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HCPC newbie question (jukebox)

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by Triggaaar, Apr 13, 2004.

  1. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Hello

    I've just stumbled across the idea of an HCPC. For my purposes, if I go for it, it will only replace the DVD player, and output to an AV amp (will feed a plasma, when I get one). The reason I'm so interested, is that I was already planning on having a PC to supply music around the house. If I can add high quality DVD output to that, great.

    I shall be putting all my CDs onto the hard drive (either uncompressed, or lossless), and for stereo, I understand I can either have a decent soundcard outputting analogue to the AV amp, or I can output digital to the AV amp.

    I also want to be able to access the stored music from elsewhere in the house (pref decent quality). The method I had planned on, before seeing all this info on HCPC, was to digitally stream it to clients like Audiotron/Slimdevice, which would then give a digital output to a local DAC & Amp in each room.

    My question :)
    Are there better methods of supplying this music source to other areas of the house?

    Cheers
     
  2. JohnS

    JohnS
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    Xlobby is worth a look for multiroom sound output from a stored selection of media.

    Its basically a very cool frontend to winamp for music playback and allows output to miltiple instances via 1 or more souncards (or a muti-output card like the maudio delta 410) where each outputr can feed a seperate amplifier and speakers. You can use cleint pcs, pocket pc's to control your selection via wired or wireless netowrks.

    It works and its free (at least while its still bewing developed).

    www.xlobby.com
     
  3. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Thanks. I've had a quick look at their site, and will try some searches. In the meantime:

    With xlobby, does your soundcard need to output directly to an amp in each room (via digital or analogue), rather than streaming digitally over kat5, via a hub? How does your pocket pc display all your alblums/tracks? Does it use infra-red or usb to collect the list from the server?

    I realise there must be wireless options, but as I've just had a new central heating system installed, I can currently run cables around the house with ease, so I need to decide what is worth running, while I have the chance.

    Thanks
     
  4. JohnS

    JohnS
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    Thats the way you would normally use it.

    My PPC is connected to my lan via wifi. It displays 9 album covers at a time and allows you to scroll through them live updateing as you go along. It allows you to control volume levels by digitally altering the output of the souncard and even to independently control each zone. Synced playback is also possible but i'm struggling a little with it at the moment.

    I already had a lan in placed and also considered the slimp3 option but ultimatly decided it was to restrictive in not having ape as an available format and no synced playback.

    All I've done now is run speaker cables back to a central server location which is where all the amps (still buying more) sit in the server cabinet.

    In the lounge where there is already my htpc, this runs its own xlobby which can be controlled either via a mouse and keyboard or via ir and the pronto (although this could be a PPC). In my hallway I have a touchscreen monitor directly connected to the main file server in the adjoining garage which is the main xlobby server. It has a delta 410 (soon to be 2 of them) outputting to the amps. The touchscreen can control any zone. The PPC is used to control the system from anywhere (including the garden) that the wifi reaches. The music is all stored on the file server and streamed across the wired lan to the HTPC. The lounge has phono cables from the garage to allow that room to join in a synced session.
     
  5. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Does digitally altering the output affect the sound quality? I liked the idea of having an amp in each room, and using those to control volume.

    I think the latest slim device enables synced playback (as does the Roku I think). Its not something I'm specifically after, but I guess it would be nice.

    Question time:
    I've not seen a touchscreen monitor - what sizes are available (and prices)? Presumably they allow the sort of control you'd get with a mouse.
    So you don't have a PPC for each room, but just use one, and then select the zone your wanting to control? What device does the PPC use to make it wifi?
    Would there be any problem using the HTPC to also be the server?

    It seems the more I'm taught, the more questions I have.

    Thanks for taking the time to help, its much appreciated.
     
  6. JohnS

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    Touchscreens are available in most shapes and sizes, I Have a 7" widescreen and a 13", they tend to be a bit dearer than normal monitors. You can get a touchscreen membrane that fits over a regular moniot and converts it. Once you have one your finger or a stylus becomes the mouse, for an application like xlobby its perfect.

