A better music player UI.
I've got a little rant all worked out about how I want my carpc to "work" with regards to searching for and playing music.
Why the need of a carputer for a better music player? I'm already sold on the idea of taking my entire collection with me via an ipod full of mp3s. I currently have my iPod hidden in the armrest connected to a Dension IceLink Plus. This little doodad tricks my OEM headunit into thinking my iPod is a CD changer. It works well, all the transport buttons (next/prev, ff/rew) on the headunit work. I can even jump right to 5 playlists using the CD 1-5 buttons. The IceLink works as advertised. But, it's a crappy way to naviagate a large collection of mp3 (40GB and growing). The IceLink will show id3 tag information (as CD-Text), if the headunit supports it. The VW OEM unit (like most OEM headunits) does not. Even if it did, I want something more like the iPod interface. A set of nested menus that lets me search by album, artist, song, etc. The best way to sum up my problems with the IceLink-iPod (and the Alpine, and the Monster iCruze, etc) solutions are as follows:
- Get in the car, turn on the head unit.
- Now, I want to search by artist. Starting at the top of the alphabetically sorted list, I want to get to "R.L. Burnside" quickly and play all songs by this artist.
- When that's done, I want to search by artist and find "Bad Religion" quickly, and so on.
Try this with an Icelink or the alpine-ipod thingy or the iCruze. Using "next track" quickly doesn't work. On the iPod this is easy. I get a scrollable screen that shows me 6 artists at a time, and a little jog wheel that lets me zoom really fast to near the Rs then slow down until I get to "R.L Burnside". It's easy. The screen (6 lines) combined with the interface (the scroll wheel that scrolls fast and slow) make this an easy task. There's someone on these forums offering a VW/BMW/Audi headunit->USB device for carPCs. Presumably it maps the transport keys to something on the PC (ideally it's configurable at runtime, if not, I bet girder solves this problem). I asked him about the speed and he said about 2-3 times per second. That seem fast? It's not. On the iPod. I can scroll thru my entire collection by artist in 3-4 seconds. I tried a test with CentraFuse on a full-size PC and a mouse last weekend. The music browser lets me page down quick enough I got thru the whole collection in about 5 seconds. Why don't I just use the damn iPod in my car? It's white, it looks like an iPod, not some piece of automotive gear. More importantly, I would have to look at the small iPod screen while driving. An LCD located where the double din headunit is now would be so much easier to glance at, bonus points if I could use a real, stock-looking knob to function as my scroll-wheel in the example above. I want using this to be easy, no squinting at an iPod screen trying to use it's overly touch-sensitive wheel on a slightly bumpy road.
So, add one 7" LCD to the list. I'm not thrilled about touchscreens though. The touchscreen layer dims the brightness and you have to actually look at where you're pressing (taking your eyes off the road). Could I make this work with a non-touchscreen and some knobs & buttons? I'll look at the Contour ShuttleXpress and the Powermate and see how they interact with the existing front ends. (I really don't want to have to write my own front end, I might do that eventually, but I would rather this project be installed and working sooner rather than later).
Man, I'm a picky, whiny little ***** about this stuff...
Buying some parts, returning some parts, sales tax, and supporting mp3car.com
I bought a bunch of stuff over the weekend. When doing a project, I like to lay my hands on things. I wanted to see and touch a Via M10000, I wanted to install WinXP and Linux on it and see how fast/slow it was. This was a test run to see if I could get by with a M10000. I also wanted to play with a Griffin Powermate and see how it felt, how fast the computer reacted to it, etc.
So, I went to my local Fry's Electronics (shut-up, how many stores actually carry Via EPIA motherboard?) to have a look. Fry's doesn't always have the best prices, but they have a good selection of wierd items, and their return policies are very liberal. I went home with (all prices after tax):
- Via EPIA M10000 ($182.94)
- 512MB PC2100 Mushikin RAM ($70.36)
- 80GB 2.5" Fujitsu hard drive. ($172.12)
- 44pin-to-40pin IDE adapter ($7.00)
- 250W ATX power supply, ($32.46) I need to power this in my house for a long time before I actually install in my car.
I also went to the Apple store and picked up a Griffin Powermate and a Contour ShuttleXpress.
I got home, played with this for a while, struggled a bunch with updating the motherboard BIOS with a CD-ROM and the updated BIOS .bin files on a NTFS partition, and just felt out the whole system. I loaded centrafuse, and started mapping buttons and actions from the shuttlexpress to things like page up/down, left/right/up/down arrows, etc. I know about girder and all, but it's a bit much for testing. I just wanted to see what the whole thing felt like. I was thinking about using a non-touchscreen LCD and using just a powermate or shuttlexpress for control. Was the shuttle-thing at all in the right ballpark?
