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Thread: PocketPC as a Touch Screen Replacement

  1. #1
    FLAC sama's Avatar
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    Lightbulb PocketPC as a Touch Screen Replacement

    Hello. This is my first post here. I love these forums and they have been a great help in getting me to where I am currently at. I've been very silent so far and just stealing knowledge. I recently built my BMPuter™ and it's now operational, though it is still in the house suffering some rigerous testing (will post picture soon, cramming a P4 into the VoomPC enclosure was more tricky than I had hoped, but it all fits now).

    I've been looking at alternative interfaces to using a touchscreen. First I thought I could use the i-bus in my BMW to use the steering wheel buttons and MID (Multi Instrument Display), but soon realised that since I only have a few buttons and handful of charachters to communicate, this would require a super stable system and some very well thought out dynamic button mappings. Not to mention the zillion limitations imposed on what could be acheived using a richer interface. So the next brain fart I had was to use my PocketPC Phone wirelessly via bluetooth (or WiFi when I finally get a WiFi enabled version).

    I have an iMate JAM, which has GPRS and Bluetooth. Some phones like the brick-sized JasJar have a bigger screen, Wifi and 3G. There is a new JAMin from iMate that also has WiFi and supports EDGE, but has half the processing power! The choices are many in any case, just look at Microsoft's PocketPC Site, or do a search for ppc phones to see what you can do.

    The pros (I can think of) are:
    - Can easily move the carputer to another car and not worry about wiring (except power and aux of course)
    - No damage to existing car's facia
    - No security issues of touchscreen showing since you will always take my phone with you
    - No touch screen glare issues since (most) PPC's have evolved superior screens through many generations of being blasted by sunrays
    - Navigation can run independantly of carupter on PPC (TomTom can be used for navigation - see requirement 2's explaination)
    - Carputer can have 3G / GPRS access (depending on handset)
    - Most PPC Phones can be obtained for free/very cheap on a contract of some kind with network operators
    - The car/home/work pc's can all have the same address books (since the PPC goes everywhere with you)

    The cons (I can think of) are:
    - Small screen, limited resolution of 320x240 (or 240x320 in portrait mode) - Some PocketPC's can do 640x480 - I've yet to see PPC phones that do that though
    - Risk of no-access through windows crash / bluetooth stack lock-up / wlan frenzy
    - Breaking / loosing the PPC means no access to carputer (so if you're mugged, you'll have no music to bring you out of the state-of-shock)

    I have not completly made up my mind as to whether this solution is a good one, or if getting a touchscreen is the only real solution. I think however that through some discussons with the very able enthusiast and some rigerous testing, we can put give this solution a chance to see what it can do.

    So moving swiftly on, we'll start by ignoring all the cons! I have set out the following requirements:

    1 - To have a front end via the PPC to control media playback
    2 - To use TomTom for Navigation via PPC
    3 - To use the PPC and voice recognition as my phone with a bluetooth handsfree kit in the car
    4 - To upload music/media to my car via WiFi from home/friends houses
    5 - To use the HomePC/PPC to maintain the carputer's health through remote desktop or similar wirelessly
    6 - To integrate the Steering wheel controls to access music *

    * This must be a redundant feature, such that the solution must account for music control without relying on any steering wheel buttons, since not all cars have wheel buttons. However, it is also nice to know that the solution can accomodate this, hence my inclusion of it.

    Achieving the Above Goals - Thoughts & Prelimanry Tests:

    It is worth noting at this stage that I'm not considering the cost of anything as of yet, I'm currently using trial versions to explore the possiblity of doing this.

    1 - I have done some tests using NetRemote by Proximis, the same people that made Girder. It allows you to control lots of media players, including Winamp and MediaPlayer from the PocketPC via a MediaBridge service that runs on the host pc (the carputer). The PPC can connect via WiFi / Bluetooth / USB / serial to the host, and the client software offers good controls over the media player, like playlists, song position live progress and navigability, etc. It works pretty well and it's just like using the desktop client really. It's even skinnable, though I have not tried yet.

    I've found it very annoying that it doesn't support landscape mode out of the box. I have my phone mounted in landscape in the car. I'm hoping that I can skin it to look sideways, but I've not meddled with that yet.

