advice for turning my laptop into media centre

Discussion in 'Computer Games and General Discussion' started by godsakes, Aug 2, 2009.

  1. godsakes
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    Member godsakes GBAtemp Fan

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    hi all

    at present i use my soft modded xbox with XBMC as my main media centre, which is great but can't do HD browse the internet etc

    i'm thinking about using my Dell laptop to replace/supplement the xbox's role as it should be powerful enought to handle what the xbox can't, but there's a few hurdles


    is there anyway of getting a very quick boot time - maybe a cut down OS? or boot directly into XBMC?

    is there a way so that i can close the lid without my laptop going into standby mode?
     
  2. IzzehO

    Member IzzehO GBAtemp Fan

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    Lid one is simple. Go to control panel then go to power options (or however it is named) and choose the option for it to do when lid is closed - obviously pick to turn off screen. The boot time thing is dependent on both the OS and the BIOS. If you go in to your bios settings there should/may be options to have it not check this and that and also have it immediately boot the hard disk instead of checking cd drives/floppy/usb.

    It all depends on your set up specifically. Also there are dozens of tweaks out there that boast making windows xp boot faster. Just google that [​IMG]
     
  3. FAST6191

    Reporter FAST6191 Techromancer

    pip
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    Be careful when playing with the lid thing, while IzzehO's advice is correct some laptops (including many dell machines) take it upon themselves to still send signals when the lid is closed which can slow a machine right up.
    Switches are usually fairly simple though (magnets, rotary switches, push to make and basic two poles connected switches are the usual methods)
    Some tack it into the screen lock, some the hinge, some the magnet somewhere else but they are usually easy enough to defeat.

    Fast boot, newer machines do come with a BIOS loaded cut down OS but I doubt your machine does. IzzehO's advice is again spot on but you can also do things like load an OS (you can do XP but whether you want to or not is a different matter: http://www.ngine.de/article/id/8 ) from a USB drive.

    You then have several options and things to do, IzzehO is correct on the BIOS settings although being a big box vendor laptop you can probably do little more than set the time*, stop detection and boot right from the drive are good.

    Next up software, if you are not running a version of linux*2 (XBMC along with various spinoffs and alternatives come in really nice linux distros these days) you get to optimise your XP install (you also have the option of tinyXP). Windows optimisation is the subject of hundreds of websites but my three main tools are
    a squared hijack free (make sure to get that one as the download page is used for all of the software the company sells):
    http://www.hijackfree.com/en/

    nlite (makes a custom install disc but it works amazingly well for optimisation among other things)
    http://www.nliteos.com/
    Sidenote if you want you can wind your media apps (looking at CCCP), drivers and other stuff into the install so you have a nice unattended install should you ever have to or you can just image the disc.

    any windows GUI tweak tool, mine varies depending on what I have on me.
    A search for xp tweaking tools should do it.

    Now we talk hardware, the slowest part of any machine is the hard drive. An XP install if made properly can be well within inexpensive but fast CF card size, CF is but IDE/pata in a different form factor...... -> poor man's solid state drive is easy and cheap. SATA versions exist if you are stuck with that.

    usual need a gig (preferably two) of ram. You can get away with less but if you plan on using your media box to record (which usually involves transcoding) then two is good. You can stick your videos and even stuff like my documents, desktop and whatever else on another drive quite easily (I do it across multiple partitions all the time).

    *some laptops or other locked down machines have "hidden" BIOS modes to do more fun things, it varies from model to model and some have nothing (dell seem to vary in my experience).

    *2 you say old machine, usual rule of thumb for linux is two year old hardware (if desktop less) probably works very well.
     
  4. cliffey501

    Newcomer cliffey501 Newbie

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    you could get the xbmc live cd and boot directly to the cd...i think you can boot from a usb stick as well.
     
  5. IzzehO

    Member IzzehO GBAtemp Fan

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    Wow.. that was a really awesome answer. Thumbs up fast!
     
  6. godsakes
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    Member godsakes GBAtemp Fan

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    thanks for the quick replies

    just to add - it looks like i'll have to buy a power adapter as the old seems to have stopped working, i'm also ordering a DVI -> hmdi cable

    is there anything else i might add to the list for the media centre stuff? such as IR reciever/remote or bluetooth mouse/keyboard? i've considered a PCMCIA card reader but most don't seem to support vista (can vista be booted off a CF card?)

    also just to add the specs of my machine is:

    dell inspiron 9400
    1.6gz dual core (t2060) - is that fast enough for HD? 1080p would be nice but 720p is enough since my TV isn't full HD
    2gb ram
    40gb hard drive (i think, i'll be streaming anyway)
    vista ultimate
     
  7. FAST6191

    Reporter FAST6191 Techromancer

    pip
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    1080p: outside chance of H264, should be enough for ASP (xvid), if you somehow have another format first slap yourself if it is windows media (WMV), quicktime or Real but for the most part they are not so demanding as xvid so you should be OK.
    If you can get one of the high end decoders like coreAVC (not sure what is up there with it these days or indeed if it is even the fastest CPU based one anymore). Dual core works in your favour here so if you do it right and do not mind losing fancy filters (H264 has deblocking built into the decoder) then you should be good.

    Vista: for this sort of thing anything but for me. You want high performance and vista offers nothing whatsoever for media that can not otherwise be done on a leaner OS.

