Whole house audio system

Tue, Feb 3, 2009

Home Automation

Screen Wall Mount

Whole House Audio System

Have you see those amazing whole house audio systems? You know, those neat, state of the art systems that you see in those million dollar homes? Could you envision yourself walking in to your house, touching a wall mounted touch screen, and suddenly music starts playing? How cool is that?

Well, I wanted one of those systems…

The problem is, I hate spending a lot of money on extravagant things unless I am certain it will do what I want it to do. Anything short of that, and I am aggravated and feel like I have been ripped off.

So I began to look around. It seems like if you want something out of the box, you are looking at several thousand dollars.

Get out of here. I don’t have a problem tinkering with things – I can figure this out…

I took an inventory of things I had laying around the house. Over the years I have accumulated various computers and accessories. I am what you would call a pack rat. Unless it is absolutely broken, I will not throw it out. I may upgrade to something new, but I always keep the old stuff laying around (I am lucky that I live in a house with a garage and an attic).

  • I have a decent 2.4 GHz PC in the basement that is collecting dust.
  • I have 2 old receivers that still work. They are not super duper Pro-Logic, just simple 2 channel receivers
  • I have a REAL old laptop. I am talking like circa 2000 – let’s see what we can do.

Ok, we are getting somewhere.

How are we going to play the music?

Ok, let’s start by saying that I have an extensive collection of MP3’s that I have accumulated over the years, so the music is there. The problem is that Windows Media Player will not allow me to play multiple songs to multiple outputs. What if I am playing something in one room, yet I want to play something in another room? It could happen!

JRiver Media Center

JRiver Media Center ( ($40)

Ok. This program is cool. Better yet, it supports multiple sound cards! What does that mean? It means that I can set up Zones within the application. The amount of zones depends upon how many sound cards I have.

M-Audio Delta 410

Delta M410 ($100)

This is a cool sound card. The best part about this card is that it can be set up to look like up to 5 sound cards inside your PC. Let’s face it, most people don’t have 5 spare PCI slots in their computer. The other thing was that it was pretty cheap – I paid about $100 for it on eBay. Take a look at the photograph on the left. There are 10 RCA jacks coming out of the back of the card – that gives you 5 pairs (right and left) to connect to those amplifiers that you (hopefully) have laying around the house.

NetRemote Software

Promixis Software – NetRemote ($70 for Professional Version)

NetRemote is designed to work directly with Jriver Media Center. It works with other media players, but if we want the zones, we need Jriver. It allows you to have a slick front end that can control Jriver remotely. The other good thing about NetRemote is that it is very customizable if you want to dive into the program. Besides controlling JRiver, it also has the ability to imbed web pages into pages. This will come in handy when I decide to start have the weather displayed on the pages (read on). I also chose to pay for the professional version ($70 vs $30) – this will allow me to run several versions throughout the house should I choose to do so, as well and run a handheld wi-fi version concurrently with the touchscreen. Promixis also has a very active message forum, where users can post questions and receive fast responses, or to just browse and see what setups other people art sporting.

Touch Screen ($150)

We need a way to interact with this whole setup, right? Yes… We need a touchscreen. Search stores for 15 inch and larger PC and you could have a coronary (at least I did)… $400-$600 is not out of the realm for these babies. Ok… I am getting discouraged…

Wait a minute…

I stroll over to eBay and there are tons of refurbished and used touch screens for anywhere from $125-$200. Remember, we don’t need anything extravagant here. We are going to have a basic graphic loaded onto the screen. Keep in mind, some of these will only connect via a serial port. If your PC doesn’t have one, you’ll need to buy a serial to USB converter (which will increase your overall cost – remember, we are trying to keep the cost down!).

Ok, time to start putting things together…

First, I install the Jriver Media Center on the PC. Easy enough, and my entire collection is soon imported. Now I have to install the NetRemote software. The way NetRemote works is that you install MediaBridge on the host PC and NetRemote on the remote PC’s. I will be using my beat up laptop (remember the circa 2000 one?) to control everything from “afar”. Installing the software was easy. I installed the MediaBridge application on the host PC and the NetRemote on the laptop. After following the simple directions, the laptop found the host and I was up an running. Promix offers serveral types of skins for the NetRemote. I recommend the skin that is included. It looks similar to Vista and has a nice clean look. Keep in mind that Promixis offers a skin editor – after my setup was complete I played around with the look of the skin myself.NetRemote Start Screen

Where are all the wires?

I thought you may ask that question. You see, I found a wall in my living room that had a closet directly on the other side of it. This way, I was able to easily snake the wires from the laptop to the monitor. I bought a cheap wall-mounted bracket on eBay for about $7 (not including shipping) and mounted the monitor to the wall.  Some people like to cut a massive hole in the wall in order for the monitor to sit flush with the wall. For my installation, I thought that was not necessary.

Getting the sound out

Now we have to connect the Delta 410 to the amplifier(s). Set up the software that comes with the card and then connect the RCA audio out jacks to each amplifier that you want to have sound playing in your house. You will also need to set up each respective zone within JRiver.

Mounting the Speakers

I mounted several sets of speakers throughout my house. Look for deals on the internet and in your local brick and mortar shops. Search to find your best deals. Running the speakers was easy in my house; I have a single story ranch, so access to my ceilings throughout the house is easy. Ceiling speakers are the best though, they are somewhat hidden and provide the best effects.

The End!

Music PlayingAfter the install, I installed RealVNC on the laptop. This is a neat program that allows me to remotely control the PC whenever I want to make a skin adjustment, as opposed to having to go into the closet every time I want to update something. They have a free edition that works fine. Of course, if you are running Windows XP Professional you will not need to worry about this; however, both my server and laptop are Windows 2000, so I needed something else to remotely control them.

This article should give you a good basis and some good ideas to go out and set up your own whole house audio system.

Good Luck!

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