Project “media player for my wife” finished

For long time I had one project on my todo list: media player for my wife use. Has to be easy to use and control, does not need connecting anything when you want to watch a movie etc. Typical black box design.

Idea was to take one of boards I have at home, plug 750GB 2.5″ hdd to it and put it on a box with only power and hdmi ports exposed. All running Ubuntu (with distro kernel) or Android. And controlled by simple remote control.

I tested several platforms as a base for it. First was Pandaboard — but as I have EA1 board it was far too slow for my use. And with current kernels there is no support for any hardware decoding or video acceleration (yay for PowerVR and yay for Texas Instruments). Then I purchased Wandboard Quad. Nice device, fast but I lacked patience to get it to properly recognize monitors so it always booted into XGA resolution. HW acceleration was a bit of fun as well.

Then I got Minnowboard Max from Dave Anders. After first days of playing with board it was visible that it can be a good platform for this project. But then something happened and board required RMA which took quite a long time (remember to pay for air transport of package while sending Europe->USA).

During last 2-3 weeks I was working on it in free time and finally got it done:

MMax in a box

Box contents:

  • Minnowboard Max (dualcore Atom with Intel GPU and 2GB ram)
  • 750GB Serial ATA 2.5″ hdd (bootloader, system, movies storage)
  • cheap Realtek WiFi dongle
  • cheap usb hub
  • remote control dongle
  • microhdmi/m -> hdmi/f cable
  • hdmi/m -> hdmi/m adapter
  • hdmi/f -> hdmi/f wall mountable adapter

Amount of HDMI adapters was required as finding microhdmi/m->hdmi/m cable is (probably) impossible.

USB hub was fun. I have several of those but this one got removed from case, got all cables desoldered (two going to second board with additional two ports and one going to host) and then fun started…

Only one connector had 2.54mm spacing while both host and second port one were some random size. After soldering single pins for host cable I decided to not add 4th port. Pictures show why ;D

IMG_20150525_171420 IMG_20150602_162548 IMG_20150602_162602 IMG_20150602_163710

That’s hardware. For software part I used Ubuntu 14.04 LTS with Kodi 14.2 ‘Helix’ as media center. After few small tweaks (automatic login to ‘kodi’ user and into ‘kodi’ session) system boots directly to movie selection.

But how to choose what to play? My Iogear wireless keyboard will not go with media player box… I bought Natec A30 airmouse but then it shown that it’s dpad buttons work only as IR control for TV ;( But then I realised that years ago I bought Sony bluetooth remote for Playstation 3 console (for some other random project). And it still works ;D

Still have to sort out key mapping as lot of remote buttons have no sense for media center (I have no idea what for those triangle/circle/box/cross are for example) but this is small part which I already have partially solved. And need to add BT dongle into the box to get it working ;D

ARMv7a hardware is like minefield

I have a bunch of ARMv7a boards at home. They are from different years, have misc CPUs and GPUs. All I think that some of them suck for some reasons.

Pandaboard was great board when got released. Then Texas Instruments fired everyone involved so now it is crap. Sure, mainline kernel works fine but no audio/video decoding in hardware, no OpenGLES due to PowerVR stuff which no one cares about because it is proprietary.

Wandboard Quad. Cool, fast, 2GB of memory, SATA. And hardcoded XGA (1024×768) resolution which can not be changed. Awesome? Not so much when you connect it to FullHD monitor. And forget about community — they are mostly stuck on 3.0 and 3.10 kernels based on Freescale code drops. I should dig deeper when looked at i.mx6 hardware ;(

Looks like it is time to check other boards. Minnowboard Max probably — x86 will fully open drivers.