Thursday, February 14, 2008

Photography - another new hobby

As I've told everybody that I'm just a wanna be everything, so I tried everything for expressing my passion, this time I try a new hobby among other hobbies i've tried, yes I tried photography, actually I was thinking about photography when junior high school age but it was the time when start learning photography was an expensive hobby, buying camera is just the begining of spending or some calls investment, films and processing were so expensive. Since digital touches photography area, anything related to photography considered cheaper than before and also there always room for mistake as wide as the storage I can afford, so I think let start doing photography.
With Olympus C-770 prosumer camera I started to learn about apperture, ISO, shutter speed, EV and all other photography stuff, not really mastering it but slowly I feel comfort with my new hobby then decided to upgrade my gear to my first DSLR camera, its a Konica-Minolta Dynax 5D, the latest SLR from Konica-Minolta before they merged with Sony and change DSLR lineup become Sony Alpha series.
One thing I learned from a Guru, no matter what is your equipment, it's the idea that does matter, so be it phone-camera, point and shoot, prosumer or DSLR just go out and shoot your object.

Instead of taking pictures, reading is important for beginers, I started to read my camera manual, the most important thing to read is our own camera's manual, by mastering our camera we will be able to expand our creativities and ideas by exploring camera's feature, other than that, I also read these e-books which helped me much on getting better understanding of photography techniques and other stuff related :

Digital Photography Book - by Scott Kelby - 8.5MB

How To Do Everything With Your Digital Camera-Fourth Edition - 15.8MB

Shoot Like a Pro! Digital Photography Tecnique - 8MB

Mastering Digital Photography - David D. Busch - 21MB

So long Konica-Minolta....

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Media Center - Behind The Scene

Nothing really comes easy when we talks about customized system, but as a DIYer sorting out this kind of hassle is just a game to play, finding parts is not easy thing to do as I was buying the parts I need from about 10 different shops in town.
When I was start building this toy, there were certain condition must be met, that's why I carefully choose motherboard and other peripherals as the ingredients of my media center.

  • First, its appearance as PC in livingroom should not scares family member, that's why it should be able to accomodate any entertainment needs by its easy operation.
  • Second, it should be interconnected with existing devices, such as LCD TV, legacy 5.1 surround system, and other PC.
  • Third, as PC it should not add noise especially from its fan.

My choice on Biostar TA-690G answers the connectivity requirement, it has integrated ATI X1250 graphic with native HDMI port as well as DVI, coaxial and component output, although not a powerful graphic card, just more than enough for mpeg decoding encoding activity. For audio output digital (SPDIF) and 7.1 analog audio output provided by Realtek ALC 888 added with AMD AM2 4000+ Mhz and 2 Gb of ram just suite my need.

It's really hard to find a small desktop form factor PC case because most of PC case manufacturer tend to sell tower or mini tower form factor which I don't think it will look nice sitting nearby other livingroom systems, but there are some HTPC cases specialist sells on quite high price, I was spending 3 month to find the right PC case before finally I decided to use Simbadda CX-10, a mini-atx form factor just nice for the momment, when the first time I switched-on the system, sound from its PSU fan just like a tornado inside the case and later I decided to change stock PSU with Silverstone 500 watt cooled by 120mm fan reducing the noise and giving more pure power to the system.

After the ground sets, its time to plug TV card on top of it. I was thinking that any TV card will do the job so I bought cheap Pixelview PlayTV, but then I just realized I need a compatible remote control and receiver to extend the signal command to my digital sattelite receiver and this TV tuner did not provide IR emitter, other than that this TV card using software based mpeg-2 encoder which resulting stuttery picture when playing Live TV, well its time to go shop for another TV card. After more reading on internet and checking here and there finally I found Hauppauge PVR-150 MCE comes with 1 IR receiver, 1 IR emitter and MCE compatible remote control for a reasonable price.

It's time to burn and test for real world, all features (Live TV, TV Recording, FM Radio, DVD, Pictures, Music) are working as expected, media center interface is very user friendly and easy to operate even for my 5 years old nephew, although there are some comments against its horizontal layout compared to previous XP MCE 2005, the only thing I missed is the EPG, but its due to my location in Indonesia no EPG provided, although there are external EPG generator from TVXB which theoritically should help, no one provided centralized EPG in Indonesia.

