Simple Set Top MP3 Player

By | October 15, 2005

For a couple years now, Jessica has wanted a simple, standalone MP3 player that she could put on her desk or on a shelf, or entertainment cabinet or someplace else thats out of the way. Thats all it needs to do is play MP3’s, have a simple LCD or VFD display on it to show what song is playing and have a web or other interface to make and save playlists. Oh, and it needs to have a hard drive in it to store all this stuff. Software MP3 players for Windows try to do too much and be too flashy. Plus she wants to be able to stream or otherwise listen to music in other rooms of the house. So this means a full fledged computer is out of the question. Too much power, too loud, too expensive just for this purpose.

Last year I thought I found the answer. I got her a HomePod from Macsense and an 80G Maxtor USB drive. It was small, fanless (i.e. quiet) and had a nice simple interface for playing from the attached USB drive. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to its claims. Its slow, locks up frequently and is a royal pain to use. She doesn’t use it unless she is desparate for music, and even then she would rather grab our Rio Cali and use that with headphones. Its also not overly attractive because it stands by itself and then you have this big bulky USB chassis next to it.

The concept of it was quite good, though. I’ve been continuing my quest for this device and most of the things I’ve found are either way to expensive ($1499 or more), don’t have the right features (remember, I want this simple), require a stream or other software to be playing on your computer, or are just plain ugly. I’ve been searching for this device for years now. No luck.

So, I’ve decided to build my own and write about the hell I’m sure to go through here, maybe in the hopes to spare some other poor and unfortunate soul from going through the same thing I have.

I’ve promised her this device for Christmas, so now I have to deliver or I’ll probably never für hear the end of it. As I was typing this she was reading of my shoulder. She simply looked at me, gave me a wry smile and said “You’re right.” The pressure is on.

A quick review of the requirements:

  • Small
  • Internal hard drive
  • Remote control for play, stop, pause, fast forward, reverse, etc.
  • LCD or VFD for display of the current song
  • Web interface for managing playlists
  • Quiet

Doesn’t sound that difficult Will to accomplish, but sadly, it is.

I have narrowed down the software I’m going to use, at least. It will of course be running Linux of some sort. Probably a derivative of Damn Small Linux or maybe Fedora, but probably the former since I want this system to be light-weight since the processor will wholesale jerseys probably be a Via Eden or something else with relatively low processing power.

I’ve also selected the player software, that will be the Music Player Daemon. It is simple, well documented and stable. It doesn’t require a GUI and its client/server approach is perfect for everything I need. The latest test versions even let you send to 3d a Shoutcast or Icecast server that will take care of my need wholesale jerseys to cheap jerseys stream it to other rooms in the house using something like the HomePod or Netgear’s Wireless Digital Music Player, though I haven’t tested it yet. Samba will be used for her to transfer files to and from it and as a nice bonus it will give her someplace to back up her laptop. The remote control stuff will all be done with LIRC and probably the mpc command line tool for MPD.

The web interface I’m going to write myself since all of the others that I’ve looked at are horrible. They try to cram way to much onto a single page and aren’t intuitave at cheap mlb jerseys all. I’ll be using B. Carlisle’s mpd-class for PHP as the interface, though I’m a bit leary of it. Within my first 5 minutes of toying around with it I found a serious design bug in it, I was able to fix it without any problems, and I’ll send it to him. As long as I don’t run into any other serious problems, it will be a good framework. The interface itself will be simple, much like a portable MP3 player. All of the elements of it will be different sections, i.e. one area for playlists, one area to view the loaded playlist, one area to show the current information and status. Ideally, she would be able to interface with the device using her PDA, so the web interface must be very light weight. Plus on a low powere CPU, smaller is better.

The hardware is an entirely different story. Thats the part thats giving me the most grief. I’ve been looking seriously at the GTC Allwell set top boxes, because they have the right mix of size and performance, as well as built in LAN and audio. They also have MPEG hardware and TV output which is less important for me, but someday I might want to branch this out a bit more into something that can also do video playback on a TV. I doubt it since it would expand my simple requirements, but its nice to have the option. The metallic model has an exposed 5.25″ drive bay that I can put an LCD into, such as the Thermaltake Media Lab or a Crystalfontz LCD Module and an internal 3.5″ hard drive. The problem is that the 6802NC2 unit seems like the drive bay is curved and I don’t know if the LCD would fit seamlessly. Plus, when you’re dealing with silver colors, color matching isn’t always easy. I would prefer black, but thats not an option in this unit.

Another option I’ve encountered is the Cooler Master CM Media 260 case. The big down side with this is that its a full fledged PC. I’d then have to go get a motherboard, CPU and memory. By the time I did all that, it would be kind of pointless and “why not just get a silent computer” to run it. I may Sweater go with this route since the case is nice, is available in black, and does have the option for a VFD and remote control.

I have decided on the hard drive I’m going to use at least. I can’t remember who makes it, but its a 300G 5400RPM drive. Big and quiet. Speed isn’t important.

As I progress with this project, I’ll post updates….

One thought on “Simple Set Top MP3 Player

  1. She Who Is Being Spoken Of

    The only high point of the HomePod is the remote. It’s small and doesn’t have a lot of extraneous buttons on it. Other than that its a large white beast feasting on my precious desk space.

    And it’s white! Yes, white! Just so it can stand apart from the other electronics surrounding it. VCR is black, TV and DirecTV/TiVo is silver, laptop is black and silver, chassis for the hard drive is black and silver. Heck, even my external keyboard, USB hub and the card reader are all black and silver. Notice a theme here? I loathe the whiteness of the HomePod.

    If I want to manage my MP3’s (all legal so back off RIAA) then I have to disconnect the drive from the HomePod and plug the drive into my laptop (via USB). Not too bad but I’d much rather not have to play cable monkey in order to do something as simple as add a new CD.

    Another black mark on this white creature is the lack of a playlist function. I’ve heard rumors of some way to create playlists. How that happens is beyond me, I’ll probably need to actually read the damn manual or something. It’s intuitive inclinations end at the power button.

    Oh, and did I mention the noise of the hard drive? Little high pitched whirring and clicking. In other words, background sounds from Star Trek. Fun and cool but completely unneccesary when Data isn’t standing in back of me.

    So yeah, while my needs are simple the industry seems to believe that More is Better. Better equals More Money. Or some such shit. All I want is a component that does one thing and does it well. Think Charles from M*A*S*H.


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