Media Player Appliances

Howell

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I was thinking about the watches, glasses and personal fitness gadgets that are on the rise. But I didn't know about the music streaming angle. Those licensing deals would probably cost Apple a good many pennies.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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Amazon's offering is missing at least one of the major labels. For most people, it's going to be functionally incomplete. It's probably a lot easier for a small player to strike up licensing deals, even if those deals are somewhat disadvantageous. The small player can be acquired and a bigger fish can renegotiate.

That said, Beats is absolutely a lifestyle brand in much the same way as Bose or Nike. Adding another layer of consumer loyalty isn't going to hurt Apple, particularly since it really seems to be playing catch-up with its actual technology products at this point.
 

Stereodude

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It's a Samsung UN65ES8000. It's supposed to though I admit that I've never messed with it.
Your NUC uses Intel graphics in one of the Core i_ processors right? Those definitely support 1080p24. My Haswell notebook supports 23p, 24p, 29p, 30p, 30i, 50p, 50i, 59p, 60p, 60i when plugged into my PN64F8500.

Which media player would you recommend if its used primarily for playback of a large FLAC collection on Windows box? Something on the order of tens of thousands of files. Something with HDMI and a coax output.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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There's probably a video driver update I haven't bothered to do since the day I set the thing up.

Music playback is going to depend a lot on how you organize and how you've chosen to preserve metadata. I do a lot of my playback in XBMC, but my collection is well organized to browse by the filesystem and almost always involves simply navigating a folder and playing the first track rather than relying on scrapers or ID3 tags (both of which will completely puke on the sorts of music I like). I can see someone whose media needs involve a lot of playlist management using something like Foobar and I'm not sure what the 10' interface options are for that.

Music is actually a huge can of worms because everyone handles it differently. Movies are comparatively speaking much, much easier, if only because of the wider amount of query-able metadata content scrapers are able to access. A lot of people think that the state of the art was or is iTunes and setting aside normal hyperbole, it's still the farthest thing from the truth.
 

Stereodude

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There's probably a video driver update I haven't bothered to do since the day I set the thing up.
What OS does it run? I gave the rundown for Win 7 x64 with reasonably current drivers.

Music playback is going to depend a lot on how you organize and how you've chosen to preserve metadata. I do a lot of my playback in XBMC, but my collection is well organized to browse by the filesystem and almost always involves simply navigating a folder and playing the first track rather than relying on scrapers or ID3 tags (both of which will completely puke on the sorts of music I like). I can see someone whose media needs involve a lot of playlist management using something like Foobar and I'm not sure what the 10' interface options are for that.
My music is pretty well tagged. It is also well organized into folders by Artist - Album. I have a really old first gen Roku, as in the M500. It's cumbersome to use with the size of my music library with only a small 2 line passive LCD display. Pushing from the Slimserver PC side server interface isn't all that much better and I have to turn on a PC. As a result, I don't use it much. I'd like something with a workable 10' interface on my TV that doesn't involve turning on my HTPC. I would be okay with an interface that navigates via the data from the tags, but it needs to not bog down to a crawl if you have a very large music library.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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What OS does it run? I gave the rundown for Win 7 x64 with reasonably current drivers.
Server 2012r2. Gotta do something with those Technet licenses. I know I installed an Intel driver and I have the Desktop Experience installed. When I get home I'll check.
I actually like the tile interface on the TV. It's kind of an abomination on Windows Server, but functionally it's pretty much just Windows 8 and that's fine.

My music is pretty well tagged. It is also well organized into folders by Artist - Album. I have a really old first gen Roku, as in the M500. It's cumbersome to use with the size of my music library with only a small 2 line passive LCD display. Pushing from the Slimserver PC side server interface isn't all that much better and I have to turn on a PC. As a result, I don't use it much. I'd like something with a workable 10' interface on my TV that doesn't involve turning on my HTPC. I would be okay with an interface that navigates via the data from the tags, but it needs to not bog down to a crawl if you have a very large music library.
No STB I'm aware of does local music collections WELL. Your options boil down to browsing a folder structure somehow or finding something that shares playlists, which is basically going to be a shell that sits over DLNA or maybe MPD. And there's nothing but library management programs that handle tag filtering, which means using a PC somewhere. Now, you can have XBMC or Plex send output to connected clients if you're set up for that, but that (or DLNA, for that matter) is going to transcode to either MP3 or AAC, which is going to kill any audiophile grade source. Further, mobile-device Plex doesn't support high resolution output AFAIK. Audio is ALWAYS transcoded to stereo.

