Feature Friday: Doubling Up Halfway Around the World

Posted By: Team XBMC on May 06, 2011 in Site News

A US service member was living in Great Falls, MT. When the military reassigned him to a base in Turkey, he was met with the unenviable task of trying to squeeze all of the home theater equipment that easily fit is his old house into a much smaller military home halfway across the world.

XBMC on TV

XBMC in Turkey

The old house had a living room, plenty of bedrooms and a basement. Sean had read enough on AVSForum to know what to do with a basement that nobody was using. He tricked it out, home theater style.

The new house had a living room and a… well, a kitchen and some bedrooms. The bedrooms were being occupied by Sean, his wife, his son and his daughter. Sticking a projector into a kitchen is a risky proposition for any married man who wants to stay married. And that left the already occupied living room.

Sean could have given up, put the projector, screen, and audio system into storage, and just waited for a better assignment next go around, but what kind of XBMC geek would Sean be to give up so easily? Instead, he did what every self-respecting nerd would do in a similar situation. He stuck both setups in the same room!

We start with a Sharp Aquos 52″ TV which the family uses for the week and everyday stuff, including watching AFN, television, and movies. An old Sony 5.1 receiver is powering a Bose AM7 speaker setup for sound. And all of that is being driving by a Gateway NV54 laptop running, of course, XBMC.

The Tv

Sharp Aquos 52 Inch

laptop

Gateway NV54

Next, if we shift our attention 90 degrees to the right, we’ll see a 120″ Elite Screen (that was mildly damaged during the move). That screen is surrounded by yet more Bose speakers which are being driven by a Yamaha 7.1 receiver. This time that receiver is connected to a Toshiba Media Laptop. Driving the screen is a 1080p Mitsubishi DLP projector.

Shift Left

Shift Left

Toshiba Media Laptop

Toshiba Media Laptop

Both setups have an additional Acoustimass bass module to make up for Bose weakness in the sub-woofer department, along with a powered Infinity sub and a powered Yamaha sub, resulting in a grand total of 16 different speakers in one single living room. Truly, this is dedication to the craft!

Outside of the living room, Sean is a pretty big believer in repurposing old hardware to run XBMC. His general method is to take old laptops that he can get either free or incredibly cheap, and then see if he can do anything with them.

For a server, Sean is using a six year old HP desktop (the first box he ever put XBMC on!) with FreeNAS to serve up nearly 8TB of data. Each bedroom is running XBMC off various old laptops, the oldest of which is a (now retired) HP Pavilion DV1000, which isn’t even LISTED on Amazon anymore!

Because each laptop is being used exclusively as a means of connecting TVs for media streaming, Sean has been able to forgo wireless networking altogether and ensure optimum connections to the server by wiring his house with inexpensive Netgear Powerline network gear, which can be found for as little as $40 on Amazon or Ebay these days.

While gigabit ethernet is invariably the best method for networking the home, if you don’t want to rip out the walls of a house legally owned by the American military, Powerline networking is undoubtedly an excellent alternative. The family are able to pull three different streams at once with nary a hiccup.

In the future, Sean would love to separate the two theater systems in his living room, but for now, everything seems to work and marital bliss continues. And Sean is happy to content himself in finding just how old he can go in turning the hunks of junk other people want to throw away into fully equipped XBMC machines.

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Discussion - 17 Comments

  • PaulG May 07, 2011 

    Base housing can be a pain with wireless to. Old 50′s construction or modern steel struts dont add tot he situation. Another thing to keep in mind for service members is that shipping from APO to APO is free. So if you know someone overseas who can get what you need it wil probably be faster fro them to send it to you.

  • Rormeister May 07, 2011 

    Fantastic! An excellent setup using only what you have available to you!

  • Oli_Oops May 07, 2011 

    You gotta love a wife that will put up with that many speakers in one room. Really nice setup Sean.

  • Max May 07, 2011 

    I’m all too familiar with what the Military contends is adequate housing for us service members. Sean, outstanding job bringing the experience to the living room. Here in Germany we get a few more square feet to play with than they do in Turkey, but you managed to make the most of it. Serve on, brother!

  • mofirouz May 07, 2011 

    its funny how he has a 6yr old desktop to use a 8TB nas server, and I have SandyBridge dedicated cpu to run 12TB of NAS… lets see which fails first (i bet mine first!!!)

  • Evan May 08, 2011 

    mofirouz :
    its funny how he has a 6yr old desktop to use a 8TB nas server, and I have SandyBridge dedicated cpu to run 12TB of NAS… lets see which fails first (i bet mine first!!!)

