Tag Archives: Project Magnavox

How To Run Games From Kodi

As we’ve seen from previous numbers, Kodi is a pretty powerful application that can be extended to power your entire media experience from local downloaded and physical media to a nearly infinite number of media streams, but we have not covered exactly how to run games from Kodi. For this, we’ll obviously need some games installed on our system, and we’ll need to download an add-on called Rom Collection Browser (if you followed my recommendation to use the Aeon series of skins, you will have RCB already installed on your system).

Rom Collection Browser is available through the stock Kodi repository under the programs menu and is installed like any other add-on.

Before we begin the setup, we must ensure that our files are sorted correctly on the computer. For emulators, each set of roms needs to be in its own folder, sorted by system (all NES roms need to be in an exclusive folder, all SNES roms need to be in an exclusive folder, etc.). For Windows games, make a new folder and place a shortcut to each game’s executable file within.

On first run, Rom Collection Browser will prompt you to create a configuration file, click OK and it will bring up the initial configuration file for a new rom collection. First, RCB will ask you to choose a location for the game information and artwork. Since this is a first run, you will most likely need to download all the pertinent artwork and information, so choose the online option.

Wizard - Online 2 - small

Next, you’ll need to choose a platform for your game collection. If you are adding roms for an emulator, choose the appropriate system for the emulation. If you are adding PC games installed locally, choose the appropriate option (Windows/OSX/Linux).

screen_configwizard_autoconfig2

Once you’ve set your platform, RCB will prompt you to browse to the emulator executable (unless you are adding Windows games, in which case, RCB will skip to the next section). Once you have selected the executable, you will be prompted to enter the particular emulator’s command-line parameters, if applicable. Most emulators worth their salt offer a CLI parameter set to add a measure of granular control over each game as it is executed, because who wants to dick around with settings on a game-by-game basis every time you want to play something different? RetroArch, by far, is the best of the bunch in this respect, and I highly recommend it for all your emulation needs.

RCB will now ask you to browse to the folder containing the roms you are adding. On the next screen, you will type in the file mask for the particular set of roms you are adding (for Windows games, the file mask is *.lnk).

Next, you’ll select a path to the artwork folder. I prefer to use the same folder that contains the roms. RCB will create folders for the basic types of artwork (boxfront, boxback, screenshot, fanart), so you needn’t specify a location for each…yet.

Finally, RCB will ask if you would like to add another rom collection. I recommend only adding one collection at a time as it tends to be easier to watch for mistakes, but you may prefer to do all your scraping at once, and that’s your mistake to make. If you choose to add another collection, you’ll be redirected to the platform choice dialog and start the process over again. If you choose not to, you will be directed to the scraping dialog.

screen_importoptions2

In the scraping dialog, you will be presented with several options. First, choose the particular system that you will be scraping information for. Next, choose the level of interactivity you wish to utilize. For large collections, I recommend starting with the fully-automated (“Automatic: Accurate”) option to do the heaviest lifting without needing to constantly monitor the progress. Once the majority of games have been successfully scraped, use the “Interactive: Select Matches” option to import the titles that may have oddly formatted or incorrect file names. On first fun, I recommend using the default trio of scrapers. Later edits may require changing scrapers, but these three should take care of the bulk. RCB will now query the specified scrapers for information and artwork regarding each game you’re importing (much like Kodi does for your video or music library). Once finished, you will be presented with a list of games ready to play. Simply select them from the list, hit “OK” on your remote, and get to playing!

How To Install RetroArch in Windows

Building Project Magnavox into a genuine all-in-one entertainment system is more than just being able to access all my videos, music, and streaming media on one device. To round-out the feature set, we need to take a page from Microsoft’s playbook and add videogames to the mix. Granted, I could install all my game consoles underneath the television, but that takes up more room than I actually have in my small apartment. Besides, outside the aesthetic benefits of having a veritable museum in my living room, it’s frankly more trouble than it’s worth to rig the wiring, route the cabling, and squint at a screen stretched beyond its original aspect ratio. As awesome as James Rolfe‘s basement is, until I have my own library, I’d like to keep my setup as space-efficient as possible.

This leaves me with one of the most polarizing concepts in classic gaming: emulation.

Now, I’m no stranger to the debate, and let me first say adamantly that it is the opinion of this reporter that, legally speaking, you may make backup copies of software that you have legitimately obtained for personal use [emphasis added]. This is the only application that we will be dealing with here. Secondly, I advocate for emulation in this sense because it does make playing the games much easier and convenient, contributing to my own enjoyment. Thirdly, the so-called “collector’s market” has driven the prices for games through an unsustainable ceiling, and because young millennials would like bragging rights by being able to “own” a copy of a particular game, all the carts and discs worth playing have been bought up only to appear on eBay at ten times or more their original price. Much like the market for vinyl has all-but ruined the casual collection of original-run albums, the market for cartridges and discs has similarly eroded the enjoyment from the hobby.
libretro1
Enter Libretro, a handy piece of software that seeks to pull as many different emulator “cores” into one central application, running almost any classic game as close to original quality as possible in a convenient package. The Libretro API uses a custom front-end called RetroArch to set up and run the roms for each emulator core. The pair are installed simultaneously as a package, and each core is installed as an add-on from within RetroArch itself.

