Category Archives: Projects

New Media Center (HTPC) Computer

I always wanted to build myself a media center (HTPC) computer for my Sony Bravia 32″ LCD television but never got around to it. Well, that’s not entirely true, as I was trying to cut costs down and build a computer out of existing parts (a Celeron 2.4GHZ, 256MB of RAM, 20GB hard drive and basic on-board stereo sound). This setup was fine for Xvid playback over the network and I never had any surround-sound speakers until I finally found the deal of the century and picked up a LG LH-T9654MB “HTIB” from Futureshop for 230$ CDN taxes in (it was supposedly below the cost price). Since I got myself a simple surround setup, I enjoyed the audio more and more… playing movies in stereo sound was boring. What more, I was finding myself diving in 720p and 1080p content and Xvid just wasn’t cutting it. After trying everything I could to make 720p playback on the Celeron computer work smoothly (tried over-clocking, bumping up the RAM, etc) it simply did not work. I decided to get a new computer but I didn’t want to spend more than 500$ on the whole setup. I basically needed a CPU that could do 1080p playback, a motherboard that had an onboard SPDIF audio output connector and enough RAM to satisfy anything I can throw at it.

Doing a quick check on Google, I came across Tom’s Hardware Guide 2007 CPU charts for 1080p playback. Being an Intel fanboy, I found the right CPU for the right price: a Core 2 Duo E4600 CPU (2.4GHZ dual core with 2MB of cache, 800MHZ FSB). While not listed on the chart, it should be sufficient as the E4300 processes 1080p at 58.1% processor usage. Logically, this processor should do full HD processing at a lower usage rate. Since I sell computers, finding the CPU at cost price wasn’t that big of a deal, but the main problem was finding the motherboard and RAM at a low price. I mostly sell business computers, so finding those “enthusiast” hardware components at a cost is a challenge (not really difficult, but I was impatient to wait for everything to arrive). I decided to hit up NCIX and see what they could offer. I found the Asus P5K-VM motherboard that had everything I needed, except a TOSLINK connector (they had Coaxial audio only). For the RAM, I found the OCZ Platinum PC2-6400 2GB (4-4-4-15) dual channel memory kit. The memory was overkill but since it was on special and dirt cheap, I picked it up without thinking twice. Finally, while I was about to check out, I came across the Western Digital 500GB 16MB cache 7200 RPM SATA2 NCQ hard drive for 97$ (special of the week, couldn’t pass it up!). I added two of those babies for the media center computer as I knew I would be needed them for all the 720p/1080p content. Total of this order with taxes and shipping came up to 469.00$ CDN. Oh, there was a 35$ mail-in-rebate for the RAM, so this brings down the total to 434.00$.

After some billing issues (damn CIBC/VISA froze my account temporarily, more on that in another post) the parts came in and I quickly assembled the computer. I installed Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and setup Combined Community Codec Pack (CCCP) for the X264 playback. The results were superb: 720p and 1080p played back really, really well. No stuttering and the audio was perfectly in sync unlike the Celeron setup. Watching these high quality videos on the television was a treat and a half! The components I chose were definitely the right ones for the job; I was quite worried that the CPU wouldn’t be powerful enough to decode the streams, but thankfully, they surpassed my expectations. Only drawback/con of this setup: the Asus P5K-VM does not have an SPDIF optical output jack (but can be purchased separately, I hope). I’m using an Aureal Vortex 2 for the job right now, but there are no proper Windows XP drivers for it so the surround doesn’t really work. I’ll be fixing this very soon to get the proper audio setup.

Closing off, I’m happy with my purchase and look forward to filling up the hard drives with content. I hope this guide serves someone who’s looking into building a low-cost 1080p media center machine. All the components I have purchased in this guide were bought from NCIX, minus the case, power supply and CDROM drive (I had those laying around). Good luck!

New Car Audio Hardware

I know a friend of mine will be enjoying this post, as she’s into car audio (I think) and will probably be glad that I’m not writing about supplements for once!

For the longest time I have been driving around with some good audio hardware, but it’s due for an upgrade. My first car audio setup included components in the front powered by a separate amplifier, an aftermarket head unit and dual 12″ subwoofers in the back (I kept the rears stock). I ran the entire setup with 2 and 4 gauge wiring. If anyone is interested in the hardware that I used, here’s the list:

  • Pioneer Premier DEH-P770MP headunit, 70W RMS
  • JBL GTO75.2 II, 2 channel amplifier, 60A, 90W RMS per channel
  • JBL GTO606C components in the front
  • JBL GTO1201.1 II, subwoofer amplifier, 120A, 1300W~ RMS
  • 2x JBL W12GTi Mark II subwoofers, 700W RMS each
  • Tsunami 5 Farad capacitor, including 2 and 4 gauge wiring where appropriate

This setup served me well as an introduction to car audio. My friend and I spent a Sunday afternoon once installing this gear in and the overall experience was awesome (for me anyway). The sound quality was superb comparing it to my stock radio; driving my then Camry was always a pleasure! Now that I have a brand new car, it’s time to install some fresh new gear and make more heads turn. :) I will be keeping this car for four years, so I can’t live without some proper, clean sound. I drive my car everyday and travel all over Montreal servicing clients, so I would like to keep my ears happy. The stock system in the car is terrible: distortion reigns all over. The highs are severly lacking, and there’s no such thing as clean, distortion-free bass. The stock CD/MP3 player was garbage; scrolling through songs was a long, pain-staking process and the overall quality of the sound was butchered up. Thankfully, I managed to replace my stock radio with the Premier DEH-P770MP. That’s one upgrade down, a few more to go!

