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Hardware

Building an MP3/DVD Box for the Home Audio System? 22

_typo asks: "I was thinking about building a nice MP3/VCD/DVD playing box for my home. Such box would stack along with the rest of the home entertainement equipment. I need suggestions about the case to use, the hardware to put in it and the software to drive it." This is similar to the Ask Slashdot on Home Theater Systems, but this approaches the issue from a different angle, that of building your own device to run the DVD/VCD/MP3 aspect of your mega-stereo system. Off the shelf products can do this decently well, especially with DVDs and VCDs, however about the best player of MP3s in existance, aside from the portables, is your average home computer. DVD/MP3 combos will play some MP3s fairly well, but even the best ones have problems with certain MP3s that will play well enough on a machine with a decent MP3 player.

" There's a few problems I need to solve to be able to do this.

First is the case to put the harware on. I've been looking for a case that's roughly the height and width of a 1U or 2U rackmount case but just 13'' or 14'' deep. It should have room for a standard motherboard, a hard drive, a DVD-ROM, and a front-mounted LCD.

To put inside this case I'd need a motherboard with Ethernet 10/100 and video-out included (to have less boards hanging around), and a reasonably good soundcard. As for CPU and memory, anything should do if it doesn't generate too much heat. This setup shouldn't need a fan, to avoid noise in the room.

To interface to the thing I'd like to have a wireless keyboard of some kind with a trackball and a IR remote interface. For the IR remote I think I can use lirc's plans to build a small IR receiver but I would still need to find a way to mount such receiver on the front of the case.

To drive all this I'd need proper software. Linux and X are the base options I'm most confortable with, but I still need the software to browse and play my MP3 collection and playback my dvd's (OMS?). Doing some Web browsing would be nice too but that seams easy enough to do with any regular linux browser.

Finaly I would like it to be cheap to build. Any help will be appreciated."

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Building an MP3/DVD Box for the Home Audio System?

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  • There are plenty of DVD players out there now that'll play MP3 CDs... why reinvent the wheel?

    - A.P.

    --
    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • Something to watch out for is Ground Loop [google.com] problems. It causes a low hum in your audio setup, sometimes even if your amp isn't switched to your computer. In fact, the video out from my computer was part of a ground loop problem in my setup. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to isolate/fix it, so whenever I'm not listening to mp3's I have to unhook my computer.
  • here for a book PC. a friend of mine got one and uses it for mp3's. the one he got had an option to have a DVD player too (although he has a very nice one already). throw in any big harddrive you want, rip all your mp3's in, setup the playlists, and you're almost there. i don't think these are the ones he bought, but they're like them, wish i'd gotten one though, they kick butt and i think overall price (dvd drive, large harddrive, etc.) was about $400 or so.. http://www.directron.com/blackbookpc.html [directron.com]
    http://www.egtechnology.com/bookpc/bookpc.html [egtechnology.com]
  • oh, i forgot to mention, the book pc my friend got had s-video and normal a/v outputs built in.
  • check out http://www.media-box.org
    the dude there is working on software that does similar things...
  • Yes it's for windows (and not free) - but showshifter [showshifter.com] looks to be very much like the software you need.

    It does the Tivo thing too...

    I'm currently trying to scrape together a box to do the same - but I'm trying to find an off the shelf case that's small enough. Looks like I might have to make my own though.
  • MSI NetPC Concerto III (MS-6215) [msicomputer.com]. They look to be a bit difficult to find, about $300 with no cpu/ram/drives, but nice and tiny. I don't know about underclocking or OS support, but the nice thing abot this one is that it has 2 PCI slots on a riser- something you don't see on many of the NLX boards. Builtin 10/100, sound, TV out, IR header and 2 1394 ports(good for webcams and uploading off the DV camcorder, not to mention portable drives). Those PCI slots would be good for putting in higher fidelity sound or hardware DVD decoding.

