[LMB] OT: Revisiting earlier audio & video over LAN discussion

Ray Drouillard RayLists at quixnet.net
Sat, 15 Mar 2003 22:08:19 -0500


Back in November '02, Sir James solicited house ideas, which evolved into a
discussion about serving up all entertainment electronics on a computer and
distributing it via an internal network.

The idea is to load all of your CDs and DVDs on a large hard drive, and use
a computer in each room to play it.  My plans haven't been fully
implemented, but I have started the process, and I have a good
proof-of-concept.

I purchased a 120 gig hard drive for my 1 GHz computer, and have a 98 gig
partition dedicated to audio and video.  It's currently about half full.

Since the upstairs "entertainment" computer is an old socket 7 (Pentium
class) computer running a Cyrix PR200 (75MHz * 2, or 150 MHz) processor,
decoding MPEG video is not something that it can do.  Because of this, I
purchased a Video Magic DVD decoder.  The thing works great, but I prefer
the software decoder I am using downstairs.  It does, however, have the
advantage of having surround-sound output (should I ever decide to get a
surround sound amp), and also has an s-video output (should I ever decide to
get a regular TV).  The downside is that it has some digital rights
management stuff on it that I find annoying/insulting (though it doesn't
cramp my style at all).

I put all of our Veggie Tales DVDs on it, and they play fine.

What I do is put each DVD into its own directory, and share out that
directory.  That way, when it is mapped, it has exactly the same pathing as
if it was a DVD drive.  The software player and the hardware player both
handle it fine.  To make things easier, I created a bunch of batch files
that map the (shared) directory to the V: drive.  That way, all the user has
to do is double-click on the appropriate (well-labeled) batch file, bring up
the player, and go from there.  It's easier than hunting up the DVD and
shoving it into the drive.  It'll be even better when I get a wireless mouse
and keyboard.  You won't even have to leave the couch to change DVDs.

Veggie Tales came out with its first movie: _Jonah_.  Unlike the other _Big
Idea_ flicks, _Jonah_ was encrypted with CSS.  I could play it straight from
the DVD drive, but not from a copy on the hard drive.  Some googling yielded
a nice "backup" utility that decrypts the files and puts them onto the hard
drive.  Since that is exactly what I am doing (backing up the DVD, not
pirating and distributing it), I am legally and morally OK.  My pile of DVDs
is sitting about three feet from the computer, and the computer only
contains the DVDs that I own.

Anyhow, the trick worked.  I can play Jonah using both the software and the
hardware decoders, though I can't use PowerDVD to play it on the "server"
computer.  No biggie -- just slightly annoying.


I have also stored a bunch of audio CDs, though I am going to be doing some
programming that'll make it easier for me to put the titles on the file
name.  I am just using the Windows media player right now.  In fact, I
didn't even upgrade the one upstairs, so I can't make play lists upstairs
(though I can read the ones I make downstairs).

I just downloaded some winamp-type programs and something that is supposed
to compress the audio losslessly.  Right now, I have 16 CDs copied, and am
using about 17 gig of space.  I'm going to try a lossless compression scheme
and see what happens.  Also, I want to store some music on the smaller drive
in the "entertainment" computer so I don't have to leave my 1 GHz machine up
all the time.

The status right now:

Need to implement lossless compression and copy some of the audio to the
smaller computer.

The sound card in the entertainment computer is truly lousy.  I need to
replace it.  Also, I need to fix my Bose 901 speakers (they need new
surrounds) and wire the sound card into the existing stereo.

I need to use a more convenient program for playing audio -- even if I end
up having to write it.

I have a Video Magic hardware decoder and a Hauppage TV card.  They work
independently, and there is no reason to run them at the same time.  If I
wanted to watch broadcast or cable TV, I could.  I had originally bought the
card so that we could use the VCR, but I currently only use it for the FM
radio.

I am thinking of writing a database program that'll track EVERYTHING --
audio files, video (DVD, downloaded MPEG files, home videos taken with a
digital camcorder, etc), and photographs.  I'll write it in Visual FoxPro
and use the older FoxPro format for the database files.  That way, I can use
some old 486 machines running DOS to run a subset of the program under
FoxPro/DOS to play audio files, and set them up in places like the garage,
workshop, patio, or whatever (I have a whole bunch of old hardware).


Conclusion:

The idea is sound and works well.  It can be implemented fairly
inexpensively, and it can be done in stages.

It's nice to have all of the CDs and DVDs out of the living room and packed
away.  The added benefit is that a burglar isn't likely to find them (I lost
my CD collection about ten years ago, and rebuilding it was a pain).

It's also nice to be able to play whatever you want without searching for
the CD or DVD.  This will be more of an issue once the kids get bigger and
might have a tendency to "lose" things in their rooms.



Ray Drouillard