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Thread: Is there still interest in a PCI based AM/FM tuner solution?

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    Is there still interest in a PCI based AM/FM tuner solution?

    Yep, I'm a nuub. This is maybe my second post, but I have been reading here off an on for 6 months.

    Anyway, I have read the threads already, and I know the subject comes up from time to time, but I am wondering is there still interest in a PCI based radio solution?

    I know there are usb devices which *almost* get the job done, but planning out my own (first) car PC, I quickly realized the number of USB devices that is going to be required. In my application, I am going to use on-board sound, and have no plans on utilizing the single available PCI slot.

    I also know there there are virtually no PCI tuners with all the features I need. The ones that come close are either too large, or too expensive.

    Anyway, to the point of my post; I work in the radio field as an engineer (broadcast, unfortunately not design!), and there is one company that makes various products for our industry that I *think* might be able to supply such a product, if there is sufficient demand.

    Here is a link to some of their current tuner products (waaaay overkill for a carPC):

    http://www.audioscience.com/internet...tunercards.htm

    Now, in the *rare* event that they do show interest, I am curious if there is anyone else interested in such a product, and if so, what features should it have?

    I'll start; since I work in radio, i need to be able to monitor all our station's broadcasts, so my list of features include:

    basic AM/FM radio (of course)
    RDS/RDBS decoding
    HD (possibly-but there are license fees involved making the price go up on equipped tuners)
    FMeXtra reception (not very widely known, but it is a digital broadcast that uses the SCA portion of the radio spectrum to broadcast HD like audio quality)
    NTSC Tuner is NOT on my list with the upcoming demise of analog NTSC television broadcasts.

    Am I missing anything?

    -Alan

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    Do any stations in the US actually broadcast FMeXtra? I thought it was more of a good "theory" than a reality. Other than that, there is already a solution that meets ALL other points in your criteria, although price might be an exception.

    Most carpc's simply do not have room to run a PCI card, and if they do, the prefered use of the slot would typically be a video card, since video is a somewhat less than optimal on many of these systems.

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    I dont think i have a need for 8 channels of fm at one time in the car Maybe 4 channels, one for each person in the car. with seperate headsets.

    How would one person listen to 8 channles. i mean watching 8 tv shows at once maybe. But with only one audio source. With 8 i could listen to the 6 only good radio stations at once. Probably make it easier to find the station thats playing music and not talking about crap in the morning.
    Um, I guess this is where you put something witty.WITTY

    My Web site, in the design stage. http://home.comcast.net/~cstrachn

    Modified RRSkinEditor http://www.mp3car.com/vbulletin/rr-skins/65723-rrskineditor-bugs-fixes-comments-current-progress-outdated.html

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mechanic View Post
    Do any stations in the US actually broadcast FMeXtra? I thought it was more of a good "theory" than a reality. Other than that, there is already a solution that meets ALL other points in your criteria, although price might be an exception.

    Most carpc's simply do not have room to run a PCI card, and if they do, the prefered use of the slot would typically be a video card, since video is a somewhat less than optimal on many of these systems.
    There are a few stations that broadcast FMeXtra, although it is not widely known. The neat thing about FMeXtra, is that even if a station chooses to go HD, they can carry FMeXtra at the same time; Although you can consider FMeXtra a cheaper alternative to HD (cheaper for the stations to implement that is), they aren't necessarily a competitor, since both can be utilized simultaneously.

    As to most peoples uses for the single PCI slot, I am kind of at a loss why it would be for video; then again I am a nuub so I don't understand all the finer points of a CarPC yet, but I can't really see the need for "better than onboard" video, except in the case where my chosen mobo won't run a Lilliput or Xenarc natively...

    I'm curious about the existing solution were you referring to that fits all my needs? The only solution I am currently aware of in a PCI solution would maybe be the "winradio" type cards, which are way to expensive, but if there is some other I missed, let me know!

    pRoFIT, did you read my post all the way thru? I'm not suggestion one of those cards for a carPC; I'm trying to get ASI to consider bringing out out a single AM/FM tuner equipped with all the bells and whistles based on one of their current products.

