s Denon PMA-850 started blowing fuses and I was bequeathed a functioning 90’s Denon AVR-610 (I believe the rear channel outputs are bad but using “bypass pre” the main L+R channels sound good). I’ve been slow to build the LM4780 Chipamp and it was terrible not having music in the living room. Per wireless, we have an older Time Capsule that isn’t dual band (I keep it at 5GHz 802.11n) so I have an 802.11g/n Airport Express on 2.4GHz bridged to give my iPod touch wireless access and “AirTunes”.

But how does it sound? Well it works like a champ. Initially I tried using the digital optical out of the AE and I was disappointed with sync and jitter issues. It sounds pretty good, but being streamed wirelessly (.mp3, compressed AAC) from the iPod Touch over 802.11g doesn’t sound nearly as good as lossless audio from the Mac Mini into the DAC and the receiver (100% wire). However, the convenience factor of being able to pick and choose music from the iPod Touch without having to deal with the server/player is huge. The Mini or a dedicated audio server (or using Amazon S3 for cloud based music storage) gives you a much greater capacity, but again it’s the convenience factor; I appreciate that I don’t have to turn on the Mini. The Denon AVR-610 has an IR remote so once I click ‘power’, bingo bango, I’ve got music.

Compared to using iTunes (or something like Sonos or Logitech’s Slim Server) you can only stream from one iOS device to one AE Base Station at a time. And unlike Sonos you cannot have different music streams going to different rooms of the house at once. Within iTunes, when you select multiple “AirPlay” channels each room hears identical streams.

Being a “free” upgrade (to 3rd & 4th gen iPod touches and newer iPhones) iOS 4.2 is an easy recommendation, especially for those who own AE Base Stations connected to their stereos.

iOS 4.2 Audio Streaming

iOS 4.2 Audio Streaming

Automated Ripping Potential & that Vintage USB Typewriter

Went to Hive 76 for their open house night on Wednesday to check out the space.  While I was there Jack Zylkin demoed his very cool Arduino based vintage typewriter > USB Keyboard hack, and it’s actually quite ingenious and cool.  There are contact relays underneath the main typewriter carriage and he uses magnets for other registers and the Arduino chip figures out the characters pressed based on time delay.  And he’s made the plans available for ‘from scratch’ DIY types under a Creative Commons license.  & who doesn’t want to carry around a 50 pound vintage type writer with their iPad?  Jack’s website is usbtypewriter.com and his Etsy page [here].

Another sweet item I saw at Hive 76 was an older Sony Vaio automated DVD changer that connects via 1394 (FireWire 400).  Supposedly, using DBPowerAmp and some basic scripts it is possible to batch rip up to 200 CD’s at a time into .flac image files with good metadata and .cue sheets.  Alex Wetmore wrote several years ago, and I’m paraphrasing his sentiment here, that he had better things he’d like to do with his day, like go on bicycle rides, because the fact is that he is not a CD changer.

So the general idea is you use one of these big Sony Vaio XL1B* changers, load it up with your music, walk away from it for about 24 hours and when you come back hopefully you’ve got a hard drive full of music in a format that is future proof.  If I can actually get this to work it would be a beautiful thing, and Brendan said it was good go.

Sony VAIO XL1B* Series 200 Disc Changer

Sony VAIO XL1B* Series 200 Disc Changer

Mass .flac to Apple Lossless (ALAC .m4a) conversion

I have a couple posts going on the back burner, namely the re-foaming process on the 8″ woofer drivers from the Advent Heritage speakers I found in Greenpoint and the Mac Mini media server setup we have going now.  But first, say you want to convert all the albums you ripped to FLAC to Apple Lossless (.m4a) under OS X.  You want to know what’s easiest and quickest for batch conversion?

The X Lossless Decoder (see: XLD) is one very good option for OS X.  I find generally his application works best decoding full album single file rips from EAC with .cue sheets.  Usually with EAC you’d have three files, the .log, the .cue and the full album .flac file, XLD will nicely split the .flac into .m4a (Apple Lossless) individual files with little effort.

For larger batches, and because I used Stephen Booth’s “Max” for a lot of ripping, I find batch processing of tags and mass conversion a bit easier.  Where XLD is good on an album by album basis I found that Max was very good for converting whole directories of individual artists with multiple albums.  I find that I’m often fixing tags first in Max and then again in iTunes and then the last step is usually confirming the album art for use with Cover Flow.  It takes probably 5-10 minutes per album and it’d be faster if I had uniformity in my ripping standards.