During long run test, I found the quality of Live TV degrade, I think this is because it's integrated graphic card getting hot and causing mild stuttery picture, however since only me that aware of this problem, adding external graphic card considered as low priority.

All sets ??? No no not really, I need to connect media center audio output to my 5.1 Pioneer receiver for DTS and DD play back, again I found something unpleasant, motherboard only provide SPDIF header o bracket included so I can't connect to my receiver using optical gossh! it's a simple thing but really hard to get in the market, after googling here and there for 2 month finally I can get it from a shop in Medan and ship it to Jakarta, kind of funny huh...

Plug and play and solved...nope! Another problem arose, I could not send simultaneous audio output to digital and analog output device, its totally crazy knowing this problem after all the pain finding SPDIF bracket. Googling arround and found an answer for Realtek audio chipset from this site, I still have chance for simultaneously outputing sound by copying rthkdaud.dat to c:\windows\system32\drivers, hurrayy.... both PC speaker and my receiver outputing audio!! but wait...wait lets try to play DTS and DD...shuuut! It doesn't send DTS/DD signal out to my receiver and only receive downstreamed 2-channels audio, when I switch audio output to digital, DTS and DD received correctly by my receiver but my PC speaker just don't work, finally the conclussion is Windows Vista Media Center will not outputing sounds simultaneously to analog and digitial due to removal of audio hardware abstraction layer in Vista, it's not hardware problem, its Vista's design...aaaarrrgh, why MS dictate how people going to use the sound output device on their PC, gosh....

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My First Media Center

Back in 7 years ago when I was starting my existence in Jakarta, living in a boarding house, to please my entertainment needs I bought a mini-hifi plays CD, VCD, cassette and FM radio comes with a remote control, then adding a small 14” TV also came with a remote control too, so in a small 3x3 m2 room I already had 2 remote controls. After 2 years, my life goes on and got a chance to marry a lady then moved to my own house, started with a living room, I decided to add some spice to my home entertainment life, bought a Home theater set with 5.1 for surround system, also it came with another remote, changing the TV to a bigger 21” screen and shift the old TV to bedroom, then all remote in the living room became 3, after through the years i decided to join digital entertainment and changed to LCD TV and watching TV is not just rely on the free-to-air service captured by coaxial antenna, digital satellite TV comes into market, so I subscribed to one digital satellite pay-tv service, once again it then add another remote to my living room became f.o.u.r.

In this digital age, everyone digitally stores their moments a.k.a photos in a digital format, keep it in flash drive, CD, DVD even hard drive…then view it trough a computer with its own monitor sits in different room is the only way to view the photos instead print it out (expensive!).

Well it’s enough! No more fun if you had to control so called “entertainment devices” by its own remote separately and each remote scattered all over the livingroom, moving to another room just to recall my moments…omigod! Where is DVD remote, oh here it…no ssshhuuut! It’s a TV remote….gosh! Let’s do something.


Build a centralized media center system or Home Theater PC (HTPC) or Digital Livingroom or whatever it may called with 1 remote control connected to LCD TV via HDMI with limited budget.


  • Apple TV ….geeeezzz! they call it TV ? no TV, it has HDMI but no dvd/cd drive, …funny huh! Cost Rp. 2.8 mio with only 40 Gb storage .
  • Mac Mini with Front Row media center, much better but still no TV and no HDMI. Cost Rp. 5.6 mio .
  • MythTv run on Linux….. hmmm I just want to enjoy an entertaining living room not a computer freak or rocket scientist while my wife just a lady doing cross-stich for killing time! I better stay away from **ux thing if dowan to be bothered by compatibility issue.

I’ve ran this killing time activity from dreaming, research, find the ingredients, test, set the best configuration for 3 month with all pessimistic and funny looks from most of my colleague when I mentioned the idea, not to mention hard to get approval from my wife especially when it deals on the wallet stuff….

