Playing MP3s from your hi-fi

Playing MP3s while you work at your computer is fine, but if you have a growing collection of digital music, then you'll probably want to be able to listen to it while you're away from your PC, too. A portable MP3 player is great while you're out and about, but who wants to wear it at home? Of course, you could run a long audio lead from your PC's sound card to your hi-fi amplifier, but do you really want a trip wire connected to two of your most valued possessions?

This week we look at two different setups so that you can listen to all your MP3s through your existing stereo system.

System 1 - Home Broadcasting

Figure 1: AudioVideo transmitterFor around $200 you can buy an audio-video transmitter unit from electronics shops such as Jaycar (http://www.jaycar.com.au). Simply plug the transmitter into the speaker socket on your sound card, and the receiver into your amplifier, and you have an instant PC jukebox! (fig 1) If you have a TV-out on your computer's graphics card then you can also watch DVDs, VCDs and DivX movies on your TV.

This is a quick and inexpensive way to get your MP3s to play in your stereo system, but there are a few disadvantages. First, you cannot control the playback from your hi-fi -- you have to go to your PC for that. This is particularly annoying if you need to pause a tune or movie and have to run to the next room to do it! Second, this will limit your use of your PC while you have it pumping out music or video to your hi-fi. If this sounds like more of a compromise than a solution, you might want to consider building a dedicated box for the job.

System 2 - A Dedicated Computer

A more sophisticated but versatile solution is to build a stand-alone PC that is permanently incorporated into your home theatre setup. You don't need a state-of-the-art computer for this, so you will probably get by mostly with old parts left over from your upgrades over the years. The rest you can afford to buy with the cash you get for your old CD player and DVD player, which you won't need any more!

Hardware Requirements

:

Standard Components:

  • Mini case with power supply.

  • Motherboard with CPU and RAM.

  • CD or DVD drive.

  • 10GB hard disk.

  • Sound card.

Non-Standard or Optional Components:

  • Wireless keyboard with joypad mouse (approx. $85)·
  • Removable hard disk unit x 2 (approx. $25 each)
  • Network card (approx. $30)
  • Video card with composite video out (approx. $120) or a scan converter (approx. $220)
Obviously, the larger the hard disk the more music you can store on it. You will need a video card with TV-out so that you can bring up the desktop on your TV. If you don't have TV-out on your video card, an alternative is to buy a scan converter. These little boxes convert the monitor signal from your graphics card to regular video signal. If you have an AV amplifier then you can plug the sound card and video card into the VCR2 input. If your amp doesn't have video inputs, you'll need to use either a second input on your TV or the line-in on your VCR. Technically, you don't need a CD or DVD drive at all if you plan to play files over the network or from hard disk, but if you back up your MP3s onto CD, or if you intend to use the PC to watch DVD movies, then a drive will be necessary.

Using a network connection is convenient if you already have a LAN, although you may want to consider running the network cable under the floor. If you don't have a network already and don't want to set up one just for your MP3 player, consider using a removable disk bay. You will need one for your desktop PC and one for the hi-fi PC. The benefit is that you'll be able to copy large amounts of data quickly and easily by physically removing the hard disk from the ‘jukebox' and inserting it into your desktop PC. The only downside is that you have to shut down whenever you want to insert or remove the disk.

Figure 2: wireless keyboardThe only other hardware considerations you need to think about are the keyboard and mouse functions. A cheap infrared wireless keyboard with a joypad style mouse controller will enable you to control your PC from the couch (Fig 2). Some even come with special hotkey drivers so you can configure it to work much like a regular remote control!

An alternative configuration of the dedicated PC is to use the AV transmitter from System 1 (above) instead of the wireless keyboard. Then you can have the complete PC set up in the corner of the room, instead of integrating it into the home theatre. This might be a better option if you want to use the PC when it's not driving the stereo system, or if you have some extra living space that you think would suit a computer! If this is the case, why not install an old modem and use it as a fax and answering machine as well?

Got a digital audio question? Ask HelpScreen

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