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 Post subject: Project: Entertainment Center of Doom
PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 5:10 pm 
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Good evening;

I've been lurking and reading many of your projects and I must say, they are amazing peices of work and have inspired me to post my project here. Hopefully, you'll enjoy!



The project: Background-

In April '08 I bought a Magnavox BH6748FR02 at a thrift store with the intention of Gutting the useless electronics, Cutting some holes in the bottom, and mounting a litter box inside it for our cats.

Out of Curiousity, I plugged it in and the 1960's box's warm glow came to Life. It sounded amazing! I didn't have the heart to rip it apart and decided that I could build an HTPC inside it. While planning, I read the MPC article Introducing Maximum PC North and decided to expand my plan and build a central media and Data hub for my apartment.

While planning; I came up with several over-reaching rules to guide my project:

1- "Family compatible" - First and Foremost. The system must be easy to use. When we want to watch a movie or record a show, it shoule be a simple press of a button or two - not launching a space shuttle.
2- Future proof - Obviously. Both in the upgrading of hardware sense and in the family sense (more users - bigger home)
3- Elegance - This is gonna be in the living room - it needs to look like its supposed to be there.

I've been woking on this since April '08 - mostly planning and gathering parts as I find deals and save the $$. I still have a long way to go and have set myself a deadline of Dec '08.

This is my first/only "mod" (if you call it that) and while I've worked with computers for a quite a while, the HTPC concept is totally new to me along with a lot of the new "lifestyle" products bringing computer functions to the rest of the home- so I'm looking for a challange and a learning experience.

Please send opinions and advice - I'll need it!

Thanks!


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 6:14 pm 
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So what Will this thing consist of?

Well, first thing is to figure out what this thing is gonna do:
-Watch TV/Movies
-Record/pause TV
-Act as a file Server/central storage for my home network.
-Also stream to current/future AV devices.
-Back up PC's on the network.
-Hold all of the workings of a Home entertainment Center
-Provide easy connectivity/mobility to Living room components (Tv/Speakers/ Input devices)
-Not to mention fitting into the 3 Rules.

So with that in mind, I compiled some basic parts lists and have been gathering parts for the last few months:

The HTPC:
------------

-Intel Celeron 775
-ZALMAN CNPS 9700 Cooler - Retail
-MSI Matx Board
-CORSAIR ValueSelect 2GB (2 x 1GB)
-Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3500320AS 500GB
-LINKSYS WRT600N Router
-D-Link DGS-2208 Green Ethernet Switch
-The DSL Modem "egg fryer"
-Slot load DVD drive Salvaged from my desk PC
-Hauppauge WinTV PVR 350 Video Recorder
-Turtle Beach TBS-3300-01 7.1 Channels
-HIS 2600pro
-USB-UIRT
-Logitech diNovo Mini - keyboard and mouse in One!
-PC Power & Cooling S61EPS 610W
- A bunch of 120mm temp controlled fans

A/V - Components
---------------------

-Yamaha rx-v661 7.1 digital channel receiver
-Squeezeboxâ„¢ duet
-Niles IR blaster box thing
-Logitech Harmony Universal remote - 550?
-Cable box "mini oven"

With this set up, I can "hide" all of the parts in the box. I can use 1 remote to control most of the hardware, and use the small keyboard to control the HTPC's 10' interface.

I'll be using the CRT-TV and 5.1 Surround speakers/Sub that I currently own as There's no way I can afford a good LCD and surround speakers, at least in the near future (trying to save for our wedding and honneymoon, lol)

Question 1 for you all:
O/S to use?
MCE is out by default. So that Leaves Linux, WHS, or XP. Being cheap, I tend toward Linux, but have no experience with it (I hear MythTV can be a bear). WHS sounds nice from the file server view, but what of its media support? XP is trusty, media is no problem, but home network server, I dunno bout that?

Having not done anything HTPC related, do you have any opinions or experiences with any of these?

