My Projects: My Gadget – One button to control everything around the house.

Difficulty: 4

LogoSoon after I figured out how to voice control my media centre, I realised that I needed an easier way to trigger it. The trigger would set the volume of my media centre to a level I could naturally talk over, so I could navigate around it using my voice. I was using the 0 button of my remote control for this task, so I still needed to keep my remote control in hand. There was very little to be gained by the voice control if I were to still continue using traditional remotes to trigger it. I only needed the one button as all other commands were given by voice. I needed a one button infrared (IR) remote. The only remotes I could find commercially were for garage doors or car alarms, but these did not use IR technology, so I had to make my own.

Four months have passed since I started working on this project and I have succeeded in getting it working, though aesthetic improvements will still need to be made. I have been enjoying tinkering with it. This is a very simple device compared to many other electronic projects, so someone with experience may have it going in a few hours.

While I was making my gadget, I discovered that it would be capable of doing far more than just enabling the voice control of the home theatre PC. What I made was a very simple tool. A single button that I could point at any computer or robot around the house, to let it know I needed it to start listening to me. This could ultimately mean that I would have a portable button combined with my voice to control any electrical device in my house. The more I think about it, the more likely this is to become a reality, in time.

I have come up with a number of other methods to trigger the voice control systems in my house. I will explain these solutions over the coming weeks, months and (hopefully) years. If these future solutions end up being inadequate, my gadget will become a necessary accessory. The need to carry something around the house with us all the time is a bit of hassle, no matter it’s size and ease of use. I want to be able to trigger the technology with empty hands, hence why I want to avoid using my gadget. One thing is for sure, we do need something to trigger voice control in high noise areas. A computer needs to know if we are talking to it or another family member.

This article will explain how I have gone about making my gadget. While my gadget does currently work reliably, it is at this stage only a proven working prototype. These instructions will show you two possible methods you can use to make it. The first method is simple to get going, and I recommend this option for anyone who wants fast results without too many complications. The second method will achieve the same result, but will allow you to investigate IR technology in more depth. I have not played around with circuit design much yet, but the information in this article should give you enough to start playing around with your own design if you so choose.

All of my future articles will somehow be related to my gadget – a single button to control everything. Much of this is about changing or using current, past and future technology to make my gadget be more useful. I know that it will work as I am currently using the one button approach to control a few things around my house, and I am enjoying the benefits of the technology.

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My Projects: My Home Theatre PC

Difficulty: 3

Windows Media CenterWith Analog TV being turned off in Australia and around the world in the next couple of years, set top boxes, PVRs and Tivo are all going off the shelves and into peoples homes very quickly. Many people are unaware that Windows Media Center is an option to switch to Digital TV, and there are considerable benefits over the PVR units above.

You can view ALL of your media on your TV, you can record more channels at once, you can store more media, with automatic meta data fetching and you can even play games. It was a no brainer for me to choose to use a computer to control my media.

If you have a computer running Windows 7, there is a huge chance you already have everything you need to set up the basic configuration in your house. The only cost may be to purchase a TV tuner which start at around $20. It is worth dedicating a computer for this task, but there is little harm in experimenting on what you already have. Consider re-purposing your current machine as a dedicated media centre when you upgrade. If you want a new feature, eg. BluRay, you can generally just plug in a new drive at a considerably lower cost than buying a stand alone unit.

This is a “What more could you want?” scenario. With the system being capable of handling full screen HD video chat (pending internet connection), only minor software updates are likely to be necessary to allow new technology to work with this system. This system should keep me ahead of mainstream consumer technology for many years.*

I have spent a lot of time over the last 12 months, trying to create a Windows Media Center that would work flawlessly. With the strong foundation of Windows Media Center 7, a bunch of free programs and a lot of research and tweaking the puzzle pieces have come together. I hope that this guide will help you build a system that will give you as much enjoyment as this system has for me.

Check out a video of my media centre in action after the jump.

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