    Anyone had any experience with this particular box? the $300 bare price is a bit offputting, but it's so nice and tiny.
  • I got the same urge a few months ago and built almost exactly what you want. One thing I would definitely suggest is Creative SoundBlaster Live Platinum.... With this I was able to use the digital out to run it directly into my stereo receiver. And the remote is worth the price alone, the software rocks and can run the whole system without a keyboard or mouse this is no exaggeration. I want to play a CD, just hit the play button. I installed WinAMP and the software doesn't even need to be told it just is like "I can do that!". DVDs? "I can do that!". Want to configure it to start and run any other programs you have? Well just tell it where it is and what to do. Second hint, use a video card with a Video In as well as Video Out port this opens all sort of possibilities, you can almost make your own Tivo. As hated as this is on /. I use Windows on it; my choice was due to the wide range of hardware drivers and software (SoundBlaster IR software runs on windows and I was unable to find anything else as useful). I also put my CD burner in it but that is a personal decision you may not want. Hardware is only a 400mhz K6-2 with 128 megs of RAM, this seems to do just fine though I'm sure I will upgrade it one of these days. Mine is an Asus P5A motherboard and an ATI rage pro video card. You should be able to find a 2U case to hold all this; I use a mini tower myself though a pizza box style under the monitor case will also work very well. One last hint, if you have a closed TV Cabinet be prepared to drill holes and maybe mount fans in the back. Also we leave the door open whenever the box is on, otherwise it can get hot enough to set the temperature alarm on the motherboard off.
  • Actually, it was an NT machine that died on me, troll.
  • This is usually fixable by powering anything that's interconnected via anything analog off the same power strip (for example, your computer, reciever/amp, dvd player, and vcr). If you'd like to avoid noisy things such as hard drives and fans near your audio gear, you can make yourself a passively-cooled PC that boots via a floppy and nfsroot.

    If you can't do this with your setup, get a ground loop isolator or audio suppressor at any home audio/electronics store (I think even Radio Shack carries them).

  • Why spend hours searching and hundreds of dollars on a fancy-schmancy case when you could just stop by your uncle's attic full of junk, pick up a dead stereo cd player, take out all the electronics and and install everything inside its sleek black aluminum casing ?

    Just customize the cabling, perhaps use a dremel to poke a few holes for a network jack and video outport, then rig up a motherboard with a square-angle PCI riser and your favorite sound/tv-out cards. Add a hard drive and fit the cd player's tray into the existing door slot, and POOF! near-instant stereo component PC.

    (note to self : stop answering trivial ask-slashdot questions)
  • The old Power Mac 6100 [everymac.com] has the perfect case for this application. It would fit pretty well in the bottom of a stereo system. The fan is also pretty quiet. You can upgrade these things with G3 processors that run around $150 on eBay, which should give you plenty of speed for MP3's and DVD's. The G3's generally don't require a fan, so that would also cut down on the noise level. It's got 16-bit stereo sound built in, as well as SCSI, so you could load it up with a SCSI DVD drive and you're set. The AV models come with TV out, but you would have to remove the AV card to fit a G3 upgrade, I think. You can buy scan converter boxes pretty cheap, though, to hook the built-in video to a TV.

    If you didn't want to use the Mac itself, the case would still be pretty useful if you could find a PC motherboard that included all the components you needed onboard.

  • I've got some what of the same project in mind, sans VCD and DVD. I'm trying to find ways to build a computer capable for recording hours of audio onto my wheelchair, yes I am disabled. But enough of my little details.

    I would say, build it your self or have it built. Easy to say I know, but the options are limited and building/having a housing unit built to custom specs can be an advantedge. Go visit your local machine shop, or some place that deals with metal sheeting etc. I'm sure between the two of you, you can plan something out. A while back slashdot mentioned an Athlon system built to fit in a backpack, the Athlon part wasn't to fascinating, but he custom built the casing and found some interesting components, mainly the PSU.