Thanks!

ps- I have many more pictures in the pipe line. 1960's electronic style; With pulleys! (yes this thing has a pulley - as part of the elctronics)

Image


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Aug 24, 2008 2:02 pm 
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This weekend I took all the parts I had and began doing a Mock up inside the case.

So far everything seems to fit ok (Which surprises me). The only exception is that I've run into a few problems with the router, which I'll rant about a little later :-)

Image

Here's the Unit with the Back off. The cat was not included w/ the stereo. The black box is removabe and held the optional 8-Track Recording station. I removed the 8-track and sent it to my father, who needed one for his work.


After removing the black 8-track case...

Image


Image

The entire radio is mounted on very dense particle board. The styrofoam enclosures are the "subs". You can see in the second shot that there is not much room around the speakers. You can also see the pully mechanism controlling the tuner(s).

--
I started the mock up by placing the A/V reciever first. at almost 25-30lbs, it needed to sit on the bottom. I soon found a small hiccup...

Image
The top of the unit kept bumping into the AM radio Antenna. I tried rotating the unit 90 degress, different angles, the sucker wouldn't fit. I eneded up unscrewing the antenna and just letting it sit on top of the reciever (its not like I listen to AM anyway, lol). I bent the prongs for the FM antenna also.

Image

It's a close fit, but I pushed the Receiver all the way up to front, giving me just enought room in the back....
Image
--

Next, I tossed the Matx tray on top of the Receiver. I'll probably use spare standoffs and drill a few holes so I can attached the tray permanently to the metal case of the reciever. By using stand offs, I can have a small bit of space bewtween the two units for some airflow. I set the box for the Cooler a, CNPS9700 on top of the tray to approximate the HTPC's height.

Image

I was thinking of going with a CNPS9300 AT cooler, as it is smaller and space is a premium. However, this whole project is going to have the cooling ability of a brick, I figured on betting on the 9700's performance.
--

Next came the router and switch:

Linksys WRT600N
Image

Dlink Green Ethernet Switch
Image

I have to say, I'm very impressed with DLink. I open the box and to my surprise, this cheap switch even came with drywall plugs and screws for mounting!

Now, I've never had a good experience with any Linksys product, from routers to adapters, we are not friends. I bought the WRT600N solely based on MPC's review, despite the unit being discontinued and replaced with the less expensive 610N.
Screws? drywall plugs? Not on this $200 unit! Not even the holes to mount the router if you provided your own screws. Well that's not too bad, atleast I splurged on teh 600N, since the 610's antenna are internal. I can atleast upgrade my units antennas and mount the antennas to the back of the entertainment center and toss the router inside. Well after 30 minutes of trying to get the unit apart, guess what - Linksys doesn't do teh upgradable antenna thing anymore. Instead of an RP-TNC antenna, Linksys just ran a wire from the radio's into a plastic housing shaped link an antenna.
Oh well, I atleast have Linksys's great firmware and support :-P

--
I mouted the Dlink unit next to the Magnavox PCB. There's not enough room to use a drill, so everything is done with a dremel.

Image

I'm not too sure where to put the router. I'm pretty sure the antennas need to be out of the entertainment center to minimize interference. That leaves me with 2 options. Neither of which is very ideal:

I can turn the unit on its face and try to run the antennas out the back. However, I'm planning on making the back panel work like a door(s), on hinges (currently, Its screw on). Considering my original lay out was to have the door swing down, I'd have to make sure the Door would swing correctly without getting stuck on the antennas:

Image

Alternativly, since the outer shell of the router is actually decorative plastic covering the actual case, I can take them off again and drill mounting holes in them and mount the sucker off of the top of the interior the entertainment center. It would be very tight, but there would be some space on the "roof" just above the right sub:

Image

--

Lastly for the day is the Power supply

Image

It can be simply attached using a mounting bracket and will help with the coolin' by pumping air right out of the Entertainment center. I kinda wanted all the power chords to remain inside the Entertainment Center (hooked to a surge protector - so only 1 cord comming out the back!), but I think the benefits of letting the PS exhale air makes it worth it. If I change my mind, I can slife it back 6 inches and keep everythign thing inside.
--

So here's the finished mock up! The only things not included, besides the HTPC itself is the cable box (which will actualy be in the upper lever), the DSL modem, IR repeater, and surge protector. The assorted fans are also absent.

