Usage Intro

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LinuxMCE's main concepts are Devices, Events, and Activities (aka Scenarios, Command Groups, etc). An Orbiter refers to the user interface, be it on a media station, web pad, mobile phone, etc.

Devices

A device is some piece of hardware or software, like the Xine Media Player, the light switch in the bedroom, or your mobile phone. All devices do 3 things: 1) Retrieve configuration data 2) Respond to commands, like turn on, turn off, fast forward, etc., 3) Fire events, like 'motion detected', 'playback started', etc. These are abbreviated "DCE" (Data, Commands, Events).


Activities

Activities, scenarios and command groups are interchangeable and all mean the same thing. This is really just a group of commands that get sent to a device. In LinuxMCE, your main menu consists of a several activities, grouped by room, and categorized as Lighting, Media, Climate, Telecom and Security. All the activities do the same thing: send commands to devices. The categories lighting, media, climate, telecom and security are arbitrary and just for convenience so it's easier to find the activity you want. Whenever you tell LinuxMCE to do something, it's always by choosing an activity from the main menu on an Orbiter. LinuxMCE creates lots of default, common activities for you automatically. For example, in any room where you have both a TV and some lights, LinuxMCE automatically creates an activity called 'Showtime' that dims the lights to 10%. In any room where you have a PVR or other TV-enabled device, it creates a scenario called 'TV' in the 'Media' category that starts the TV system. It also creates a command in the 'Media' category called 'Video' that sends a command to the Orbiter GUI telling it to display all your video content. Activities are automatically created under Telecom to make phone calls, and under Security to view cameras and arm your alarm.

These are just default activities. You can have a fully-functional system and do almost everything using only the default activities. If you want to change or remove some default activities, or add your own, do it using the admin web page, under Wizard, Scenarios. Note that when creating an activity, or scenario, the web page will give you a wizard that's most appropriate based on the category you picked. So if you're adding an activity in the lighting category, the wizard will show you all your lights and let you pick which ones to turn and off. If you're creating an activity in the security category, it will show you what cameras you have, and selecting that activity on the orbiter causes it to show the camera.

Remember the categories, and the wizard, are just for convenience. Any activity can send any command to any device. So, when you're adding an activity in the lighting category, although by default the admin site will only show you lights, if you click the 'Advanced Wizard' option you'll see that as part of that activity you could send any command to any device. You could make a phone call, for example, using an activity in the lighting category.

The grouping by room is also for convenience, and doesn't restrict the activity to only controlling devices in that room. So if your kitchen is near the garage and you want an activity 'turn off the garage light', you can put that activity in the room 'kitchen', and not in the room 'garage' if it's something you would normally want to do while you're in the kitchen. It doesn't matter that the light you're controlling is in the garage. You tell each Orbiter which room it's in, and it will always show you the activities for that room. The orbiters, or user interfaces, that appear on the tv and which you control with a remote control, will be by default in the same room as the media station is. You probably won't ever change this because that media station is generally in a fixed place. Something like a webpad, however, may be carried throughout the house. So, whenever you enter a room, note the 'Room' at the bottom of the screen and confirm it really is the room you're in. Otherwise you will see the activities from another room. And this may be confusing. Both the Living Room and Bedroom may have an activity 'TV'. You have a web pad that is in the Bedroom, and carry it to the Living Room, and forget to tell the web pad it's now in the Living Room, and notice that at the bottom of the screen it still says 'Bedroom'. So you hit the 'TV' button expecting the Living Room TV to come on, when in fact you're still controlling the bedroom.

Once you get used to this concept, however, you'll find it's very convenient. Because every orbiter, be it the one on the TV, the web pad, the pda, the mobile phone, etc., can be set to be in any room and choose activities from that room. And every orbiter has the exact same activities for each room. You do not create activities for one orbiter and not another. The activities are grouped by room--not Orbiter. So whether you pick up your mobile phone, your web pad, or your remote control, when you're in the Living Room, you will have the same list of options for the Living Room.