To install RetroArch in Windows, simply download the latest stable RetroArch build from the website, then unzip the downloaded file to the location of your choosing. If you’re still running Windows 7 (because fuck Windows 10), you may run into a missing file error. Specifically, you may be missing d3dx9_43.dll from the DirectX runtime, so you should follow my instructions for fixing that error here.

That’s it! RetroArch is completely self-contained and should run without incident. Use the arrow keys, Z, and X for most of the navigation (you’ll see a control map on first run), download an emulator core from the Online Updater menu, open your freshly-dumped roms, and get playing!

The Piracy Box Sellers and Youtube Promoters Are Killing Kodi

So, I walk the line on this one. While I generally condone piracy less and less–especially when there is a “legitimate” alternative (Netflix, Hulu) available–I recognize that it’s the “career pirates” that really cause a problem in the system. That being said, I’m a long-time fan of XBMC and Kodi (as one can tell by reading my blog), so I’m inclined to agree with the Team on here. Kodi is very powerful software, and like any open-source project, can be exploited for nefarious purposes against those who likely don’t know better.

I appreciate the Team’s response here, slathered in the libertarian ethos that defines the Hacker Ethic. The message is clear: Kodi does not enable media piracy any more than an iPhone enables terrorism. It is merely a platform that can be infinitely expanded upon for reasons both legitimate and illicit. I, personally, would love to see an official Netflix, Hulu, or Crackle plugin, but that will never happen if the powers-that-be see Kodi as a gateway to piracy.

I write my how-to articles on Kodi both for personal reference and as a resource to those who may be reluctant to dive head-first into such a project without someone to hold their hand. Project Magnavox is a labour of love, but it’s also a prototype determine the best way to build a robust all-in-one entertainment solution for the average consumer. The more I can help the average consumer cut the cord, the more I feel like I can help effect fundamental change in the way media is distributed and consumed–dragging the consumer away from the “cable monster” and into the wild blue yonder of Freedom. The pirates that seek only to make a quick buck by shilling these half-assed “Kodi boxes” are only biting the hand that feeds them as consumers looking for a cheap alternative to Big Cable get burned and the name Kodi leaves a sour taste in their collective mouths.

I’m not an official developer for Kodi, but I feel like I am part of the team. I don’t actively participate in the fora, but I try my best to parse the mountain of information therein and present it in a format that is less intimidating to the average idiot. I have loved Kodi since I started using it sometime around 2006 (when it was still called “Xbox Media Center”), and I will fight to defend its good name to the bitter end!

Over the past few years it’s become clear that many users have been watching pirated content using unofficial and unsupported add-ons that frequently break, and they are installing add-on repositories whose trustworthiness is questionable, leaving themselves open to numerous security exploits.

Source: The Piracy Box Sellers and Youtube Promoters Are Killing Kodi | Kodi

How to use a USB IR blaster with WinLIRC

Assuming your homebrew IR blaster works correctly, you should now be able to send commands to your USB IR blaster with WinLIRC (or simply LIRC under Linux, the commands are nearly the same).

Setting up WinLIRC for an FTDI-driven blaster is as simple as selecting the “SerialDevice.dll” plugin and the appropriate config file.

Image credit: WinLIRC/Ian Curtis
Image credit: WinLIRC/Ian Curtis

The WinLIRC config files are available from the WinLIRC remote database on Sourceforge. Download the one that matches your receiver or device, and place that file in the “Config” dialog. If your particular device is not available from the database, you will need to create your own config file. WinLIRC includes a tool that will allow you to capture commands using a USB IR receiver and play them back using your blaster. Click the “OK” button and WinLIRC should have no trouble connecting to your blaster.

Testing your USB IR blaster with WinLIRC

In the WinLIRC control window, you can select from two dropdown menus, one for remotes and one for commands. Choose the appropriate selections from each menu, and send the command to verify that your settings are correct.

How to build a USB IR blaster

My biggest gripe with using Windows as the OS for the VCR Project is the fact that my SIIG MCE IR receiver requires an infrared “signal” to activate before I’m able to initialize the service that controls its commands. As it stands, in order to use an IR remote with the VCR, I must boot the system, wait for Windows to start, press a button on the remote control, restart the AlternateMCEIR service, then load Kodi. EventGhost can handle almost all of that–except the button press. What I need is a way to hit the IR receiver with a burst of IR light automatically, so I can eliminate any physical intervention during startup. What I need is a USB IR blaster.