    To make a PPC wifi you add a wifi card;) Depending on the model you can get a wifi compact flash or wifi sd card to fit in the slot of it. This would then connect to a wireless access point or just a wifi pci card in your server. Both ways work.

    Another alternative is to use a webpad/ tablet pc style device,again connected to the lan via wifi, it doesn't have to be very powerful because the xlobby client will run on anything.

    The ability to pick an album from the coverart was the main winner over slimp3.

    My server was the most little used machine that I had, it was purely a file backup storage area and the attached device for a network printer. It was the obvious place to put xlobby for me. Xlobby doesn't consume much cpu time in single zone mode but uses about 50mb of ram per client connected. You can connect multiple clients for independent control of each room if required but in reality you are unlikly to have more than two or three clients running at the same time (imagine the noise confusion in your house:suicide: )

    There is no problem with using the HTPC as than xlobby server, it can also integrate playback of stored dvd, pictures etc, its a complet frontend, connecting multiple clients and then using an app like dscaler mightbe a problem though. My HTPC links to the music files stored in the server. I wouldn't want to put the necessary drives (and heat) in my HTPC.

    There would be no problem using amps in each room, it would just mean running long interconnects from the souncard to the amp. You can get cat5 to phono convertors for more simplified/futureproof wiring but they aint cheap. The digitally controlled volume level will affect the sound but for me the only room I critically listen is the lounge and that room has its own amps, the other rooms it sounds more that good enough.
     
  7. PhillipStanton

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    If you're happy to run cables then an alternative might be to try something like the Squeezebox and just use the PC as a server. I've got four of the older model (the SliMP3) and can recommend them.

    There's a review here.
     
  8. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    I am definitely happy to run cables - only because the plasterboard is already off, and its easy.

    I'm trying to choose between 2 camps: Squeezebox, AudioTron or Roku, vs the Xlobby/MyHTPC varieties. I know both options will provide all the functionality I need (multiple clients with independent control of a central server for each room). I get the impression the Xlobby route would be cheaper for me (vs Squeezebox in 5 rooms).

    What I have to work out in the next few days (before the walls are fixed) is what cables to run: Ethernet (for Squeezebox et al) or Analogue, Digital Coax cables (for Xlobby et al). I don't think running speaker cables will suit my needs.

    I understand how the Squeezebox works, and have seen a demo of a simillar kind of thing (Cyrus and Imerge). I like the fact that the Squeezebox has digital out, which I would hope would give good quality sound via a seperate DAC.

    The Xlobby certainly has some benefits - would be nice to have a monitor in the master bedroom that can be used to select music and video.

    Perhaps the main question I have is quality: Are both options (ie Squeezebox vs Xlobby) capable of producing decent quality (ie mid range hi fi)?

    Cool. Can a PPC provide enough signal strength on its own to communicate directly with the server from all round a house, or would there need to be wireless access points dotted around?

    Yes I've seen some of the lengths needed to keep an HTPC cool and quiet. If you can live with the HTPC in a seperate room to you HC (so noise/fans not being an issue), would it matter if the HTPC was also the server from a quality point of view? I've not yet got to grips with all the quality issues for PCs providing HiFi (is audio jitter combatted by decent soundcards, or using a hard disk as opposed to a CD drive, and outputting a digital signal - and do cheap power supplies affect quality in these instances).

    So if using seperate amps in each room, what are the cable options for connecting the souncard to each amp - digital coax, optical, analouge, and cat5 with converters? Would there be much difference in quality between these options (assume the digital options would involve going to the cheapest available seperate DAC, and assuming the analogue option was outputted from a quality soundcard).

    Thanks again for all help.
     
  9. JohnS

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    By using a PC the soundcard dictaes the quality. If you use the onboard sound or a cheap soundblaster style card then don't expect much although it may well be good enough for a bathroom or a kitchen.