The good news is that I'm hooked. I'm definitely installing a system in my car. Hwever, I'm not sure either the shuttle or the powemate is the right way to go right now. They might work, but they feel like improvements I can do later rather than right away, I'll just use an LCD touchscreen like everyone else.
Then, I started shopping for cases on the mp3car.com site. I liked the small C134 case quickly realized that I would need low-profile RAM. Damn! I start comparing prices and find out that low-profile RAM is pricey. It's also really hard to find non-ECC low profile RAM. The target market for low-profile modules is 1U rack-mounted servers and you generally want ECC RAM in those boxes. While doing this, I notice a pretty big price difference in what I paid for everything (after sales tax) and what I could by the same gear for from mp3.com (even after shipping). So, I got all obsessive and tried to find the best total deal on the motherboard, the memory, and the 2.5" floppy even if I bought from different stores. I ditched the low-profile/C134 case idea and went with regular RAM. I tried to use mp3car.com, just to pay them back for hosting these forums. I decided that if they were close to the price of some other place (after shipping), I would buy from them. I also tried to use Amazon.com, since I have a bunch of "Amazon points" with them. Amazon was a bust, they made it hard to find the right parts and they were from partners that charge a bunch of shipping and don't redeem Amazon gift certificates. Mp3car.com lost out too, the places I ordered from had much lowers shipping plus lower prices to begin with. I'll probably end up buying the M1-ATX, the case, and the LCD from Mp3car.com just to get rid of some guilt.
The end result? I replaced the motherboard, ram, and hdd. I saved $110.18!
The motherboard and RAM (slightly faster, PC2700 is cheaper than PC2100?) came from monarch computers. A samsung 2.5" hard drive that mp3car.com and logicsupply.com have came from directron.
Mini review of the Contout ShuttleXpress.
I'm really not trying to be a post whore, I'm just trying to get all my thoughts down so I later I can remember why I made various decisions.
If anyone reads this and has comments / questions, maybe we should start a new thread.
My quick review of the ShuttleXpress:
- I like it, but I'm returning it and I'll try just a touch screen for a while, once I know more about what using a touch screen feels like, I'll be better able to tell if this thing solves my problems. I really think I'll eventually want at least a volume knob, but a powermate with a different plastic knob would do that.
My longer review of the ShuttleXpress:
- It's well built, solid. It has 5 buttons and two knob-ish things (a jog wheel and a spring loaded shuttle knob). Lot's of opportunity to control things from a small space.There's a lot of tactile feedback, the jog wheel has a discrete detents as you turn it, making moving precisely 4 songs down easy without even looking at the screen. The spring loaded ring does not.
- The included windows software seems very flexible. It lets you map various events (jog right) to mouse clicks or key presses. I mapped "jog right" to page down and "jog left" to page up. In centrafuse, this let me easily scroll through the "search by album" list. The software recognizes 7 different postions of the springy shuttle in both directions. They recommend you do something like map left level 1 to "left arrow, repeat once per second" and map left level 2 to "left arrow, repeate 5 times per second" and so on. There's no detents between the springy positions so you can't really tell whether your in level 2 or 3 just by feeling it.
- While the jog dial will move fast, and I like the finger indent on it, I can't flick it like a knob to scroll it REALLY fast.
- It's not as well supported, will it work in Girder? Without girder support, I could only get it to do either mouse clicks (or wheel) or key presses, basically I can map one type of input device to another input device. That might be enough, but the real power of girder (IMHO) is that you can map some input event to "send lbuttondown to this button window whose parent has a title like "GPS Nav - *". I can "press" arbitrary buttons with girder, not just send mouse clicks. I might be able to make that work with a front end, we'll see. If I use Linux as my carPC os, I'm pretty sure the shuttle isn't well supported (is there a girder for Linux? I really want to map arbitrary input to sending an event to a particular window like girder does).
- It's a bit big (about the size of a CD) I can't see mounting it anywhere easily. I don't know how it could be any smaller, I'm just saying that I can't see an obvious place to mount it in my car. It is the same matte plastic look as my dash, so that's a plus. I could just set it on my armrest while using it and stash it somewhere, but it's not obvoius where to stash it. It won't fit in the armest, maybe the door pocket? Having the USB cable out looks ghetto too. I can just see it. I get in my car, pull the shuttle out of the door pocket, put it on the armrest, plug it in to a USB port near the parking brake, mash the cable down into some crack, and away I got. Actually that doesn't sound half bad! It would be ideal if the shuttle had no USB cable just a port and I had a retractable usb cable near the armrest. Maybe as an later project, I'll pull apart one of these and use just the jog wheel and shuttle ring. One for volume and one for scrolling.