To prevent some family members from using some activities, use the admin web panel to lock down which rooms an Orbiter can switch to. Maybe the Orbiter that is on the desktop phone in little Suzy's bedroom will be locked to only be able to switch to her room and to the living room. That means she can execute the activities in her room, like 'go to sleep' which may turn off her lights, and in the living room, but her Orbiter won't let her switch to the Master Bedroom and choose the activities in that room. You can also say that a pin code is required to switch an orbiter into a certain room, so the whole family can share a web pad as an orbiter, and the kids can use it in the living room to watch tv, but they cannot switch it the master bedroom and run the activities in that room without entering a pin code.


Events

Remember devices send off events, like 'Playback started', 'Motion Sensor tripped', and so on. The normal way in LinuxMCE to do something is, as mentioned, to create an activity that you select from an Orbiter. But if you want something to happen automatically without the user doing something, you can create Event Handlers. For example, you can create an event handler that listens for the 'Motion Sensor tripped' event from a motion detector and in response turns on some lights. Or an event handler that listens for the 'Sunrise' event which the event plugin sends every time the sun comes up, and make it do certain things in response too.

Just like LinuxMCE creates some default activities for you, it also creates some default event handlers. For example, in any room where you have a TV and lights, it not only creates a Showtime activity, it also creates an event handler that listens for the 'Watching Media' event from any media player in that room, and executes the Showtime scenario automatically. This means that whenever you start a movie, the Showtime activity is executed, which be default dims the lights. There are also some default event handlers to intercept events like 'Security Breach' and 'Fire Alarm' from your home's security system and respond with default behavior.

Controlling an Orbiter

To control the system, you use any orbiter, which is just LinuxMCE's term for a remote control. All Orbiter's have the same basic function: to display all the activities in whatever room you're in and let you pick the one you want. The different Orbiter's may display this slightly differently depending on their screen size, but the function and the list of activities is always the same. The normal UI1 interface which you'll use on webpads and pda's, displays all the activities in a room in horizontal rows. Just pick the one you want and it's executed. If there are more than will fit on a row, you'll have a more button. If you're not already at the main menu, there is generally a home button that takes you there. On small displays, like mobile phones and desktop phones, there's not enough room to show the activities themselves, so the top level menu typically just shows you the categories: Lights, Media, Climate, Security and Telecom. You pick a category to see the activities in that category.

UI2 is the preferred user interface for the media stations. If you're using a traditional i/r remote, you'll find it's not much different than any other media center pc. The menu button brings up the main menu, and you use the left/right/up/down/enter buttons to navigate it, and the fast forward/rewind/skip +/skip - for media playback.

However UI2 also supports a quite unique control architecture that lets you do everything with only 3 programmable buttons plus an ok and cancel, provided you have a pointing device, like a mouse or a gyro air mouse. The 3 buttons are: MEDIA, MENU, AMBIANCE. On a mouse with 3 programmable soft buttons, like the gyration, these are the 3 buttons, from left to right. If you're using a traditional 3 button mouse, use the F6, F7 and F8 on the keyboard for media, menu and ambiance instead. In both cases, the left mouse button is ok, the right mouse button is cancel/go back. And in all cases, the behavior is "absolute" when you press and hold the menu/menu/ambiance button and "relative" when you tap and release, where "absolute" is generally the faster way of doing things. In the case of the middle button, F7, "absolute" means it's just 1 click and you don't have to press OK. So if you press and hold the menu button (ie f7), don't let go, and move your mouse pointer to the option you want, then let go, that option is selected. So it's all done in one continuous motion with 1 click. If you tap and release the menu button, then you can highlight the menu option you want and press ok (ie the left mouse button).

The categories appear along the bottom of the screen, and the activities in that category popup vertically, like a pull-down menu in a pc, except upside down. If the main menu isn't already visible, bring it up by pressing the 'start' button on a Windows I/R remote, or the menu button as explained in the 3 button concept. To get rid of whatever menu is on the screen, click the back button on the i/r remote, or the cancel button (ie right mouse button) in the button concept, or press ESC on a keyboard. In UI2 there is always media full screen, and this media is gallery art from the internet if you're not playing your own media. So if you see scrolling pictures on the media station, press the menu/middle/F7 button to bring up the menu, and right click/esc to get rid of it or any other menu that's on top of your media. The same is true if your own media is playing.