    NetRemote can be paired up with Girder through a plugin to acheive some wizardry. That is, you can create a custom interface on NetRemote that maps to girder functions on the carputer to do pretty much anything. Anyone that has used girder will know that this powerful stuff.

    Microsoft Voice Command offers a fantastic feature with windows media mobile, where you say the name of the artist / song / genre of music (if the id3 tags of the mp3's are well defined), and it will play it. It's pretty damn accurate. The limitation here is that the song must be on the PPC. I'm currently looking at ways to map a network drive perhaps, so that the PPC can also see the media on the carputer. We'll see what happens as I dig more.

    2 - TomTom is a screen hogging app. Once it is running, it will do so full screen and offer little access to any PPC front end. While this is desirable, it does raise questions about how to access media playback functions, without too much input from the driver. I've found switching between TomTom and other apps is quite easy if I map a hardware button on the PPC to run TomTom, and another to launch NetRemote. The PPC will switch to the program if already loaded. So using the green-answer button brings up the phone keypad, the calender key brings up netremote and so on. Further more, the hardware buttons can be doubled using Vito ButtonMapper, which allows different functions when a button is pressed and held. It also allows per-application button functions, which I've yet to mess with. Perhaps this can be used to control media playback whilst in TomTom etc. Again, we'll see as I explore some more.

    I've not found any PC GPS packages with live traffic updates that reroute. And none that have a plugin to scan for speed cameras based on the car vector and angles. TomTom has a POI warner plugin that only warns of cameras if above the speed limit and if they are within a specified angle. It also offers the live traffic thing. Some sites claim that CoPilot Live has this feature, but I have not been able to find info on the website, and I have not received a response to an email I launched in their general direction. If anyone knows of any, please let me know.

    3 - This is pretty easy almost out of the box. Pair up the handsfree and install microsoft voice command, and we're done. This is also independant of the carputer. I'm currently using a VisorTalk adaptor, that clips on the visor (as the name suggests). I just push the voice command hardware button on the PPC, say "call billy the boo" and billy the boo answers. I can also say things like "dial 0207 123 4242". That also works. A big limitation of using voice recognition however, is that it requires a considerable level of quiteness. If you don't have a quite cabin, or ur exaust is the size of ****-pipe, then this probably won't work.

    4 - WiFi uploading works very well so far. I've yet to rigerously test connections/disconnections from the WiFi network, and power up/down startup/shutdown windows, but so far just mapping a drive to my carputer has done the trick. I currently connect on a peer-2-peer network between my home and car, and using strong 128-bit security etc.

    5 - Through my testing, I wanted to also make sure carputer can be fully managed through the PPC without having to connect it to a screen everytime something went wrong. I have used Pebbles and Remote Desktop, both via Bluetooth. While this works most times, other times it doesn't, and that's not really a nice thought. If windows spazes out when booting, and before it loads any bluetooth drivers etc, that's that and the carputer will need to be plugged into a screen for some diagnostics. Even worse, is when the BIOS freaks out. I recently had my BIOS reset because the cosmos wished it, and the stop-on-errors settings was set to all. That meant my carputer was waiting for a floppy and keyboard, and I was not able to see that. I know that shouldn't happen, but it did and it rendered the carputer useless.

    This is the factor that is making me think twice about using the PPC as the controller.

    6 - As this forum is well aware, the BMW uses the i-bus to transmit/receive it's messages, including steering wheel controls. This seems fairly straight forward using the i-bus adaptors and tools out there, and the wealth of info here. Other cars probably have similar functions. In any case, I think multiple applications on the car computer accessing the same media player (winamp perhaps) should not impose a problem. So getting a pocketpc to work alongside the buttons should be do-able.

    So there we have it. I welcome and look forward to your opinions and replies. If this works out (point 5 mainly) great! If not, looks like my dashboard will be ripped apart for an 8" widescreen I've eyed!

  2. #2
    Variable Bitrate nkotch's Avatar
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    Welcome and good post! I see you've been thinking about this just a little, huh?

    I think as cool as this would be, ultimately you'd be happier with a touchscreen as the main interface. I've thought about doing something similar as I have an iPaq pda with bluetooth and wifi and before I put in a regular computer I was using my pda in my car on the dash for navigation and mp3 playing (from a 1GB cf card). I have played around with some software to control my laptop over bluetooth/wifi using my pocketpc, haven't tried Netremote yet but I have used Salling Clicker (http://www.salling.com/Clicker/windows/) and it works fairly well over bluetooth and has a few plugins to control different media players and can act as a "mouse pad" for windows so you could use gestures for some front ends.

