Control Your HTPC With Scavenged IR Parts

If you’ve built yourself a home theater PC, one of your highest priorities is probably coming up with a convenient control solution. The easiest way to do this is to simply use something like a wireless keyboard and mouse. But, that’s not very conducive to an enjoyable home theater experience, and it feels pretty clunky. However, if you’ve got the right components lying around, [Sebastian Goscik] has instructions and an Arduino sketch that will let you control your HTPC with any IR remote control.

There are a number of ways you could control your HTPC, and we’ve featured more than one build specifically for controlling XBMC over the years. Unfortunately, most of those methods require that you spend your hard earned money (which is better spent on popcorn). [Sebastian’s] setup can be replicated with things you probably have on hand: an Arduino, an IR remote, and a scavenged IR receiver. The IR receiver can be found in many devices, like old stereos or TVs that themselves were controlled via an IR remote.

It starts with an Arduino Sketch that lets you can see on the serial monitor what code is being generated by the button presses on your remote. These are then scripted to perform any task or function you like when those buttons are pushed. The most obvious use here is simple directional control for selecting your movies, but much more complex tasks are possible. Maybe someone can program a T9 script to type using the number buttons on most remotes?

HTPC for Lunch


If you’re hungry for a portable HTPC (Home Theatre PC) solution, maybe packing everything into a stylish mini lunch box is the way to go. [tomhung] wanted a quick and easy way to drag his media around while he’s away from home, but in an intentionally portable, self-contained enclosure, and the Star Wars lunch box provided plenty of space for the necessary guts.

Inside, he’s stacked the RasPi and a USB hub on top of one another. Each is mounted to its own platform made out of plastic DVD covers, and kept separate by standoffs carved from what appear to be the casings of inexpensive plastic pens. The stack also includes a 250GB 2.5″ HD, which [tomhung] simply attached with velcro for easy removal. The cables underwent minor surgery to keep the rat’s nest under control, and although the interior may still cause cable management enthusiasts to cringe, the exterior of the box cleans up well for its evening out. [tomhung] fit a simple 6-port keystone wall plate to the face of the lunch box to provide simple connections for all the important plugs.

Custom HTPC and Home Media Server

[Benoit Frigon]’s builds are a tribute to tidiness: both his HTPC and media server are elegant creations packed full of features. He has quite the knack for clean builds in this form factor; his PBX server was met with high praise earlier this summer.

For the HTPC, [Benoit] gutted and cleaned an old DVR case and modified it to house a Mini-ITX board. He added standoff mounts to support the motherboard, then sketched up a template for the IO shield as a guide for cutting the back panel. The front of the DVR case originally had a 4-digit 7-segment display and a few simple buttons. Though he kept the original button layout, [Benoit] chose to replace the segment displays with a 20×2 character LCD. The new display is controlled via a python script on the HTPC, which runs an OpenElec Linux distro with XBMC 12.0.

The HTPC’s hard drive bay is a bit lighter these days, because [Benoit] decided to migrate his media storage to a separate server. Inside the new home media server is yet another Mini-ITX motherboard with an embedded Atom N2800 that runs Ubuntu Server. Live television streams via a WinTV HVR-2550 TV tuner and TVHeadend software. The case originally suspended the tuner from the IO bracket on the back (and nowhere else), which left the rest of the card dangerously unsupported inside. [Benoit] solved the problem by building an additional aluminum bracket that firmly holds both the PCIe riser and the tuner. Check out both builds’ pages for downloadable templates, software details and bill of materials.

Silent HTPC build is an art piece for the livingroom


This sexy beast is [DeFex’s] new silent home theater PC. To give you an idea of scale, that motherboard is a Mini ITX form factor. Mounted below it is the solid state drive which is an SLC version chosen because they tend to last longer than the MLC variety. This distinction comes with a price tag that is $100 more expensive.

