My Rooms: My Lounge Room

Difficulty: 4

Lounge RoomI spend a great deal of my time in my lounge room as it is the space I use to watch TV, movies and listen to music. It is also the space that I use my computer. I thought about what would make it the ultimate room, looking at both the entertainment features it would include and the simplest way to control it. I wanted to reach the practical limits of what technology can do for us. I came to the conclusion that voice control would always be the simplest way to control anything, so I set about voice controlling all the entertainment gear in the room. I wanted to turn my dreams into a practical reality.

It was a lot of fun figuring out how I would achieve each aspect of the room so that it would work best for me. Now that all of the controls for the rooms’ entertainment are in place, the rewards of using the room are fantastic. I will probably be using this system until the day I die. There is only so much technology can do for us as technology is not magic and it has limitations as to what is practical. Saying that, we can achieve pretty much anything we want using today’s technology in a home environment. You may be surprised at what is possible right now, even with a modest budget of less than AUD$1000.

My setup may look primitive using a 13 year old TV, and even older speakers, but these facets are purely aesthetic and the principles can easily be transferred to newer home entertainment systems. What makes this exciting is that it is very cheap to achieve if you are willing to do a bit of DIY. I am not sure if this will ever be possible if you are not willing to install some software and spend some time setting things up. This stuff is not available on the market yet, and if it does make it to market, it is likely to cost a lot more than it should. As with all computer systems, a restart once a week is normally all that is needed to revive the system in the case that it encounters a problem. This system has made watching TV and movies, and listening to music to be much simpler and more relaxing. I simply tell the system what I want it to do.

This article is a roundup of all the articles I have written about the technology I have placed in my Lounge Room. The video below shows what you can achieve in your own home over time on a very limited budget. This system does much more than the current range of smart TV’s. Take a look.

 

By combining all of the articles below, you can achieve a fully voice controlled entertainment system on a limited budget. All you need to do is plug a few things in, install some software, train yourself to use the system, and train the system to understand you. With a bit of patience and some simple tweaking, you will reach what I believe to be the practical limits of technology for home entertainment use.

Read the rest of this article »


How to: Remove commercials from recorded TV automatically

Difficulty: 1

No SignalAs technology is evolving, more and more people are recording TV shows to watch at a more convenient time. Fast forwarding or skipping through the commercials is becoming a simple task, but it is still a hassle. This article will show you the tools I use to automatically remove TV commercials from my recorded TV files made by Windows Media Center 7. It is a completely hands off process. I am able to watch any show roughly an hour after it is aired with the commercials completely removed.
By watching recorded TV over live TV, we are more likely to watch what we want, rather than choosing the best of what is on TV at that time. It also lets us control when we watch TV. We no longer need to change our own schedules around when a particular TV show is on, as we can now choose to watch our shows at whatever time is most convenient to us. We are back in control.

I made a video to show the many ways you can either currently use, or will be able to use in the future, for removing commercials. You can view this video further in the article. You will also find out about the software required to remove commercials automatically, and information on the legalities and consequences of using commercial removal technology.
 
Read the rest of this article »


Windows Software: Automatically convert .wtv to .dvr-ms with WtvWatcher

Difficulty: 1.5

WtvWatcherWindows Media Center 7 saves files by default to the .wtv format. This format is capable of storing the highest quality broadcast. The only problem is that it is not compatible with some programs written for previous versions of Windows Media Center (such as Lifextender which only works with the .dvr-ms format). Lifextender allows all my recorded TV to have the commercials completely removed from all my files without pressing a button. I need to use WtvWatcher if I want to use Lifextender to remove commercials. Lifextender is unable to process the default Windows Media Center 7 formatted files, so WtvWatcher converts the file to a format Lifextender can work with.

WtvWatcher SettingsMicrosoft has included a .wtv to .dvr-ms converter with it’s Media Center, but it is only capable of converting one file at a time, and it is a manual process. WtvWatcher uses this utility by finding the files that need converting, and sending them to be processed. WtvWatcher looks after this job very well. It sits in your task tray and converts all your recorded video to the dvr-ms format. I have been using this software for well over a year and found it to be very reliable and stable.

From what I can make out, the two formats are identical, but the .wtv format can handle a broadcast format that is rarely used. This is why I have not noticed any drop in the quality of recorded TV, once the conversion has taken place.