If you're using UI2's 3 button navigation model, all the normal media control options on the traditional remote are replaced with one button: media (ie the left soft button or F6). Press this and then move the pointer up and down for your skip functions (ie ch+, ch-, skip fwd, skip back), and move the pointer left and right for speed control (ie rewind, fast forward). The further you move, the faster the media playback changes. If you keep the button held down (the left soft button or F6), then your movement is absolute, not relative, and instead of the traditional jog shuttle-type control, moving to the right goes to the end of your media, and moving left to the beginning. Once you get used to it, you will find that navigating media is orders of magnitude faster and easier with this model than with a traditional remote, and you can find any spot in a 2 hour movie in only a couple seconds with a click of 1 button, compared to hitting a slew of media control buttons over and over again for several minutes using a traditional remote.

Also, in UI2 you can press the ambiance button (ie right soft button or F8), you move up/down to adjust lights, and left/right to adjust volume. Like with the media playback, if you keep the F8/right soft button down while you move left and right, your volume control is in absolute mode, not relative, so moving hard right is full blast, hard left is mute. This requires you have a tv or receiver that is serial controlled, however, so LMCE can directly and instantly set the volume position in sync with your hand movements. Few tv's and receiver's have hit feature, unfortunately.

There are other media control functions besides just the most commonly used fast fwd/rewind/skip up/skip down, like 'subtitles' when watching a dvd, 'guide' when watching tv, and 'random' when listening to an audio cd. In the UI2 3 button model, all these functions appear on the main menu on the left most pad which is entitled 'now playing' and changes based on what type of media you're currently using. So pres the menu button (ie middle/f7) to select these options.

This 3 button model is a new concept and very different from traditional navigation. Since you've been doing it the 'normal' way all your life, it will take a bit of getting used to. But once you adjust to it, most people say they are much, much faster with this than a normal remote.

Regen Orbiters & Reload Router

While using LMCE you'll see sometimes a message asking if you want to reload the router, or if you want to regenerate the Orbiter's UI's.

Reload Router: All the devices in LMCE get their configuration information from the router, which is the central piece of software on the core. All the devices also request from the router a list of all other devices in the home when they startup so they can react accordingly. For example, an IP camera device will turn on lights in the room when you're viewing the camera. Thus, the IP camera needs to know what lights are in the room. Typically a device requests this information only once when it's starting up to be most efficient. Therefore, while you add new plug and play devices, those new devices will generally work immediately, but the functionality may not be there fully until the router does a reload and tells all the other devices to also reload and re-request this data so they can work with this new device. This process is known as a 'reload'. It only takes about 10 seconds. Every time you add or remove devices, or change some device's configuration, you may be asked if you want to do a reload. If you're still going to be adding more devices or making more changes, just say no. There's no hurry, you can do the reload when you're done. Also, if you're in the middle of watching a movie or tv, you can postpone the reload since, when the media players will generally stop playing media during a reload. Note that your phone calls aren't affected, and any tv shows being recorded by MythTV in the background are also unaffected.

Regen the orbiter: LMCE's Orbiter's, or user interfaces, are all "pre-rendered" in order to be more efficient. In other words, the source images are all very high resolution, and need to be resized for whatever resolution your screen is running. Also, as you add new activities, those will result in new buttons for the main menu, and sometimes new screens, or perhaps changes to the text on existing buttons. So when you add new activities, you won't immediately see them on an orbiter until you do a regen. If you're still going to be adding more activities, just say 'no', and do a regen when you're all done. If you added new activities and want to test them quickly without waiting for a regen of all the orbiters, which takes about 2 to 5 minutes per, then just regen the one orbiter you're using for your tests, and regen the others only after you're sure everything is done. Once you do a regen of all orbiters, they will all have the same list of activities.

This regen process is a bit annoying but necessary for a lot of low-power devices like the desktop phones which just don't have the processing power to do scaling and rendering on the fly, and need all the images pre-rendered and with the text pre-embedded in the images. However, since the media stations have a lot more processing power and can render their ui's on the fly, it's in the works to make the orbiter's on the media stations render their ui's on the fly so you don't need to do a regen every time you add/remove activities.