    Sandy Bridge is WAAAAY overkill for a NAS. I’ve got 14TB RAID 5 NAS that’s running on a AMD Athlon X2 250, undervolted, with 8GB of Ram, and a dell PERC 6/I Raid controller… 500+ MB/Sec speeds

    Back on topic, Nice work, I hated base housing when I was enlisted in germany, and that was in the barracks! What weather plugin is that? I’d love to see the area in addition to the forcast.

  • Sean May 08, 2011 

    Thanks for the comments. No complaints about the housing…it’s pretty nice, actually. Just doesn’t have the basement home theater our place back in the states has.

    Evan, I think you’re correct in that a NAS doesn’t need a powerful CPU to move data around. Mine’s just an old P4 with 2 gigs of RAM in a box stripped out to accommodate extra hard drives. But that’s coming from me, and I’m a not-so-top-of-the-line kind of guy.

    Also, to answer your question, I’m using the weather plus plugin on Transparency, my personal favorite skin.

  • stew May 08, 2011 

    Excellent article-I have the same problem-loads of “old” laptops but they are all VGA outputs. What do people think of this as a good picture output? And do these laptops run XBMC ” only” or are they on a Linux/Windows OS?

  • kranski May 09, 2011 

    what plugin is he using for the weather satellite maps etc (pictured above)?

  • Steve May 09, 2011 

    Very nice setup, what skin is that you are using ?

  • Jon May 09, 2011 

    Great setup Sean, I’m just sorry to hear there’s one less home theater/xbmc enthusiast in Great Falls. I can’t find anyone local to compare notes with!

  • Sean May 10, 2011 

    Stew, I do both. Lots of folks who know more about this than me, but here is what I know:

    The newer laptops run fine with XBMC on W7 (graphics acceleration) but if the older ones struggle, I wipe them and run them on XBMC live. If you can commit to using an old machine strictly for XBMC, chances are you’ll be fine. Our bedroom machines are old, run Live, are always on, are tucked behind furniture to limit fan noise, and have never shut down. None of them. Even the oldest laptop (HP DV series 1.7 single core) runs with 25% CPU load. We figured out that CPU and RAM usage is much higher when XBMC rides on top of a Windows OS, making fans run higher, introducing more noise. I never hear the fans increase when playing movies using Live.

    Of course, old school laptops have VGA jacks and not HDMI, but the kids don’t seem to mind.

    And should something happen and you somehow manage to smoke your 6 year old 50$ obsolete laptop: so what. Get another, tweak the airflow, and do it again. Hell I have two junkers waiting for their next assignment.

    If you want to discuss further, lets take it to the forums, where all the smart people are. So we’re clear, I’m NOT one of them.

    Respectfully, Sean

  • stew May 10, 2011 

    Sean,
    Thanks for that-got a few old Compaq 410C’s which being 12″ screens, would be perfect.I’m not sure if they cant boot off USB but I’ll have a look.

    top man

    cheers

  • gerard May 11, 2011 

    hey i like a share of info on this, according to the article he hooked up his acousticmass BOSE sub to his yamaha amp. I’d would like to know how , i currently have a life style 5 but the actual amp (life style module) doesn’t work so i have a set of 5 bose speakers and sub for paper weight. any ideas on how to make it work with any other amps would be more than appreciated. thanks!

  • uomiarz May 12, 2011 

    Sean, great setup. I also love to squeeze last drop from my old PCs :)
    However I am able to use PCI video cards with NVIDIA chip that will handle HD (flat desktop cases)
    I am assuming your older laptops are not able to handle HD. Seems like a serious limitation especially with nice screens like yours.
    Kids don’t mind I know :)

  • doofus May 16, 2011 

    Much better to use that old equipment for something useful!!!

    I love the projection screen!

    Don’t feel bad about base housing… much better than a 1 BR apartment like I have! haha

  • Sean May 17, 2011 

    again, no complaints about the base housing. can’t beat the rent. but I do miss my HT and the house we continue to send a mortgage payment to.

    Uomiarz, the two comps downstairs can handle HD and have HDMI ports… the old school laptops upstairs do not, so I use the VGA connection. VGA can’t touch HDMI, but again, we don’t mind.

    Gerard, go get a powered sub, wire it into your sub or LFE port on your receiver, and in the receiver settings, set your front, center, and rear speakers to “small”. Most modern receivers have an active crossover feature built in. Hope this helps!

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