There are very few settings. Simply point WtvWatcher to the folder that contains your recorded TV. It will do the rest. You will want to ensure you create a shortcut to WtvWatcher.exe in your startup folder so that it loads when the computer boots up.

I have used version 1.0.0.21 for this review. I tried the latest updates but had poor results. It is worth trying the newest version and downgrading back to this version if it doesn’t work for you. If you downgrade, you will want to untick the Check for Updates tick box in the preferences.

WtvWatcher is available for free from codeplex.


How-to: Use an arcade controller in your chair to trigger voice control

Difficulty: 2

Picture 253I am very confident that voice control is the way to go when it comes to controlling my home theatre setup into the future, because I am currently using it and benefiting from the huge advantages it offers. I believe a reliable voice control system will be the best way to control any electrical appliance, and that voice control is likely to be in our lives indefinitely. There are huge cultural and environmental problems which need to be addressed for it to work reliably, but the technology that interprets what we say works very well.

After setting up voice control on my home theatre PC, I realised that there needed to be an instant way to trigger the voice control so it would start listening to me. I needed a way to avoid using a traditional Universal remote, or my gadget. I needed a button that is ultra convenient. This means installing a button right next to my hand that will trigger the voice control. The only way of achieving this is by installing a button into my lounge. This may seem a bit excessive, but once it is done, the benefits we receive from it will last us well into the future. I believe all home theatre seating or lounge suites will eventually have the option to add a button into the arm.

There are many different types of buttons on the market, but I have only seen one that I know will be able to last the lifetime of the lounge. It’s going to take a beating, so I needed a button that was strong and reliable. Arcade machine buttons have proven themselves over the years as being ultra reliable. Fortunately for me, they are also cheap.

The end result is a button sitting immediately next to my hand which can activate and control my whole entertainment system using my voice. It’s not going to get much better than this. I expect this configuration to last the life of the couch, and it is likely to be considerably cheaper than having these factory installed. The only DIY work needed to be done for most lounges will be to drill a hole to install the button, and to click the pieces together. My scripts are not perfect yet, but I hope you will agree that it is pretty exciting stuff.

This article will show you how to install an arcade controller board, and a button into your lounge to trigger voice control of your entertainment.

Read the rest of this article »


How to: Control TV, VCR, DVD, cable and more with voice using USB-UIRT

Difficulty: 2.5

USBUIRTOnce I was able to voice control my home theatre PC, I still needed to use my remote control to turn on the TV and receiver. I wanted to rid my lounge room of remotes altogether, so I needed to find a way to get my computer to control the rest of my audio visual gear. I wanted to be able to control everything in the lounge room with just my gadget and my voice.

It was logical to use Infra Red (IR) technology for this, because that is the only way we can control most AV gear currently. Often the buttons on a device (such as a TV set) don’t offer as many options as its remote control unit.

The USB-UIRT is a magic device that can send and receive IR signals. It connects to a USB port on our computer and enables us to send IR commands from our computer to our peripheral AV gear. It sits at the back of the room and has good range and reliability. This device removes the need for remote controls in our TV room altogether as we can tag a voice command to tell the USB-UIRT which IR signal or signals we want it to send.

The result is that we can walk into the room, press the trigger button and say “TV on”. This will turn the TV and stereo on. When we say “I’m finished”, the TV and stereo will turn off. 

It gets really impressive when we start controlling our VCR, BluRay or cable box with voice. I have added some extra scripting which will enable just this. When I put a video into the video player, I can say “Video Player” and the TV will change the channel to AV, to show the VCR. I can then use the usual play/pause/stop/rewind/fast forward voice commands to navigate through the video. When I return to the media centre, the tape will stop, rewind and 3 minutes later, eject the tape and turn off. This is while all the other media centre voice commands are working as per normal.

This article will show you how to setup the USB-UIRT to control your audio visual gear to control everything in your lounge room/home theatre by voice. The scripts need to be installed, and IR signals learnt, which is thankfully quite easy with to do with EventGhost. The speech macros have also been updated to simplify the commands to their shortest abbreviation. I have also included another speech macro which enables the “Play artist/genre/track” commands. It’s a bit harder for the computer to pick up the new commands, though they do work. The old commands still work and are worth learning because the computer is much more likely to recognise them. The commands will be progressively tweaked until each command is as simple as we can make them. It’s not far off as simple as it can get now.

Read the rest of this article »