    -Alan

    PS. pRoFIT-with those cards, you can time shift all eight channels, so the eight channel card would be of additional benefit over the 4. You could time shift your 8 favorite stations, and you can listen to every one of their morning shows on your drive to work, LOL.

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    The onboard video on most mini-itx motherboards does not offer 1:1 pixel mapping for the wide screen LCD's commonly used in carpc applications. The situation has improved some recently, but there are other issues such as hardware mpeg acceleration, etc. that still benefit from alternate video implementation. Dual monitor output is also a popular feature obtainable from an add-on vid card.

    The hardware I refer to is not a PCI implementation. As I mentioned before, most carpcs simply do not have the room for internal hardware expansion. The solution I mentioned uses an external HD Radio receiver such as the Visteon Zoom HDZ300 along with an interface cable and software. The hardware is already available from retail channels so licensing is not an issue. It's a bi-directional interface, quite similar to how satellite receivers are adapted to the PC.

    Some of the benefits are HD (AM/FM), analog (AM/FM) and RBDS capability, in addition to automatic (hands free) recording of songs directly to disk as individual mp3 files. The software basically duplicates all the hardware controllable functions to the PC. It displays Title, Artist, Genre, RDS text, etc., and has 20 presets available.

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    I just got off the phone with AudioScience; there is some good news, and some bad...

    First, the bad: Since carPCs are an "emerging" market, and their intended customer base is basically "advertising verification", the more tuners they can fit in a PC, the more data their customers have to sell, the more profitable the product will be. From a financial standpoint, at this point in time it doesn't really make sense for them to create a single tuner equipped card (maybe as the demand increases in the future, but likely not).

    Now for the good: In about 3 months they will have a new product that might actually work just fine in the carPC market. Its basically a redesign of their current cards in a smaller form factor, and the genleman I spoke with said they could probably sell it with a minimum of two tuners.

    Okay, so the second tuner would be overkill in a carPC, BUT...you could completely do away with the HU (my goal), AND have AM and FM capabilities (not sure about HD or RDS yet-he is sending me some more info). Also, you *could* actually listen to one AM or FM broadcast and record another! Okay, not sure if anyone would actually take advantage of this capability, but with the second tuner, the possibility is there.

    Best of all, and one of my biggest complaints: The audio would be sent over the PCI bus as data. In every one of the "tuner" cards I have seen the audio is available on a "line out" connector on the back of the card. This if fine in most cases, but if you configure alot of the current mobo's for multichannel use, you give up the "line in" jack on the sound card, and have no where to run the tuner audio into (unless you have additional audio gear).

    Also, the price is NOT BAD AT ALL, either. Obviously more than your typical run of the mill tuner card, but WAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY less than a WinRadio!

    I'll keep any interested parties posted.

    -Alan

    -EDIT- RDS/RDBS capabilities are confirmed!

  7. #7
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    Hey Alan

    I am in the process of designing such a device at this time. Unfortunately it will be a month or two down the road before I get to actually doing something (I have a ways to go before it's future home it ready.) If you are still interested let me know... get some ideas going and see if we can't come up with something.

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    Yes, I am definately interested!

    Its been about 3 months, and I have fired off another email to audioscience to see if they have the preliminary info on their new line of cards, but haven't heard anything back yet. I'm sure they will eventually be available, but at this point I still don't know enough about the product to be sure it will actually suit our needs-such as final price, final size, etc. I know they said they would be "half-length" pci cards, but I don't know about half-height...

    As far as what I think should be required...It should have:

    am, fm, rds, *maybe* HD (I'm not interested in HD, but know others that are), and above all, it should deliver the audio as data over the PCI buss so that you don't have to loop the audio out of the tuner back into an analog input on the motherboard.

