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post #1 of 13 Old 03-02-2016, 01:08 AM - Thread Starter
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How I integrated my streaming computer into my home theatre system for not much money

I am retired and I do not have a lot of money. Years ago I was able to buy a Yamaha receiver that was state of the art at that time. It still works fine but it is now considered obsolete as it does not have HDMI inputs. My streaming computer is an old Compaq dual core PC running 32-bit Win 7. Someone gave it to me for free. I added a 512 MB HDMI card and 4 GB of RAM. This is more than adequate for streaming from the Internet. I could have installed 64-bit Windows and added more RAM, but I didn’t think that would make any difference for this purpose. 32-bit Windows cannot address more than 4 GB of RAM and 512 MB of that is taken up by the graphics card (which is also why I didn’t get a bigger one), so the computer is actually using 3.5 GB of the installed RAM, which is adequate for streaming.

The TV is a Sony Bravia, apparently one of the few that is capable of extracting Dolby 5.1 audio from the HDMI connection and passing it through to the amp via an optical digital output. I used it that way for awhile but now no longer need it.

I also have an old Harmony One universal remote to control all my devices. But when I added the streaming computer, it couldn’t control that. Also, the computer browser was difficult to navigate from the couch with an air mouse. I wanted a better solution. But it had to be cheap.

The first problem, though, was getting surround sound from the computer. Whatever I did, it would only send 2-channel stereo through the HDMI or the internal sound card. I found an s/pdif connector on the motherboard and added an optical output to it. I then located some hacked Realtek drivers and after a lot of fiddling, was able to get 6 channels on the digital audio, but the quality was terrible. I finally bought a $20 sound card with digital optical out on Aliexpress and that worked perfectly after I found the right driver for it (not easy).

I use a Hauppauge HD PVR2 for recording. It has both HDMI and optical audio inputs. Initially my set-up used both HDMI (via the TV) and s/pdif for audio, depending on which connections were most convenient for a particular device. But the computer would only output 6-channel sound through s/pdif and it is awkward to switch the inputs on the Hauppauge. Since the receiver also did not have any HDMI inputs, this forced me to standardise all the audio to s/pdif. Fortunately the receiver had just enough digital inputs and I could use the Harmony remote to switch between them. The Harmony also controls an IR HDMI switch (another $10 on Aliexpress). Essentially I have two separate systems running in parallel, one controlling the audio and the other, the video. The Harmony switches both simultaneously.

All this works fine, except the Harmony cannot control the computer. But I found a cheap IR remote that can. It is widely sold under different generic brands, all of them identical. One is called Sanoxy. The firmware is Chinavasion. The actual remote is a piece of very cheap and nasty plastic with a bizarre design but the IR receiver offers a very inexpensive way of getting some mouse and keyboard codes into the computer. Once these were in the Harmony database I put the original remote away and forgot about it.

The original remote works in a peculiar way and does not generate many standard keyboard codes, but it does have a few, as well as all the mouse movements. I programmed the mouse into the Harmony’s number keypad on the lower part of the remote. This is very convenient as the number layout corresponds to the different mouse directions, including diagonal ones.

The other buttons were trickier. First I had to figure out what I wanted them to do. Then I had to find ways of making the IR receiver think it was seeing codes it understood. Then I had to use AutoHotKey to remap the codes to functions I actually wanted. One example is the Windows zoom function. I use this all the time when I have to read something on the screen from my position on the couch. I’m not talking about subtitles but sometimes there are browser or Windows messages that are otherwise difficult to see properly. I use Win + a lot for this. Since I control volume through my HT receiver, I didn’t need the volume control functions on the remote, so I assigned those to the Harmony channel changer (also unneeded), then used AutoHotKey to make the computer see these as Win + and Win Esc. Later I had to use another key for Win + because the volume control kept repeating the command and pushing the magnification too high. Figuring out the interactions between the keys on the Harmony, the commands the IR receiver would accept, and the hot key remapping on the computer, was a real brain-breaker but I got everything to do what I wanted in the end.

I have looked at various media centres on different occasions, including Plex and Kodi, but none of them work for me. They all seem to be mainly focussed on media libraries or cable providers as sources. This is not how my set-up works.

