Generic PC

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Usage Information

Preface

When you use LinuxMCE and you have more than one entertainment area in your home, you have to setup a separate Media Director (MD) for each area. The Media Director is basically a dedicated PC (similar to a home theater PC) to manage multimedia content (such as Live TV, DVD, and photos) and to display that content on your local TV or monitor. A Media Director has a built-in on-screen Orbiter to control the entire system. You can control your home using it, either by connecting a monitor with touch-screen to it, or by adding a remote control to the Media Director PC (such as a USB-UIRT for universal infrared remotes, a Bluetooth remote control, a Windows MCE remote control, a Fiire gyro controlled remote, or other remote control).

I'm not sure if it is possible to watch TV and display the Orbiter at the same time.

Hardware

Basic Hardware Requirements: Processor, RAM

For a Media Director PC, the proper choice of a processor is very important. You should base it upon the most demanding media you expect to display, such as high definition content. While storage of media can be on the core, nas or other device not local to the media director, all decoding takes place locally at the media director, requiring the necessary hardware to properly display it.

Case requirements

Any generic PC can be used as an MD. There are a couple of recommendations, however. Most important is that the PC is quiet (i.e. quiet fans or no fans) yet has a low heat emission. Since it will be next to your TV, you don't want noisy fans disturbing your TV-watching. The case muse be as stylish as your TV, small, and unobtrusive.

Netbootable

The PC used should be able to support PXE, so that it can boot over the LAN network from the tftp (Core) server. LinuxMCE allows the PC used as a Media Director to either boot its own installation of LinuxMCE or to boot over the LAN network from the Core, but a network boot is easiest. Obviously, the PC would then have to be network boot capable. (Most modern PCs are network bootable by setting an option in the BIOS, but it is always worthwhile to make sure.)

Good graphics card

The video adapter used in the Media Director PC can also be an issue. I tried to setup an MD with an S3 Trio 64+ video card but without luck -- during bootup, the monitor went out as soon as X started up. After replacing the video adapter card (an nVidia card is usually recommended), it worked correctly. Note that the Via Unichrome Pro II chipset drivers are ideal drivers (which usually accompany nVidia cards).

Note that the video card ought to have a TV output compatible with your TV, otherwise, what's the point? Only some nVidia cards have this output, so be careful.

Good sound card

How about 5.1 or 7.1 output capability and output jacks for your soundcard? See Category:Audio.

Input interfaces

Make sure you have a way to connect your remotes (see above). Have extra USB ports for iPods, video cameras, and that sort of thing. See Category:Input.

DVD drive

Yeah, this is how you play DVDs and CDs. Don't forget one.

Also, if you plan to use a VHS machine, don't forget to plan for an extra input TV card to accommodate it.

Example Systems

Here is an example list of components that can be used to put together a "newbie's" Media Director PC.

The Fiire Station is a commercial offering of a PC optimised as a Media Director for LinuxMCE. A PC similar in components will work optimally. Also see this list of other Media Directors.

The Asus Essentio-CS5110 is a dedicated multimedia PC optimised for multimedia uses. Like several other high-end home theater PCs, it is ideal as a hybrid Core/Media Director PC.

Setup of the Media Director

It is easiest to allow the PC which will serve as the Media Director to start from a network boot, as mentioned above, from the Core server. Make sure the BIOS is set for network boot. With this method, the Media Director PC will boot over the network from the Core server automatically, every time you turn on the Media Director.

The first time you connect a Media Director PC to the network, the LinuxMCE Core should auto detect it. You will then see the network boot commence on the screen of the machine you are adding. After a short time you will see a message in yellow text, stating that this machine has been "announced" on the Core. Go to the Orbiter with the 'Add Media Director' screen displayed and you will see a screen asking if you would like to add your PC as a Media Director. If you choose "Add as Generic PC" (which currently is the only device type choice) then LinuxMCE will start the process of adding your PC. The process of adding a PC to LinuxMCE takes at least 20 mins., depending on the speed of your Core, whatever other tasks it is performing at the time, and your network LAN speed.

The alternative manual process, which is described below, should no longer be required. In fact, it can cause problems with the auto detection process, so is not recommended. The auto-detection process is always looking for new hardware, and it can get confused when a new Media Director machine is added manually.

Manual Setup of a Media Director

Add a new MD in the LinuxMCE-admin site: Go to Wizard --> Devices --> Media Directors. On the MD page press the button 'Add device'. In the new window chose 'Generic PC as MD' and press the button 'Add device'. After that you will see a message about preparation a data for new device. It can take 2-4 minutes. When setup procedure of the MD is finished you'll see a message on all active Orbiters that new device is configured and ready to use. The field 'IP Address' should contain IP address given by DHCP server. This IP will be assigned to PC when it starts to boot. Type MAC Address of your PC in the field 'MAC Address' (it'll be displayed when PC tries to boot from network). Now it's time to prepare ISO for new diskless MD. To do that just press the button 'Setup Diskless Media Directors' and wait till operation will finish (you'll see a log output to the web page):

http://static.flickr.com/52/135424562_c74f8b6674_m.jpg
(click to enlarge)

Quick reload the router and boot MD. In my case (I have a 64bit Core/Hybrid and a 32bit MD) it took about 2 hours.

Troubleshooting

Problem: Diskless MD cannot find ISO

Solution: It's possible that the Core DHCP assigns an IP address which is different from the IP address listed in the Media Director properties. Change the IP manually (you can find the assigned IP in the /var/log/pluto/PlutoDHCP.newlog), then press 'Setup Diskless' button. Wait while the setup finishes, and for the quick reload of the router.


Problem: Display of Media Director goes down after boot

Solution: Something is likely wrong with your MD video adapter card. As I mentioned above I had the same problem with my S3 Trio 64+ card. When I replaced it (nVidia recommended) the on-screen Orbiter for the Media Director loaded successful.