The Modem and Repeater are small and can fit almost anywhere. The Surge protecter will be the only problem as I will need space for all the wall warts as well. The only options at the moment are the upper level (not much space) or trying to sqeeze everythign around the left speaker.

Image

---

Take Care!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 8:21 am 
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That's going to be pretty neat! Good luck and be sure to post pictures of it when its done!!

I'm just wondering if the magnets on the subs will interfere with the computer?


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 2:01 pm 
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You have a good point Denis63 and I'm a little worried about it too.

Since its a 60's radio, there's no real sheilding.

As far as I know, the HDD is the only thing that operates magnetically, so its the only part at risk from interference. Someone correct me if I'm totally wrong or even partially wrong.

I'm planning on mounting the harddrive cage where the 8-track was (the dvd drive will also be there). That's as far away from the subs as possible.

I've also been pricing Magnetic sheilding (which is not cheap). 2 small panels of sheilding for the speakers and two sheets to wrap around the Sub would be plenty. I'll also have to sheild the Radio's transformer since that is a big electro magnet (YaY for remembering something in physics!) It would run me around $100-$150 depending on type and area.

Alternatively, I could place sheilding around the HDD cage - Its less area, so I could feasibly use Higher quality sheild at a lower total cost.

Before I buy the sheilding, I want to build the Front Bezel and respective drive bays (my next task - prolly in the next week or so- I'm visiting family this week). I'm planning on using a Lian-Li alumin front bezel (its matches the magnavox's controls). I found pre-cut arcylic at Performance PC's to use as the columns for the bay. Since it'll be 5 1/2" wide for teh DVD drive, I'll have to buy a 5 1/4" to 3 1/2" HDD cage. The benifit of the prebuilt cage is that A) the HDD's will fit and be secure and B) I can tinker the acryilc just a bit to make the cage easily removable for future upgrading :-)

To give you an idea what I mean, Here's a shot of the upper level of the Radio. The giant hole (where the 8-track was) is where the Front bezel will be attached. The DVD drive is an old Slot load (first DVD I ever bought!) so the fact that's pointing straight up shouldn't be a problem.

Image

Peace!


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:43 pm 
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Now, I'm no genius but I think that something called "Dynamat" might be to your liking. Its a rubber pad with sticky on one side used in car with big stereos, it might be a help with the electromagnet stuff on the subs, but another benefit is that its sound absorbing. I have some in my car, and it made a HUGE difference in the sound quality of my sound system, and it reduced road noise. I'm also putting it in my server to shut up the bloody 80mm fans and all of the 7 harddrives. It’s about 10 bucks a square foot at your local car audio store. Take it or leave it, its neat stuff :)

Also, that slot feed DVD-ROM might be mighty loud if it’s as old as I think it is. New DVD-burners can be picked up for 30 bucks (plus tax) tops. I picked up two LG IDE burners for 19.99 apiece :)

PS Dynamat is a brand name.

Looks like this

http://www.lateral-g.net/williams/dynamat_front.jpg

Also, DO NOT buy the crap that Futureshop sells. Up here in the great white north (haha...) Futureshop sells this Tar based crap that smells terrible for even more than 10 bucks a square foot... please do yourself a favor and go to a real car audio place. It supposedly works by absorbing stray sound. How it knows the difference between stray sound and sound you'd like to hear is beyond me, but it works! Also, "Ice Shield" from your local Home Depot apparently does the same trick at a lesser cost... but again, its tar based...