First, my main TV provider, which is a satellite service, is completely controlled from my Harmony. There is nothing that any media centre adds to this. Second, I don’t view my video archive very often, but when I want to, it is all on an external USB drive, neatly organised into folders and accessible with just a few mouse clicks. No media centre software I have tried does that any better, but it does make mess of my own organisation whenever I install one. I just don’t see what it adds to what I already have. Also, I tend to stream from many different sites, rather than just two or three. The main thing I need is a good way to navigate my browser, and no media centre software I have tried does that, either. So I have built my own system, mainly using URL and keyboard shortcuts and macros. It works pretty well for most of the things I want to do. I have two input devices for the computer, one being the IR remote programmed into the Harmony, the other being a wireless mouse and keyboard. I now mainly use that when I have to enter text for something, as it is far easier from the physical keyboard than any virtual one. But I don’t have to type text very often. Nearly everything I need can now be done from the Harmony.

I don’t know if my solutions are any better than other ones, but they work pretty well for me. Mainly, they give me complete flexibility, coupled with ease of use. And they didn’t cost very much! I hope some of the information I have presented here may be of use to others in a position similar to mine. There is wonderful hardware to be had if money is not an issue, but for those trying to put something usable together on a tight budget, a little creativity can take you a long way.
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post #2 of 13 Old 03-09-2016, 05:18 AM
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Originally Posted by kreng View Post
I am retired and I do not have a lot of money. Years ago I was able to buy a Yamaha receiver that was state of the art at that time. It still works fine but it is now considered obsolete as it does not have HDMI inputs. My streaming computer is an old Compaq dual core PC running 32-bit Win 7. Someone gave it to me for free. I added a 512 MB HDMI card and 4 GB of RAM. This is more than adequate for streaming from the Internet. I could have installed 64-bit Windows and added more RAM, but I didn’t think that would make any difference for this purpose. 32-bit Windows cannot address more than 4 GB of RAM and 512 MB of that is taken up by the graphics card (which is also why I didn’t get a bigger one), so the computer is actually using 3.5 GB of the installed RAM, which is adequate for streaming.

The TV is a Sony Bravia, apparently one of the few that is capable of extracting Dolby 5.1 audio from the HDMI connection and passing it through to the amp via an optical digital output. I used it that way for awhile but now no longer need it.

I also have an old Harmony One universal remote to control all my devices. But when I added the streaming computer, it couldn’t control that. Also, the computer browser was difficult to navigate from the couch with an air mouse. I wanted a better solution. But it had to be cheap.

The first problem, though, was getting surround sound from the computer. Whatever I did, it would only send 2-channel stereo through the HDMI or the internal sound card. I found an s/pdif connector on the motherboard and added an optical output to it. I then located some hacked Realtek drivers and after a lot of fiddling, was able to get 6 channels on the digital audio, but the quality was terrible. I finally bought a $20 sound card with digital optical out on Aliexpress and that worked perfectly after I found the right driver for it (not easy).

I use a Hauppauge HD PVR2 for recording. It has both HDMI and optical audio inputs. Initially my set-up used both HDMI (via the TV) and s/pdif for audio, depending on which connections were most convenient for a particular device. But the computer would only output 6-channel sound through s/pdif and it is awkward to switch the inputs on the Hauppauge. Since the receiver also did not have any HDMI inputs, this forced me to standardise all the audio to s/pdif. Fortunately the receiver had just enough digital inputs and I could use the Harmony remote to switch between them. The Harmony also controls an IR HDMI switch (another $10 on Aliexpress). Essentially I have two separate systems running in parallel, one controlling the audio and the other, the video. The Harmony switches both simultaneously.

All this works fine, except the Harmony cannot control the computer. But I found a cheap IR remote that can. It is widely sold under different generic brands, all of them identical. One is called Sanoxy. The firmware is Chinavasion. The actual remote is a piece of very cheap and nasty plastic with a bizarre design but the IR receiver offers a very inexpensive way of getting some mouse and keyboard codes into the computer. Once these were in the Harmony database I put the original remote away and forgot about it.

The original remote works in a peculiar way and does not generate many standard keyboard codes, but it does have a few, as well as all the mouse movements. I programmed the mouse into the Harmony’s number keypad on the lower part of the remote. This is very convenient as the number layout corresponds to the different mouse directions, including diagonal ones.