Personally, I think NAS + XBMC might be the right answer since you have good a good folder structure and you're willing to work with a 10' interface instead of a two line LED, but XBMC's audio format support can be a little weird. It doesn't play some multichannel .FLACs or any .DTS files, for example. Even with that, you'll run in to some issues for outliers in your music collection and XBMC is lacking in searching and filtering (Plex does that better but doesn't otherwise do music as well; lots of file format support problems in my experience).

The usual suspects of Roku/FireTV/AppleTV are barely functional in that respect without falling back on Plex/XBMC anyway. If you go the STB route, you'll find that interface lag is going to be as big or bigger annoyance than a crummy UI.

The NUC is entirely silent. It has shit-tons of horsepower for current video playback and I do know that it can render 4k acceptably, at least on an i3-class CPU. You have a zillion ways to control the stupid thing. It's just that it uses more electricity than an AppleTV and managing a desktop OS might be more work than you want to bother with, especially if you let yours sleep and occasionally want to interact with something outside your 10' interface.
 

Stereodude

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No STB I'm aware of does local music collections WELL. Your options boil down to browsing a folder structure somehow or finding something that shares playlists, which is basically going to be a shell that sits over DLNA or maybe MPD. And there's nothing but library management programs that handle tag filtering, which means using a PC somewhere. Now, you can have XBMC or Plex send output to connected clients if you're set up for that, but that (or DLNA, for that matter) is going to transcode to either MP3 or AAC, which is going to kill any audiophile grade source. Further, mobile-device Plex doesn't support high resolution output AFAIK. Audio is ALWAYS transcoded to stereo.
By local you mean on a USB attached HD? That's not really what I'm after. The music is on a "server" in the basement. I am okay with running some sort of "server" software on it with the appliance accessing it over wired ethernet.

Personally, I think NAS + XBMC might be the right answer since you have good a good folder structure and you're willing to work with a 10' interface instead of a two line LED, but XBMC's audio format support can be a little weird. It doesn't play some multichannel .FLACs or any .DTS files, for example. Even with that, you'll run in to some issues for outliers in your music collection and XBMC is lacking in searching and filtering (Plex does that better but doesn't otherwise do music as well; lots of file format support problems in my experience).

The usual suspects of Roku/FireTV/AppleTV are barely functional in that respect without falling back on Plex/XBMC anyway. If you go the STB route, you'll find that interface lag is going to be as big or bigger annoyance than a crummy UI.

The NUC is entirely silent. It has shit-tons of horsepower for current video playback and I do know that it can render 4k acceptably, at least on an i3-class CPU. You have a zillion ways to control the stupid thing. It's just that it uses more electricity than an AppleTV and managing a desktop OS might be more work than you want to bother with, especially if you let yours sleep and occasionally want to interact with something outside your 10' interface.
A NUC pretty much puts me right back to a PC. I've already got a HTPC (though I don't have a 10' interface on it). What non-PC hardware do you recommend for running XBMC on?
 

Stereodude

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Thanks for the help and answering my questions. Rather than ask you a bunch more questions I decided to put XBMC on my HTPC and try it out. I'm not sold on it's 10' interface for music handling. It's clearly better than simply using Windows Explorer + foobar2000, but...
 

Stereodude

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Thanks for the help and answering my questions. Rather than ask you a bunch more questions I decided to put XBMC on my HTPC and try it out. I'm not sold on it's 10' interface for music handling. It's clearly better than simply using Windows Explorer + foobar2000, but...
After playing around with it more, it seems like a headless XBMC setup running on a fanless low power PC with a USB coax SPDIF output controlled by the Yatse Android app might be just the music playing "appliance" I'm after.
 

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Since you now have your cool little HP box up and running, have you tried it out for video content yet? Or is it dedicated just to audio at this point? I'm curious to know whether it behaves well enough for high bit-rate video playback.

Not to advocate something totally, completely that is blatantly illegal and completely awesome, but Popcorn Time basically lets users stream torrents. On a decent-ish connection (I saw it used on a 10Mbit DSL line), it's functionally not different from Netflix; you hit play and it downloads and begins playing a torrent as if it were streaming content. It's not something I need but I was impressed by how well it actually works.
 

Stereodude

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Here are the missing posts of my progress from the VB5 forum:

08-09-2014, 10:05 AM:
Stereodude said:
So I ordered a smoke silver Haswell based Celeron HP Chromebox (yes I know it's not fanless) to install XBMC (OpenELEC) on along with a MCE/RC6 IR receiver and a CM6631A USB to SPDIF adapter.

