Posts filed under 'Home Theater'

My DLNA demo

Here’s my DLNA demo. If you don’t know what DLNA stands for check it out.

If you don’t feel like watching I use a Nokia N85 and Samsung Omnia to take some pictures. Then I get a DLNA enabled TV to grab photos from them without using a computer, TV out cables or memory card reader. The only thing connected to the TV is a network cable and power cable. The TV is a LCD LED edge lit Samsung UN55B8000 TV.

4 comments September 24th, 2009

Cleaning up my TV

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So my wife was complaining that all my extra stuff was making her furniture look ugly. Basically, next to the TV I had a xbox (for xbmc), PVR, network hub, slingbox pro HD and RF extender. I wish I had a before picture – oops.

I was thinking of fixing the clutter using wireless HDMI when it occurred to me that I should try something using the TV’s VESA mounting holes.
I ran out and got 2 pieces of thick aluminum slats and drilled holes in them. Then I mounted them to the TV. Next I got some nylon straps, melted the ends with a hot knife and added clips. Finally I strapped everything onto the back. Here’s the end result:

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I was going to mount a power bar or UPS to the back but there wasn’t enough room as you can see… guess we need a bigger TV. Instead I plugged everything into a power bar so if I want to move the TV, all I have to do is unplug the power bar, cable and network cable.

I also thought of adding a cable and network outlet so that they’re right behind the TV, maybe I’ll try it later.

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Speaking of moving the TV, it went from a manageable 60ish lbs to close to 90lbs. Heavy enough that it’s noticeably more difficult to move.

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A couple of people have asked me about heat. I used a laser thermometer to check the temperatures. Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me to check what they were before I mounted everything but the hottest point on the back is right where the PVR touches the TV. Right there it’s 41C which seems okay since the PVR runs pretty hot.

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I was originally going to put a network switch instead of a hub, but to be honest I don’t need the extra bandwidth as XBMC and the Slingbox Pro HD don’t use more than 10mbps.

You could also use the XBOX for games since the ports are not really covered but I’m only using it for XBMC.

I used an RF extender (with my MX950 remote control) since the TV probably blocks the IR signals going to the XBOX and PVR. If you look carefully, the PVR actually has 3 IR blinkers on it (2 from the Slingbox, 1 from the RF extender).

So anyways, with this setup, one person can watch videos using XBMC on the TV, while another can watch the PVR on some of my phones (SlingPlayer mobile is available on Blackberry, iPhone, S60, Windows Mobile and Palm), on a TV (using a SlingCatcher) or on a computer in HD.

Also, my wife doesn’t complain about how everything looks now.

Howard Chui
01.13.2009

7 comments January 13th, 2009

Universal Remote MX900 Genesis Review

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Nothing is sweeter than having a nice home theater (along with a nice phone). However it’s a pain when you have to locate four different remotes before you can watch a movie. This is where a universal remote comes in handy. Problem is, most universal remotes are pretty basic and have virtually no customizability.

In my opinion the ideal setup would be a remote that you can connect to your computer to program. The programming software would be powerful enough to let you customize every button plus it would let you create custom macros and so on.

Universal Remote Control makes remotes such as the MX900 that fit this description. Is it any good? Read on.

First impressions:

The MX900 is not a small remote. Then again most universal remotes are quite large. The top and bottom of theMX900 are coated with rubberized paint.

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The shape is such that the buttons are split into four different sections which makes buttons easy to find without looking. The button sections include the LCD and soft keys at the top, volume and menu related buttons, the navpad and the play related and number buttons.

Button feel is pretty average; the mx900 has the typical mushy remote buttons. They stick out and are easy to feel. One nice feature is that the buttons beep when you press them.

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I would like to see the rewind and fast forward buttons (REW and FF) to the left and right of the navpad instead of next to the play button. Then again having those two buttons somewhere else allows for a large navpad which is a good thing.

The -SKIP and +SKIP buttons are great since they can be used to skip 30 seconds (the length of most commercials).

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There is a backlight button on the right side of the remote. The MX900 LCD and buttons are backlit with a blue light.

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Power is supplied by four AAA batteries. Personally I prefer a remote that has a cradle where you can recharge it. Then again, I guess AAA’s make the remote easier to use since you don’t have to return it to the cradle. What I dislike about AAA batteries is when they die while you’re watching TV.

I can’t say for sure but my Sanyo Eneloop NiMH rechargable batteries last about 2 or 3 months before they have to be recharged. When the batteries do run out, the MX900 will say battery on the LCD screen and you won’t be able to use it till you’ve put new ones in. When you’re taking batteries out you’ll find that the MX900 is a really tight fit so that they’re slightly difficult to remove.