    Not sure what you had in mind to use as a tuner, but I would suggest the microtune MT145X series tuners. Info here:

    [media]http://www.microtune.com/products/pdf/mt145X_10.pdf[/media]

    I know a few people might want a TV tuner incorporated as well-I would not bother at all. 1) In a little over a years time all NTSC broadcasts will be turned off, rendering all current analog TV tuner cards worthless without a separate decoder 2) Although it maybe possible to look ahead into the future and incorporate a digital/HDTV tuner, *most* carPCs don't have monitors capable of true HD resolutions anyway (800x480/800x600 being the most common when HD res starts at 1280x720) 3) Most carPCs again are slower older tech and maynot have the power to process the HD video, even if in the end it is scaled down to the res of the carPC monitor, and 4) Based on the other 3 factors above, it needlessly overcomplicates things and drives the price up.

    Anyway, there are my suggestions. If there is anything I can do to help, let me know! Although I am not a design engineer, I do have a 20+ year background in component level electronics troubleshooting, and actually taught BEE while in the military.

    One final note-I do hope you go thru with it-Although as you can see from a few other posters above, there doesn't apparently appear to be a great demand for this product in the carPC market (only 1 PCI slot in most carPCs, so others may put a higher priority on different types of cards), what this particular product would be for would be for those that do want a completely dual-din bolt in soltuion without the need for a separate headunit. Being a PCI based card, that also frees up one valuable USB port compared to other tuner solutions, and if you can deliver the audio over the PCI buss, would also prevent having to use the valuable line-in audio on the mobo, freeing it up for other uses (iPod, phone, aux jack, etc).

    -Alan

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    Glad to hear you're still interested Alan. Also nice to hear about your background in electronics. Unfortunately I have very little. I know how to run a multimeter, I know what an osciliscope does, I understand what a diode and capacitor does. I understand Ohm's law, and made it through a DC class at the local community college 10 years ago. I have spent a little time on transistor theory... but other than that I am still learning.

    On the other hand I do though have a fairly good understanding on how a computer works, the busses, chips, and various specifications. I was at one time planning to program my own operating system to run my future machine, and had a pretty good chunk knocked out. The only problem was there's no way I could possibly wade through all the various specs, protocols, and the learning curve, and still have time to finish restoring my ride. So I have decided on Linux for the OS. At the moment I'm using an ancient Compaq for the r&d until I get to the point where it's ready for use.

    I have spent many hours reading datasheets on various chips and feel confident with a little time and the right advice I could successfuly put something together. Luckily I know someone who does do some design work for a solar cell company who is willing to share his knowledge.

    I wish I would have been a little more awake last night when I posted... didn't really have a clear understanding of what you had in mind at the time. I did think about it though over the course of the day, and have come up with some problems, ideas, and ways to do things.

    The biggest problem I have is the PCI... I had envisioned for myself a RS232 interface as most of the mobos I looked at had at least one (I plan on four for my own)... not to say it can't be done... I have also given that a great deal of thought (PCI).

    More on the PCI...

    - Unfortunately a great deal of the specification can only be downloaded by becoming a member to the PCI-SIG group, or by paying a fee to download the specs. Basically it costs money to do so... it's only $3000 a year!! There are some ways to work around this, but it does basically eliminate all possibility of sending the sound over the PCI bus in my eyes. In all honesty from what I know about the workings of a computer that will be kind of tough to do without dealing a decent hit to the computer's performance. I haven't taken the time to crunch the numbers as of yet... but unless there's a way to do device to device memory transfers I haven't yet seen there's going to be quite a bit of resources spent transfering from the card to memory and then from memory to the sound card.

    - I almost drove myself insane trying to figure out the Windows device driver API (one of the reasons I will be running Linux). It almost takes a rocket scientist to make a good, solid driver from it. It would not be very complicated though on a Windows system to use a RS232 interface as that can be controlled using the standard api functions. Anyone willing to come up with a Windows PCI driver let me know...

    I do believe there is a way to route the sound through an existing connection other than the line in jack. I share your feelings on that subject... not because of the desire to plug something else in, but because most times it can be configured for a center channel, or sub woofer output depending on the audio chipset on the board.