    Go check out plycon.com, in there Keyboard section they have a mini-86 key keyboard that includes 2 button trackball, It's also IR based. Perfect eh? Tell Tony Night0wl sent ya, I need more brownie points with the guy. :)

    Components are up to you however. Only thing I would really mention is to be sure your HD is quiet. I can deal with the consistant hum of a fan, but the grinding of a bad harddrive can get on your nerves.

    I wouldn't eliminate a fan my self, there are fans out there with excellent CFM / dB ratios out there. Panaflo's come to mind, available at Plycon.com, caseetc.com, and I do believe pcmods.com

    Interface I'm not certain of, someone else will need to supply ideas there. :) Did I miss any thing?
  • Check out
    http://www.gctglobal.com/Products/iDVD_set_top_box /idvd_set_top_box.html

    This is the box you want! Its only anounced on /. every other week.

    Specs:
    Main Board Processor
    x86 Pentium Media GXM 233MHz
    Memory
    64 MB SDRAM
    TV-Out On Board
    Direct NTSC/PAL output
    Audio
    16 bit 3D surround Sound Onboard
    LAN
    Realtek 8139 10/100 Base T Wake-On-LAN
    IR Interface
    Yes (Optional)
    Flash Disk
    Support DOC 4MB to 144MB or Disk on Module
    Expansion Slot
    2 PCI (1 x PCI/ISA shared) and PC104(ISA) socket
    OnBoard IDE
    2 x Ultra DMA33
    Floppy Disk Connector
    Yes (Desktop type)
    I/O Connectors
    2S, 1P, 2 x USB, PS/2 Mouse, PS/2 Keyboard
    BIOS
    Award BIOS, DMI, PnP Green
    Power Supply
    65W, 5V, 12V ATX
    Software Support
    Microsoft Win95, 98, NT, WinCE, RTOS QNX, Linux
    Modem
    V.90 PCI Topic 56K Modem
    DVD ROM
    DVD ROM
    DiskOnModule/DiskOnChip
    16MB
    MPEG-2 Decoder
    Sigma Design EM8400

  • Pick up a couple of extra power supplies while you are at it. We've got several (20+) at the place where I work, and we've replaced at least a half dozen power supplies.

    But, they do run linux (not sure if the video out works. Never got that far.) Heck, there are even drivers on the install CD that came with it (although, if memory serves, they merely duplicate some drivers in the kernel sources).

  • I have been involved in the hacking of the Acer NT-150 set-top box for quite a few months now (check out the link above). The box is quite low power (AMD 586/133), and will just barely play MP3s, once a hard drive is connected.

    One thing that popped up in our discussions about how we could play MP3s, and still have power to do other things (or at least play MP3s at a higher quality) was the concept of using the NT-150 as a client, and streaming the MP3s off a server, over the network interface, then piping the resulting audio to the sound card.

    None of us have done this yet, but we did manage to find a few GPL'd bits of code that supposedly do it (links are on the site). Basically, you have a back room server doing all the decoding, and the client merely handles the redirect to the audio device, which uses very little processing power. I would imagine that a similar method could be used for other streams as well (though it would probably require a much better CPU than what is in the NT-150).

    You might also look into this company [thinknic.com]...

    They make a machine that has OK specs, and can probably do what you need it to do, is pretty cheap, and looks to be PC standard based. Not sure if the low price ($199) will get you a machine with normal video out, or only VGA, and I don't know whether you have to have the internet service they provide or not to get the deal - but might be worth looking into.