I'll spell check this in the morning


Last edited by Denis63 on Tue Aug 26, 2008 6:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 7:44 pm 
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Quote:
Question 1 for you all:
O/S to use?
MCE is out by default. So that Leaves Linux, WHS, or XP. Being cheap, I tend toward Linux, but have no experience with it (I hear MythTV can be a bear). WHS sounds nice from the file server view, but what of its media support? XP is trusty, media is no problem, but home network server, I dunno bout that?
Why dismiss Media Center 2005 "by default?" It is a build of XP Pro (and, yes, I do profess my love of Media Center often...) Or, did you mean "Vista is out by default?"
WHS has no TV capabilities, nor can it. It's a file server/web server/media server/PC backup solution. It's meant to be installed on a headless box, put in the closet, and never seen or touched.
XP Pro works quite well as a network file/media server OS; Home, notsomuch.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:33 am 
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Denis63 -

I'll try and check out the dynamat stuff this week while at teh fam's. It sounds interesting and at the very least is another option. Out of curiousity - how are its thermal properties in your experience? My only concern would be the stuff capturing and holding excess heat, although with a case made out of dense particle board and styrofoam, a few sheets of this stuff probably wouldn't make much of a differene, lol.

Cup-

I prolly should have explained myself a little better, my apologies. MCE is not compatible with my TV tuner, Wintv-PVR-350. When I was looking for a tuner, I picked this one as it was Linux/XP compatible as opposed to one that only worked with MCE, binding me to one OS. Most of what I have read about MCE seemed lukewarm, especially when it comes to DRM schemes and overall control of My media.

I've read some things on the internet (yay for blogs? I can't believe I just said that), that seem to indicate the PVR-350 will work w/MCE with a bit of work, but its not an "official" solution (essentially installing some drivers for another card that is MCE compatible).

I'd like to hear your thoughts about MCE, though. Particularly in reguards to its handling of DRM and user control/customization.

I've heard good things about Beyond TV, which is what I would use if I went w/XP. Otherwise, its Myth/ Linux, which has some great benefits, but a complicated setup which may be frustrating than anything...


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 9:08 am 
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Dynamat will probably insulate quite well, unfortunatly. i say this because Neoprene insulates like crazy, and its just rubber with air bubbles in it.

you should look into buying the 200mm fan that antec puts in the Antec 900, you can buy them from antec, i think they're called the "big boy"

yup, the Big Boy :)

http://www.antec.com/us/productDetails.php?ProdID=75200

make that an exhaust fan. they're decently quiet and it moves ALOT of air, over 100 CFM, i think... ill try and find a price somewhere... but it looks like you'll have to go to antec and buy one from them, if you want one.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 12:31 pm 
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That is one fun looking fan.

I was also looking at using sets of These, as they will rev up when I'm using the system, and then slow down when the system is not in use.


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 1:38 pm 
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Quote:
MCE is not compatible with my TV tuner, Wintv-PVR-350.
Bull. You've been misinformed - you just need to install the right drivers. The one thing on your card that won't work with Media Center is the video out feature (but, you don't need that, anyways.)

Quote:
I'd like to hear your thoughts about MCE, though. Particularly in reguards to its handling of DRM and user control/customization.
User customization of the MC UI is, well, nonexistant; and, third-party skins can be a bit dicey. There are a few (very minor) things that can be changed in the menus, though.
As for "DRM issues", I have none. There *were* issues with MC throwing incorrect "protected content" messages (this only occured on some analog cable channels; I only had the problem on AMC) that would prevent you from watching or recording some shows, sometimes; but, that was finally fixed a few months ago.
Also, it's not going to spontaneously "DRM-ify" your existing media. If that were a possibility, I probably would have heard about it by now (mostly at thegreenbutton), if not had it happen to me (it hasn't.)

