Media Player Appliances

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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I started looking at it primarily because one of my customers keeps asking me questions about the Amazon Echo. The fact that none of these things are completely aware of files or work-related tasks speaks to the direction technology companies want to take things.
 
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I've been using the Amazon Echo a bit lately. Playing Pandora is nice, the integration with my Nest thermostat is nice. It (in theory) will interface with my Insteon lighting system, but I haven't messed with that yet.

It follows the kinda crazy practice of arriving at my place already connected to my account (kindle and fire products do the same in my experience). I don't think I like that.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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I can see why Amazon does it. It's a big enough trial getting some people to go to a web page or type in login info that they should definitely know. I have people tell me pretty regularly that they don't have any need for logins and passwords in the same breath that they say they do online banking. Putting that username and password in for an Amazon device owner probably saves Amazon tens of thousands in support calls every year.
 

timwhit

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I think the Echo will become a lot more powerful when people develop more "skills" for it. We did a hackathon at work to develop echo skills. I was busy, so I didn't participate, but it seemed like it was pretty easy to develop new things pretty easily.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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No doubt you can do a lot of automation with If This Then That recipes, but these things are still limited in a lot of cases because the companies that provide them want to wring every tiny bit of data out of you they possibly can and the devices they're most designed to work with are limited by their security model to prevent applications from working together directly. These things need their own abstraction layer and some ability to talk to systems from the other ecosystems.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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They're ALL integrated with SmartThings. The problem is that none of the Voice Assistants are willing to acknowledge that people use services from outside their own walled garden. Google's can't even access a lot of other Google services.
 
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They're ALL integrated with SmartThings. The problem is that none of the Voice Assistants are willing to acknowledge that people use services from outside their own walled garden. Google's can't even access a lot of other Google services.
Things are getting a bit better. Echo paired up with my Google calendar this morning (big data win for them) and now reminds me of upcoming events and allows me to add new ones.
 

Howell

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I'd probably be looking at PVC pipe and a couple flanges.

One limitation I had was that I wanted the hole through the wall to be in a gap already in the plate for the TV mount. Next time I would not cut a full size hole for the low voltage box, instead just big enough for the 1.5" PVC I had as scrap and screw the faceplate directly into the plaster. The 1.5" conduit end sides would not fit past the low voltage box and didn't leave me enough room for the faceplate and PVC thread nut. I had to turn the paceplate backwards and use a thiner metal nut. At least it is hidden behind the TV. All in all I had all the parts I needed on hand except for a single longer HDMI cable. I'm happy with how clean it looks now. I'll try an put up some pictures in a couple of days.
 

Stereodude

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Have you tried the RPi 3 yet Merc?

I'm looking for something with wired LAN & no fan to play only 2 channel music from password protected SMB 3.x shares. Said device needs to have either SPDIF output or HDMI audio. Right now the Odroid C2 and RPi 3 are at the top of the list. Both can run LibreELEC. The Odroid has faster LAN and eMMC support, but runs some ancient version of the Linux Kernel though that doesn't seem to be an immediate problem for my uses.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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I may get to do something with a Pi3 sooner rather than later. I have to do another Pi class. It's going to be awful since anyone who takes the class will just be asking about Kodi or will leave as soon as they find out that "computer" doesn't equal Windows, but at least the boxes are incrementally better nowadays.
 

Stereodude

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I have admittedly low expectations of what this $36 quad ARM core A53 device can do, but it seems to do okay from what I saw in a few video reviews. I was surprised to see a review that mentioned it can run Quake 3 with all the settings cranked up at 1600x1200 at 90fps which would make it considerable more powerful than the computers I used in the late 90's early 2000's.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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I describe them as being about as powerful as a five year old smartphone. When I have to do things with one I usually spend most of my time wishing they offered an increased RAM option.
 

Stereodude

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Well, the RAM in the Pi 3 is twice as fast as the Pi 2, but it still only has 1GB of it. The Pi 3 has a fairly comparable processor to what's in the $129 Asus tablet I just bought. Quad A53's, though 1.2gHz instead of 1.3gHz. So, it should be way more powerful than what was in a smart phone 5 years ago, at least from a CPU standpoint. The VideoCore IV GPU I'm not so familiar with how it compares to current cell phone / tablet processors. I know it's the same GPU as the Pi and Pi 2, but it runs at 400MHz instead of 250MHz.
 

Stereodude

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I got my Pi3, KuGi case, and 32GB uSDHC card today. I got LibreELEC installed without any fuss. I'm working to customize it now. It certainly isn't as fast scanning music from my server in the basement to the library as the Haswell 2955U/2957U devices are, but I don't know if that's the fault of the 100Mbit ethernet vs. GigE, the writing speed of the uSD card, or the ARM processor. There also seems to be a slight hesitation when interacting with the GUI between key presses that change the GUI using my Logitech K800 keyboard that I don't see on the 2955U/2957U powered systems that use SATA storage. Since I don't plan to interact with it via a keyboard, only Yatse, I guess it doesn't matter and I don't think I'll be spending much time trying to figure out what causes it. However, if I were guessing I'd point the finger at the uSD card. I guess I could overclock the card.