    I just think the big limiting factor, like you said, is stability and if something goes wrong on the pc. While I was setting my pc up I would bring it inside and remote desktop into it but there were still times when I had to restart it if it locked up and had to hook up a keyboard to it so I could hit the occasional Enter during a prompt at bootup or send a ctr-alt-del to it. If you pc is pretty stable now maybe you could get by with just having a keyboard hooked up to it so you can hit Enter or something if there's an error during boot. I just don't just mine to be that stable and I would probably get annoyed pretty quickly if all of sudden the pocketpc wasn't working, then had to do some troubleshooting and reconnect the pocketpc and then figure that something like locked on the computer, and then drag out a keyboard or something while in the car. Plus, at least on my pocket pc (and to a lesser degree on the computer) bluetooth is just not that stable yet. Salling Clicker worked pretty well but not for everyday type use. I think there are some bugs in some of these early pocketpc's bluetooth stacks where they would kind of "time out" and I would have to do a soft reset before I could connect again.

    From looking at the site Netremote may be workable since it works with Girder. Also it says on the site it can use pronto style .CCF files, which if you aren't familiar with them are the configuration layouts for those Pronto (pda sized) touchscreen remotes for home theaters. Usually IR based and the software lets you create your own custom screens and then you just assign your IR codes from the original remote and you have a custom IR remote. Used to program those a home theater company so if you had Girder setup and you could map a bunch of keys/commands it wouldn't be that hard to create a custom layout with image/buttons to send codes to Girder to then do whatever it could do on windows. (If you end up getting that far with it let me know or I can send ya some more info on that program). A little more involved but may let you make it work the way you want and make it a little more "integrated"

    Ya know, a totally different way you may want to approach this is instead of just using the pda to control the pc (except for GPS), maybe look into using the pc mainly to share the media files, and then set up the hard drive/folders, etc... to be mapped drives on the pocket pc. Right before I set up my carputer I was trying to figure out a way use my pocketpc to play the media files off my laptop so all I had to do some turn my laptop on in the car and just use it as a "media server" but use the pocketpc player's interface. Turned out to be pretty tricky and I finally had gotten it to map a drive when connected through a wifi or bluetooth network but I again ran into issues with bluetooth and for me to use wifi I have to put in a cf wifi card so I didn't want to use that all the time and not use my cf 1gb card. But that could be another route, use the pocketpc's applications (GPS software, media player, etc..) but then just get those to access a mapped drive off the computer. Of course you'd need to hook the pocketpc to the audio, etc... and may lose a little of "portability" you had mentioned.

    This is getting kind of long but those are my 2 cents, I thinks it really neat to use my pocketpc for stuff like this and have played around a good bit with a few different media control software setups but seemed like it was only good for occasionaly usage when I had time to tinker with it (and not driving in the car). And at least on my pocketpc it handles network connections really weird and took me even a while to get it to work over a bluetooth network, had to finally give it a manual IP and play with several network settings, plus everytime I wanted to play with it I was going though several menus to connect, then to bring up the right software, etc... which I didn't want to do in the car. So if you do go this route keep it fairly simple and straightforward by maybe just using the pocketpc to control winamp or another media player using netremote and also for GPS navi, and not to worry about full control of the computer. If you go the full control route it will take some tweaking but I'd be interested in what all you used.

    Good luck!
    Nick
    '99 Ford Escort ZX2 CarPC <-- RIP Feb '07

    2006 Chevy Equinox LS (Current Project)

    **VIA EPIA PD 1ghz Mobo, OPUS 150, 7" LinITX LCD touchscreen, 512 Ram, 60Gig HD, DLink Bluetooth, Belkin 802.11g wireless,

  3. #3
    FLAC sama's Avatar
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    Hey Nick

    Thanks for the insight. I especially find the stuff on the carputer being a streaming server interesting. I think whether the PPC is the interface or not, that is a good idea as it means the car can be the host to media, whilst the PPC is in the vicinity, like in a friend's house perhaps or a party!