As for Myth - yes, from what I've heard, it can be an absolute beast to get it working.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 5:17 am 
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cup-

Yeah, i had read that I can use the MCE drivers and it ought to work with my card. I actually read that my card should work with MCE on its own, but I specifically would need just the MCE IR drivers. I do know that the Happauge driver setup does check to see if the drivers match the hardware, but one can run around that by running the individual executables instead of the setup.exe.

Your right, I don't need the video out, so that's no biggie.

Thanks for more info about MCE. How does this "protected content" flag work? I'm running everything through a cable box, so in reality, the HTPC will only ever record channel 3. Does that matter?

I guess the hard part, especially with software, is the product evolves over time with new updates, but few go back revise their reviews.

Out of curiousity, Cup (or anyone else for that matter), what do you really like and hate about MCE?


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 6:57 am 
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The ThermalTake SmartFan will also do that, it also comes with an optional potentiometer OR heat sensor (did I spell that right?) to control the speed of the fan. But they light up and are about 15 bucks apiece, depending on where you get them, they're bloody loud when they rev up though.

The Big Boy is quiet even on high

And cup is right about the MCE thing, I'm using the MCE version of the WinTV 150 on XP pro. Its always on chan 1. You can customize the channels, their names, and everything if you'd like. Try getting an aftermarket program for viewing and recording, also, I have a Logitech Harmony remote, and I’d recommend that to anybody and everybody. especially you, since you're making a system that might need one, it has "macro" features (that’s what I call it) where you push ONE button to turn on the TV, sound system, and satellite receiver AND set them to the according settings. Let me know if you want more info, I can go on a big rant as to how great these things are, and which ones are better (in my mind) than others. One more thing, Harmonys are GOD!


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 3:08 pm 
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Drivers:
Actually (this holds true for any Hauppauge PVR card with an IR jack), the MC drivers will also disable the IR jack on the card.
No big deal, really, as Media Center requires a proper eHome IR remote w/ 'beanbag' receiver (such as this one, especially for STB users - you cannot set up a set-top box without approved remote hardware (the IR transmitters are connected to the IR receiver.)
Also, the driver installer only checks so much - it only cares that some version of that card will work in MC. Example: I have a PVR-USB2 (but not the -MCE version) running, correctly, and without hacks, on a Media Center.

Copy-protection flags: are slipped into the broadcast signal by the cable co, original broadcaster, or the studio. If a show is flagged as 'copy-never' (and, this flag is, according to FCC rules, only supposed to be applied to PPV broadcasts), that flag will be there regardless fo setup. If you're using an STB, the flag will still be present in the box's output.

Oh, and, as for the planned connection scheme: don't use the RF output. The signal quality will absolutely suck eggs. Composite video is better, s-video is best.

You're right in that, once a party reviews something, they rarely (if ever) revisit it at a later date. MCE2k5 has evolved - a lot - since it was introduced. A lot of bugfixes, added features, and enhancements have happened.

I wouldn't say, really, that there's anything that I truly hate about MCE2k5. The UI isn't the prettiest, true, and can't be changed to your liking (as in skin changes, or in-depth control of the menu structures); technically, it only supports 2 analog + 2 ATSC tuners (but, this can be hacked with minimal difficulty), and MCE2k5 doesn't have native QAM (clear digital cable) support (but, a couple of tuner vendors have a workaround for that. Also, this was added to Vista, with the TV Pack 2008.)
Likes:
Remote that makes sense. Ability to use other devices (Xbox360, for example) as Extenders. Menu structure that, while it can't be changed, makes sense. Ability to cross-connect multiple MCE boxes (simple hack) to monitor each other's recorded-tv directories (I have 2 systems set up as such.) Great community support (thegreenbutton.com.) As stable as your drivers are :) . Recording runs as a local service (don't need an account logged-on to record.)


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 6:02 pm 
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Thanks for the info guys!



The Harmony does rock. I currently Own a 550 also, and it is great. It will be the main controller for my system as it stands right now.