    Cable: stick with a male-male VGA if you can as it will do the resolutions without issue (getting an adapter cable will probably set you back money that could be better used on other things).

    (remote) controls: I should have mentioned this first time around. 400 programs, 400 APIs both closed and open source, 400 drivers and I am sure you get the idea.
    Controls can support any of them (any there is little to tell how something will work without a review) and linux is a bit patchy for them (again APIs and drivers). You also have hackers who like to mod controls and/or create drivers for otherwise "locked down" ones.

    My main thoughts would actually be towards a DS (XMBC has a controller now that works via network) or cutting down a keyboard/getting one for the task. Computers can support multiple keyboards and mice so that is not much of a problem. Bluetooth tablets are not a bad idea either and some are customisable to the sorts of levels you want here (think scrollbars at the sides of a laptop trackpad times 10).

    Other stuff:
    If the idea of USB drives does not enthuse then network attached storage is fairly cheap these days and you can also get card readers. Any media centre worth anything will have network support and you already mentioned xbmc and streaming so I will say no more.
    Speaking of card readers give the PCMCIA over to a capture card (or nothing) and buy a USB card reader.
     
  8. godsakes
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    Member godsakes GBAtemp Fan

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    reading/looking into some of your earlier suggestions - the tinyxp/microxp (or even XBMC live) booting from a USB stick or CF card looks very promising - my laptop actually has a SD card reader built in, would be ideal if it was possible to boot from the SD card but i doubt it.

    as for the cable i've already ordered a DVi->hdmi cable from fleabay but for £2.50 you can't go wrong - i'm also a AV nut who's obsessed with getting the cables with the least signal loss etc. VGA is decent but has room for improvement.

    on the remotes - i knew the there was an app on the PSP but it's news to me there's one for the DS, i'll have to look into it - but i should also point out i've got a logitech harmony remote (which controls all my AV equipment from the PS2 to the amp)

    re the capture card - what do people actually do with it? do they just run it through the PC so they can use the PC as a hard drive recorder or upscale the picture or have more complicated EPGs? i actually have a dreambox 500c which can stream TV directly to a PC (although it can be tempermental to say the least)
     
  9. godsakes
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    Member godsakes GBAtemp Fan

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    re: coreAVC

    once installed do things like XBMC/vlc etc automatically take advantage of the decoder or do they have to be configured for it?
     
  10. FAST6191

    Reporter FAST6191 Techromancer

    pip
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    XBMC uses a somewhat customised version of mplayer (I have not played with the windows "port" at all yet), VLC is noted because it builds in codecs and as such is somewhat portable (although the portable apps version is better). Other played like media player classic home cinema (the old MPC is essentially dead) have a level of built in stuff (mainly splitters) but can work with external decoders.
    DS XMBC, new as yet unreleased app:
    http://gbatemp.net/index.php?showtopic=148643
    Dillama is the older app although it is not for the PC.
    http://dev-scene.com/NDS/Dillama
    On the other hand on just about every OS there is a way to control PCs from the DS and most work quite well. If you spend time messing with keyboard controls (MPC can customise quite nicely).

    Capture cards do as they imply: digital TV is broadcast as MPEG2 (although someone needs to go teach some of the broadcasters basic lossy compression theory) so you can snatch it out of the air for the newer models.
    Some have onboard encoding (older cards and those that deal with analogue TV certainly do although it can be a bit basic, newer can have really nice things like onboard H264 encoders) and fancy things like upscaling. Outside of the silly money realms I have not encountered much that I rate above software though.

    TV guides (EPG, electronic programme guides for the others reading) are usually a software thing although some act as a dongle for online services. However mythTV is usually better:
    http://www.mythtv.org/
    Tversity is also worth a look especially if you want to have your laptop act as a thin client of sorts:
    http://tversity.com/

    Or if you want to go basic:
    http://www.pogdesign.co.uk/cat/
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/TV/bbc1_carlton.html
    http://uk.tv.yahoo.com/
    and you can probably snag a few RSS feeds in other places.
     
  11. cliffey501

    Newcomer cliffey501 Newbie

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    i personally use XBMC for windows and it handles everything i throw at it H264 and .mkv files both play.my specs are pentium D 2.66 Ghz 2 gb ram.only bad thing about it 1 no internet browser 2 no video capture ability.but if youve used it on the xbox its familiar and easy to use and if you get all the fanart and icons and such going its probly the best media center out there as far as eye candy goes.also i think your logitech remote will work with xbmc but im not 100% sure.....i personally use a xbox 360 controller with the dongle for the pc.
     
  12. godsakes
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    Member godsakes GBAtemp Fan

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    okay update...

    i've got my laptop installed with tinyxp & xbmc - i'm using a cyberlink remote dongle to control it (as it was cheap) unfortunately most of the buttons don't work with xbmc however the direction & number buttons function is keyboard inputs so i've just reasigned the commands in xbmc to actual functions and rebound them to my logitech remote.

    but i'm having issues with my network shared folders - i've made shortcuts in xbmc to the shared folders i have my media stuff but everytime i restart the computer i refused to connect to the netorked computers (xbmc has the user/passwird saved) i have to manually browse the network in xbmc everytime before it will let me access the shortcut - i suspect this is an issue with tinyxp as it doesn't seem to save usernames/passwords on the network (but i would have thought xbmc would automatucally do this as it stores that data). Any ideas anyone?
     

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