Home Cinema Setup

I have been gradually adding parts to my PC so that it functions better for watching movies and gaming. Here are the components that I have used:

Monitor – BenQ EX3501R 35″ Ultra WQHD Curved Monitor

This monitor is great for watching movies and gaming as it is ultra-wide at an aspect radio of 21:9, 3440×1440, a VA panel with high contrast, and the monitor is slightly curved so that you get a cinematic experience.

Surround Sound Speakers – Logitech Z906 5.1 Speakers

This is a good set of 5.1 surround sound speakers with a separate subwoofer. I connect it from my motherboard’s optical out via ADAT for the best connection. I have the rear speakers mounted on the wall behind me, and the front speakers on the desk in front of me angled towards my seat.

Phillips Hue Bulbs and Dynamic Lighting

I have three Phillips Hue bulbs near the monitor which I have added to a ‘Hue Entertainment Group’ which means their colours can be rapidly changed with applications that use the Phillips Hue Entertainment API. One such application is ‘hueDynamic for Hue’ which is a Windows 10 application that monitors the colours on the pixels at the edges of the monitor, and changes the lights next to each edge according to the colours on that edge. This means I can have some dynamic lighting when watching movies.

Source of 4K Video

Even though my monitor doesn’t quite support 4K, using VLC means I can adjust the aspect ratio so that it will re scale the 4K video onto the monitor’s 3440×1440 dimensions, making 4K the best fit for my monitor. However my wireless connection is not currently fast enough to stream 4K video, so I use the ‘4K Video Downloader’ app to download free 4K videos from YouTube so I can play them on VLC.

Putting It All Together

(Click on diagram to enlarge)

So, I download 4K videos from Youtube, play them on VLC which adjusts the 4K content to fit my monitor. The audio goes to my surround sound setup which creates a virtualised surround sound output to my speakers, and the hueDynamic app running in the background on my PC samples the colours are the left and right areas of my monitor, and dynamically changes the colour of the Hue bulbs as the video plays. This creates an immersive ‘Home Cinema’ experience.

 

Node.js HTTPS server with self-signed certificate creation on openssl 0.9.8zh with node.js 7.10.0

I couldn’t find a concise guide to setting this up quickly so thought it was worth a post. To quickly get something working and create a https server using the above versions of openssl and node.js, do the following:

 Generate self-signed server certificate with no password

sudo openssl req -x509 -newkey rsa:2048 -keyout ./csr.pem -out server.crt -days 3001 -nodes

Use this node.js code to setup a server quickly

const https = require('https');
const fs = require('fs');

const options = {
key: fs.readFileSync('csr.pem'),
cert: fs.readFileSync('server.crt')
};

https.createServer(options, (req, res) => {
res.writeHead(200);
res.end('hello world\n');
}).listen(8000);

Go to https://localhost:8000 and accept the certificate, you should see ‘hello world’

Switching Audio between two Soundcards

headphones_accept

If you have two soundcards – maybe a normal soundcard for your speakers and maybe a headset with its own audio interface – you will want some way of switching all audio between the two. This is an great little open-source tool to do just that. It works on Mac, and Windows 7 up to 10:

https://soundswitch.codeplex.com/

Get rid of the ‘most visited sites’ Grid on Chrome

Not that I particularly look at anything weird, but when I’m showing someone my computer I don’t want to have my ‘most visited sites’ pop up when I fire up Chrome. The following Chrome extension will get rid of the default loading page, and just display a blank page:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/empty-new-tab-page/dpjamkmjmigaoobjbekmfgabipmfilij

A* Algorithm implementation in Python

pathfinding

Lately I’ve had the idea of creating a text-based Roguelike in C++. This lead me on to think about the game AI experiments that I worked during my degree in Computer Science and A.I.. Essential to game AI is the notion of pathfinding, or finding a path from ‘A’ to ‘B’, past any obstacles that get in the way. One way to do this is to use the A* algorithm. I decided to implement an A* pathfinding algorithm for possible use in a Roguelike later, and chose the pseudocode from the Wikipedia example to implement.

The program finds a path from the top right hand corner to the top left, avoiding impassable ‘7’ obstacles. The ‘*’ are the steps along the path. The algorithm is guaranteed to find the shortest path between the goal and the start, which means it can optimally solve any solvable maze, given time.

This is a sample board with obstacles setup:

00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000007777000000000000000
00000000000000077777777777777777700000000000000000
00000000077777777777777777777777700000000000000000
00000077777777777700000000000000000000000000000000
77777777777000000000000000000000000000000000000000
77777777000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
77777777777777777707777777777777777777777777777777
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
70777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
77777777777777777777700000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000777777777777777777777707777777
00000000000000000000700000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000700000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000700000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000700000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000700000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000700000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000700000000000000000000000000000
00000000000000000000700000000000000000000000000000

This is the path found (the ‘*’s):