Cup - I'm really glad you like MCE - I'm gonna start looking into it a bit more to see what I can dig up.
Question 1: If I were to use MCE, am I required to get an "MCE only" remote to control MCE? I'll have to check, but is there any reason I couldn't give a Harmony the proper MCE commands and pipe them thru USB-UIRT?
Question 2: How is MCE with IR command macros? Like I need it to turn on the STB, change to channel X, and then turn it off when its done recording. Am I corrent in assuming it is a standard feature?

That would be the preferred solution for me (if its possible), as it would keep in line with my first rule - keeping the controls simple. Right now, its one remote and a keyboard that will control the entire system.

I gotta run to work tonight, but when I get back, I'll post up my IR sketch showing you the (original) plan I had as to how I was gonna connect all the IR devices.

Take care - and thanks for the advice! HTPC's are a new area for me, so I want to make sure my bases are covered as much as possible!


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 6:21 pm 
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you might want to also check out the DiNovo Mini (spelling?) as a wireless bluetooth keyboard. its small, rechargable, and i think it has a mouse built in...

and the harmony should work as an MCE remote, as you can have any button you'd like with the LCD.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 6:37 pm 
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denyasis wrote:
Question 1: If I were to use MCE, am I required to get an "MCE only" remote to control MCE? I'll have to check, but is there any reason I couldn't give a Harmony the proper MCE commands and pipe them thru USB-UIRT?
Question 2: How is MCE with IR command macros? Like I need it to turn on the STB, change to channel X, and then turn it off when its done recording. Am I corrent in assuming it is a standard feature?

Answer 1: There are ways to get 'other' remotes to work correctly with Media Center (IIRC, Girder, for example, can translate X10 remote commands into something that ehrecvr (the MC receiver service) understands.) And, no, the remote doesn't need to be an "MCE-only" remote. However, Harmony does make remotes that are MC-approved, and your Harmony should also be programable (to allow it to send the MC IR codes.)

Answer 2: Not necessary. The back of an IR receiver (for MCE) has a pair of jacks, to connect an IR blaster (included with the remote package.) Connect blaster, and attach to the front of the STB (over the IR eye.) Leave the STB on; MC will handle the channel changes.
This (partly) relates to question #1, in that, with an STB, you must use a proper ehome remote receiver to run TV setup. And, the only way to buy one is with a remote (at least it's only $30.) Of course, you'll need the 'real' remote to have something to teach the Harmony with, anyways....
Helpful info (and, more explanation): setup guide


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 3:25 am 
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Answer 2: logitech has the commands for nearly everything on their server, my remote covers my 1987 JVC cd player, my no-name DVDplayer, and my light switch. you probably won't need to teach it commands, oh and it also does the IR reciever that came with my sound blaster 4.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 6:02 am 
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Yeah - i figure Logitech wouldhave the codes for it. I could always hunt a better harmony on Ebay. The 550 is the Entry model, although does quite well.

I actually am going for a diNovo, probably later in the project.

Cup - I tried downloading that Guide you pointed me too and got a 404. I'll poke a round a bit this weekend.

I'm still a little confused, why you must use a specific blaster for MCE? A quick skim of the net seems to indicate its a driver issue. Is that it or is there more to it?

I could use a coax splitter after the box to go around the Macro issue. The only issue would be the Harmony trying to send the "power" command everytime you want to watch TV to thh box and turning it off.

Can MCE handle a simple Macro like "Send Power Signal when finished"?
For that matter (I assumed they all would), Can Myth or BeyondTV do that?

Here's the IR sketch:
Image

I suppose an MCE IR receiver/blaster could hang where the USBUIRT sits. If I go with a different OS option though, will the hardware still work?


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 6:47 am 
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every harmony remote contacts the same server and gets the same codes from the same place, so if your 550 dosn't work with something, the 1000 wont aswell, unless someone teaches their remote, or logitech adds it. I personnaly want to replace my 520 with the harmony One *drools*


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