BTW, am I just really stupid, or is there no way to turn it on after you've turned it off (with software) without power cycling the 5V to it?
 

Stereodude

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I can't think of a way to turn a pi on. Maybe you could bash together an IR receiver or something?

I think I mentioned earlier in this thread that it's possible to add MySQL as a backend to Kodi, which might help with maintaining a config between clients.
I may have to give mySQL a shot. The Pi3 had scanned my music library for about 3 hours yesterday and only got to the F's. I thought I was letting it run overnight, but apparently it won't keep running when I turned off the receiver and TV plugged into it. I had disabled CEC via config.txt, so I'm not sure what that's about.
 

Stereodude

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So I determined my USB cable was too long and the voltage on the RPi3 kept dropping. However, I don't know if that was causing any of my problems or not. I bought a different cable solution for powering it and have something else temporarily working without the drops for now. I'm still not sure exactly what state the RPi3 goes into when my receiver and TV turn off. Using tvservice -s over SSH shows it's still outputting 1080p60 and alive, but when I power the TV and receiver back on it looks like it restarts Kodi. I see the Kodi splash screen and get the same sequence of event as when it first starts. I don't know if it is crashing or if that's intentional behavior on HDMI hotplug detection. I didn't bother to look at any logs.

Ultimately, I only had it connected there for testing. When I moved it upstairs where I plan to use it I had the RPi3 turn on automatically with the receiver via switched power. I then found the RPi3 booted too fast and already chose what output and display mode to use before the Pioneer receiver had the EDID from the monitor readable and ready for the RPi3 to read. So it was outputting VGA on the component output. A reboot of the RPi triggered via SSH or from Yatse would give me HDMI output once it restarted, but rebooting it every time is a no go. So I got to learn about editing the config.txt file to force enable the HDMI output in HDMI mode (with audio) using a particular resolution on startup. I learned you can't put spaces in the config.txt file. hdmi_mode=4 is okay and works. hdmi_mode = 4 does not.

I also discovered that the LibreELEC 7.0.2 distro for RPi2/3 seems to have a bug specific to the main Music - Library screen / menu. The 12 default options of Genre, Artists, Albums, Singles, Songs, Years, Top 100, etc... are missing.

LE 7.0.2 on RPi3:
http://i.imgur.com/aCABlR9.png

LE 7.0.2 on Chromebox:
http://i.imgur.com/8kQdDMm.png

I started a thread on the LE forum over the weekend, but haven't gotten any replies yet. :dunno:

Since I'm controlling playback from Yatse the lack of the menu options isn't really an issue, but I'm amazed by the relative lack of polish LE 7.0.2 has on the RPi3. Everyone says the Raspberry Pis are the best supported non-x86 embedded HW platform for OpenELEC / LibreELEC. I haven't even attempted video playback and am only trying to use a small subset of the feature set, but I've seen several crashes when trying to "multitask". Like watching the CPU usage on the menu screen while it's scanning music into library = crash after a minute or two. Navigating through some of the setting menus while playing music = crash. The x86 version isn't perfect, but from what I've seen it's certainly much less experimental feeling. If this is as good as it gets I don't think anyone would want to venture outside of x86 if their kids or significant other has to use it. Maybe the Android version (of Kodi) is better, but I have my doubts.
 
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Fatwah on Western Digital
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Other than some mild annoyance at how I have to configure file sources, the differences between Kodi on a FireTV or a Shield and x86 are pretty damned minimal as far as I can tell. I'll have to look and see if the Music library is rendered properly or not, since I never look at things that any either.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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OK, Matricom Q2 mini-review, executive summary: This thing is a pain in my ass.

It's responsive enough and it is capable of decoding 30fps 4k content, but I can't stand it for what might be the dumbest reason of all time: I can't figure out for the life of me where the cursor is. The launcher is designed to be navigated by remote and I've also tried a bluetooth keyboard, but the change in contrast between an item with focus and anything else on-screen is so subtle that I can't figure out how to interact with the stupid thing except inside of Kodi. For some reason, my keyboard/trackpad combo would only detect the keyboard part. It's almost impossible to navigate standard Android apps.

It also won't deliver 4k Netflix and I can't get it to pass through native formats of higher-than-DD5.1 or DTS, even in SPMC. 4k Youtube played fine (though the app is impossible to navigate, I was able to cast to it), as did some 4k camera footage I have.

It DOES have both Google and Amazon frameworks installed. You can sign in to both, but neither are part of the setup process and, again, navigating those apps is nightmarish with the controller. Once I spent a half hour getting logged in (I kept accidentally navigating back or getting stuck because, again, I couldn't figure out where my cursor was), I WAS able to deploy pretty much anything I wanted from both app stores on to the device, but with the combination of controls I have at my disposal just now, there's no long tap or drag analogues, so some UIs are just off the table.

