A Rumination on Home Entertainment

The most important thing to keep in mind when hooking together an entertainment center, I have found, is that drunk people watch a lot of movies.

People who are sitting down to watch TV do not want to get up six or seven times to move plugs around, solve a switch puzzle, and place three crests, two engraved tiles, and a keyed crank in accordance with the instructions in a creepy antique nursery rhyme, in order to make their goddamn movie show up. This is an entertainment center, not lab equipment for the Umbrella Corporation. A lot of these people are going to be tired, inebriated, or both. In an ideal world, I'd be able to design a setup where you could get the input you wanted with one button press in a dark room without getting off the sofa or putting your beer down.

I haven't quite gotten there yet, but I'm trying.

Jazmin was given a new laptop for Christmas, and since the two main features of the old one are a busted screen and a working HDMI port, it now lives on the entertainment center, permanently tethered to the TV. Quite literally its only two jobs these days are to run a torrent client and decode MPEG/Flash media to output to the television, and as long as it can rub its head and pat its belly at the same time, any leftover brain power can be used for any old frivolous thing. I got Jazmin to give it a segregated account for the networked media stuff, and now it's got a load of players and converters and DreamScene installed, because if you're going for pretty blinky lights, you might as well go all the way.

[Windows Vista and later have the native capacity to use a video loop as the desktop background. Microsoft just decided to take the option out of Control Panel so they could sell it to you later as part of a desktop enhancement pack. DreamScene is just a tiny program that flips the hidden switch for you. Their English is a wee bit questionable, but it does exactly what it says on the tin. You can get a lot of animated.wmv clips on that site; I'm partial to the abstract PS3-ish ones. The TV is now showing Multicolor as its backdrop, and my computer is running Digital Rain.]

The main problem with using a computer to drive most of the entertainment in the house is that it violates a number of the complaints I outline above -- you have to get up to feed it media if the file isn't on the internal HDD, it wants to be worked by someone physically sitting at the keyboard, etc.

The very first thing I did was hook everything Windows-driven to the same Homegroup. Homegroups are like Workgroups, except for people who don't have an IT department to prevent them from doing stupid things like touching mystery settings in the Control Panel and naïvely resetting their domain password to a string of eight asterisks. Any computer on the Homegroup can opt to share all its Libraries with all the other computers on the Homegroup, and Libraries can point to any combination of local, removable, and mapped network drives and/or folders. There is now about a terabyte of storage piled up next to the TV, and the Acer can play media that's physically written to the internal hard drives in my and Jazmin's Windows laptops, so we can stop constantly performing the traditional Dance of The Swapping Devices that used to happen whenever I couldn't remember which disk I'd put the newest Doctor Who on. I'm pretty sure that if I'm clever with samba I can leapfrog through my Win7 machine into the Ubuntu laptop, which all told probably gives us another 1-1.5TB pf spare space to slosh into if (when) we manage to fill up what we've got.

The other problems (flipping switches, dark room, putting down beer) I think I can solve with a combination of apps and the rampant internet addiction Jazmin and I share. We each have a tablet now, and we never put the damnable things down. I've gone right back to walking everywhere with a book held in front of my face, only now it also lights up and makes noises, and I sometimes reach up to poke-type things on it. I'm kiting all the data around via Magic Internet Rays -- my previous magna opera have mostly involved loops of cables and stacked switch boxes; technology has just now finally caught up with the way I think everything should map out -- so I figured someone has probably made a remote control that works via Magic Internet Rays as well.

The nice folks at AIO Remote seem to have done exactly that. They have receiver apps for Win/Lin/Mac and remote control apps for Android, BlackBerry 10/BlackBerry PlayBook, and Kindle tablets. The phone apps work via Bluetooth and the tablets work via wifi. Right now I just have the PlayBook set up as a remote trackpad for the Acer, but when I get less lazy I can look up all the hotkeys for VLC and Winamp and program a proper remote with buttons on it.

[ETA: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA It has presets for common media players. I have a generic remote for Winamp/VLC now. I NEVER HAVE TO GET OFF THE SOFA AGAIN.]

[ETA2: Since the PC/TV combo is now functionally equivalent to the stereo system, that also means I can control the music from the kitchen. Yay!

[ETA3: You can use graphical backgrounds and images for buttons on this thing. I am having flashbacks to making Winamp3 skins in Paint Shop Pro in college. Not that this will stop me. Conveniently, I think that the PlayBook and Jazmin's Kindle Fire both run at 1024 x 600.]

Comments

  1. Nice to have you back, milady. :)

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  2. Yeah, sorry for the absence, I was busy holding down two normal jobs, booking myself in a bunch of places, and stripping for the City of Boston. More on the interesting bits later; I have to go run around and feed the office cats while #1 Boss is at Disney World.

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  3. Good lord, woman! That's definitely how you do "keeping busy"! Looking forward to...
    well...
    I always look forward to your posts.
    P.s. i owe you my thanks, since your SPN posts a year or so ago planted the seeds which grew into my current watch-it-when-you-can-coz-Mister-Squeak-thinks-its-crap obsession. My dreams have been odd, lately...

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