Warning: Fairly long post!
Now that my sound system is completed component-wise, I just HAD to have a new project!
For nearly two years, I have been both very pleased with many control mechanisms (RF remote, squeezebox, 12-v triggers, relays…) because they actually perform some tasks very well and extremely disappointed because they can never do what I really want/need, especially actually talking to each other!
So, obviously, writing my own has been a pet project I have been contemplating for a long while. URC and Phillips Pronto had nice frameworks, but after fighting quite a lot to get proper technical documentation, all solutions that would partially meet my needs were between 3000-4000$. And the key word is partially. I will not go into all the small features that I would like to have (because there are too many and I could live without them so they are a candy, not the motivation), but the main one revolves around playing CDs and SACDs without needing many remotes and remembering 800 numbers (800 as in 800 SACDs, not 1-800 number!). Therefore, the main feature for me is to be able to browse my music collection and whatever gets in the play list gets played by the right device (and controlling vol and tracks with the same remote). All my CDs are digitized and all my SACDs have their CD-layer digitized and the tracks and albums are tagged with the player number, disk number and if it is a multich disk or stereo disk (for those who missed some of my last posts, I have two full 400-SACD changers).
Four stumbling blocks were preventing me to go ahead: 1) I only had 1 SACD changer, so half the disks forced me to get up and move anyway, 2) Proper IR/RS-232 processor; the problems with all the ones I had found until recently were either exceptionally expensive or required “reseller partnerships” for me to get the specs and no tools supplied! 3) lack of small, cheap touch-screen computer running Windows XP or higher. 4) Lack of IR-reception capabilities so I can continue to use my Harmony 890.
Two weeks ago, I discovered the company Global Cache who are offering a very nice 6 IR-ports (which can be configured for either out or IN!!!) and 2 serial ports + some relays (http://www.globalcache.com/products/gc-index.html). Also, that company provides full documentation and even tools such as a CCF code converter! You don't need to prove to them you are a greedy installer. They are quite happy to service HT owners. I had already identified the Archos 9 as a candidate for a remote control (http://www.archos.com/products/nb/archos_9/index.html?country=us&lang=en).
Now, in order for me to have the following:
1) Nice music browser (optimized for classical music) that can be run on any of my computers (and especially on the Archos 9), including a VERY BIG version of "currently playing" that can be used on the PC I have connected to TV as Input 2.
2) A smart “music activity” which can follow the SqueezeBox server playlist and switch disk and tracks on the SqueezeBox receiver and between my 2 SACD changers (and reprogram the D2v to use the surround modes I like for each genre). Mixed playlists may take a while, but even if I am restricted to either CD tracks or single SACD at a time, it will be a HUGE improvement.
3) Ability to control the “smart music activity” though playlist manipulation from my SqueezeBox controller and also from my iPod Touch
4) Ability to continue to use my Harmony 890 if only for volume and transport control
I needed to build a client-server remote control. I have been working on that for nearly 24 hours of work so far (the D2v is now fully controlled and the music browser is also operational, yet requires some more work). The cosmetic are not that great for now; that will come later. To get this project fully deployed, it will take me another 75 hours of intense work. After that, I will probably work on it here and there as a wife-substitute!
I am expecting the IR hardware Friday or Monday the latest (I am currently using a small TCP/IP RS-232 gateway I wrote for the occasion (a big 10 minutes of work!) and running it on my old laptop.
IF YOUR NOT BORED YET, DIAGRAMS AND PICTURES ARE COMING.
First the architecture (don't be worried that I don't realized the scope of the project, I have more than 2.5 millions lines of code behind me, I am used to that level of system!)
Here’s the architecture (I am preparing a case-study so don’t be surprised that the diagram is more complete than I really needed to get started).
The UI is split in three areas (and optimized for the Archos 9 resolution and the size and reach of my hands):
1. The "panel" are following activities and devices (right)
2. A "Zone and Activities" are that never changes (top-left)
3. A "Transport and Media" area which allows control of media (play/pause/stuff + favorites when watching TV)
1. WELCOME SCREEN
That screen is the first to be seen and can be recalled by clicking on the "home" button in the "zone and activities" window.
2. A SAMPLE ACTIVITY
The HDX-1000 device. The "4:3" and "16:9" switches are there to reconfigure the video scaler of the D2v to zoom cleanly in a 4:3 source.
2. ZONE AND ACTIVITIES
That panel never changes form or content.
The "Home" button allows to recall the "Select Activity" panel (which then is added a "BACK" button if no activity change is required).
The "Sax" button leads to a panel listing all the devices (similar to the "Devices" button of a Harmony remote).
The "Setup" leads to client/server configuration.
The "Round" button leads to a "power management" panel combining the "shut off everything", and a "Help" function like the one in Harmony remotes (allowing to re-sync states of the remote server with the actual equipment if discrepencies appear).
3. TRANSPORT CONTROL
That panel changes only when the "fundamental nature" of the activiy changes. There are three different ones identified (only one implemented right now) a) play/stop type of activities b) channel favorities for TV c) Tuner stations and seeking for radio.
The top portion is generic and controls the option and the location.
Top left where it is written "SqueezeBox" is a button showing/selecting the device actually being controlled by the transport buttons (play/pause). In the case of multi-devices activities (music with CDs and SACDs, for example), it allows to switch between the three if no "automatic mode" is provided.
Top right where it is written "Living Room" controls receivers. Pushing the button brings a new allowing to select which zone is to be manipulated by the volume or processor buttons. Ex: In "Living Room", the Anthem Statement D2v is controlled by the volume buttons and the surround modes are the ones matching it. In "Back Room" mode, it is the Onkyo 805 that is controlled and the options available are that one's.
The few buttons in between allows control of the subwoofer (turning it on/off, setting it louder or lowering it to reduce rumble for some recordings. That is a totally new feature that I gain).
The "480i/1080p" controls the input/output for the video processor (always the D2v). I use three different modes and outputs: 1080/24p when source is suitable (called "24p" in this GUI), but it can only be displayed in my living room. 1080/60p is compatible with my Living room and my Office. 1080/60i works also in the back. That used to be a f%$%?ing using the Harmony as it involved holding a button for 2 seconds, then waiting a second, pressing on it once more, and then blindly selecting through a menu (the OSD is not visible when the video output is incorrect)
4. POPUP MENUS
I have a very strick code correspondance between button shapes and how they behave. The "small black rectangles" are straight push buttons. The ones with info in the button and slight greenish all present a popup menu when pressed (context menus, but no right click as it is for touch screens). Here is an example for surround mode (the first items are my personnal "recommendations" and then there are "alternatives"). The list contains only valid items for the source and number of channels.
5. THE MUSIC BROWSER
Not complete, but functional.
YOU CAN NOW WAKE UP!!!!
That's what I've been up to last weekend and a few hours here and there this week. Lots of work, but it is already showing very promising HT comfort!