I think ultimately, as an archive, using EAC and backing up to an image (.flac, .cue & .log) makes the most sense (but takes the longest). For playback and ease of use, unless you’re really crazy about bit perfection, I think the sound quality with Apple Lossless (.m4a) and iTunes is perfectly acceptable, especially with a halfway decent external DAC.  I’ve been using the Mac Mini as our A/V front end and the Apple Remote application for the iPod Touch works very well (over wifi)  allowing me to control iTunes on the Mini.

X Lossless Decoder (XLD)

X Lossless Decoder (XLD)

Stephen Booth's "Max"

Stephen Booth's "Max"

iPod Touch has 802.11n! But it’s not enabled! Zing!

I went to the Apple Store on 5th Ave before doing a little bouldering in Central Park.  Chris sent the Polish Traverse and made it look effortless.  At least someone is in shape.  So, I stopped by Apple and asked what they knew about the 802.11n chipset on the latest model iPod Touch.  Nothing.  They never know anything.  Seriously, I’ve had my best experiences at these stores only in the morning on very un-busy days.

I had to get a new battery once for a black Macbook and my options were: 1) schlep to Staten Island 2) buy one or 3) schlep to the 14th Street store because they are less busy.  I sat around the 14th Street store for about 45 minutes, crossed my fingers and waited for a lull in the ever present traffic.  The Genius there was very nice, she took pity on me and warranteed a new battery. But my other option was to come back to the 59th store at 5AM on a Friday. Their system blows, but I digress…

The employee didn’t have any specific answers about 802.11n on the new Touch.  It was his belief that it works, though I imagine if this were the case I’d have read at least one technical blog mention it.  Right now the word is that it has Broadcom’s mobile n chipset and it has a single antenna and it should be capable up to 30 Mb/s. Most tech writers speculate it’ll be enabled in the next 6 months. Oh well. Also, there is no camera yet on the Touch.

The image below links to the tear down, and if you’re into such things, click here for the Broadcom PDF spec sheet.



iFix it 802.11n iPod Touch Teardown

iFix it 802.11n iPod Touch Teardown

802.11n in iPod Touch

802.11n in iPod Touch

One Stop Ripping All Your FLAC Audio Needs

Thought I’d throw out a quick post while I was doing some searching for “best practices” in FLAC image extraction of audio CD’s for backup purposes.   Basically follow this guy’s instructions:

http://hiphopiscoolagain.com/jiggafellz-step-by-step-guide-to-secure-cd-ripping-with-exact-audio-copy/

In EAC you’ll click the “Actions > Extract Image + Cue Sheet > Compressed” function using your basic FLAC settings.  Also be sure to enable Accurate Rip and do the automatic detection on all the drive settings.  Save a .log file.  There should be three files upon final output: the FLAC image, the CUE sheet, and the .LOG.  That’s it.  Simple is as simple does.  If you feel like embedding the CUE sheet in the FLAC you can use Foobar2000 to do such, know however that it’s non-standard as far as burning back out.  Apparently it’s always handy to have a separate CUE sheet.  Good to know.

UPDATE: So, two things I realized.  One: XLD (X Lossless Decoder) for OS X does pretty much the same thing as EAC.  However, if you’re still hell bent on using EAC and XP (couldn’t get EAC to go under Darwine) it’s important to know that it won’t easily embed cuesheets (.cue sheets) automatically as XLD does.  Embedded cuesheets do make life a little easier as your playback software can look at either the .cue or the .flac file and see all the tracks from the single disc rip.

To embed a .cue using Foobar2000 right click on the .flac image file select “Utils > Edit cuesheet” a window will pop up, check “Embed cuesheet” and then “Load .cue file” from your extraction directory, click “OK” to save.  Bingo bango.  XLD can do this automatically.  I really cannot say which is better per data integrity, YMMV.  Obviously if you’re running Windows EAC is a “reference” standard.

Album art is another grey area as either the %Album Name%.jpg or simply “cover.jpg” can be used inside the album folder.  Also, what about album dates?  Certainly, we can agree that the album’s original release date is the important date here in metadata, and per genre conventions I tend to trust MusicBrainz.  For a good read I really liked Daniel Stout’s article about simplifying down to 25 main “top level” genres and tagging comments/notes metadata with sub-genres.  The moral here is you should read up as much as you can.  Either EAC or XLD will do fine with rips to backup your audio CDs.  Cover art and sub-genre notes I’m going to have to keep exploring.

