Archive for the 'Hardware' Category


Handheld Video

For the past few years I’ve been using a video player for my Palm Tungsten T5 called TCPMP. This video player allows me to play video files on my mobile device from a SD card or internal memory. This is a great feature of my T5 because now I can watch my own movies when flying on an airplane, entertain my son when we are at a restaruant, or show a home movie to someone on my handheld. I can fit most movies that I watch between 256M and 512M, so I can get at least 2-3 on one 1G SD card.

TCPMP on Palm

To rip DVDs to files that you can load using TCPMP, you can use the free software Fair Use Wizard. This software will convert straight from a DVD to a file that the handheld can handle. I set the resolution to the native resolution of my Palm, which is 480×320. Two pass video encoding will take longer than a quicker setting, but you will get a better quality movie. Fair Use Wizard also works well for me in Ubuntu Linux using Wine, although it is slower than running it in Windows. A fast processor with a lot of memory will help in the conversion process.

I use TCPMP on the Palm platform, but this software is also available for Windows Mobile. The files that are generated from Fair Use Wizard will work on either platform. For my Palm, I use a clear protective case from Proporta that keeps fingers and other objects from smearing the screen and buttons.

Remote Controls

Monika and I like to watch a lot of movies, and I’ve always wanted a decent home theater setup to make it more enjoyable. When we moved, we bought a 42″ High Definition plasma and an upconverting DVD player to watch our DVD collection with. We use the Comcast HD DVR to record shows for Samuel and ourselves in HD. Recently I bought an XBox (to play Amped 2) and the component cables that allow HD gaming. All these components are either HDMI or component cables, so to switch between the different component inputs a component switch is required. Controlling all of these systems together to watch a DVD or watch TV can be annoying. In order to watch a TV show, the TV, DVR, Component Switch and AV Reciever must all be turned on and tuned to the correct inputs. To watch a DVD, a different set of inputs on each device must be selected.

Harmony Remote

This is where my remote control comes in. The Logitech Harmony 880 is one of the nicest tech purchases I’ve made in a while. It is a multi-function programmable remote control that does complex actions without the complex programming steps. The remote has a USB port to allow it to be programmed by your computer – just plug it into your PC and answer a few questions about your home theater setup and it will learn all the IR codes from it’s online database. The remote then presents you with “Actions” you can take on it’s LCD screen, like “Watch TV” or “Play Video Game”. Pressing one of these action buttons will turn on all the components you need and tune them to the correct inputs. If it is not working correctly, press the “Help” button and the remote will ask you a series of yes/no questions that will help correct the problem. Amazon.com has the Harmony 880 on sale right now for $150, and you can often find them new on eBay for the same price.

Subaru Outback Audio Install

After owning my Subaru for a few years, I decided that it would be nice to upgrade the stereo system. I had previously installed the Empeg MP3 player in my car with a FM modulator, and I wanted a better sounding system to take advantage of the large amount of music that I had stored in the Empeg. I ended up installing two Nakamichi amplifiers, a JL Audio Subwoofer, MB Quart speakers and a new Nakamichi head unit into my Outback with a lot of custom work for the amp rack and subwoofer enclosure.

Here you can see the amplifier and head unit installation. The amps are installed in the back over the spare tire in a rack attached with a piano hinge. This allows access to the spare and a secure place to keep the amps. I had worried about the amps getting too hot and overheating, but after running them as loud as I want for a few hours they are only warm to the touch. The Empeg is a Euro-DIN sized unit, while my car is compatible with Japanese-DIN stereos. I had to hack the car a bit to get the Empeg to fit in the dash. I re-used the old stereo faceplate and glued the buttons in place to act as a decoy stereo. With the decoy in place and the rear cargo cover closed, you cannot easily tell there is an aftermarket stereo installed in the car.

Amp Rack Amps Wired Finished Deck Nakamichi HU and Empeg Decoy Faceplate

My first fiberglass project was fabricating the subwoofer enclosure. JL Audio makes a StealthBox for 2005+ Subarus, but since mine was a 2000, I had to make my own. It is similar in design to the StealthBox, but mine is a little smaller to fit into the side of the car a bit better. I learned fiberglassing from various websites, and it wasn’t as hard as I had imagined. The subwoofer is installed where my jack used to be, and the jack stored in my toolbox I keep in the car. I first created a face template out of 3/4″ MDF and a reinforced lip on the template with baltic birch plywood. The plywood is very dense and voidless which makes a solid mounting point for the heavy subwoofer. After determining the location for the subwoofer, I masked off the area with masking tape and protected the interior of the car to avoid any fiberglass spills.

Sub Enclosure Frame Sub Enclosure Frame Subwoofer Target Area Making the Sub Enclosure Mold Join The Dark Side!

I applied the first coat directly on top of the masking tape and kept adding layers until I felt the mold would be rigid enough to remove. After about 4 coats I was able to remove the mold and fit it to the face template I had made from MDF. At this point, I trimmed the mold to fit and began fiberglassing the mold to the face template by adding fiberglass directly over the edge of the MDF. The MDF is very porous and soaks up a lot of resin, creating a strong bond between the mold and the template. A few more coats of fiberglass and I was able to sand the enclosure down and spray paint it black. I bought some automotive carpet from an automotive interior shop and carpeted the enclosure. The enclosure is bolted into the cubby with a custom made bracket.

Making the Sub Enclosure Mold Sub Enclosure Sub Enclosure Sub Enclosure Sub Enclosure

Sub Enclosure Sub Enclosure Sub Connection Sub Connection Subwoofer Completed

The MB Quarts went into the doors with speaker rings I had to make from fiberglass-reinforced MDF. Typical speakers are too deep for the original mounting plates in the Subaru, so these rings had to be made to keep the speaker magnet from interfering with either the door sheet metal or the window. I soaked them in fiberglass resin to make them stronger than typical MDF. The speakers were completely rewired and Dynamat applied to the doors and around the subwoofer to reduce noise coming from outside.

Speaker Ring Speaker Rings Speaker Rings Chaos Dynamat and MB Quarts