brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

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brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Turtlewing » Fri May 07, 2010 2:19 pm UTC

I'm curently in the early planning stages of creating a home entertainment system. I have some hardware, and a general idea what my end goal is but I'd like to see if others have possibly better ideas.

The goal is to have an easy to use and highly versitile home entertainment system with the ability to rout audio and video input from a number of devices (game consoles, dvd player, computer, cable tv, etc.).

Now here's the trickey part, I'd ideally like to be able to connect several screens and several sets of headphones and or speakers to it and rout the audio/visual output from the various devices to any combination therin (so for example one person could be playing the 360 on one screen with headphones while somone else is watching Hulu on another screen using the speakers or another pair of headphones). So, my question is: how would you go about building such a system?
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby phillipsjk » Fri May 07, 2010 4:56 pm UTC

Since Blu-Ray or HD-DVD is not a requirement, I would go for analog inputs on the displays. This is to avoid arbitrary DRM restrictions.

Without the requirement for multiple screens, modern televisions allow you to multiplex sources; though the line out on the TV will probably be only Stereo.

I would hook a silent computer up to at least one screen, and use something like X forwarding.

What country are you in? Nevemind. Hulu is limited to the US only. Doing something like this will likely involve the circumvention of DRM, which in some countries are considered "Effective Technical Measures". Circumvention of TPMs is prohibited by the 1996 WIPO Copyright treaty (Article 11). One such country is the United States with it's Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Under the DMCA, the circumvention of DRM, even for the purposes of "Fair use," is prohibited.

IMO, it is a bad time to be installing "home theater" installations. The very nature of the inferior connections you have to use to (legally) get full-resolution Blu-Ray play-back means that you cannot guarantee your work. The components can have their "license" revoked at any time. When this happens, new releases include the updated information on the disk. Your entertainment system may refuse to talk to the black-listed components, and the components themselves may self-destruct ("brick" themselves) when revoked.

PS: You are not allowed to use Hulu on your TV: it is for Internet Video only. Apparently, the licenses don't take into account people may want to browse the Internet using their TV.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Turtlewing » Fri May 07, 2010 5:26 pm UTC

As this is a hypothetical discussion at this point let's leave DRM concerns out of it. Right now i'm a lot more interested in what can be done and how than what's legal, just like i'm not curretly concerned about what the whole setup will cost even though that will need to be adressed before I could implement it.

phillipsjk wrote:I would hook a silent computer up to at least one screen, and use something like X forwarding.


That's an interesting start.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Dream » Fri May 07, 2010 8:24 pm UTC

I don't know much about other stuff, but for routing digital audio between applications, I use Soundflower, or Jack. Something of this kind would be essential if you want audio from two or more different applications on the one computer going to different outputs, like discrete headphone amps. You could easily have your mp3 player going one place and your browser going to another, and they're both free. They just appear as a soundcard selectable in the audio preferences of the programs.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby dukederek » Fri May 07, 2010 10:49 pm UTC

I have one of these: Image

for various audio mixing in my bedroom, not sure if a DJ mixer'd be exactly right for your setup (it has two outputs but they are the same signal just independent volume controls) but you could probably mess with the PFL and crossfader to selectively rout a signal elsewhere. I can only assume a quick search might yield a mixer that has multiple selectable outputs, if there isn't, make your fortune designing and selling one!

Re: video, you only have two display devices right? (computer, tv), assuming you didn't want the 360 to display on the monitor or anything, you could just set up the TV as a second monitor for the computer and just be boring and direct plug everything into the TV. Although it would be quite awesome to do it all in software on a dedicated PC controllable via VNC from a smartphone so it'd be like you had a Universal Remote Control Of Doom but that's certainly far too complicated for me to give advice on other than saying it's cool.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby phillipsjk » Sat May 08, 2010 3:31 am UTC

