Completing the first phase of the MythTV setup

After finding out that the two tuner cards I already have are too large to fit in the new Camulus case of the new MythTV master backend (aka sodium), I ordered a Nova-T 500 dual-tuner PCI card. This was a little risky because Hauppauge produced a limited run of cards for the UK that are not compatible with linux. These cards are normally identified by their model number and certain stickers on the box.

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iPod remote control interface mockups

Here are some initial interface wireframes for the iPod Touch remote control. I’ve not shown all of the menus because that would be quite a bit of work. These three should give you an idea of what I intend to do though.

Main menu

The main menu summarises the major systems of the house. Clicking on one of the buttons takes you to more controls for that system. The colour of the buttons indicate the overall state of the system – green = OK, yellow = warning, red = error, grey = disabled.

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Audio

The audio controls will list the 4 zones, with a drop-down menu next to each button to select the audio source. Clicking the large button switches the zone on or off. Pressing the ‘Use for all’ button copies the settings of the selected zone to all the other zones.

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Security

The large buttons display a thumbnail of the live video from the cameras. Clicking on the large button will show the full video feed (resized to fit the iPod’s screen). Cameras can be disabled for privacy.

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Sensor boxes

Whilst pondering over what sensors I could put around the house, I ventured upon the idea of having a ‘sensor box’ per room. This would be based upon something like the Netiom xAP, which would connect various sensors to the house’s IP network. Some of the sensors in each room would be different. Here are some examples of the sensors that would be common to all of the rooms:

  • Temperature
  • PIR (motion detector)
  • Door contact
  • Window contacts
  • Light

Room specific sensors could be:

Entrance hall:

  • Current meter
  • Intruder alarm status (triggered/armed)
  • Door bell

Kitchen:

  • Back door bolt contact
  • Oven/hob state

Each of these nodes can then be queried, via the xAP protocol in this case. Temperature could be recorded, although at present our combi-boiler would probably not allow for remote control. Motion detection and door contacts can be used to determine which rooms are occupied, and along with the window sensors could be used as a secondary security system. The light sensors would be used to control the house lights.

Having one single ‘node’ to talk to would do away with having lots of independent sensors that would probably all communicate differently. Thanks to having picture rail throughout most of the house, there won’t be a problem with hiding the wiring. I’m not sure how big the boxes would be, but I dont think they would be massive. I just need to find the money to build a prototype.

Resurrecting a dead amplifier

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Today I took a look at the damage caused by last weekend’s test of the matrix switcher prototype. I suspect that the cause of the bangs was actually a short because in my haste to test I’d only connected one channel to a speaker and left the other with bare ends – oops!

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Removing the case revealed that the damage appears to be limited to two transistors on one of the channels. I’m not the only person who’s tried to fix this model of amplifier so a quick search for the numbers written on the remaining transistors revealed the information I needed to order some replacements. The parts have been ordered, so will hopefuly arrive before Christmas, although delivery times recently seem really slow.

Now I just need to remember where I left my soldering iron…

Conserving energy in an automated home

In the same way that the saying “you’ve got to spend money to make money” works, sometimes it’s also necessary to spend energy to save energy. An automated home may have more gadgetry than normal homes, but if set up correctly these little power-consumers can help to save energy. While the debate about whether the apparent global warming trend is the result of our actions, it can’t hurt to try to reduce energy use (or rather, conversion) as much as possible.

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The wonders of MythTV

MythTV, as previously mentioned, is an open-source project that provides a client/server based media centre solution. One of the parts I like most about it is the ability to have multiple ‘recorder’ backends anywhere on the network, and all recordings are combined into one listing. You can also watch live TV through any of the backends on the network. You can also listen to music, watch videos in pretty much any format, play DVDs, watch/listen to internet streams etc.

MythTV Main Menu

I’m going to exploit the distributed nature of MythTV by setting up a network of backends and frontends in our house. Here’s a diagram (click for larger version):

My MythTV network

Currently the master backend is set up in the living room, connected to the TV via a VGA cable, and the slave backend is set up in the cabinet in my bedroom. Until the new tuner card I’ve ordered arrives, the only tuners sit in the computer in my room. However the client/server basis for MythTV means that the computer in the living room can connect to the card in my room and use it for watching live TV or recording from.

I also have a single Hauppauge Media MVP. This lovely bit of kit is a thin-client that is intended to be used with it’s own Windows-based software. However, the mvpmc project provides a way to get a far better client onto the little box which can connect to a MythTV backend. So not only can MythTV be enjoyed via a standard computer, but also a small set-top-box. The main advantages of using a Media MVP box are that it is silent, so suitable for quiet rooms, and it consumes very little power.

Eventually there will be at least one more Media MVP and another PC-based front-end in the kitchen and dining room respectively.

Using an iPod as a remote

As more of my sub-projects get completed, there is going to be a need to control the various systems. There are loads of IR/RF remotes around designed to handle all sorts of HA/AV equipment. However, since I’m building my systems I’m going to need a more flexible and easily customisable way of controlling them. As soon as Apple announced the iPod Touch I knew that I had found what I was after. To me it’s not the music-related stuff on the iPod that’s important, it’s the combination of WiFi and Safari. All I would have to do is set up a PHP/ASP.Net etc. based web site that can communicate with all the systems, then access it through an iPod.

Possible systems to control include:

  • Selecting audio sources and where to play them in the house
  • Scheduling recordings on the MythTV distributed A/V system
  • Controlling the lights
  • Monitoring the security cameras
  • Setting reminder alarms (announced)
  • Running photo slideshows around the house
  • Building shopping lists

To complement the iPod there will be several touch-screen terminals around the house which will give the same control, but in known locations so that the improvised remote doesn’t have to be carried around everywhere (and argued over).

I might mock-up some interface designs to give an idea of how I intend the system to work. Stay tuned!