Using the Boxee Remote With A PC

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When it was first announced in 2010, the Boxee remote was a stroke of genius. Not because it controlled the BoxeeBox, the set-top media center PC, mind you. It was impressive because the reverse side of the remote had a small qwerty keyboard, just the thing for searching menus loaded up with movies and TV shows and entering URLs. [Martin]‘s BoxeeBox loved his BoxeeBox, but it’s an old device now, with some support for web streaming (including Netflix) gone.

Other media center devices have filled the void in [Martin]‘s life, but he loved that Boxee remote. Getting it working on his XBMC-equipped PC was a top priority. This meant figuring out a way to connect the RF receiver from a BoxeeBox to a USB port. It turns out this is pretty easy, requiring only a few parts and half of a USB cable.

[Martin] traced out the connectors on the RF receiver for the BoxeeBox, and found the usual V+, V-, Power, and Ground connections found in a USB cable. The receiver operated at 3.3 Volts, so stepping down the voltage required regulator. The rest of the project was simply putting everything in a project box and stuffing it behind his PC.

Windows identifies the RF receiver as a normal keyboard, so everything went swimmingly. Since [Martin] built this small device, a few people have come up with better keyboard layouts for XBMC and the Boxee remote, allowing this device to function far into the future.

Cobalt RaQ Retrofit Help Geek Up Your Entertainment Center

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Even network engineers who toil away in hot server rooms (which aren’t actually all that hot because they’re well climate controlled) deserve nice things. That’s why Cobalt came out with these gorgeous front bezels for their rack mounted equipment… around twenty years ago. [Geekmansworld] is reviving the look, but he’s not hiding it away in a server rack. He scrapped the guts and used the front bezel and controls as part of his media server.

His first new addition to the case was a pair of hard drives which connect to an eSATA hub also stored in the enclosure. He buttoned it up and gave it a test run. Everything worked smoothly and he hopes that it will continue that way without overheating when the summer rolls around again.

Of course a dead front bezel is no fun so he cut off the portion of the original circuit board which hosts the buttons seen on the right. These buttons now connect to a U-HID board which turns the button presses into mouse or keyboard inputs using a USB connection. The original display was swapped out for a backlit character LCD. The LEDs to the left are a refit which turns the status indicators into a VU-Meter. See the entire thing at work after the break.

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Custom HTPC and Home Media Server

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[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.

Adding new features and controlling a Kinect from a couch

Upon the release of the Kinect, Microsoft showed off its golden child as the beginnings of a revolution in user interface technology. The skeleton and motion detection promised a futuristic, hand-waving “Minority Report-style” interface where your entire body controls a computer. The expectations haven’t exactly lived up reality, but [Steve], along with his coworkers at Amulet Devices have vastly improved the Kinect’s skeleton recognition so people can use a Kinect sitting down.

One huge drawback for using the Kinect for a Minority Report UI in a home theater is the fact that the Microsoft Skeleton recognition doesn’t work well when sitting down. Instead of relying on the built-in skeleton recognition that comes with the Kinect, [Steve] rolled his own skeleton detection using Harr classifiers.

Detecting Harr-like features has been used in many applications of computer vision technology; it’s a great, not-very-computationally-intensive way to detect faces and body positions with a simple camera. Training is required for the software, and [Steve]‘s app spent several days programming itself. The results were worth it, though: the Kinect now recognizes [Steve] waving his arm while he is lying down on the couch.

Not to outdo himself, [Steve] also threw in voice recognition to his Kinect home theater controller; a fitting  addition as his employer makes a voice recognition remote control. The recognition software seems to work very well, even with the wistful Scottish accent [Steve] has honed over a lifetime.

[Steve]‘s employer is giving away their improved Kinect software that works for both the Xbox and Windows Kinects. If you’re ever going to do something with a Kinect that isn’t provided with the SDKs and APIs we covered earlier today, this will surely be an invaluable resource.

You can check out [Steve]‘s demo of the new Kinect software after the break.

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Radio cabinet media center

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[Jon] picked up an old Philco radio from a pawn shop for $81. The electronics were shot and the controls had seen better days. So he set to work giving this old beast a makeover, turning it into a beauty of a media player.

The face plate for the controls had seen better days. His solution was to replace it, which gave him more options for mounting a display and controls. A menu system was implemented on the LCD display using a PIC18F4450 microcontroller. The chip also takes care of the three rotary encoders for the user interface and integrates the whole thing with the PC backend.

We’ll be the first to admit that a full PC is overkill in this situation. That being said, this was slow, unused system that is seeing new life. But is it worth the added noise and energy costs? Who knows, we think this leaves a lot of room for future revisions. Perhaps an NAS and wireless controls via iPhone or a similar device?

We’re a bit disappointed that [Jon] didn’t do some work to get better sound out of this. With a great big cabinet like this, the right speakers with a tube amp will produce some sweet sound. Certainly most things would be better than just using a pair of computer speakers. We’ll keep our eye out for an update that adds a tube kit to the project.

Hackit: Boxee now on Windows

Boxee, the free media center management and streaming application, is now available for Windows platforms. We’ve been following the developments of Boxee since we first announced its alpha this time last year. At that time, it was only available for OSX with promised Ubuntu support. We were a bit skeptical about the interface noting, “Unfortunately all the dynamic resizing, animated, sliding, floating info boxes make it behave like the zooming user interface’s retarded cousin”. Our interest in Boxee was almost entirely based on it being a fork of XBMC, the media center project developed for initially for hacked Xboxes. It was interesting to see Boxee become the interface of choice for hacked Apple TVs and then go mainstream with a big push at CES.

Have you been using Boxee as your media center? What do you love/hate? What about alternatives like XBMC, Plex, or MythTV?

Control Media Center with programmable IR receiver

This IR receiver based on ATtiny13 microcontroller is used to control a Media Center box via a remote. The circuit is powered by 20 pin ATX connector pin 9 “+5VSB” because it is the only pin that is powered when the computer is off, or in standby. The receiver is programmed to accept the codes from the remote by holding down the switch while pressing the remote button. The circuit can use “Girder” or “PC remote control” as controlling software on the Media Center.

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