Being someone who has to go overboard I also ordered a 7" wide viewing angle 1280x800 LCD to put on top of my component stack so I can see what's playing just by glancing up without having to leave my TV on.
08-11-2014, 09:19 PM
Stereodude said:
So I got the display from Adafruit (still waiting on the Chromebox). I wasn't pleased to have to troubleshoot their apparent incompetence. The short version is they said the display interface board could be powered between 5-24V. They recommended several voltage supply options. I chose the recommended 12V supply as a result. The reality is only 5V will work properly. 12V causes the LEDs/LED driver in the display to overheat causing part of the LCD to "clear' and also results in the backlight never powering off. I started a thread on their forum.
08-12-2014, 08:22 AM
Stereodude said:
I added a microcontroller board in between the DISP_EN signal from the controller to the display. Now I can dim the display via a variable duty cycle 20kHz PWM. The MCU pulls 3.3V from the HDMI interface board. It basically superimposes a PWM on top of the DISP_EN signal. There is a pushbutton switch to cycle through the brightness levels. The microcontroller board only consumes ~1.25mA which is pretty thrifty. I wrote the C-code for the micro so I can do pretty much whatever I want. I am thinking to connect some sort of ambient light sensor.
08-16-2014, 11:44 PM
Stereodude said:
Today I got my 5V wallwart power supply for the HDMI interface board so I don't have to use a bench top supply any more. Yesterday I got my ambient light sensor. I wrote the software to make this all work on Friday. I got it connected up today. I had to modify a few scaling factors in the software to adjust how aggressively it changes the brightness and the baseline light level but the SW worked as expected. I wish the ambient light sensor and automatic brightness adjustment on my Nexus 7 (2013) worked nearly as well.

My ChromeBox and USB to SPDIF also arrived. I haven't put OpenELEC on it yet. It boots to ChromeOS in only a few seconds.
 

Stereodude

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Since you now have your cool little HP box up and running, have you tried it out for video content yet? Or is it dedicated just to audio at this point? I'm curious to know whether it behaves well enough for high bit-rate video playback.
I haven't tried any video content. The 2955U has the Quick Sync engine which is used for decoding. My understanding is that it can decode pretty much anything real time including very high bitrate UHD H.264 content. Other people were testing with 100Mbit/sec "4K" H.264 files on Chromeboxes and discussing their results on another forum. They were not driving a UHD display though they reported no playback issues.

Not to advocate something totally, completely that is blatantly illegal and completely awesome, but Popcorn Time basically lets users stream torrents. On a decent-ish connection (I saw it used on a 10Mbit DSL line), it's functionally not different from Netflix; you hit play and it downloads and begins playing a torrent as if it were streaming content. It's not something I need but I was impressed by how well it actually works.
Ignoring the legal aspects, that sounds pretty neat, but potentially troublesome from a buffering standpoint. I imagine it doesn't leave you with a very good ratio either. ;)
 

Stereodude

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I followed the steps Matt Devo put together to install OpenELEC and I got OpenELEC 4.1.4 installed and working pretty easily. I would say OpenELEC isn't quite ready for plug and play installation on hardware by people who aren't willing to tinker a bit in Linux or do a little debugging to make things work correctly. FWIW, the Windows version of XMBC seems a bit more polished and more plug and play.

The first HP IR receiver I bought does not work with Linux because it reports an invalid timing parameter. I bought a different HP IR receiver (w/ remote) which works fine, true plug and play. The USB to SPDIF adapter worked perfectly without having to fuss with anything. I plugged it in, changed the audio output from HDMI to the USB SPDIF device, and it worked.

I've been trying to chase down some sporadic gremlins on my SMB network shares not working when the box is booted or when it's brought out of suspend / standby. Sometimes it just doesn't work until the box has sat a few minutes. I found lots of complaints about this sort of issue about 1.5 years ago on the forums for SMB and NFS shares, but apparently quite a few patches were made to it and the issues were resolved for most people.

The more pertinent "bad" news is the HP Chromebox is not inaudible. It's not very obtrusive, but in a very quiet room it is audible from several feet away with nothing playing. The modified BIOS uses the ASUS fan profile which is reportedly less aggressive and quieter than the stock HP fan profile. For music playback with the most CPU intensive visualization the temps get into the mid 120's. It seems like the fan spins up one level in the mid 120 range. I haven't yet attempted to find the exact temperatures where the fan speed steps or how many steps there are, but it can get quite loud when it heats up into the 140's. I've been testing in a different room than where I will be ultimately using it so my seating distance will increase so I'm hoping it will be even less audible there. It also seems I can rebuild the BIOS and alter the fan profile however I want.
 