The vast majority of USB IR blasters on the market are extremely expensive and of dubious quality, so after quite a bit of research, I figured out how to build my own from a handful of parts that I picked up at my local Micro Center.

Gathering supplies for your homebrew USB IR blaster

You’ll need a few ingredients and tools to build your blaster, but out the door, you should be able to build the item for around $15. The most expensive part will be the USB control board, which (at time of publication) Micro Center sells for $9.99. I’m using the Inland FT232 USB to RS232 adapter. The adapter uses the FTDI driver to emulate a serial COM port.

FT232, the heart of our USB IR blasterNow, in order to send IR signals, we will need an IR light source. You would be surprised exactly how difficult it is to find an inexpensive IR emitter off the shelf. All the units I was able to find were in the neighbourhood of $10 (or more), but then I found this:

USB IR blasters need an IR light source
Time to void some warranties!

In addition to these big necessities, you’ll also need the following:

  • 220 Ohm resistor
  • wire
  • USB micro cable
  • crimp-on header pins/jacks
  • soldering iron
  • warranty voiding tools
Obtaining the IRLED

Assuming you found a cheap remote control (check thrift stores; they’ll usually have about 12.3 million of them in stock), you’ll need to crack open the casing to expose the PCB inside. Soldered onto the PCB will be your holy grail LED. Hopefully, there will be a diagram to illustrate the polarity of the LED (saving time and effort later). Considering the light emitted is invisible, it will be rather hard to test for the correct polarity later, so go ahead and mark the leads while the diode is still soldered into the PCB.

USB IR blaster needs IR to workUse your soldering iron to melt the attachment points and carefully remove the LED from the remote control’s board.

Depending on your setup, you may need to run wire from the FT232 to the LED. I’m going to assume you know how to crimp wire and all that, so I’m not going to describe that process. I have a short length of wire running from the FT232 to the IRLED so that it will easily sit next to the receiver plugged into a front USB port.

No matter how you have the leads connected to the FT232, you’ll want the anode plugged into the DTR jack and the cathode is plugged into the TXD jack. Make sure that you wire the 220 Ohm resistor into one of the leads so you don’t end up “popping” the LED by over-volting.

Plug the FT232 into an available USB port and install the FTDI driver according to their instructions. In Windows, the device should appear as “USB Serial Port” in the Device Manager. Now that we’re assembled and installed, we can send IR signals to any device!

How to set up a 10-foot interface in Windows 7

The biggest problem with an HTPC is tinkering around “under the hood” as you generally have to crane your neck and strain your eyes to read the teeny-tiny type that is intended to be seen on a desktop monitor. Windows was never intended to have such a 10-foot interface, but you can build some resemblance to it using standard controls built into the OS.

In the Control Panel, choose “Appearance and Personalization”, then click “Display”. Here you can set the standard size for all objects within Windows, including icons and text. I like to use a custom setting of 175% as it is slightly clearer and far more comfortable to read than the text at 150%. Click the “Apply” button when you have the settings the way you like them, then click the back button to return to the Appearance and Personalization section of the Control Panel.

Now, choose “Personalization”, then click “Change mouse pointers” from the left sidebar. The dropdown menu in the Mouse Properties dialog allows you to select from different pointer schemes that will prove to be easier to see from across the room. I like the “Windows Aero (extra large)” scheme as it matches the rest of my OS setup and is available by default. Click the “OK” button, then close the Control Panel window.

I’ve been using this setup for a few weeks now, and it has at least saved me the headaches that come solely from eye strain when working on the VCR. Now, if I can get that IR issue worked out….

How to add Google Play Music to Kodi

I’ve had a love affair with Google Play [Music] since its inception–having the ability to store 20,000 (now 50k) tracks in the cloud for free was a helluva draw that nailed the lid on the coffin of my plans to buy an iPod classic to keep my MP3 files. I’ve not needed to solicit the services of a streaming radio app since I was a beta tester in 2011. My massive music library is always available wherever I have data service and I don’t have to pay a subscription to listen to music that I already own!

I’m always looking for new and interesting add-ons for my Kodi installation–part of my quest to make a truly universal, completely customizable, open-source media center–and I’ve run across a nice solution for (in my opinion) the only worthwhile streaming service. Granted, my music library is already connected to the VCR via NAS, but I like the option to have my playlists available on all my machines for the sake of continuity.

Foreverguest has written a great little add-on based on some code originally started by Vially, but like every other app that uses the Google APIs, it’s going to need a little effort to get working.

The first part is rather simple: download the repository from this link and install it from zip file as you normally would. Install the add-on from the new repo, but before you get involved in configuring the settings, make sure you set up an app-specific password in Google because the add-on does not support 2-factor authentication (assuming you have it set up; if you don’t, shame on you). Use this password to configure the add-on with your Google account, and away you go!