The reason I brought up DRM concerns is three-fold:
  • This is a public forum hosted in the US. We can discuss what the DRM does, but not how to circumvent it. (INAL). Discussing how to circumvent DRM may be OK, if we don't actually post code examples.
  • It has taken about 6 years, but most new "home theater" components now implement an alphabet soup of DRM schemes. If you want to avoid it; you have to actively avoid it. The alternative is to go "all out" with something like a Windows Media Center PC implementing a "Protected Path" and hope for the best. The Sling box is another example of a device that does a lot of what you ask. A similar device (Boxee) was forced to drop Hulu support.
  • I hope to become a "Technical Protection Measures Risk Management Specialist/Consultant." There is renewed talk of copyright reform in my home country. I hope to update my website and write letters explaining why proposed copyright reforms are a bad idea. As this web-forum makes up the bulk of my current on-line presence, any posts I make here may get unwanted media attention if my letter writing campaign and website updates (and any copyright stunts) are successful. As such, I am not in a position to advocate breaking the law.

Disclaimer aside, I was going to suggest using the computer(s) as the DVD player, cable tuner, Web-browser, and streaming video host. The problem is that doing that requires you to treat the computer like a general-purpose machine. If you want your machine to be "legit," you need a license for breaking the DRM. The problem is that such a general machine can't get a license: Patent law and the DMCA allows the DRM licensing Consortia to impose restrictions on how your machine will behave. If you want to develop a network to allow you to use any kind of media on any device, you have to keep everything encrypted; lest you snoop your own media files.

Edit: A modded Xbox 360 can probably do a lot of that, but I doubt it has a PCI slot for the Digital Tuner card. Maybe add that to a media server in the basement and use the modded Xbox 360 as a kind of "thin client".

Edit2: FCC Allows Blocking of Set-Top Box Outputs As I said: the "license to view" can be revoked at any time.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Pinky's Brain » Sat May 08, 2010 5:23 am UTC

For the HTPC be sure to get something which can route audio over HDMI ... then just get a HDMI matrix switcher, you can get one for under 100$ (although the cheapest get bad reviews regarding switching time).
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby socynicalsohip » Sat May 08, 2010 12:28 pm UTC

What's your budget? I like the idea of manually switching with a DJ mixer but then you are limiting yourself to stereo sound and a maximum of two sound outputs simultaneously (live and monitor). Also, to me this seems a little ghetto.

Most mid to high end AV amps support multiple sound zones which can either be fed into a secondary amp or are simultaneously powered. It's normally intended for multiple room set-ups or having one set of speakers for surround output and another for stereo output. This'll cover the audio.

As for the video my only suggestion would be having a primary screen which the AV amp switches for your main applications (PC, Sat, Consoles etc) and a have a secondary monitor directly connected to a second video output on your HTPC for people watching HULU etc. My only concern would be processing power on the HTPC and decoding two potenitally HD streams simultaneously.

I wouldn't be too concerned about DRM or HDCP compliance as if you are buying good gear and not stringing switchers together you'll not really run into any problems. I don't, and I need more inputs than you can shake a stick at!
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby phillipsjk » Sat May 08, 2010 5:58 pm UTC

socynicalsohip wrote:I wouldn't be too concerned about DRM or HDCP compliance as if you are buying good gear and not stringing switchers together you'll not really run into any problems. I don't, and I need more inputs than you can shake a stick at!


You raise a good point. Better quality equipment is less likely to have its keys revoked. As well, the fewer devices you put in a chain, the less likely a specific key revocation will affect you. For more information, read up on DRM Robustness Rules (appears to be a marketing page) Wikipedia page on topic.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby GeorgeH » Sat May 08, 2010 7:11 pm UTC

I wouldn't worry about DRM at all, assuming this is for a personal use home theater setup. BluRay DRM would be the main problem there, and it's pretty trivial to strip on a PC by using the appropriate programs. I'm not sure where the line is when discussing DRM here (and I might have already crossed it) so I won't say anything more other than to link to an article at AnandTech that you might find interesting: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2685/5
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby socynicalsohip » Sun May 09, 2010 2:51 pm UTC

Oh I almost forgot! I'd also recommend the Logitech Harmony One remote control. It makes these multi device/application set-ups so much easier to control!
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Turtlewing » Wed May 12, 2010 3:55 pm UTC

So it sounds like there are ready made software and hardware solutions for audio, but not much for video?