    In another room, moving up to a card that provides asio support may be benifical (asio avoids the resampling that windows applies to a 44.1 mix to ouput it at 48) this can be as little as £60. My delta 410 provides 4 xones of this quality for £150, it also has a coaxial out which could be fed to a dac.

    Higher up the range are cards like the RME digi 96/8 that I have in the HTPC in my lounge. This as £220ish compares well with a £1000 cd player. There are a number of rme versions, some better than mine offering different connectivity, you can also get add on cards to provide additional ins and outs. My card allows simultaneous output from the onboard coaxial and optical digital and analogue connections of the same source so could provide upto three zones with the same sound at the same time. An addon card could add another 4 analogue or 4 digital zones. This fed to high quality offboard dacs might be the sort of thing you are after and will most likly exceed the capability of devices like the squeezbox.

    So you can pay your money and take your choice.

    Depends on your house, if its modern witrh thin walls then it probably will be okay wwith one central access point, (I had to move mine from a corner because it couldn't get through a central staircase) but its also not that hard or expensive to have mutliple ones if required. If its an older property with thick walls then it may well be difficult buy not impossible.

    All the thing you mention do make a difference and you observations are about right, my only reservation with running xlobby on a "server" is that its still a beta program can and occaisionally suffers instability, I worry about hard resetting a server with many drives running in a raid.:suicide:

    I cant say I've tried long digital cable runs, analogue cables seem fine over 15-20m, apparantly the cat5 convertors work well over very long distances. I think it depends most on the room its running too and the equipment at that end.
     
  10. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    When looking at the total cost of a PC, amp and speakers in each room, and remote device (PPC or whatever), a few hundred pounds for a soundcard is the cheap bit. Comparing well with a £1000 cd player surprises me (and is much more than I need - matching hi fi seperates of £300 cd players would be plenty). I'm sure there are audio fans who haven't yet tried PCs as a decent source, but do many share the opinion that a PC with a decent soundcard can perform that well? Why doesn't a PCs weaknesses undo the soundcards good work?

    Perfect. I think a combination of digital and analogue outs will work for me - no need for digital & DAC in the kitchen etc.

    Old and fat (3 floors, chunky walls). The PPC would use wifi to connect to the access points - do these access points then have the option of cable or wifi to connect to the server? If so, I can run cat5 to where I'll place the access points.

    Not something for me to worry about yet - all I have to decide now, is which cables to run. By the time I'm ready to build the server, it will probably be in general release. I've looked on the xlobby site, and like what I've seen - and I'll also check out the direct competitors (like MyHTPC).

    20m is probably max I'll need. Any ideas where I can find out more about best choice of cable?

    Anyone else facing similar dilemmas?

    Thanks
     
  11. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Just re-reading your set-up :)

    I do like this idea, epsecially for rooms where its less easy to place an amp. You mentioned that digitally altering the volume would affect the sound - do you know if there's much difference in quality between running an analogue signal 20m to an amp, and then off to nearby speakers, & having the speaker cables doing the 20m stretch? Depends how much it affects the sound :) - and unfortunately, its not something I can pop to the Hi Fi shop to demo.
     
  12. JohnS

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    If you search for RME you will find it well documented, I think that a card like the delta 410 will outperform your £300 cd player.

    Spot on, yes just cable to the position of an access point back to a hub. I bought a card the other day that goes on my asus montherboard which has the ability to act a a staition or access point, its asus specific but was only £14. I've seen AP on ebuyer from as little as £30. While your floors/walls can be cabled, put some cat 5 about, I'd suggest a couple of cables to each room back to a central point. It can then be used for networks or converted to other connectors.

    Theres no PPC control (yet??). The main lobby suite does what xlobby does but at a cost of £200ish and apparantly needs higher specification PC's and tablets because its more graphics intensive.

    I think for most rooms in a multiroom setup you wont notice a difference either way. In the hifi world they have often suggested that long interconnects and short speaker cables is the way to go. Maybe a combination of the two will suit you. Thge cable forum heree may get you some other opinions.