Stereodude

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So it seems XBMC doesn't work like a normal music player and I can't figure out how to make it work like one. If you queue up an album and decide to stop playback during the 5th track you can't simply hit the play button and resume playback from the start of the 5th track. You have to re-initiate playback by starting over again (finding the album in the library and starting playback). :cursin:
 

Stereodude

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My earlier comment may not quite be correct. After spending some quality time Googling I have a few things to look into that may allow me to work around it (or not).

I'm just not a pauser unless it's for a pretty short time. I like to stop and resume at the start of the song.
 

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I spent about half a day mucking around with my NUC to make it properly work as a Hackintosh. I was thinking that the combination of Launchpad + XBMC would be a pretty decent alternative to the Server 2012R2 (read that as Windows 8, for all intents and purposes) install it has on it now.

... and XBMC hard locks the machine every single damned time I launch it. Dammit. Oh and there's no software volume control for HDMI on OSX for some reason. Launchpad is a small step down in terms of functionality since the tiles are substantially more customizable in Windows. ModernUI as a 10' interface is excellent and it really does justify itself for this use case in a way that it would not otherwise on desktop-class hardware. This little foray gave me greater reason to actually appreciate it.
 

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I've been trying to chase down some sporadic gremlins on my SMB network shares not working when the box is booted or when it's brought out of suspend / standby. Sometimes it just doesn't work until the box has sat a few minutes. I found lots of complaints about this sort of issue about 1.5 years ago on the forums for SMB and NFS shares, but apparently quite a few patches were made to it and the issues were resolved for most people.
These went away after a few tweaks. I made a few changes to the registry of my Windows XP x64 system that runs all the time based on some information I found in a guide, and I also told OpenELEC to delay starting until the network was up. It takes a few seconds longer to start from a cold boot, but I haven't had any SMB connection issues out of suspend / standby since.

Tagging has become the bane of my existence now. I thought my music was well tagged, and it may have been compared to some collections, but it had a lot of room for improvement. I've been trying to systematically work my way through my collection to fix various issues as I find them.

I started on the "frame" for the LCD on Monday, but need to spend more time to bring it to completion. I either haven't had time or the motivation the past few days.
 

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Tagging has become the bane of my existence now. I thought my music was well tagged, and it may have been compared to some collections, but it had a lot of room for improvement. I've been trying to systematically work my way through my collection to fix various issues as I find them.
Be glad you don't deal with much Classical music, where the "authoritative" sources might list an album's artist by the composer, soloist, conductor or ensemble; albums are frequently untitled and will almost never have anything in the Composer or album artist fields; non-English characters in tags are downright common and obscure imports, LP-only releases that pre-date the computer age by 20 years and fly-by-night collections are the order of the day.

When I got serious about tagging, I used a lot of different tools to get as much metadata as I could. I can script a lot of interactions with services like Amazon and Discogs to automate, but that only goes so far for some things if for example the guy who submitted the initial tag for an album chose to use French track names when other sources list them in English. The tool that I wound up using a lot for manually inspecting my collection was called Tag&Rename.
 

Stereodude

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So, the $30 USB SPDIF device I bought doesn't work out of suspend in Linux. I hadn't tried this before. It doesn't work in OpenELEC after resuming from suspend, but there are no error messages in any logs or any signs of a problem. In contrast HDMI audio works fine out of suspend. I tried Ubuntu 14.04.1 x64 on the Chromebox and got the same results coming out of suspend with CM6631A device. I then tried two different laptops with Ubuntu 14.04.1 x64 and the same CM6631A USB sound card. I got the same results. It seems to be some sort of kernel driver issue. One of the nice folks in #openelec helped me find a workaround since he said getting a kernel fix would be a long shot. Basically I unbind the device on the way into suspend and then bind it on the way out with the suspend / resume script capability of OpenELEC. This has the effect of unplugging it and plugging it back in without actually having to touch it.
 

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Here's what my 7" 1280x800 display looks like all mounted up in the black wood "frame" I made with the electronics on the back.

Front:


Back:


(Click the thumbnails for larger pictures)
 

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Microsoft announced a branded Miracast receiver today. Which explains Windows 8.1 getting full support for it in a recent update.

Miracast on Android is pretty much perfect. It just works (other than the increased battery drain) and it's fine if it's a thing that you want.

Miracast on Windows seems to have "weather" -you'll get odd bits of display corruption, like watching satellite TV during a storm. And sometimes the connection will just drop. I've observed this on the Surface Pro and on Samsung, HP and Lenovo tablets.
Also, Microsoft's device is costs half again as much as Netgear's, and I'm not sure why.
 

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In the world of STBs, that's actually a tough question to answer. Netflix has a different UI on almost every platform. Some of them almost require users to interact with a PC to pick the titles for viewing. Others have UI issues with browsing or searching.
 
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