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The Life of P

Tag: amBX

Home Theatre System Upgrades

While the blog was on hiatus, and using some of my newly expanded disposable income post-qualification, I completed phase 3 of the home theatre system upgrade. As I prepared to write about it, it dawned on me that I hadn’t documented Phase 2 last Christmas (or rather it was a draft that never got published). So prepare for tech overload as I tackle both below. First, on an unrelated note, Thor’s rules for touring in a band (contains unsavoury rock band language) are probably an equally good model for road trips and spending prolonged periods of time with anyone really.

Phase 2 of the upgrade comprised of a complete overhaul of the sound system. It had been on the cards for a while as I was in the strange situation where my PC’s 2.1 speaker set (the stellar Logitech Z-2200) actually sounded better than the cheap surround sound system in the living room. I was fixed on KEF 2005.3 speakers, with their excellent sound, powerhouse sub and stylish egg-shaped satellites. Plus they were British so this could be considered less a lavish expenditure and more performing my patriotic duty by supporting the economy. They demand a decent receiver and eventually I settled on the Denon AVR-1610. The combination has blown me away. My neighbours have been very accommodating.

This required a universal remote to wrangle the sprawling beast into something usable. I went with the Logitech Harmony One for a combination of ergonomics and easy software: you to select the equipment you have and then list the basic activities you perform to set up the remote in about an hour, though you can easily spend several more tweaking every single button on the device, as well as its touch-screen display. I had read people joking online about universal remotes saving their marriages but I can believe it. Anna stared in horror when she saw the new setup with four remote controls sitting on the coffee table. Now she can navigate it like a pro.

Phase 3 was a longer term plan that I hadn’t expected to occur so swiftly. The system’s limiting factor was that media was stored on the PC in my room and streamed wirelessly to the Xbox. The two-fold problems were that the PC needed to be on and wirelessly streaming HD content is doable (over wireless-N at any rate) but temperamental. The solution was to move the media to a NAS drive plugged into the router, and stream it through an HTPC sitting under the TV.

The former was fairly easy to select: Netgear’s ReadyNAS Duo was easy to setup and provided two empty drive bays. I added two 2TB WD Caviar Green drives and they automatically mirror one another, which is protection my video collection had previously foregone. I definitely recommend it as a first NAS unit for the home for ease of use, but do read the instructions and do not install a drive with data already or you’ll find yourself in serious trouble when the unit tries to create its own boot partition.

After much research, I decided to build my own HTPC using a barebones Shuttle XS35GT as the base. I became enamoured with the idea of attempting to build a PC with no moving parts, the dual benefits being low power consumption and, more importantly, total silence. The Shuttle is low powered, but packs an nvidia ION 2 GPU capable of streaming HD content. No optical drive was necessary and a Corsair 40GB SSD was relatively inexpensive (size is not an issue since the NAS takes care of data storage). The SSD would also provide a test to justify the expense of a larger one as a system drive when building my next desktop (so far, I’m convinced). The new machine was named Serenity, a nod to Firefly’s silent space shots.

I have to admit, booting up a totally silent PC is actually a little eerie at first since I subconsciously use the instant whir of the fan as feedback to know it’s working. I’m still tweaking Media Center and trying out Kylo which is a web browser designed for TVs at a distance. Control-wise the Harmony works for media center usage, but I splashed out on Logitech’s Air MX mouse (it’s gyroscopic so you can operate it by waving it in their air) and the svelte diNovo Edge keyboard, which is the only keyboard I’ve ever considered putting out on display. The finishing touch was an afterthought that only dawned on me once everything else was complete. Since I now had a PC sitting next the to the TV, I could attach my old amBX kit finally to create what amounts to a mutant Ambilight Sony BRAVIA TV.

The Other End of Cambridge

Adam (thinks he) rocks!I spent last weekend up in Cambridge, taking a look at the fourth years’ new houses and generally catching up with everyone. It was my first trip back to Cambridge since I graduated, but this visit was really more about the people than the university or the town. Indeed the location was completely unfamiliar with their houses being far off north of the town proper, once it becomes residential and real people start to exist. Fortunately the Citi7 bus travels all the way from the station to such uncharted reasons so it wasn’t too difficult to navigate.

The housewarming was in a house predominantly inhabited by the ex-K lot from last year, most of whom had also been down for my birthday in August. The house was pretty packed with Angie keeping food flowing, Rav and Sparkie rewiring the house, and Adam (whose not-very-surprised birthday party was also being celebrated) showing off his Guitar Heroics while laughing maniacally at everyone else’s attempts. Everything as normal, really.

Mmm... doughnuts!The following morning I was up early, gorging myself on a breakfast of bacon sandwiches following by a lunch of freshly cooked mini-doughnuts — with such hospitality I’ll certainly be back soon! After helping with a little tidying I headed over the medics’ fancy new abode. TomTom and I charged through several levels of Halo 3 (getting dirty looks from Cat) before being more sociable on the arrival of Lyds’ guests. I headed home in the early evening which was fortunate given the inevitable rail works. I would have liked to spend longer, but I’m sure there will be plenty more trips to come. I also expect everyone down in London to see the flat before long, though possibly not at the same time what with it not being a house. As for the photos, larger versions may appear here soon but I’m still getting used to the 400D and its ridiculous ISO settings (up to 1600 which is great for low light blog photos but obviously very grainy at full size).

I have also received a some of Philips’ great new amBX gaming gear (apparently worth just over £200) which conceptually is a fantastic extension of the ambilight which first featured in their TVs. I would absolutely love to write you a review except that there are no 64-bit Vista-compatible drivers yet. This is disappointing given that supposed cutting edge technology like this is most likely to be adopted by people running the latest OS. They promise new drivers are on the way, so stay tuned…


"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2021 Priyan Meewella

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