Managing your media

LinuxMCE is always scanning for network shares on NAS devices and other PC's, including Windows, and will ask you "if you want to use it" every time it finds one. It's also scanning for internal hard drives (ide, scsi, sata) as well as usb drives on the core and media stations, and will also prompt if it finds one. Whenever you say "Yes" you want to use it, it is shared by all the media stations in the home, scanned for media (audio, video and photos), and that media is stored in a central database on the core. This means when you plug in a usb drive on a media station in the living room and say 'yes' to use it, that media will always be on the media station in the other rooms too. At the moment there is no way to have 'local only' media; all media stations use the same media catalog. This is a limitation that will be addressed in the near future so you can attach say a USB drive in master bedroom and know the drive won't be shared.

I'll refer to these storage devices, NAS, usb drives, extra hdd's in either the core or a media station, as "Extra Drives". Whenever an extra drive is added, you can see it in the device tree in the admin panel. Choose Advanced, Configuration, Devices. Under 'Core' you'll see a device for any extra hdd's in the core, as well as any NAS devices, and under each media station you'll see any extra hdd's in those media stations. By clicking on the device you can change the device's properties, such as change the username/password used to mount a NAS and so on. NAS devices and other pc's with file shares will show as a device under the core, and each file share on those device is a child of that device.

Internally LinuxMCE creates a top level folder for 'public' media, which means it's for everyone in the home, and a 'private' media folder for each family member. Within each of those folders are sub-folders for 'audio', 'video', 'pictures', 'data' and 'other. And within each of those will also be sub-folders for all the extra storage devices in the home (NAS, USB, extra internal drives, etc). When you attach an extra storage device, if you say to use the default directory structure, the same directory structure will be created on it, and you will see a sub-folder for each of those. You can also say 'just make it public' or 'make it private' when a new storage device is detected. Here's an example. Let's say you have 2 users: John and Mary. And you connect 3 storage devices: 1) a NAS for which you choose 'use default directory structure' and which is called 'Generic Network Storage [50]' (more on the names in a moment), 2) a USB drive for which you choose 'make it all public' and which is called 'USB Drive [51]' , and 3) a sata drive for which you choose 'make it private for john' and which is called 'General Internal HDD [52].

Now let's say you're running Windows and go to network neighborhood, and find the core. Here's the directory tree you will see:

public

 video
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 audio
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 pictures
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 data
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 other
   USB Drive [51]

john

 video
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 audio
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 pictures
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 data
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 other
   General Internal HDD [52]

mary

 video
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 audio
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 pictures
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 data
   Generic Network Storage [50]
 other

Whether you put your media under video, audio, pictures, data or other is immaterial. It will be scanned the same regardless and is just for your convenience. Note that the entire contents of "General Internal HDD [52]" will be found in the folder john/other/General Internal HDD [52], and the entire contents of USB Drive [51] will be found in the folder public/other/USB Drive [51]. When John browses the contents in network neighborhood he will be asked for his username and password and can access all the content in the public and john folders, including the General Internal HDD [52]. When Mary browses the content with her username and password she will see the public and mary folders, and thus not see anything on General Internal HDD [52] since that was private for John.

In the case of John's private media, you won't see it in the LinuxMCE media browser unless you click 'Sources', 'John', because it's private for John. However you will always see the contents of General Internal HDD [52] unless you unselect 'Sources', 'Public' from the media browser. Generic Network Storage [50] is different, however, because you said to use the default directory structure. This means that LinuxMCE will create directories on Generic Network Storage [50] for public video, public audio, john's video, mary's audio, etc, and the media file browser will only show whatever media that is in those directories, and the same is true with the Windows Network Neighborhood browser. If Generic Network Storage [50] had some existing media on it in the top folder, you won't see it anywhere.

For this reason, it is generally recommended that when you add a new, and empty extra storage device, you say to use the default directory structure. That way when you do ripping in LinuxMCE to that extra device, you can choose to make the media public or private and LinuxMCE will automatically put it in the right folder: audio, video, etc. This is because LinuxMCE created separate folders for the public content and each family member's private content and assigned the appropriate access rights to them.