**000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
0***********************************00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000777*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000007777*00000000000000
00000000000000077777777777777777700*00000000000000
00000000077777777777777777777777700*00000000000000
00000077777777777700000000000000000*00000000000000
77777777777000000000000000000000000*00000000000000
77777777000000000000000000000000000*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000*00000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000*00000000000000
000000000000000000******************00000000000000
777777777777777777*7777777777777777777777777777777
000000000000000000*0000000000000000000000000000000
0******************0000000000000000000000000000000
7*777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777
0*****************************00000000000000000000
00000000000000000000000000000**0000000000000000000
000000000000000000000000000000**000000000000000000
0000000000000000000000000000000*000000000000000000
0000000000000000000000000000000***0000000000000000
000000000000000000000000000000000*0000000000000000
000000000000000000000000000000000**000000000000000
0000000000000000000000000000000000**00000000000000
77777777777777777777700000000000000***000000000000
0000000000000000000000000000000000000**00000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000*00000000000
00000000000000000000000000000000000000**0000000000
000000000000000000000000000000000000000****0000000
000000000000000000007777777777777777777777*7777777
000000000000000000007000000000000000000000**000000
0000000000000000000070000000000000000000000*000000
0000000000000000000070000000000000000000000***0000
000000000000000000007000000000000000000000000**000
0000000000000000000070000000000000000000000000*000
0000000000000000000070000000000000000000000000***0
000000000000000000007000000000000000000000000000*0
000000000000000000007000000000000000000000000000**

Here is source code

Amit’s A* pages were incredibly useful in developing this.

(Perhaps one day I will do a flashy JavaScript version!)

Setting up Kindlefire HDX for Development under Ubuntu 12.04

amazon_kindle_fire_hdx1

I wanted to get a Kindlefire HDX running under Ubuntu 12.04 with adb.

First I needed to setup the udev rules:

1. Edit /etc/udev/rules.d/51-android.rules as root, and add the following line (create this file if it does not exist):

SUBSYSTEM=="usb", ATTRS{idVendor}=="1949", MODE="0666"

2. Change the permission of this file by executing the following command as root:

chmod a+r /etc/udev/rules.d/51-android.rules

3. Reload the rules by executing the following command as root:

udevadm control --reload-rules

4. Run these commands to restart adb:

adb kill-server
adb start-server

5. Now when I run

lsusb

I can see the device listed.

6. Next I needed to enable adb access on the Kindlefire HDX device itself by going to Settings -> Device -> Enable ADB.

7. Finally I could run:

adb devices

within Ubuntu and have it recognise the Kindlefire HDX.

Android Debug Bridge failing to detect emulators under OSX

Android

I’ve been working on a project at the BBC where we are using the Android command-line tools from the Android Developer Tools, to spin up and terminate series of emulators. I noticed a big problem under OSX where ‘adb devices’ was failing to register emulators occasionally when we started them up, without any error message, even though they were loaded and quite clearly running in a window on OSX. This was a real problem for our project because we needed absolute parity between emulator process being launched and subsequently being detected by adb.

We switched to using adb with emulators in an Ubuntu 12.04 VM running under OSX, and we had no further problems with our setup. Emulators will now be programatically launched and torn down by our monitoring application. We now have an array of emulators which we can deploy to at will, which is very useful.

I don’t know what has caused this problem, my only hunch is that the Android toolkit was probably developed in a very Linux-heavy environment, and so adb on Linux was probably their first testing platform. All I can say is that Linux is much more stable than OSX, even as a VM, for Android emulation.

256 Color VIM on Crunchbang Waldorf

256 Colours in VIMTo get 256 colors working within terminator in Crunchbang Waldorf, I had to do the following:

  1. Add to ~/.bashrc
    export TERM=xterm-256color
  2. Install a 256 color VIM colorcheme, see desert256 for example.
  3. Add the following to ~/.vimrc:
    set t_Co=256
    set t_AB=^[[48;5;%dm
    set t_AF=^[[38;5;%dm
    

    ‘t_Co’ specifies exactly how many colours VIM can use. The other two lines seem to be Debian-specific color code escape sequences.

  4. If you want 256 color VIM for your root user when you sudo edit, then edit /usr/share/vim/vimrc and copy across your settings from your local ~/.vimrc and ~/.vim to this global environment.

Converting a single M2V frame into JPEG under OSX

I needed to view a single frame of a m2v file that had been encoded by our designers for playing out on TV. The file name was .mpg but in actuality it was a single .m2v frame renamed to be a .mpg. Windows Media Player classic used to display the frame fine when I opened the file normally, under Windows XP. However now I have switched to a Mac, I have found that Quicktime and VLC refused to display the single frame. I couldn’t find a video player that would open the single frame. So I resorted to the command line version of ffmpeg, which I installed via macports, to convert this single frame to a jpg file to view as normal. This line worked a treat:

ffmpeg -i north.mpg -ss 00:00:00 -t 00:00:1 -s 1024x768 -r 1 -f mjpeg north.jpg

Where ‘north.mpg’ was the m2v file, and ‘north.jpg’ was the output jpeg.

And this:

find -name *.mpg -exec ffmpeg -i {} -ss 00:00:00 -t 00:00:1 -s 1024x768 -r 1 -f mjpeg {}.jpg ;

Will go through all the mpg files in the current directory and below, and create their jpeg single frame equivalents, ie: for north.mpg it will create north.mpg.jpg.

Java 1.6 on RHEL4

After I wrote a Java application in JDK 1.6, I was stuck for a while when I realised that the target deployment machine was Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. RHEL4 does not support Java 1.6 in its default configuration.

Luckily I found this article on the CentOS wiki which included instructions on how to install Java 1.6 on CentOS 4. Remembering that RHEL4 and CentOS 4 are almost identical, I tried the method supplied, and it worked. This is the page with the method:

http://wiki.centos.org/HowTos/JavaOnCentOS