But we digress. It’s the custom case that really caught our eye with this build. The frame is made of a huge aluminum heat sink. It measures about 7″ by 10″ and sets the final foot print for the computer. An aluminum puck was added to transmit heat from the processor to the heat sink. Holes were drilled and tapped into the heat sink to accept the brass stand offs which hold the motherboard in place.

The near side of the case is a sheet of acrylic. It connects to the rest of the case using 3D printed brackets at each corner. There is an additional bracket on the bottom to hold the hard drive in place. The sides of the case are filled in with bicycle spokes which also find a home in the corner brackets. Now the hard part will be figuring out which orientation looks the best for displaying his fine craftsmanship.

[via Reddit]

One remote to stream them all

We’d bet that most readers stream video as the lion’s share of their entertainment consumption. It’s getting easier and easier thanks to great platforms like XBMC, but not everything is available in one place, which can be a bit off-putting. [Tony Hoang] is trying to simplify his viewing experience by creating one remote to rule all of his streaming software. He’s got an HTPC connected to his entertainment center, and used a bit of scripting to add some functionality to this Lenovo N9502 remote control.

The hack is entirely software-side. The remote already works quite well, but he remapped the home, end, and page up buttons, as well as the mouse controller. The three buttons will launch XBMC, Hulu, and Netflix respectively. They are also set to kill the other applications before launch so that one button will do everything needed to switch between one another. The mouse remapping takes care of up, down, left, and right keys for navigation in the UI and control of the playing videos. See a demo of the setup after the break.

Everything was done with autohotkey scripts for Windows. But this should be easy to code with other OSes as well. If you’re prone to have a slip of the finger you might want to work out a double-click to launch the applications so you don’t accidentally hit a key in the middle of your favorite show.

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Ambilight clone built from Arduino and ShiftBrite modules

[Don] put together a guide that will help you build your own Ambilight Clone for about $40 plus the cost of an Arduino. He’s using it with the HTPC seen above, and utilized modular concepts in building it so that you can easily disconnect your Arduino board when you want to use it for prototyping.

For RGB light sources [Don] grabbed six ShiftBrite modules. These are fully addressable cascading modules which make for very easy hardware setup. Instead of buying a driver shield he built his own using an LM317, heat sink, and wall wart to source enough current to drive all of the modules.

We really enjoy the mounting scheme used. Each module is attached to a piece of acrylic which is then mounted using the standard threaded VESA mounting holes on the back of the monitor. As with other Ambilight clones this one uses the Boblight package to get color information from the video as it plays.

extMEDIA: An XBMC disc changer interface


A while back, [Ben Gilstad] built his first HTPC, loading XBMC on it to manage all of his digital media. He loved XBMC’s features and flexibility, but he needed a way to enjoy his DVD and Blu Ray collection on the device without too much hassle. Far before [Ben Heck] considered fitting his Xbox 360 DVD drive into a CD carousel, this [Ben] was busy hacking a Blu Ray player into his.

He bought a broken disc changer at a garage sale, and tore apart a standard SATA Blu Ray player in preparation for the optical drive transplant. An ATMega168 controls the changer’s mechanics, monitoring the carousel’s position and triggering the proper motors when discs need to be swapped out. The AVR currently takes its direction from the HTPC over its serial port via a UDP proxy as XBMC did not support a serial interface at the time he was building the changer.

The second half of [Ben’s] project is an XBMC add-on that he uses to manage his huge collection of optical discs. In order to get XBMC to recognize each disc as a valid ‘file’, he created a clever workaround involving blank WMV clips. This enables him to view his DVDs as if they were digital files on his hard drive, complete with cover art.

It’s a fantastic project, and [Ben] says that his system should be able to support any number of physical disc changers simultaneously, without much issue. Unfortunately the project went on hiatus when he lost his job, so it’s packed away in storage for the time being. Once he gets back on his feet however, he has a whole list of planned changes and improvements to work on – we can’t wait to see it once complete!

Keep reading to check out a video demonstration of his XBMC add-on in action.

Continue reading “extMEDIA: An XBMC disc changer interface”