    Basically the main reasons I have been interested in this project are: I am one of the people who would like hd capabilities. I don't want to have to install additional hardware to control the tuner like the Visteon solution... although I did give it a thought and will most likely go that route in the event I am unable to get this to work. My screen will only contain one window running one program that interacts with several server programs to do all the things I want it to do. I don't want to be going down the road trying to bring up the tuner application during rush hour on a friday night... just glance over, find the button on the screen, and touch it.

    Enough of my ramblings for now. I'm not trying to crush your hopes of the PCI card. It's very tempting, and with a little bit of research I believe it can be done... but it will have limitations.

    I am curious though if there are any particular reasons you suggest the microtune tuners. At a glance they would definately eliminate a great deal of the engineering part. I have been researching other soutions though that could be incorporated. The one I've had my eyes on I am having a tough time finding a datasheet for and plan to contact the manufacturer next week to see what exactly can be done with the chip. It is possible that the microtune along with this other chip could bring together all radio receiving capabilities (hd, fm, am, and I believe national weather service broadcasts).

    I have no use for video. I have a 42" lcd at home that displays pictures just fine. I know that is what many people want, but feel that it is outside of the project I want to tackle. Not to mention I am one of the people who would have a hard time sleeping knowing that someone died because they were paying more attention to the game, weather, morning news, or whatever while going down the highway watching tv because this project made it available. I am sensitive to the fact many may use it for a rear screen for the little ones or other passengers... it's outside of my vision for the project.

    Now that I have written a small book... Thanks for the reply. Although it may be possible to make millions from this project because of an unforseen demand for the unit at this time... I plan to keep it open for all to weigh in on, lend any expertise, knowledge, criticism, or hints they see fit.

    Jason

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    LOL!

    The reason for the laugh, is at some point I did some web surfing and came to the same conclusion that you did regarding PCI-You have to pay an insane amount of money to learn the specification-How silly is that? Guess it all eventually comes down to money, doesn't it?

    Anyway, The reason I suggested the microtune tuners was just for a couple reasons-As you mentioned, 1) it elminates alot of design work-why reinvent the wheel. 2) Most "tuner cards" performance isn't that great-now I don't know if they just normally suck, or just suck when you put them in an automotive envirment, but I do know ASI uses those tuners (as does the HQCT), and the performance should be better than your run-of-the-mil tuner card 3) It contains AM/FM/RDS and HD and 4) The tuned section is completely shielded in the module-defaintely highly desireable in a PC/automotive environment.

    Back on the PCI idea-If audio over the bus can't be done, it can't be done, but just wanted to mention that it is possible. This is exactly how ASI does it. I do not believe it would really even tax the PC at all. As far as how to do it, you would take the demoded audio from the tuner, run it thru a ADC, and send PCM data over the PCI buss to....well....I don't know PC operation internally that well, so I don't know if you send it to memory, CPU, or if you can send it directly to the soundcard. I guess if you wanted you could also incorporate an encoder and after the ADC convert it to MP3 or something, but I figured why go thru the trouble....send it as PCM (.wav) right to the sound card. Again, ASI does it not only with 1 tuner, but with up to 8 on one card-check out the block diagram in their datasheet here:

    http://www.audioscience.com/internet...ds/dat87xx.pdf

    I don't think you have to have a speed demon PC for those cards, so surely a single tuner card wouldn't hurt PC performance that much...

    If PCI can't be done, I am not opposed to USB (although the number of USB devices that is going to be in my system is rapidly climbing). Since USB is possible, that would almost mean that the HQCT available here at MP3car would fit the bill for me-The problem-again line level audio and lack of a place to plug it in in my application. If the HQCT would have just sent audio over the USB buss (like so many usb sound cards) that would have been my second best option...

    -Alan

    PS Give it some thought sending the audio over the buss-whatever buss you use, with usb sound cards, and audioscience tuner cards that do it, it can't be that bad....Unfortunately I don't think it will work over the serial bus due to the bandwidth.

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