Sunday, 17 May 2015

Making Movies

I recently came across a review of the MOTU 1248 AVB external audio interface on and figured it's the ultimate in flexibility for my needs - it would drive my home theatre sound system AND whole house audio system AND anything else I threw at it.

The only problem was the price - at over €1,600, it's somewhat pricey. (This blog has brought in the sum total of €50 over 2 years to give an indication of when I could afford it!).

However, it does have a baby brother, the Ultralite AVB which at under €900 would be a little more palatable. It would give 8x outs for the home theatre and can be expanded. Still out of range though, so I turned to eBay and found a Motu 848 MkII for a lot less that will work as in interim solution and will work as the ADAT expansion unit if I ever get the UltraLite.

I first tried the unit with a KVM Windows 8 VM in unRaid but found a lot of pops and clicks, particularly with higher resolution audio files. Additionally, when I introduced the longer FireWire cable I needed, it just wouldn't work at all. So with a tinge of sadness, I've retired one of my VMs and migrated it back to a physical HTPC that will run the home theatre.

So with that decision made, I set about re-configuring the HT A/V set-up. The biggest task was to physically move everything behind the screen. The photo above shows my current 110" 16:9 screen in position, but I can swing it up to reveal...

It's still a bit dusty and disorganised from ongoing work but it's a very tidy solution with all the gear hidden away out of sight. (I'm planning to build a 2.35:1 aspect screen there with acoustically transparent screen material and when that's done, I'll be hiding the centre speaker back there as well.)

The equipment behind the screen comprises;

-Velodyne CHT-15 Subwoofer
-Quad-core Q6600 based HTPC running Win 8.1
-Parasound 1205 Power Amp
-MOTU 828MkII firewire audio interface
-Pioneer VSX-2011S Receiver

The Parasound is set up to bi-amp the pair of B&W Nautilus 803s with the Pioneer powering the centre and 4x surround speakers. (acting as a power amp in effect as the MOTU outputs go to the multichannel inputs).

There's a Marmitek PowerMid XL infrared extender set pair to allow the equipment be controlled when the screen is down. The receiver sends signals to the Pioneer and a USB-UIRT that's plugged into the HTPC.

The Pioneer, Parasound and Velodyne are all plugged in to a Status S8W2MSPSS1PK3 8 Way Square Surge Protected Slave Extension which is one of the most effective pieces of technology I've ever bought. (in fact, I have 2 of them and could use a fw more around the house).

This has one 'master' socket into which you plug something (say a PC or, in my case, my Pioneer receiver). There's are 5 'slave' sockets which only have power whenever the 'master' draws significant power. So, when I wake my receiver from standby, the power amp and subwoofer also receive power and switch on. Since I don't have 12V triggers on everything, this is a really effective solution.

There's also a couple of 'always on' sockets which I'm using to power the PC itself and the IR receiver. (I use my other powerstrip on my backup server - when it powers up, it brings up a display and two external drive bays. When it powers off, these items go off as well.)

All the gear sits on a DIY 'Lack Rack'. It turns out Ikea's Lack range is a perfect fit for rack-mount and a/v gear. It's a little light and I'd question if there are any sonic benefits but for the price it's a nailed-on bargain.

I've been setting up audio only for the moment and am running JRiver Media Center as the heart of the system. I've really come to love this software in the past 6 months or so. It's very powerful and extensively configurable. I also purchased JRemote for an iPad and use that to control audio-playback.

Unfortunately, there's no Spotify or Tidal integration with JRiver but I've solved that by running those apps on the iPad and using AirPlay to send them to an instance of ShairPort4w on the HTPC. This in turn is configured to play through the JRiver sound device so can be directed to any of the zones I set up etc. The iPad volume rocker even controls the volume!

All of this links back to the media library housed on MediaServer8. As noted, it's audio only for now but getting it set up to drive the projector and screen will be straightforward enough. A project for next weekend...

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