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MEDIA CENTRES / BUILD YOUR OWN MEDIA CENTRE

How To Build Your Own Digital Media Server: Part II

By Staff Writers | Monday | 30/01/2006

The second stage of transforming your humble pc into a digital media server that is capable of distributing music and tv around the house involves setting up a second hard disk.

Last time, we looked at the idea of setting up a Digital Media Server (DMS), using an old but reasonably well-specified desktop PC - by adding a few components to upgrade the machine, you can give it a new lease of life and add a number of extra facilities to your TV and living room hi-fi.

We started with the upgrades necessary to make the conversion: TV tuner, wireless network card, DVD rewriter, and we continue here with the extra hard drive you'll need to store digital TV recordings, and a first look at our chosen Digital Media Player (DMP), Pinnacle's new ShowCenter 200 (www.pinnaclesys.com). This set-top box is designed to link your main TV to a PC containing video, audio and photo files that you want to view - namely, our DMS.

The ShowCenter 200 connects to your TV via a Scart or S-Video lead, to your hi-fi via analogue or digital audio outputs, and comes with built-in wireless networking. Its only control is a remote and it displays menu options on the TV screen, so you can navigate to set it up and control it.

This time, we're going to show you how to connect up a second hard drive, partition and format it under Windows XP, and install the software supplied with the ShowCenter 200.

Make life easy

It's best to take this project step by step. You should set up your network and the wireless component of it before trying to connect the DMP into the system. If you already have a working home network, the installation procedure will be that much simpler.

Even if you don't, and you only want a single wireless connection between the DMS and DMP, Windows XP should make the procedure painless. In most cases, the operating system will set up a wireless network when it sees a wireless networking card has been added to your PC. The ShowCenter 200 can be made to search for any available wireless network and to offer to join it and make connection automatically.

Obviously, the actual procedure you need to run through will depend on the set-up of your hardware. We've tried to make things as general as possible, though we're using this particular Pinnacle hardware (other DMS boxes will work in slightly different ways).

STEP BY STEP

Setting up your extra hardware -- link your PC and TV together with a digital media player

JUMPER SETTINGS

When you add an extra hard disk, you'll need to tell your PC that it has two drives. To do this, use a small pair of pliers or tweezers to adjust the jumpers on the back of both drives. On each drive, there's normally a printed key showing which pins to connect for master (MA) and slave (SL) drives. Set the existing drive to MA and the new one to SL. Connect a spare power cable and the second data connector on the existing drive's ribbon cable to your new drive.

INITIALISING THE NEW DRIVE

You'll need to partition and format the new drive. Start up Windows, right-click My Computer, select Manage and then click on Disk Management. If Windows doesn't start a wizard to help you partition and format the drive, right-click on the new drive and select Initialise drive. When that's complete, right-click on the drive again and select New partition. Allocate all the space to one partition. Finally, format the drive with the NTFS filing system.

HOME NETWORKING

It's probably easier to set up the DMP - Pinnacle's ShowCenter 200, in our case - to work with an existing home network in which you have a wireless router (see above). This is a small box that sits on a shelf and links your laptop or desktop PC to your network, wirelessly. When you set up a wireless network under Windows XP, it normally establishes what's called an 'infrastructure' network, which means it's controlled by the router or hub.

AD HOC NETWORK

If you don't have an existing wireless network using a router or hub, you can still connect up your DMP with an ad hoc network. This means the network works directly between the two wireless devices, the DMS and the DMP, without involving a network infrastructure. Windows is good at automatically sensing wireless networking hardware and will normally set up the network for you. Check by going to Control Panel > Network Connections > Wireless Network Connection.

CONNECTING EVERYTHING UP

The ShowCenter 200 is well-endowed with external connections. The two most useful are Scart and S-Video, but there's also RGB and composite. On the audio side, there are phono and optical S/PDIF as well as two sets of analogue phonos. Which you decide to use will depend on your TV and home audio systems, but connection is straightforward with the appropriate cables.

SEARCHING FOR WIRELESS NETWORKS

After the title screen has been displayed, you come to the set-up screen. Select Wireless and click OK on the remote. The ShowCenter will look for any wireless networks within range and should  find your home network. Save the details that are displayed and return to the set-up screen by pressing the button with the Pinnacle logo on it. Now you need to install the Pinnacle software on the DMS PC.

SOFTWARE

There are two pieces of software that work together on the PC to transfer video, music and photos from the DMS to the ShowCenter 200 box: Windows Media Connect and Pinnacle MediaManager. Media Connect is an extension to Windows that enables media to be transmitted from your PC, while MediaManager catalogues and monitors the folders that contain your media.

PLAYING BACK

Once this is all set, you can move back to the ShowCenter 200 remote and try out some of the audio features. Having set it up, the DMP now shows its menu of media types. Try picking Music > Internet Radio and you'll find a number of preset internet radio stations that you can play back via the internet connection of the DMS. You can also play back audio in most common formats. 

FAQs

I'M NOT CONFIDENT ABOUT USING WINDOWS TO PARTITION AND FORMAT MY NEW HARD DISK, AND I'M WORRIED THAT I MAY INADVERTENTLY FORMAT MY MAIN DISK AND LOSE EVERYTHING!

If you don't want to get your hands dirty, search for a copy of Acronis True Image 8 (www.acronis.com), which is about $99. This program includes a utility called MigrateEasy, which uses an intuitive wizard approach to prepare a new hard disk. The primary use of the product is to save an image of your main drive, so it helps protect your investment, too.

I DON'T WANT TO USE A WIRELESS CONNECTION BETWEEN THE DMS AND DMP. ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS?

If you don't mind running cables around your skirting boards, you can connect the two together with a standard Ethernet cable. The Pinnacle box comes with an Ethernet socket and you simply set the box up from the settings screen to use a cabled, rather than a wireless, network. With a cabled connection, you don't need to worry about signal strength, which is a bonus if you live in an old house with thick walls.

VIDEO IS THE MAIN USE FOR A DMS, BUT WHAT OTHER THINGS CAN IT DO?

This depends on the Digital Media Player you choose to use with the server. Some devices, such as TerraTec's Noxon (www.terratec.com), support audio and internet radio, while others, like the Pinnacle unit we're using in this project, handle audio, internet radio, still photos and video. As with most things, you pay more for the extra features. There's a wide range of different DMS units to chose from. Try a Google search on 'Digital Media Player'.

 

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