Exact Audio Copy

Exact Audio Copy

Linux is a temperamental mistress

There is not doubt that you get out of MythTV what you put into it.  I spent a good day, post system build, just getting things going.  I upgraded to the 180.51 stable NVIDIA driver for the 9400 GT card that I have, at first it presented some problems, but I used Synaptic upgrade manager with Jean-Yves’ Avenard.org optional kernel builds with VDPAU support and the machine seems to run pretty cool.  Yes that Antec 120mm fan is loud but I think I can run it on the low setting. Why Antec builds cases with fan holes that seem to be able to produce noise is beyond me.  Since it’s an exhaust you’d think they might as well make it a super open mesh or just an open circle.

The Apple “mini” Remote still doesn’t work.  I was able to get LIRC to recognize it via the HDHomeRun IR input, and it wrote to some .conf file somewhere, but it’s unclear exactly how to set it up from within Myth.  But Apache works, I need to install Avahi and Netatalk again so I can get access to all the recordings from the other computers on the LAN.  I still wouldn’t mind having a low powered server as a dedicated back-end, especially if I could run MT-DAAPD on that, ideally it’d be gigabit and something like an old Sempron 3000+ headless with say over 2 TB’s of free space.

I fixed a floor pump today that had a bad O ring using only teflon tape.  Science.  Also I had a double Americano using Stumptown beans at City Girl cafe on Thompson this morning.  So good… wicked Sláinte.

City Girl Cafe

City Girl Cafe via Noyda on Flickr

Say S for Stumptown Espresso

Hairbender via Lameen on Flickr

I am Netatalk you are Netatalk we are Netatalk

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  Or does it spend all weekend working out Ubuntu 8.04 command line shell commands to make a beautiful thing happen?  Namely, mount an Apple Time Capsule share over ethernet via Samba/CIFS and and then serve the data via mt-daapd to iTunes and Airport Express.  All from the command line baby.  Yeah.  Compile that package of Netatalk with libcrack2 and ssl. Talk to me dirty with inexplicable buffer writes in  vi baby.  And you’ll do a lot of apt-get.  And if you’re lucky you’ll do a few apt-get purge(s) thrown in there for good measure.

What about mounting the Time Capsule in Ubuntu?  Shouldn’t that be simple beans? You know, smbclient, smbfs, and GO right? It just works.  Hah. Apple doesn’t exactly have a support page for this sort of thing.  The crux of it for me was the domain=workgroup option, and figuring out that with Netatalk everything referenced .local addresses no the local IPs for some reason.  Whatever.  The FLAC flows now.  OGG, wavpac, you name it, this little Linux machine can serve it to iTunes whole.  No more dealing with that cursed iTunes XML library.  Unless of course you want to put music on your iPod.  I still don’t have that part completely figured out.  My feeling is you copy and add music as you want it on your iPod.

It goes – Ethernet > Airtunes > SPDIF > DAC

Got the two Airport Express Base Stations working on the network with Airtunes & iTunes.  I bought an older 802.11b/g one for wired usage and an 802.11n one for wireless audio in the kitchen.  I had to do hard resets on both of them before they’d show up on the Airport Utility.  I turned off wireless on the b/g one and told it to use Airtunes via ethernet.  The newer 802.11n Express joins our existing Time Capsule 802.11n network. Optical SPDIF out from the wired b/g Express goes into the E-MU 0404 DAC, unbalanced RCA analog line into the old Denon amplifier.  Works well.  Pretty light, open and clear DAC on the high end.  These old Bose speakers were never much for bass anyhow, and we don’t like to annoy the building.

Apparently Hulu’s content providers (which I believe includes FOX & NBC) decided to pull their support for Boxee.  Now if you haven’t been following Boxee, they are one of the few companies actually making inroads into “set-top conversion” software, allowing people with computers to get the TV shows they want legally from their computers onto actual television screens.  It’s sad really, that this should be an issue.  Almost every show we watch online (legally, usually via the networks’ streaming sites) usually only has one commercial.  So if you’re watching an hour of television at NBC.com and you’re hoping for a variety of commercials you’ll be disappointed, you’ll simply get the same commercial over and over again.  How is it they can’t figure this out?  I distinctly remember watching a Verizon LG Chocolate phone commercial approximately 30 times (with the Feist song as soundtrack) as multiple episodes of a show simply had the same commercial.