However if you connect an extra storage device that already has existing media on it, and that media isn't already organized in LinuxMCE's default directory structure, it's easiest to just choose 'make it all public' or 'make it all private'. If you choose 'use the default directory structure', you will need to manually move whatever files you want to access into LinuxMCE into one of the directories LinuxMCE created for you.

When you rip files you also have the option of copying them to the core. Say you rip a cd and make it public, it will be seen in public/audio. If you go into network neighborhood and add a folder under public/audio, you will be adding a folder on the core. If you add a folder under public/audio/Generic Network Storage [50], you are adding it to Generic Network Storage [50].

This concept behind drive/network drive management is not the same as how Linux or Windows handles it. For example, if you use Windows, each network device shows up separately; they are never grouped together like LinuxMCE does it. However, there is an advantage to the way LinuxMCE handles it in that it's much simpler to add devices if you're a total novice and don't understand networking, or if you're using an infrared remote control and just want a way to do this by clicking a simple 'yes' or 'no' and not having to type. And also all your media content is cataloged and presented the same no matter what room you're in. As a comparison, under Windows, if you connect a USB drive to a Windows PC in the bedroom, you won't see that content in the living room unless you open file explorer, create a new network share for it, go into the living room, and create a new mapped network drive. You can't really do that with an infrared remote, or without some knowledge of networking concepts. And you won't see that media in any other room in the house unless you also create mapped network shares there too. On the other hand, with LinuxMCE, when you connect the usb drive, you can just say 'make it all public' and you'll have the media everywhere without typing. And with LinuxMCE rather than managing multiple network shares and mapped drives, you just go to network neighborhood, chose the LinuxMCE core, and under 'public' you will see all the public everywhere in the home without having to even be aware of what storage devices that media is on. When you remove a usb drive from a media station, that media instantly disappears from the file browser catalog in every room in the home. And if you reattach it, it re-appeears.

You can also store media on the Core, and LinuxMCE has built in RAID 5 (see Advanced, RAID in the admin site) so it can act as a NAS itself. These RAID devices are treated the same way.

Now regarding changing the name of an extra device, go into the admin panel and choose 'Advanced', 'Configuration', 'Devices' and under the Core you will see all hdd's in the core plus any nas devices, and under each media station you will see any hdd's in that media station. These are given default names. You can change the description, which will also change the folder. In the above example, changing "USB Drive [51]" to "Tokyo" means the directory public/other/USB Drive [51] would change to public/other/Tokyo.

In the admin panel you can also go to Files & Media, Media Files Sync to see all the files in the system by folder, and to change cover art and attributes. Note that if a file is shown with the check box, that means the file exists both on the disk and in LinuxMCE's master catalog. If it has another icon, that means the process which LinuxMCE uses to catalog the media hasn't finished with that media yet, so just be patient and it should appear with a check mark soon depending on how much new media was recently added and is queued for cataloging. Under Files & Media there is also a cover art scan utility that will find cover arts as well as attributes (actor, genre, etc.) for both cd's and dvd's from amazon.

Now for the Linux guys who want to get under the hood, here's it works. UpdateMedia is a daemon that constantly scans for media files in the /home/public and each /home/user_xxx folder which is created for each family member, and any media is added to the pluto_media database, File table, and attributes and cover art go into the Attribute and Picture tables. Under /home/public and /home/users_xxx is a data subfolder which contains the actual video, audio, pictures folders. The /home/user_xxx directories themselves will contain system files for each user, like email boxes, and the main login for that user. That's why there's a 'data' subfolder.

All extra devices are mounted as: /mnt/device/xxx where xxx is the device number (see the admin site). The mount point is the same if it's a local drive or not. For example, a usb drive #50 in a media station may be mounted as a local device as /mnt/device/50, and as a samba mount as /mnt/device/50 on all the other media stations. So all media stations and the core have the same /mnt/device/ mounts. Within the /home/public/data and /home/user_xxx/data are symlinks to the directories in /mnt/device/xxx. Since the core and all media stations mount the same /home directory, and have all the same /mnt/device mounts, they will all have the same files the same way. So, if the UpdateMedia daemon picks up the file: /home/public/data/audio/Generic Internal Drive [50]/The Beatles/Let it be.mp3, that file will exist on every media station too.