The other buttons were trickier. First I had to figure out what I wanted them to do. Then I had to find ways of making the IR receiver think it was seeing codes it understood. Then I had to use AutoHotKey to remap the codes to functions I actually wanted. One example is the Windows zoom function. I use this all the time when I have to read something on the screen from my position on the couch. I’m not talking about subtitles but sometimes there are browser or Windows messages that are otherwise difficult to see properly. I use Win + a lot for this. Since I control volume through my HT receiver, I didn’t need the volume control functions on the remote, so I assigned those to the Harmony channel changer (also unneeded), then used AutoHotKey to make the computer see these as Win + and Win Esc. Later I had to use another key for Win + because the volume control kept repeating the command and pushing the magnification too high. Figuring out the interactions between the keys on the Harmony, the commands the IR receiver would accept, and the hot key remapping on the computer, was a real brain-breaker but I got everything to do what I wanted in the end.

I have looked at various media centres on different occasions, including Plex and Kodi, but none of them work for me. They all seem to be mainly focussed on media libraries or cable providers as sources. This is not how my set-up works.

First, my main TV provider, which is a satellite service, is completely controlled from my Harmony. There is nothing that any media centre adds to this. Second, I don’t view my video archive very often, but when I want to, it is all on an external USB drive, neatly organised into folders and accessible with just a few mouse clicks. No media centre software I have tried does that any better, but it does make mess of my own organisation whenever I install one. I just don’t see what it adds to what I already have. Also, I tend to stream from many different sites, rather than just two or three. The main thing I need is a good way to navigate my browser, and no media centre software I have tried does that, either. So I have built my own system, mainly using URL and keyboard shortcuts and macros. It works pretty well for most of the things I want to do. I have two input devices for the computer, one being the IR remote programmed into the Harmony, the other being a wireless mouse and keyboard. I now mainly use that when I have to enter text for something, as it is far easier from the physical keyboard than any virtual one. But I don’t have to type text very often. Nearly everything I need can now be done from the Harmony.

I don’t know if my solutions are any better than other ones, but they work pretty well for me. Mainly, they give me complete flexibility, coupled with ease of use. And they didn’t cost very much! I hope some of the information I have presented here may be of use to others in a position similar to mine. There is wonderful hardware to be had if money is not an issue, but for those trying to put something usable together on a tight budget, a little creativity can take you a long way.
Hi kreng,

Anyhow, after giving that much effort, you got desired output. I will also try it.
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post #3 of 13 Old 03-10-2016, 05:04 AM
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post #4 of 13 Old 07-08-2016, 02:13 PM
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Seems like its probably the most cost effective method. Thanks.
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post #5 of 13 Old 12-05-2016, 09:42 PM
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It's like throwing a hammer at a fly. There are media center solutions prebuilt by people that know what they're doing. Learn to use Kodi and stop spinning your wheels. 99.9% of the people that can't (or won't) use Kodi have issues with their file naming. Once you get your file name done correctly, you're done.
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post #6 of 13 Old 12-08-2016, 05:45 PM
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............ Learn to use Kodi and stop spinning your wheels. 99.9% of the people that can't (or won't) use Kodi have issues with their file naming. Once you get your file name done correctly, you're done.
Seems to me he stopped spinning his wheels and is off and running. For him, it works - nuff said!
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post #7 of 13 Old 12-11-2016, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by tatumjon View Post
It's like throwing a hammer at a fly. There are media center solutions prebuilt by people that know what they're doing. Learn to use Kodi and stop spinning your wheels. 99.9% of the people that can't (or won't) use Kodi have issues with their file naming. Once you get your file name done correctly, you're done.
Agree, several paragraphs to explain a workaround = jumping through hoops.
Recently I got a new V481 vs old V1500, couldn't be happier and simpler (and lighter). Also a move made me take stock - Why do I need my tape deck, turntable, graphic eq from the 80's. Got rid of them, the rack and the clutter of wires.
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post #8 of 13 Old 01-24-2017, 06:00 AM
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I'm impressed you figured all that out. Sometimes the satisfaction of that is a nice reward. The other comments about premade solutions are valid, but I am also one who likes to try to do things myself. Good job!
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post #9 of 13 Old 03-01-2017, 02:03 AM
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Thanks for the value, my father was having the same problem, I will show him this.
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post #10 of 13 Old 06-07-2018, 09:58 AM
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Sounds to me like you are using a home theater computer in a fairly non standard way, which is why it was tricky for you. From what I am seeing you are mostly wanting to stream stuff from various places on the internet and use your computer browser to do it. I do this with Youtube fairly often. Most of my devices have a youtube streaming app, but it tends to be slow. My computer is faster and much easier to search with.

