Sunday, July 27, 2014

How to build a multimedia boat

I been thinking some more ...

And I hope that last sentence didn't have some of you (who know me best) scurrying for cover.

I've been pondering more about the narrowboat. Now, bear in mind that the narrowboat is at least 5 years off in the future and that technology will have evolved hugely in that time. That's opportunities coming like piping your videos to the projector over the airwaves. I already do that with my music with an Apple Airport Express (Airplay format - must not be overlooked) but have to plug things in to get video.

What's the multimedia boat need ? And also bear in mind that this is my personal requirement, which would differ from other people. I'd see it as a Middle Of The Road that gives a great experience without spending megabucks.

5.1 movies, preferably with a big screen - This is the complicated thingy because it needs connectivity, plus it needs speakers and screen hidden in suitable places where they won't get in the way.
Screens at a comfortable height - a watchable screen should be at eye height or below. If it's higher than eye height, you crick your neck looking up at it. So height is utterly critical.
Connectivity for devices - including having other people bring their ipods and laptops
Fitting in with the boat - it mustn't get in the way when not in use
Low power consumption - because there's only so much power in the batteries and running the motors makes noise which other people in the marina wouldn't like. Hell, the whole thing with the multimedia boat is subject to the noise it'd make ...
No trippy hazard - all wires that are permanent have to be hidden away.

That's the rough design I'd be looking at in a boat, with the saloon area in the bow (left of picture) adjoining a galley area in the middle. You could set it up two ways :

Opening to the side as above - And have an L-shaped sofa which could be rigged as a dining table. There should also be room for a comfy chair in the gap to starboard. The hidden bonus here is that the sofa/table could also be re-rigged as a double bed in case of boarders.
Opening in the middle to have 2x L-shaped sofas. This was my original thought but you'd lose that sweet spot in the middle.

The pic above has a U-shaped sofa/bed right at the bow. I don't like this because it restricts access to the bow deck. Instead, this is where most of the electronic gubbins would go. The amplifier, the skybox, the bluray player, the multimedia PC and all those blu-rays and dvd movies. Shelves etc.

About those electronics ...

A narrowboat is steelhulled, which should elminate all the radio frequency interference that you can see. So wireless is a viable option. You just need to have your gateway to the internet have antennae outside the boat so it has a chance at a signal. This would also handle routing all those different signals to all the different devices.

Kit list :
AV amplifier - number one job - to give great sound. But also as a plug in point for extra devices so it would want an HDMI input on the front.
5.1 surround speaker set - the big bit is the subwoofer, which you hide. The other 5 speakers are pretty discreet.
A multimedia PC - the thing here is to design for efficiency, which is a departure from what I've done before. I usually build power PCs with no regard for keeping them small. So this would be tightly packed.
Projector - to be roof mounted with a screen coming down into the bow area. Idea is that it's out of the way when not in use.
Separate blu-ray player - the thing you learn with PCs is not to be too optimistic with how they connect. The software always tends to get in the way or you get unexpected issues like surround sound connectors that don't carry surround sound (that got Asustek on the blacklist). So, you avoid the problem by having a dedicated box to play through.
Separate touchscreen display - because you might want to be using that multimedia PC without the projector on.* And a touchscreen because using a mouse on board could be awkward.
A pair of wireless enabled speakers for music. Cos sound quality out of laptops is nasty.
Wireless keyboard and mouse for when the touchscreen isn't enough.

* One of the things that would definitely change with the narrowboat life would be I Would Learn To Cook. I've been developing a taste for different stuff to eat and the narrowboat change would be a good catalyst for that. And that touchscreen would be ideal for having recipes visible to the galley.

The biggest thing is Power and the limited amount of joules you have available. That can be supplemented by having things like solar power panels but there's a couple of things you can do to improve things :

Choose low power consumption components
Use something different when you don't need the greedy bits

Hence a separate touchscreen and wireless enabled speakers. The projector and amplifier would eat up around 500W minimum, which would munch those batteries quickly. So you need to think of more efficient ways of getting the same satisfaction.

Oh my - this post is getting long. Closing points :

A lot of this would need to be designed in at the start, if not included at the start. The actual buying of the PC, the projector, the amplifier could wait until late. But - you'd want to have the electronics and wires all plumbed in when the boat was built.

That's the most important thing of this flight of fancy - the lesson :

When you're going into something, remember what you actually want. If there's something that will make things easier later, make sure it's thought about early. If there's a choice between two things that are mostly the same, remember the important features (like power consumption).

I wonder when I'll get the chance to put this multimedia boat into being ?

PS I'm trying not to mention the other reason for the multimeda PC ... It would be the gateway into a narrowboat platform management system ... something that would tell you : battery charge, fuel level, water level, loo level, gas level ... and the rest !

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