Anyhow, at some point I’m going to try and put together a small low power HTPC that can record and playback at least a 720p stream.  Most of the Intel Atom motherboards simply have abysmal video performance and NVIDIA is supposed going to release something soon (and possibly a new Mac Mini). XMBC or Boxee, or even XP Media Center would work as far as a front end.  My requirements are pretty minimal, I’d like to have a Firefly MT-DAAPD server running for music (transcoding .flac to .wav for iTunes/Airtunes) and possibly a second instance of it running for the rest of the mp3/aac/m4a’s.  I’d probably record shows via the SiliconDust HDHomeRun, which would give two tuners for playback/recording.  Mostly the challenge has been finding something that is close to silent and fanless (especially as the Atom could be fanless) but it really hasn’t been optimized for HTPC applications yet.  OSX86 (search “Hackintosh”) with Boxee and Elgato EyeTV could potentially be an option as well.  MythTV could work too.  Who knows?  Right now I’m pretty happy with the Airtunes and Firefly setup.

Firefly Transcodes FLAC > .WAV for iTunes & Airtunes

So I bit the bullet and ordered a couple of Airport Express base stations so that I can finally listen to music over both ethernet and 802.11n.  A small miracle, the old Dell P3 is able to transcode the FLAC on a USB hard disk drive attached to the Time Capsule (a Samba share via Bonjour in Windows XP mind you) and serve it via Firefly to the iTunes (as uncompressed .WAV with track info) on our Mac laptops.  So now, when I get the Airport Express base stations it should be a matter of selecting both “kitchen” and “living room” in the Airtunes settings and bingo bango, I’m done. Music everywhere.  If I’m ever flush I could use an iPod touch or iPhone to remote control via the mobile interface, however, I’m holding out until they offer 802.11n 5 GHz as a feature.  I don’t understand how Apple could push so hard for 802.11n and then not have it on the products that are supposed to integrate into the “home media system”.  So I think this is it.  It’s the end of the odyssey.  If Z’s in the kitchen with her laptop she can select music from the MP3 library via her iTunes, or if I want to listen to FLAC I select the Firefly Share.  Simple as that, really.

Still Not Ice Climbing – but lets build a MythTV!

Sadly my Saturdays and Sundays have not been filled with ice climbing trips to hidden frozen waterfalls of the Northeast.  My hand feels better despite having a small gash where it hit the edge of the BMW car door. I imagine I’ll be able to go back to the MPHC climbing gym soon.  

I miss the outdoor rock.  Ryan, Josh and I went on a few climbing trips before it got cold and before weddings and Texas.  Ryan has photos of us climbing in the Gunks and Brewster, NY available here: http://picasaweb.google.com/ryanwesleywebb these are just a sampling.

 

Peterskill - Mark, Josh

Peterskill - Mark, Josh

Ryan in Peterskill

Ryan in Peterskill

Ryan, Ice Pond

Ryan, Ice Pond

 

Mark's hand Ice Pond

Mark's hand, Ice Pond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent most of yesterday reading about MythTV.  If you feel like setting up an open source home DVR (TiVo like) then Mythbuntu or KnoppMyth seem to be a couple good stable options for creating a home Linux TV recording solution.  Obviously this will only work if your signal is “free and clear”. Dish, DirecTV, ComCast, Time Warner and basically any cable or satellite provider, encrypts all premium content.  So on the one hand, local network channels and basic cable should be “free and clear” (over digital cable local channels are usually free using QAM) but with satellite it’s more likely you’ll need to rent the DVR from them.  The only reason I’ve been considering it is because I’ve needed some sort of iTunes server back-end (see my Firefly MT-DAAPD post) and it might as well DVR network HD shows we want to watch.  Also, our ATSC tuner is old (2nd or 3rd generation) and I think the latest 5th or 6th gen tuner chipset should allow us to get all the local HD broadcast channels without fussing with the antenna. 