    As for this post, "blind" operating the PC as you said simply isn't an option. So I've been thinking of ways to get the VGA output of the PC to the tiny screen of the PDA. I know of a video capture device for the pocketpc, but that's a CF card, which not many PPC Phones have, especially not the smaller ones, which is what I'm insterested in.

    So after scratching my head for 10 hour, I started searching for VGA bluetooth devices. I'm not sure what I was exactly expecting to find but I did it anyway. So I stumbled on an SDIO TV-Tuner!

    It doesn't support video-In directly (how inexpensive would that be? they've already done the bulk of the work damn it!). But the important thing to this post is that it does allow the computer's TV-out to be displayed on the screen of the PPC, which opens some new doors, especially in cases of crashes. Moreover, it gives TV on the PDA!

    So the questions that are begging to be asked are:

    How much will it be?
    Will text such as BIOS stuff be readable on such a small screen?

    I shall be keeping a close eye on this, in the meantime, I will continue anyway with expermenting.

  4. #4
    Variable Bitrate nkotch's Avatar
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    I've seen the CF tv tuner before, but not SDIO one....that thing is pretty small, would be neat, I'm not so sure about being able to read text from a computer on it though, but may be just enough so you could tell if something is hung up or stuck at a prompt, etc...

    Check this thread out to PocketPC FrontEnd in the making! looks like someone is starting to work on a frontend for the pocket pc.
    Nick
    '99 Ford Escort ZX2 CarPC <-- RIP Feb '07

    2006 Chevy Equinox LS (Current Project)

    **VIA EPIA PD 1ghz Mobo, OPUS 150, 7" LinITX LCD touchscreen, 512 Ram, 60Gig HD, DLink Bluetooth, Belkin 802.11g wireless,

  5. #5
    FLAC sama's Avatar
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    Yep, I saw that one. I think this guys's talking about doing an interface purely using the PPC, interesting but not quite enough for me The next phase of the project will involve some computer vision, hence the hefty processor I've opted for! How does a realtime radar sound? Keep your eyes peeled.

    I think I'll take my carputer to someone / a store that has a portable lcd tv, and see what the output looks like on that. Some of them have video-in. This should give an indication of how good/crap this new card will be.

  6. #6
    MySQL Error Scouse Monkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sama
    8" widescreen I've eyed!
    linITX I assume?

  7. #7
    FLAC sama's Avatar
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    Yes indeed, if I don't go ahead with this project.

    I'm waiting for an answer from LinITX to see if it can be hacked to fit in my dash. I'll be making my own bezel if that is the case.

  8. #8
    FLAC sama's Avatar
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    I tried the video out of the carputer on an LCD TV a friend has , which has video input and a 2.5" screen, like my PPC.

    The the text was simply unreadable. I noticed the TV has 61,380 whilst the PPC has 76,800 (320x240). But the screen wasn't just about unreadable, it was very unreadable! So I've decided to give up on using the PPC as a complete replacement. I think I'll try to use it as a complement somehow, since he phone is mounted on my vent.

    I just went on LinITX's website and looked at the 8" widescreen for a bit. I accidently pressed buy it should arrive tommorow. I will post a review as soon as I get a chance to use it.

  9. #9
    Variable Bitrate nkotch's Avatar
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    Haha.....I think you'll be pretty happy with it. Besides, there's a lot of cool ways to integrate your ppc (internet access, remote control, etc...)
    Nick
    '99 Ford Escort ZX2 CarPC <-- RIP Feb '07

    2006 Chevy Equinox LS (Current Project)

    **VIA EPIA PD 1ghz Mobo, OPUS 150, 7" LinITX LCD touchscreen, 512 Ram, 60Gig HD, DLink Bluetooth, Belkin 802.11g wireless,

  10. #10
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    2 more cents: I've been on same wavelenght of ppc as replacement for lilliput (and then some), with "real" pc in trunk or under seat. I do have wifi at both ends on my setup (currently in the house) as well as bluetooth. Using wifi, once I deciphered VPN config, found that to be the way to use pc as server, ppc as client. Mapped drives work well - not quite sure how to retain the mapping, but that's got to be easy.

    Seems stable, I've been using conduit's "pocket player" on ppc, which has been great too, btw. Takes a while to load up 6000 tunes or so in playlist, but it does do it.

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