Using Excel to Watch Movies at Work

The Excel subreddit exploded earlier this week when redditor [AyrA_ch] shared his custom spreadsheet that allowed him to play video files on a locked-down work computer. How locked down? With no access to Windows Media Player and IE7 as the only browser (all plugins disabled, no HTML5), Excel became the unlikely hero to cure a 3-hour boredom stint.

Behind the cascade of rectangles and in the land of the Excel macro, [AyrA_ch] took advantage of the program’s VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) functions to circumvent the computer’s restrictions. Although VBA typically serves the more-complex-than-usual macro, it can also invoke some Windows API commands, one of which calls Windows Media Player. The Excel file includes a working playlist and some rudimentary controls: play, pause, stop, etc. as well as an inspired pie chart countdown timer.

As clever as this hack is, the best feature is much more subtle: tricking in-house big brother. [AyrA_ch]‘s computer ran an application to monitor process usage, but any videos played through the spreadsheet were attributed to Excel, ensuring the process usage stayed on target. You can download it for yourself over on GitHub.

Building a media player with an MSP430

A media player based on an Arduino and SD card has been done to death several times over, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate [Matt]‘s MSP430 audio player. It’s a very nice piece of work that supports a FAT16 file system and only takes up 54 bytes of RAM.

To make his dream of a 430 media player a reality, [Matt] based his work on the DIY Life Talking MSP430 project. Unlike this previous attempt to play music with a ’430 and SD card, [Matt] threw in a full FAT16 file system, allowing him to drag and drop audio files on his computer to the SD card.

Right now [Matt]‘s build can play a stereo audio file through its speakers, but the sound quality over a mono file is greatly reduced. The maximum sample rate is 16kHz; a ‘good enough’ sample rate if you’re listening with terrible headphones. In the video after the break, [Matt] plays this awesome Symphony of Science on his homebrew media player. We’re guessing his camera doesn’t do his project justice, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

Continue reading “Building a media player with an MSP430″

Reverse engineering off-brand media players

[Marcan] picked up this device on the cheap and is working to reverse engineer the controller. This media player is an off-brand Chinese model that can be had for the low-low price of $33.97 with free shipping. That’s worth it just to scavenge the parts for other projects, but the challenge here is to hack the controller because a datasheet was never produced for it. Warm up your logic analyzer, check out the wiki, and you can be pounding away at this ARM926EJ-S based system in no time.

The call to arms comes from [Marcan's] blog. You may remember him as the guy who is working to solidify iPhone sync in Linux or… what else did he do?  Oh yeah, he had this little project called the Wii Homebrew Channel a while ago. Get involved and you can learn from some folks who really know what they’re doing.

[Thanks Mr. Seeker]

Hacking the Western Digital TV media player

Western Digital recently released a media player that attaches to your TV and allows you to play HD media straight from an external USB drive to the television. With a price point of about $100, it’s strange that the device hasn’t made more of a stir in the consumer electronics market. Of course, if it exists, someone will hack it, though. Clever hardware and software hackers have already managed to get an alternative firmware running on the device, allowing for packages like a web server, RSS reader, Apple trailer viewer, and other linux-based packages. It’s good to see a device with so many software mods so early into production.

Related: OpenPogo, an alternative to Pogoplug software

Tome GS and Tome MP

[Dennis] tipped us off to his Tome project. It looks like two projects using very similar hardware. The first is the Tome GS; a tiny game system that looks like it could hang from a keychain. This is apparently the second revision of this system, based off of some of his comments. He’s done a pretty good job, it looks solid and functional. It even includes a zigbee wireless module for communication with others. He states that the graphics should be roughly the same as a gameboy advance.  The second is the Tome MP, a portable media player roughly the same size as a first gen iPod nano. It is equipped with bluetooth, though he’ll be removing that in the next iteration in favor of a zigbee. We would really love to see more information on the design behind these projects.

VLC media player 0.9.2 released

VideoLAN just released VLC media player 0.9.2. VLC is probably the best known open source media player, and supports most audio/video formats without additional codecs. Before VLC, we usually installed buggy codec packs to watch videos in Winamp or Windows Media Player. We’ve found the nightly builds to be pretty stable for the past month, but it’s nice to see the final version released.

Download Squad gushed over the new interface design, but omitted the real change — VideoLAN switched from wxWidgets to the Qt toolkit. Among many changes, Qt allows video effects to be applied without restarting the media.

One of our favorite new features is an adjustments and effects menu for quick picture, sound, and subtitle tweaks. The new version has better support for flash videos (FLV), and will stream from most online video sharing sites. See the full changelog at the VideoLAN wiki, and help out if that’s your thing.

[via Download Squad]