Usage:

Here’s the paradigm of the MX900. At the top is an LCD screen with buttons next to them. Each slot on the LCD screen can handle words of up to x characters in length. The LCD screen indicates the function of the buttons next to them. You can create pages of buttons. The page buttons will take you to the next pages.

Underneath the screen are ‘Watch’ and ‘Listen’ buttons each of which take you to a sort of home screen. From the home screen you can see a list of devices on the LCD your remote is setup to command. When you press the appropriate device, the MX900 can control it.

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Like Universal Remote Control’s other PC programmable remotes, you have to connect the MX900 to your computer in order to program it before you can use it. Unlike Logitech’s Harmony remotes, the MX900′s program doesn’t use a wizard to make things easier. Some may find this intimidating but really the MX900 is not hard to program. While the Logitech Harmony’s don’t allow for much customization, you can customize every button on the MX900 if you want. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like programming things, the MX900 is probably not for you. While I found programming to be a snap you’ll probably need to program it a few more times to get it just like you want.

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First up is setting up the devices. What I like to do is use the built-in remote codes for my devices and then customize the functions of the buttons next to the screen so that my most frequently used buttons appear on as few screens as possible. I usually also remove some of the extra pages of buttons since I don’t generally need every single one.

Once you’ve added all your devices to the MX900, you’ll probably want to setup some macros. First thing is the power on macro – I suggest programming it so pressing the power button from the watch or listen screens sends the power on command to all your devices. If you have higher end equipment, your devices probably have separate on and off remote commands. Then setup the off macro the same way.

Chances are you’re either using the speakers built into your TV or your receiver. You can use the ‘punch through’ feature so that the volume buttons for each device control your TV or Receiver. This way you don’t have to have the TV/Receiver selected to change the volume.

Next up you probably want to make it so that the video and audio switch automatically when you switch sources. For this you’ll probably want to setup a ‘press and hold’ macro. Normally when you’re at the watch screen and press DVD, the remote will switch to your DVD player. If you press and hold DVD for a second (the duration is customizable) you can make it so the TV will switch to the input the DVD is on and do the same on your AV receiver.Some people with inexpensive TV’s may lack remote commands to jump to a specific input. With these ones you usually have to press input x number of times. In this case you can do something like select a channel on the TV (send the ’3′ command) – this will tell the TV to switch to the cable input, then you just need to know the number of times to send the ‘input’ command to switch to a specific one. If you’re TV is really slow you can vary the length of time you press a button as well as the pause between presses.

You can create whatever macros you want. For example let’s say you have to press ‘stop’, ‘right’ five times, ‘select’, ‘right’, ‘select’ to delete a video on your PVR. You can create a macro to execute all these commands.

Now that the MX900 is setup you connect it to your PC using a mini USB cable (the same kind you’ll find on many phones, digital cameras, etc.) and send the setup to the remote.

Now one problem with many universal remotes is what happens if not all the remote commands make it to your device successfully. In this case you’ll have to press ‘listen’ (or ‘watch’), select the device you want to control, send the command and then switch back.

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If you find this happens a lot there is support for RF base stations. RF base stations receive a RF signal from the remote and then send them to your devices using RF extenders. This is useful if your devices are far away, if there are objects in front of your devices (such as a door or a wall), if you have a wife who always cleans stuff in front of the TV, that sort of stuff. You can have multiple base stations and depending on the model you can assign each base station a unique ID. So if you have three devices of the same model in different rooms, you can make sure the command is only sent to the appropriate base station instead of turning all three of them on at the same time.

I used the Universal Remote’s MRF-260 base station. I’ll talk about it more in a future review.

Conclusion:

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I’ll be honest. While the Mx900 is no where near as cool as my MX3000, it’s perfect if you don’t have tons of equipment to control. The buttons mean you don’t have to look at the remote every time you want to use it plus the shape means you can use it easily with one hand. The RF support is a plus though you probably won’t need it if you live in a small space like a condo.

The software is extremely easy to use once you understand how the MX900 works (this won’t take long).

My only complaints are that I wish the MX900 had rechargeable batteries built-in with a charging cradle.

