A while back I noted the plan to finally replace my crazy oven with a sweet 36" black glass induction cook top (or hob, as they say in the UK). That's part of a larger project in the kitchen which provides an opportunity for me to re-think my kitchen A/V and kitchen computing in general.
Up until now we had an Apple G4 off the kitchen for general use (email, web) and I dropped an Advent wireless speaker underneath the sideboard in order to pipe in audio from the system that powers the living room. Not bad, got the job done, albeit lacking in a few areas:
- Audio quality was via radio, not wired, so it was pretty compressed
- Audio was mono to boot
- Audio was controlled via the hall closet (ugh).
- The G4 was getting long on the tooth; The OS was pre-Tiger so it wouldn't play nice with my music, video and photo server as I had to manually reconnect every time; for some reason I couldn't get Safari to run so I had to use Firefox which kept asking me to "start a new session"; the keyboard died; it would randomly not connect to web sites unless you refreshed a few times; Upgrading to Leopard was not advised since it would slow down the system significantly;
- The biggest issue I had with the G4 was the lack of parental controls. This is something that Vista does very well. More on that in another post.
- No TV
The main challenge was to bring A/V control into the kitchen with something that connected seamlessly with my music collection, supported TV in, looked good, and provided a solid computing platform.
I went with the Dell XPS One (Red). Yes, I know, I just had my Dell m1330 repaired, but it met all the criteria without breaking the bank. It takes coax TV in, with a remote for across the room control. I'll run the Zune client on there that manages my server full of music with all of my playlists. It will show random photos from my collection of almost 20,000 family photos on my server as a screen saver. The browser has solid parental controls. It has a wireless keyboard with a built-in trackpad in addition to the mouse. It has SPDIF (digital audio out). It's all-in-one with a great 20" display.
I paired it with a Dell 948 printer (Red) that upgrades my ancient HP 932c to a printer that also has a scanner/copier in it. Quite handy. The only ding is that it's not a touch screen but frankly the software for a touch screen kitchen user experience doesn't exist yet, so it's no big deal. Yeah, I'm not counting the HP unit on purpose.
So now I needed to solve the audio problem. I installed four Speakercraft CS3s in the ceiling. These guys have a great full range sound and have a diffuser that radiates the sound down and out to fill a room. They have a great mounting system as well using only a Phillips screwdriver, assuming you know how to cut a round hole in the drywall. They come with grilles but I kind of like them without. I ran a bunch of Audioquest cable from the speakers down underneath the countertop that will show off the XPS One.
Obviously the Dell doesn't have the amps to drive the Speakercrafts so I am on eBay now looking for a solid two channel receiver. I did look at the Decco amp at my local Magnolia, but it seemed rich at $800. There are plenty of Harman Kardons and NADs and such for less than $100 on eBay. I am also looking for a 12" powered sub to cover the low frequencies and act as the table under the counter to stack the sub, the receiver, and then the printer on top.
How will I get from SPDIF to the amp? If the amp doesn't have SPDIF in, which most non-home theatre amps do not, I'll just use a USB to RCA DAC device that I can pick up for $30.
This should all sound pretty rockin' although my only snag is in the remote (as usual). The Dell has a solid one for the Media Center and PC, but the amp will have it's own for volume (or not if I go retro!). I suppose I can get another learning remote but the Harmony I bought for the TV room is just not impressing me anymore. We'll see - maybe just adjust volume manually under the counter? Might be the simplest solution.