Gear Setup:

The Flesh and Bone

  • AMD Athlon X2 4000+
  • 2 GB RAM
  • Simbadda CX-10 mini-tower :( :( the only reasonable price for HTPC shape casing available in Jakarta market.
  • Biostar TA690G onboard HDMI (this motherboard like "i got all your need" store).
  • ATI X1250 integrated VGA
  • Realtek 5.1 integrated soundcard.
  • 160 Gb SATA II – Seagate
  • Sound Thrower: Altec Lansing ATP 3 and Pioneer HTZ 330 5.1 5600watt PMPO.
  • TV/FM Tuner/Recorder: Hauppauge PVR 150MCE.
  • Digital Set-top Box : Indovision.

The Soul

  • Windows Vista Media Center
  • My Movie 2.4 plug-in
  • Magic DVD ripper
  • K-lite codec pack

Show Time

Sit back, relax and enjoy my Pandora's Box (Pandora's Box was a mythical container of plague, sorrow, poverty, crime and hope. Pandora opened the box and released everything but hope - * from Memory Alpha, the free Star Trek reference). Yeah it release me from all pain about lots remote, storage and player of different medias and leave me hope for enjoying my living room.

Let's start with TV, yeah its a TV the de-facto entertainment device,a must have device, remember TV stands for Television, Tele - Vision, having visibility of pictures broadcasted from its station away from your place, so I don't get the point why Apple call it's device AppleTV while can't receive a broadcast, do you get what I meant? Vista media center provide interesting guide, unfortunately since I'm living in Indonesia I couldn't get this service available on Vista, I was start to blame Microsoft for having cynical marketing strategy on my country, but after googling arround I found that no one provide centralized TV guide services here in Indonesia, so its not MS fault, well then i see an opportunity if somebody able to provide a service for collecting TV schedules (about 10 nationwide free-to-air services and 4 pay-tv services) then sell it and surely you can make money just buy collecting at least a week schedule man..nothing more than that.

Sometimes I missed a show, my favorite show or other interesting show, but not now since the TV tunner also have capability to record live TV then watch it later, so I'm not gonna miss Happy Feet on HBO and my wife will never miss Star World's Desperates Housewives every Tuesday.

Now about the FM radio, my media center should have ability to bring live entertainment from outside into my livingroom, that's the main objectives my livingroom should receives and plays any-taining from outside as well as stored, so FM radio does matter too, "video kill the radio stars..." yea yea....not in my case, the radio star should always be alive so if my eyes got tired or i need to do something else then switching on the radio will keeps me entertained and keeps updated about anything happen outside my livingroom, oh yea ... while cleaning house on saturday, I listens to Kiss FM's Saturday rock week end, with a single remote control offcourse..., I know the best place for movies is going to the theater with a cup of popcorn, sometimes I'm just too lazy to go out for movies, mostly because of traffic, for people living in suburb like me, going downtown on week end is not always a good idea and staying home become a better choice, so having a bunch of ripped video clips and DVDs will help a lot, only hard drive size is your limit.

I uses MyMovie free plug-in to copy my favorite DVDs and the easiest to use Magic DVD ripper for ripping video clips into hard drive, whenerver I wanted to watch, its just a click away, in my livingroom video don't kill the radio stars, rather they live together under one remote control everything on my finger tip. Lots of plugin out there to chose for managing digital movies but i found the two mentioned above just suite my need.

Ears that matters! hmmm..tired sitting on the couch so let's wake up and do something dude! ...let the music play out loud! Just scroll over the wall of music and sing it loud Metallica, sing it softly Nat King cole!.....sssshut up! Now listen somebody sing for Jesus...praise the Lord! all from the same remote on my finger tip. With internet connection available I can maintain album art and other infos regarding my music library automatically.

...and the memories remains, all the pictures taken from my Dynax 5D and scanned old pictures sits on same place, viewed with the same display, picked by the same remote control, when friends or relatives comes its so easy to show them up, plus background music while playing slideshow..oooh sweeeeeeet! But...shuuuuuuuuut! where is my sexy models I shoot in Batavia's toilet...why my wife filling up my hard drive..geeeezz!

Thanks to all geniuses for the invention of remote control...hail to Vista media center for playing anything over single remote control....still I need to sleep nite nite..