This month, I should be acquiring my new hardware. This is what I’m getting:

  • 2x JBL Power Series P650C components, 90W RMS
  • JBL Power Series PX300.4, 4 channel amplifier, 123.7W RMS per channel

This time around, I will be replacing the rears of my vehicle with some components to keep the passengers in the back happy. I am keeping the subwoofer setup the same, but seriously considering adding another GTO1201.1 II and driving separate amplifiers to each subwoofer (so each driver has its own proper amplifier, a full 1300W RMS available at all times). I will most likely have to add another battery to my car soon along with an alternator upgrade if I ever go down that route.

That’s it for now. I will be posting installation details (along with a guide) once I get the gear and do the setup… but I’m pretty discouraged right now as it’s cold outside and the first few snow flakes have already dropped. Anyone have an indoor garage with enough room to perform a car audio install? :)

Mazda Tribute 2008 Aftermarket Stereo Installation

I just installed my after-market Pioneer Premier DEH-P770MP headunit in the Tribute (yes, at 9:00 PM at night since I was so eager to do it) because the stock radio is garbage. I had a bit of trouble finding guides and HOWTO’s on the web on how to replace the stock headunit, so I decided to document it here on my site. There are more upcoming changes to the stock stereo, such as replacing all four stock speakers with some components and powering them through a four channel amplifier. If anyone is curious on how to do all this, read on! I don’t have any custom pictures yet, but I can guide you step by step on how to remove and disassemble your stock radio and install a spiffy aftermarket headunit that will make music sound so much better.

Okay, without further ado, here’s the parts you will need to successfully install an aftermarket radio in your Mazda Tribute 2008:

  • Metra dash kit, matte black, model #99-5814 (note that you won’t find a glossy surface finish for the dash kit… at least I wasn’t able to)
  • Metra Tribute 2008 wire harness, model #XSVI-5520
  • Metra antenna harness, model #40-CR10
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • 7MM and 8MM socket (with extensions), 8MM wrench might come in handy when removing ground plug
  • Torx T-15 screwdriver (I think, or T20)
  • Small pry-bar or flat screwdriver (be careful with this suggestion as it’ll be used for removing dash, you don’t want something that’ll scratch the panels)

I had a bit of trouble finding the first two parts, but after realizing that the Ford Escape 2008 is an identical vehicle to the Tribute 2008, I looked up for aftermarket parts for the former and concluded that Ford parts will work for the Mazda. I went on MetraOnline.com and confirmed that the dash kit will work for my car (see the Vehicle Fit Guide). Doing a quick search on eBay landed me on the necessary parts for my car. In total, the dash kit cost me 20.00$ CDN while the harness was more expensive, coming in at 70.00$ CDN. All items shipped, the final price was 90.00$ CDN for the whole she-bang.

Continue reading Mazda Tribute 2008 Aftermarket Stereo Installation

My Software, My Life

Lately, I have been brainstorming about my future and I have come to realize that I am sitting on some very expensive real-estate. For those who don’t know, it is my dad’s point of sale software: “SPOS.” It is quite possibly the most feature-filled application out there that involves making sales. Honestly, for the price you pay for the software, I consider it a steal. My dad has pretty much though about this whole system inside-out: from layaways to credit notes, it’s all there. The only few changes that are left to make this good application great is implementing some optimization routines (such as using SQL instead of large table pointers) and making it look pretty. After that, I just need to market the hell out of it and I should be set. Of course, I should also write a better manual for it… that will take some time, but a lot of the base has been done.
I can’t wait to take control of my dad’s company in the future. I am the luckiest person on this planet to do so.

Looking Forward to Vegas

If there’s anything I’m looking forward to right now, it would be my Vegas trip on December 24th with my buddies. Honestly, I am so burnt out lately that my productivity has decreased. Ok ok, I’ll stop whining :) but I really do need a break.

I finally installed my new subwoofer box in the car today. I’m quite disappointed I have to say; the sub doesn’t perform the lower extensions as I had hoped. I will have to extend the 4 ports by another 2.5 inches to bring it down to 32hz. I’ll admit, however, that the setup is much more louder, but I rather prefer deep bass over loud any day. I want to FEEL the music, not go deaf. I will be putting up the in car pictures in a few days when I have the time (camera batteries are currently dead).

A lesson that I learned a few months ago was reinforced tonight: never get your hopes up… no matter how good the scenario is. Murphy’s law: If anything can go wrong, it will.