    One other thing - a few months back /. had an article about homebrewing a 1U web server - it used an AMD 586/133 as well, but I am sure something else could be used - I doubt you will be able to get away with using no fan on the CPU, unless you use a custom xtra large heat sink - most CPUs don't run that cool, and for what you will be doing (and considering how much will be on board and handled by the CPU in some manner - video mostly, but sound and ether to a minor extent as well), a fan will almost surely be needed. It won't be that loud, though - so don't worry too much about it (aside from electrical noise isolation, of course)...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • Here's your start... check out <a href="http://www.lanner-usa.com/em-586.htm">thi s</a> motherboard. It's about the size of a CD-Rom drive, and it has VGA,10/100, sound, and even LCD onboard. I don't know what kind of quality you're gonna get from the onboard sound, but there is one PCI slot as well, so you can jam a SB Live! card in it if need be. The boards can be found on Ebay for around a hundred bucks. Shave down your Linux kernel, throw it on a RAM disk, and you can probably get a pretty damn quick boot time. I've been planning this in the back of my mind for a long time, but I haven't gotten around to doing it yet.
  • Yup, I'd go the BeOS route. Fast boot times, nice query related filesystem, and there's been a ton of work done on similar systems (try Scot Hacker's mp3box [betips.net] or go straight to Be In Your Stereo [dhs.org] for web based interfaces.

    Use CL-Amp [tripnet.se] for the tunes, go and grab an IRMan [evation.com] and BeInControl [tripnet.se] for the remote control, and you're set. CL-Amp also has a bunch of plug-ins that support LCD displays, monitors, etc... check BeBits [bebits.com]

    The only downsides are that BeOS can be a little fussy about hardware (/me = Asus P2B-S, SB-Live Value), and that Samba support is, erm... well, it's there, but it didn't work for me; but BeOS can happily mount your CIFS shares (or ftp in/out, or telnet in/out, ...)

    FWIW, I just used a standard Abit desktop case (hidden, quiet fan), with only the IRMan exposed...

  • I'm thinking about building a box to act as my Jukebox. But also as the internet system for my daughter. I want her to be able to browse to the web to play nickjr.com and disney, watch avi versions of her movies so the DVD's can stay in the closet, and record broadcast TV from my Quest VDSL circuit. Am I dreaming, or is this practical?
  • by Jason Pollock ( 45537 ) on Friday May 04, 2001 @09:12PM (#244642) Homepage

    Here's what I'm looking at:

    1. Motherboard - Advantech 5864L [advantech.com] - video in/out, network and built in sound.
    2. Riser card 2xPCI.
    3. SBLive (so I can have digital audio!)
    4. DVD decoder card (if you need that, I don't)

    Add a small hard disk, a read-only linux image, and you are good to go. The hardest part will probably be getting the video out to work under linux. I haven't been able to find any references online. :)

    They even make a small case [advantech.com] and power supply [advantech.com], here, but the case is a little ugly. The power supply doesn't appear to have a fan though.

    I'm using an earlier version of the board as the basis for my car-based mp3 system. Works really well. Can't say anything about the PSU, it became available after I started with my system.

    Jason Pollock
  • by Coward Anonymous ( 110649 ) on Friday May 04, 2001 @04:18PM (#244643)
    BeOS - BeOS is far more useful than Linux or Windows. Boot time is minimal (15 sec. at worst), the file system supports rudimentary DB capabilities so you don't need to install MySQL, Perl and other monstrosities just to play a couple mp3s and there seems to be some work in this area. I would post some links I had but my computer died.

    Heat - Get an old Celeron and underclock it to about 100Mhz. That should give you more processing power than you need for mp3s (I don't know about DVD, though) and consume less power than a 486 - don't need a CPU fan.

    Form factor - you can try to find used NLX form factor boards and cases. Some NLX mobos come with Ethernet and TV output built in which is ideal. Sometimes they come with sound but you are probably better off getting a better sound card. The only problem with NLX is that you might have trouble finding a board that will let you underclock. Don't know.

  • by Van Halen ( 31671 ) on Saturday May 05, 2001 @10:10AM (#244644) Homepage Journal
    I was getting all geared up to build myself one of these almost 2 years ago, did some research, bought most of the parts, and then didn't have any time to actually build the thing. Ah well, such is life. ;-) For now, my custom perl script allowing me to instantly call up any of my 300 CDs worth of mp3s is good enough.

    Here are some useful links I found while doing my research:

    I don't know anything about DVD stuff, but hopefully these will be useful.

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