Originally I had thought about simply connecting every device to a splitter and then having one instance of each device's oputput plugged into the input ports of the displays (or an external switch if the display couldn't handle enough inputs). This is realatively simple and shouldn't violate any DRM that i'm aware of (HDMI splitters do appear to exist), as it's not all that different from unplugging the device from one screen and plugging it into another, and definately falls under what's allowed by the personal use liscence most content is sold under as i'm still just playing it on a screen in my home for personal use. However it requires the switching to be done by the display, not a single centralised unit, unless you count a universal remote (which I have an irrational dislike of).

I kind of like the idea of a mixing board like device that everything would plug into, but i've never seen one that does video, just audio. There souldn't be any reason why the arrangment of splitters and switches I described above couldn't be built into a centralised device, but that would probably be beyond my interest level to make myself.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby mosc » Wed May 12, 2010 4:54 pm UTC

They make what you're talking about, they use them in sports bars. They're pretty expensive though, but then again so is a bunch of screens. How many screens are you talking about?
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Turtlewing » Wed May 12, 2010 5:30 pm UTC

I'm designing for something like 4-5 screens. What I actually build will probably only vaugely resemble that plan.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby socynicalsohip » Wed May 12, 2010 6:47 pm UTC

For a work project I once got www.blackbox.com to make a custom switchbox with a manual knob for switching between many DB25 serial lines. Perhaps you could get them to make a box for switching many inputs to four HDMI/DVI/VGA outputs. A bit ghetto but cheaper than an electronic solution.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby phillipsjk » Wed May 12, 2010 9:42 pm UTC

Wikipedia has a surprisingly comprehensive page about HDMI.

HDMI has a clock rate of 165Mhz. The Mac RS-422 port supported clock rates up to 1.5Mhz; otherwise about 230kps in asynchronous mode. I just don't think a switch box for serial ports will work.

Even a Gigabit Ethernet switch can't keep up with the maximum uncompressed data-rate of ~4Gb/s.(Version comparison chart)
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby canoemoose » Thu May 13, 2010 8:08 am UTC

Any self-respecting real (non-DJ) audio mixer will have a number of aux outs as well as the main mix out and monitor out. That still leaves you with the problem of routing the video though.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Pinky's Brain » Thu May 13, 2010 11:04 am UTC

The problem with HDMI is that it's partially bidirectional ... so a matrix is pretty complex.

Any way so you are looking at needing a 4x4 matrix, that's 350$ and up.
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Turtlewing » Thu May 13, 2010 6:30 pm UTC

Pinky's Brain wrote:The problem with HDMI is that it's partially bidirectional ... so a matrix is pretty complex.

Any way so you are looking at needing a 4x4 matrix, that's 350$ and up.


What about other video output methods (component, RCA, VGA, etc.)? Do more options exist for them?
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Pinky's Brain » Thu May 13, 2010 8:54 pm UTC

You can do everything with component ... 4x4 matrix switches don't seem cheap either though.

The cheap 4x4 HDMI matrix is a bit hit and miss in usage :
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1193041
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1167039
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby Cane » Mon May 17, 2010 9:41 pm UTC

Today's Monoprice deal of the day is a 4x2 HDMI switch for < $50.

http://www.monoprice.com/products/produ ... 1&format=2
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby mosc » Tue May 18, 2010 7:47 pm UTC

why do you need HDMI so badly anyway? It's overrated. Component works very well even for 1080P
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Re: brainstorming a home entertainment system configuration

Postby hintss » Wed May 19, 2010 12:01 am UTC

dukederek wrote:I have one of these: Image

for various audio mixing in my bedroom, not sure if a DJ mixer'd be exactly right for your setup (it has two outputs but they are the same signal just independent volume controls) but you could probably mess with the PFL and crossfader to selectively rout a signal elsewhere. I can only assume a quick search might yield a mixer that has multiple selectable outputs, if there isn't, make your fortune designing and selling one!

Re: video, you only have two display devices right? (computer, tv), assuming you didn't want the 360 to display on the monitor or anything, you could just set up the TV as a second monitor for the computer and just be boring and direct plug everything into the TV. Although it would be quite awesome to do it all in software on a dedicated PC controllable via VNC from a smartphone so it'd be like you had a Universal Remote Control Of Doom but that's certainly far too complicated for me to give advice on other than saying it's cool.

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