For most their HTPC is basically storage. They are not trying to stream from a browser to their tv. And when you are just basically using your computer for storage something like plex works pretty well. I use plex on my Roku device. So it doesn't need my computer to even be attached to my tv or receiver. The roku plex app reads the files directly off my computer and does the video encoding and audio that way. So the video and audio are coming from my roku, not my computer.

The roku can also stream movies from many places on the internet. There is an app that will search the internet for streaming movies and play them. It is kind of a hack if I remember correctly, not something you will find in the app store. I had it at one point but I ditched it. A lot of the quality on the streams was not very good so I rarely used it. If someone is interested I can try to figure out what it was though and link you to the info. Someone I met randomly somewhere told me a bout it and I looked it up on the internet and tried it.

Also, my computer is hooked to my AVR though. I use my TV for a computer monitor. I just use a wireless keyboard and trackball to navigate my computer. I am sitting in my easy chair typing this right now. Multi channel audio wasn't an issue for me either. My video card sends multi channel audio to my receiver through the HDMI cable I use to connect the monitor.

I can think of a few reasons why you were not getting 5.1 audio to your receiver, but without being in front of the system it would be nothing more than guesses. And it doesn't matter because most likely the fix would have been something similar to what you did anyway.
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post #11 of 13 Old 07-04-2019, 12:50 AM
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@kreng , I believe there is a number of easier methods comparing to the ones you have undertaken, but they would all involve some sort of financial investment. I was stunned by your creativity and dedication. A lot of people would simply give up and either leave it for good or wait for the better tomorrow, when you could invest more in your home theatre system. It must be extremely rewarding to look at your home theatre baby. I am just curious, how long did this whole process take you, from the minute you realised that HDMI is not enough to when you were fully satisfied with the results of your work?
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post #12 of 13 Old 07-04-2019, 05:18 PM - Thread Starter
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I haven’t looked in here for a long time, but I feel I should respond to some of the replies that people were kind enough to leave.

Time brings change and I have moved on from the system I wrote about. It served my purposes very well at the time, but Windows computers are a hassle and I have never been enough of a Linux person to do the kinds of customisations I was able to do with Windows. Instead, I moved on to Android (which is Linux-based, of course).

At the time I built my Windows system, I looked at different prefab solutions but couldn’t find anything that did what I wanted. In the end, it seemed easier to build my own than try to adapt something else. My needs were very specific and this worked quite well for me, especially when I discovered AutoHotKey, which is brilliant for automating just about anything you can do under Windows.

Kodi on Windows did not give me much added value over what I had already created, so I didn’t make much use of it, but on Android it is perfect and I have built a completely new system around that. I started with a cheap Chinese box just to learn about it, then eventually bought an Nvidia Shield, which is now my main streaming device. Eventually I reluctantly removed the old Windows machine from the lounge and put it into storage. It was still working perfectly and I was sorry to part with it, but Windows on a pc just couldn’t cut it anymore.

A project like mine is an evolutionary process. Over time I added bits and this usually created new problems that required solutions. I probably worked on it for a year or more before I felt I had everything pretty much exactly as I wanted it. That made it even more poignant when I finally dumped it in favour of Kodi on Android. It was like losing an old friend.

My Android customisations have been much more modest than the Windows ones were. Maybe that is because the functionality with Kodi is so much better. Mainly, I turned off the Shield interface, which just got in my way with all the Google clutter, and set it to automatically load Kodi, which I do everything through. I have sideloaded selected apps to improve functionality, but most of what I stream comes from Kodi via (legal) IPTV and add-ons. Just as AutoHotKey made Windows usable, I have found a Kodi add-on that gives me the kind of flexibility I could not live without. It is called Simple Favourites and it lets you create a custom folder structure for any shortcut, either Kodi or Android app, making everything accessible with a single click. The click still comes from my old Harmony remote, which I have replaced but not upgraded. In my inexpert opinion, everything Logitech has done since the Harmony One has just been a downhill slide.