There are three parts to most MythTV setups, which could all be integrated into one system or distributed into three smaller systems:

  • The back-end is your dedicated server which should have low power and processing requirements.  I’ve been looking at the MSI Wind ‘Nettop barebones PC (MSI’s product page) which sells on Newegg for like $139.99.  It uses an intel Atom 1.6GHz processor with minimal power draw, I think around 35 Watts max, but you could probably optimize it to use somewhat less than this.  Obviously, HDTV content takes up a fair amount of disk space, so for starters lets say a 1.0 Terrabyte hard disk drive.
  • The actual TV tuner (which now ‘a days will need to be digital ATSC HDTV compatible, unless you still have analog cable) could be as simple as a PCI card in the back-end but something even cooler is the SiliconDust HDHomeRun.  This product is two ATSC tuners in one.  It transfers HD broadcasts from over-the-air (or QAM) to your server via ethernet.  It requires DHCP to obtain an IP address, but otherwise it’s just a little box with one 10/100 ethernet jack and two antenna inputs; ATSC to IP as it were. Your back-end will recognize it as two tuners in the setup. You could watch one while the other records or both could record simultaneously.
  • The front-end will be how you actually watch the content you have archived. Say you ripped all your DVD’s and you’ve been time-shifting several seasons of Top Chef, the “front-end” is what will do the heavy lifting of playback depending on the bit rate and resolution of the video.  It should look just like any other media playback menu.  From my reading, MPEG-2 is the optimal format to save content to (thankfully DVD and ATSC signals are already MPEG-2 so no transcoding is required) and MPEG-4/h.264 require more horsepower on your machine to playback smoothly.  My MacBook Pro Core Duo 2.0 GHz would be a fine front-end however I’d need to plug it in to watch shows.  I’d be able to watch live TV wirelessly on the laptop anywhere in the house though. Note: the Elgato EyeTV is another option for Mac OS X HDTV time shifting however it doesn’t have the front-end/back-end model, your laptop has to be on and plugged into the tuner to record.
Yup.  So that’s where I’m at.  I’ve already wired the 1GigE cable to the bedroom.  I still need to do a cable run to the kitchen, but that’s not really a priority.  I think having a small machine like the Wind PC in a closet would be a nice way to have both an iTunes server and a DVR.  Apparently MythWeb allows you to easily setup recording from your web browser, so you just login and set the shows you want to watch for the week and let the back-end do its job.  There are ways to “Sling” content to yourself if you’re out of town or something, but personally I think I could wait until I’m home, and besides most of the content by the big networks is instantly available online now for free viewing.

Revisiting the Squeezebox and other nerd audio stuff

I’m trying to price this thing out…. on the one hand an iPod touch and a used 802.11g Airport Express base station with SPDIF optical out is about $250.  This requires a laptop running iTunes to be on and feeding it the music which is in turn controlled by the iPod Touch “Apple Remote” app.  So this is one relatively cheap option, really.  

Another option is the Squeezebox Classic which also can be found for about $200 plus $200 for the Touch running iPeng Squeezebox Remote Control app ($10), so for ~$410 you have perhaps a slightly more robust playback system that is open source and can play FLAC or any other file format for that matter and doesn’t require iTunes, but still requires a server/laptop running SlimServer.  Sonos sells a similar setup and they also have a free iTunes app.  The one cool thing about the Sonos is that no laptop is required, it seems it can pull directly from the TC as a NAS but that would be $350 + $200 iTouch.  

Maybe the cheapest, and I think I might try this route first since I already bought the damn Time Capsule which functions as a pretty good NAS / Backup server… For $25 Rogue Amoeba sells AirFoil which allows you to send your iTunes stream to either an Airport Express unit or any other computer on network (AirFoil Speakers is a free download) which means I could simply stream directly from one of our newer Mac laptops to the old thing in the closet which is plugged into the Edirol UA-5.  It’s a free download with 10 minute tests.  All the data would be on TC or a USB drive.  This might be the solution I was looking for.

Okay.  I tested it.  It works.  So that’s an option.  The final option is just the $50 Airport Express, no iPod Touch remote, and simply stream from the laptop to the base station SPDIF > DAC > Analog Out and control on the laptop as a remote.  The fan on the old laptop is really loud.  If can figure out a way to quiet it down.

Okay. Weirdly the stream from 89.9 WKCR doesn’t work in Winamp under Win2k on the old laptop.  So I’m back to the iTunes Foobar2000 plugin scenario and that seems to work fine, it’ll play any internet stream I give it.  Oh well.