I was hoping for a more generally useful Android box that can run some of the stuff that Amazon's box keeps me from using, but there's still no decent PC/STB UI for media services outside Kodi and that's just sad.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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The holy grail is a generic Android interface that actually works for an STB. Yes, I could miracast a tablet on to my TV, but that will annihilate the battery. Plus Miracast isn't perfect mirroring and only streams audio as stereo. A trackpad or trackball might work but in my experience, some of Android's features are still difficult to replicate with a PC-style pointing device no matter what.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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Kodi has super-easy 10' navigation and it's my preferred interface for media, but core plugins like Youtube keep breaking and the name brands in streaming services don't work with it unless you're on Android and can use it as a launcher for your normal Android app.

Windows also doesn't have a lot of those streaming services as apps and the web page versions suck to navigate from a couch, if they work at all.

The FireTV has a really nice Youtube app and 4k Netflix and Amazon authorization and everything on it works with its controller, but it won't talk to Google services at all, is bad about handling advanced sound formats and has only a tiny selection of apps available. Most annoying of all, in some cases Amazon wants me to buy a FireTV version of apps I've already bought for my Fire HDX.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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I suppose the maddening thing is that the Echo won't talk to most Google services, in particular Youtube and Google Music. There's a Google Home box, but THEN I have crap tons of purchased music on Amazon and THAT won't work. Apparently this thing will at least talk to Google Now, Siri and Alexa on the same device, but it's still just a really expensive Bluetooth speaker and who gives a crap about that?

I did just find out that TuneIn will play Podcasts. I didn't know that. "Alexa, Play Savage Love on TuneIn" works as well as "Alexa, play KCRW on TuneIn."
 

Stereodude

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Wouldn't two of them just make two mono sources?
They have some special sauce in their app that allows multiple devices but I wasn't clear on if they act as separate channels or as two mono sources.
http://www.ultimateears.com/boom-guide/en-us/ Look at the Double Up section.
When you Double Up, you connect two UE BOOMs together for bigger sound. The easiest way to set this up is to use the Double Up option of the UE BOOM app. Once your UE BOOMs are Doubled Up you will be able to play to both at the same time from one phone or tablet.
In the Double Up section of the app, you can choose how you would like the speakers to behave. There are two options:
STEREO: In this mode, the two speakers play as a stereo pair, with one speaker dedicated to the left channel and one speaker dedicated to the right. You can even define which of the two UE BOOMs should be left and which should be right.
DOUBLE: In this mode, the two speakers play identical streams.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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A Pi with OSMC loaded on it DOES make a pretty good music player. Stick it someplace with speakers and run it through your remote software of choice. I'm using one in my bathroom and my kitchen now instead of BT audio receivers and I kind of like that setup better. I still wish I could find some way to make audio follow me, but switching web servers on my remote is faster than pairing bluetooth hardware and works over a larger range.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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I broke down and added Prime Music to the list of crap I'm paying Amazon to have. It's $2/month vs $10 for Google and I'm OK with that part. I'm also OK with the 250,000 song limit.
Here's what's not OK:

1. Like Google, Amazon uses its metadata instead of mine. This, again, is terrible and wrong. Amazon's isn't sufficiently authoritative for my music and this is problematic when it wants to describe classical albums by principle soloist or ensemble rather than composer. I was expecting that but I'm still going to bitch about it. No, "Secrets of the Old: The Collected Songs of Samuel Barber" is not a Thomas Hampson album, Jerkazon.
2. File formats are weirdly inconsistent in their support. The Uploader likes to throw "File Format is Unsupported" for FLAC files I ripped at the same time, using the same settings and from the same physical discs as files it accepted without complaint. And once it says that, there doesn't appear to be a way to make it change its mind, say by uploading from another PC or even re-ripping the disc to a new FLAC file. I uploaded a paltry 200 discs worth of songs and found that it only accepted 92% of the constituent files. It also choked on some but not all .AACs (no DRM present).
3. There's no mega-batch uploader except to import all your files in to Windows Media Player and let it take everything from THAT. At least Google Music lets me pick arbitrary locations.
4. It doesn't actually upload things that it recognizes but if it hits a track it doesn't, it takes forever. Probably an hour per disc. Maybe it's fingerprinting the files or something. I don't know.
5. Bulk editing metadata is web-only and a PITA.
6. You can have 10 devices authorized with your Amazon account at a time and the rules for deauthorizing old systems are weird. Amazon will only let you take off so many at a time, apparently. Also, you can only download "Free from Prime" albums to four devices and you can only STREAM "free from Prime" music on one device at a time. If you try it on a second device, it'll ask if you want to move what you were listening to instead. 10 devices is more reasonable than Apple but it's still a limit for me.
7. The output is MP3-only.
 
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