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Howard Chui
03.03.2008

13 comments March 3rd, 2008

My new remote control and the story behind it

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Okay, here’s the story; A while back I used to live in a small apartment downtown. Back then I had the Universal Remote Control MX700; a PC programmable IR (infrared) remote. It worked great and had a editor which was extremely powerful. It had a LCD screen with buttons next to it where you could create your own buttons along with hard buttons. The program you use to edit the remote let you redefine every button, there were punch through buttons (like you can make it so that the volume buttons always control receiver no matter whether you’re watching TV, playing video games, etc), macros, push and hold macros, etc. The only problem I had with this remote was that you had to aim it. It doesn’t sound like a big problem (and it isn’t) but some macros can take a few seconds to execute.

Anyways, eventually I moved somewhere where I sat far from my stereo components. The signals had trouble getting to my components because there were obstacles blocking them.

Along the way I tried a Harmony remote (the 659). While it was a nice piece of hardware I wasn’t a fan of the software. It’s awesome if you just want to get setup and running quickly but I found it extremely limiting compared to the MX700′s editor. The 659 also had the problem of being an IR remote (like the MX700). Now Harmony remotes have this feature called ‘smart state’. Smart state remembers the state of your components; what’s on, what input you’re using, etc. It sounds like a good idea but if not all signals reach the components successfully it’s a real pain. There’s a help button that will fix this but I wasn’t crazy about having to use it. I returned the Harmony after a few days.

By now RF (radio frequency) remotes were more common. I tried Universal Remote’s RF20 Powerpack. The Powerpack is a remote and a RF receiver. It’s relatively cheap (I paid around 100 bucks US) because you can’t hook it up to your computer. While I did keep it I disliked that I couldn’t connect it to my computer. The fact that it does have RF makes it very useful if you have stuff that would normally block an IR signal.

Anyways eventually I got fed up with the MX700 and RF20 and started looking for a new remote. I’ve been eyeing the Universal Remote Control MX3000 for sometime so I finally bit the bullet and bought one. Here it is:

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Unlike my previous remotes this one has a touch screen. It runs Windows CE (just like Pocket PC) and uses Active Sync (or Windows Mobile Device Center if you’re using Vista) to connect to your computer. You program it using MX3000 editor.

I did consider the Harmony 1000 very briefly but it appears the programming software is more or less as limiting as the 659′s I tried a while back. I also don’t like Smart State.

You can customize everything on this device, the look, what the buttons look like and how big they are, how many buttons are on each screen. Along with this you can create macros that have up to 255 steps, press and hold macros, there’s support for variables (the irony of this is that I could give the MX3000 Smart State like functionality with this), and a few other goodies.

To be honest when I first got it I was a little overwhelmed. Programming my Mx700 was easy because the buttons are all set in place so you basically just fill in the blanks to program it. The MX3000 is so much more open ended. The buttons can be made from any image file you want. I was a little intimidated by the program at first so I actually didn’t touch the MX3000 much for a few days (I was also at CES so I didn’t have that much time to mess around). Eventually, I did mess around with the MX3000 and really, the editor is quite easy to use.

Along with the MX3000 I picked up 2 MRF-260 RF base stations. The MRF-260 has an antenna and 4 ports for IR blasters. You plug one end of the IR blasters into the MRF-260, the other end has an IR flasher you stick to your stereo components. RF signals can go through walls so you no longer need line of site to send signals. You also get a tremendous increase in range. Apparently you can go up to 100 meters away (real world range is probably less). You can set a unique ID to each MRF-260 and then program the MX3000 to you can send a RF signal to a specific port on each MRF-260. It’s really cool.

Some devices are sensitive to how strong or weak a IR signal is. You can adjust the signal strength to ports 1 and 2 and ports 3 and 4.

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So, everything’s great now right? Wrong, turns out my Westinghouse TV has the worst remote. First off, there are no discrete input remote signals. Most remotes have an on/off button and an input button. However, there are usually additional signals that will turn the TV on ONLY, if you send this signal it won’t turn it off. There’s also discrete off plus the ability to jump to a specific video input. The work around to this is to jump to a input that does a discrete input (in this case the SVideo input) and then telling the MX3000 to press input x number of times.

So all is well now right? Wrong! The Westinghouse is very inconsistant when it comes to receiving signals. Sometimes When you press SVideo it won’t respond and sometimes when you press input 3 times it will only respond 2 times. I tried varying the length of time between button presses but it doesn’t seem to help. Next time I’m buying a TV with discrete remote signals and or an IR blaster in port and or a RS232 port (you’ll need to purchase the MSC400 accessory from Universal remote to use RS232).

Anyways with the exception of the TV the remote works well. I wasn’t sure if I would like a touch screen remote but I got used to it quickly.

1 comment February 10th, 2008


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