    If the amps have remote control ability, you will be able to use xlobby with a usbuirt (usb ir sender/receiver) to repeat the control for the amp from the PPC or touchscreen client.
     
  13. PhillipStanton

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    Whatever you do I'd suggest being careful about mixing analogue and digital outputs as my experience is that it makes is much harder to get zones synchronised properly. Even a small difference in processing can add an unfortunate echo effect. I'd be interested to find out what other people's experience of this.

    The thing to think about with the choice between an Xlobby type set up, or a Squeezebox one is whether / how you want to interact with your PC.

    I've never particularly got on with selecting music via a PC/PPC front-end as a I don't like the user experience - especially as there is nearly always music on in the flat and I don't want to have to pad back to a screen to change things or find the PPC. I like the Squeezebox type approach as it allows me to have a discrete (in both senses) unit in each room. I also run the server off a low spec laptop quite happily that is chucked in a cupboard and managed remotely.

    You need to be careful on price comparisons - by the time you add a good sound card, PPC, access point, etc, you'll be approaching the cost of the Squeezeboxes.

    Its also worth noting that the Squeezebox prices were reduced yesterday and that when I ordered an addition three directly from the makers (and asked) they gave me quite a reasonable discount.

    Incidently I also use Xlobby, but only for DVDs in conjunction with Theatertek. Its a very good piece of software, but I think that the cost of ownership of a software-only based solution is a lot higher than that of having dedicated appliances.

    Having done my advocacy I would say that there's no "right" or "wrong" answers with this. Just different paths - all of which will probably be obsolete in 2-3 years time. One thing I will say is that no-one I know has regretted going to a server based music setup.

    Whatever you do, I'd emplore you not to go the Roku route. They've based it on the SlimDevices technology, but haven't licensed it because the SlimServer is open source. I not only think this is morally suspect, but also means that they are unlikely to benefit from future updates produced by the Slim Community.
     
  14. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Thanks, I’ll check it out.

    Wow that’d be good. Are you trying that, or are you happy with digitally reducing the volume?

    Good point. Maybe just try and keep rooms that are close to each other on same cables – unfortunately would’ve made sense to use digital for LR (where plasma is), and analogue to kitchen, to save using separate DAC. I’ll come up with a plan.

    Now that is a very relevant point for me – although I like PPCs, remote screens with mice etc, I’m not sure that the user experience is as good for selecting music. A tough one I’ll have to think about. Is it possible to run both xlobby and the squeezebox software at the same time?

    I think if I use the server to play DVDs too, I will already need a reaonable soundcard, so not sure much more needs spending there. Already have one PPC. I’ll check on the new price of Squeezeboxes, and make an allowance for a 4/5 box discount. But when I read up on the Slimp3 and Audiotron, I was of the understanding that there was quite a difference in quality between the audio out, and being able to output digital, via a DAC – which would considerably add to the cost.

    What are you saying is the extra cost of ownership?

    I agree there’s no right or wrong path in this instance, and I’ve been sold on the server based set-up for a while. Not sure about being obsolete in 2-3 years. And even if it is, if it works, I’ll keep it. I’m not that into upgrades – like to spend time choosing, and stick with things.


    Thanks
    In your debt
    Trig
     
  15. PhillipStanton

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    It should be - the SlimServer will stream to anything that can take a stream. The software is on the web site and free - so you can have a go.
    I actually have the older SliMP3 player that the Squeezebox has replaced, which just has analogue output. When I bought the first one a group of friends and I did a listening test using 320kbps MP3s against a Marantz 63 KI Sig. Four of us couldn't tell the difference. One could. He's the one that owns a £2k CD player.

    Whilst I haven't personally used the Squeezebox I can't imagine an outboard DAC making a huge difference, unless its a particularly good one.

    Mainly time. Getting various bits of software plugged together and working nicely takes, in my experience, a lot of time to get working and keep working when you do upgrades. I've nothing against this (and I do it for my DVDs), but it is a cost.

    Like I say, no right or wrong ways here. Just choices.
     

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