Another add-on I can’t live without is the Chrome Launcher. This acts a lot like a URL shortcut, something Android badly needs. With it I can jump to any site I don’t have a suitable app for and with Simple Favourites I can make a shortcut to it that works just like any other. These two add-ons together make Kodi 1000 times more user-friendly. They are great.

My TV, HDMI switcher, audio system and god knows what else, all rely on infrared. For me, Bluetooth is just an enormous unwanted pain so I have kept everything standardised on IR, which the Harmony One still does a brilliant job of controlling. To replace the utterly useless Shield remote, I use a Flirc, controlled from the Harmony. I don’t claim this is better than anything else, but it meets my needs perfectly and I am completely satisfied with it. I also have an air mouse for convenience.

Again, this is what works for me. Thanks to everyone who has taken the trouble to reply here. I’m sorry I didn’t get around to responding sooner.
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post #13 of 13 Old 07-12-2019, 05:32 PM
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I haven’t looked in here for a long time, but I feel I should respond to some of the replies that people were kind enough to leave.

Time brings change and I have moved on from the system I wrote about. It served my purposes very well at the time, but Windows computers are a hassle and I have never been enough of a Linux person to do the kinds of customisations I was able to do with Windows. Instead, I moved on to Android (which is Linux-based, of course).

At the time I built my Windows system, I looked at different prefab solutions but couldn’t find anything that did what I wanted. In the end, it seemed easier to build my own than try to adapt something else. My needs were very specific and this worked quite well for me, especially when I discovered AutoHotKey, which is brilliant for automating just about anything you can do under Windows.

Kodi on Windows did not give me much added value over what I had already created, so I didn’t make much use of it, but on Android it is perfect and I have built a completely new system around that. I started with a cheap Chinese box just to learn about it, then eventually bought an Nvidia Shield, which is now my main streaming device. Eventually I reluctantly removed the old Windows machine from the lounge and put it into storage. It was still working perfectly and I was sorry to part with it, but Windows on a pc just couldn’t cut it anymore.

A project like mine is an evolutionary process. Over time I added bits and this usually created new problems that required solutions. I probably worked on it for a year or more before I felt I had everything pretty much exactly as I wanted it. That made it even more poignant when I finally dumped it in favour of Kodi on Android. It was like losing an old friend.

My Android customisations have been much more modest than the Windows ones were. Maybe that is because the functionality with Kodi is so much better. Mainly, I turned off the Shield interface, which just got in my way with all the Google clutter, and set it to automatically load Kodi, which I do everything through. I have sideloaded selected apps to improve functionality, but most of what I stream comes from Kodi via (legal) IPTV and add-ons. Just as AutoHotKey made Windows usable, I have found a Kodi add-on that gives me the kind of flexibility I could not live without. It is called Simple Favourites and it lets you create a custom folder structure for any shortcut, either Kodi or Android app, making everything accessible with a single click. The click still comes from my old Harmony remote, which I have replaced but not upgraded. In my inexpert opinion, everything Logitech has done since the Harmony One has just been a downhill slide.

Another add-on I can’t live without is the Chrome Launcher. This acts a lot like a URL shortcut, something Android badly needs. With it I can jump to any site I don’t have a suitable app for and with Simple Favourites I can make a shortcut to it that works just like any other. These two add-ons together make Kodi 1000 times more user-friendly. They are great.

My TV, HDMI switcher, audio system and god knows what else, all rely on infrared. For me, Bluetooth is just an enormous unwanted pain so I have kept everything standardised on IR, which the Harmony One still does a brilliant job of controlling. To replace the utterly useless Shield remote, I use a Flirc, controlled from the Harmony. I don’t claim this is better than anything else, but it meets my needs perfectly and I am completely satisfied with it. I also have an air mouse for convenience.

Again, this is what works for me. Thanks to everyone who has taken the trouble to reply here. I’m sorry I didn’t get around to responding sooner.
I am extremely impressed with all the managing of different parts and pieces. I am a retired female trying to get the basic's to work together. I just find what everything talks about is so far away from what I am trying to accomplish.
I applaud your efforts and getting to a solution without needing to invest in hundreds or thousands of dollars!
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