Car Media Center v0.99

Sorry for the long wait for an update. My Car Media Centre is 99% complete. I have posted all the details. It is rather long, but there is a lot to tell.

My Car media Centre v0.99b is installed and working beautifully. All I need to make it version 1.0 is a small video splitter cable, as for some reason my screen switches to AV2 when I turn my lights on. If I connect my MCE to AV2, then it defaults back to AV1 when the lights are off, and I have to manually switch to AV2. I plan to work around this by connecting the MCE to both AV1 and AV2, then all should be well.

The journey has been long and frustrating, but well worth it in the end. The first major challenge was finding an Auto Electrician to install my inverter the way I wanted it. I have no issues ripping my car apart, but as I stated in my last post, messing with the electrics could have bad repercussions. I finally found one. Cape Auto Elecrical in Cape Town. All the others didn’t know what I was talking about, or were too afraid to do it. These guys did a great job. It is wired directly from the battery via a fuse and a 70Amp automotive relay. The relay cuts power to the inverter if the ignition is off, thereby preventing a flat battery. The power cable is running a double wire and was done very neatly. I had a small problem with the ground, and had to take it back once, and they fixed it and I haven’t had any problems since. Below is the relay and fuse in the engine bay. This normally has a cover over it.

Fuse Box

Dash apart

Once the power was sorted out, I installed my screen. This all worked quite well. I had a bit of noise on the screen, but it was only noticable when looking closely. I didn’t mount the screen fully in the dash. I live in South Africa where we have a small petty crime issue. I need to be able to remove it when parking in any dodgy spots.

The audio was quite a challenge. I have a factory fitted Philips VDO radio and CD shuttle. My last CD shuttle in my previous car had a control cable and Left/Right Audio RCA cable. I foolishly assumed this car would be the same. It wasn’t. VDO equipment now uses the HSSX bus cable. Basically this is one plug with contains all power and audio signals. My original plan was to leave the CD shuttle control cable connected to my head unit so it would think it had a CD shuttle but the audio would be coming from my Media Centre. This now wouldn’t work. The only other option I could come up with was using an FM Modulator. I installed this, and tuned into 88.5FM and I had sound. But, it sucked. It crackled and buzzed and was downright horrible. I decided I have to figure this HSSX thing out. The problem was that I wanted to keep my car as standard as possible for ease of trade in or sale later. I didn’t want to cut up this cable incase I messed it up.

Cubby Removed Close-Up

I phoned around, and eventually found a Car radio installer that would sell me just the cable. I don’t know where this guy got it, but he let me have it for half price.

I examined this cable, removed a small bit of the shielding, and thought I had figured out which were the audio lines. I pulled my dash apart again, and cut the red wire with a CD playing, hoping the right channel would go dead. It did, but not for the reason I had hoped it would. The radio display said, “Error”. I had cut the wrong cable. Good thing I wasn’t on the bomb squad. I repaired the red wire and tried again. The next one I cut the right channel went dead, then I was sure I knew which was the left, and cut it and it went dead too, but the CD was still playing!! Awesome!! I soldered 2 female RCA jacks onto the end of the wires, plugged my audio leads coming from my MCE and there was sound. Not great, but there was sound. I had a loud buzz on the left channel. I checked my soldering, as I was never a master, and it had been some time since I had last soldered a decent joint. It looked ok. I put everything back together, and left it at that as I had somewhere else to be.

Cubby Removed Close-Up 2

The next day, I spoke to a work colleague about the buzz and he said I should try running a grounding wire from the chassis of my machine and this should sort out a lot of the noise. He was right. The ground wire did the trick. The sound was much better. The left channel was still quite muffled though, and I wasn’t sure what was causing this. I changed the audio cable coming out of the onboard sound card, but it made no difference. The new cable was not a vast quality improvement over the last one, but I wanted to try anyway. I then decided to try a different sound card. I had an old Sound Blaster Live lying around, and I installed that. The sound was radically improved. I disabled the onboard piece of garbage and am loving the sound now. There is still a slight hum on the audio, but I suspect that is the cheap cable I am using from the PC 3.5mm jack to RCA. I will sort that out post haste! I had to fiddle a little with the settings on the head unit, as the bass was a bit high, but I think now it really sounds good. Below is the inverter with the ground wire connected from the chassis to the ground terminal.


The next issue I had was the UPS. I had planned on using a UPS to handle graceful shutdowns once the ignition was turned off. The problem was that the UPS did not want to charge via the inverter. It seems that a UPS required a sinusoidal AC source. So I took it out. Now the machine powered up as soon as I started the car, and switched off as soon as I switched the car off. This was fine, unless it was for a very short trip, like moving my car or something. I then had to wait to it to hibernate again before switching the ignition off, otherwise I would lose my currently playing list. I installed a switch in the front of the car now, and set the BIOS to always Soft-Off on AC resume. Now it only powers up when I push the button, and this works very well. You can see it below, just below the IR reciever. It also hibernated with this button, or the PC button on the remote control.

Inside finished

I also ran a USB 2.0 extension cable to the glove box for using my USB Memory stick, or a USB Hard Disk etc. I will eventually get a USB DVD drive as well, and mount it in the glove box. I haven’t found one for cheap enough yet though.

From a software side, I found a program called Synchromagic which works really well for keeping my music synchronised between car and house. If I know I have added music on my home Media Center, I simply scroll to More Programs, and select “Sync Music” in the car before shutting it off when I get home. This checks the folders for changes and copies all the missing music to my car over Wifi.

Below is the PC mounted in the boot.

PC in Boot

Please leave me any comments or questions or suggestions.


4 thoughts on “Car Media Center v0.99

  1. Keith

    Fantastic job illustrating your successes and failures. It will help me as I sort through the issues I expect to encounter. I hope you can post some high-res pics as well. It is hard to see what is going on in the pics. Thanks!!

  2. Kurt

    Hey Bro. I was always wondering about how you achieved this. Pretty much how i thought you did. Except for a few things. Well, without sounding like too much of a copy cat, I would really like to do this one day. It will happen when my new job comes, the ADSL, new car etc. 🙂 Cool setup by the way! Cheerz. Kurt

  3. Darren

    Great job Duncan!! Your a gun techie! Look forward to seeing your GPS set up as well. in there any integration of the car alarm in your car pc? What about a fingerprint biometric scanner for ignition start? Or how about caller ID (with paging) on your pc screen from your bluetooth mobile phone? I’m sure it would be no problem for you! Once again well done!! A cool car!!!

  4. Faried

    Hey man, really nicely done…
    As I do lots of car audio installations in my spare time, I really like your idea and setup.
    I was thinking of a similar setup, but by using a notebook instead. Taking the whole thing appart, extending the DVD-Rom and monitor. Thus having the CPU hidden somewhere in a well ventilated spot in the car. And the monitor and DVD drive neatly installed somewhere in the dashboard. This will be swheet with a DSP unit providing the perfect seperation for different sound modes accross your listening area, including a center chanel and the like. A few clean high end amplifiers for a crystal clear system no matter what volume.
    Only snag is that you can’t just do this on a new car or one you plan not to keep forever… However, something I will do someday. oh and in the boot, we have a creative microsoft cut-out amongst the audio equipment of course.

    Ciao man…
    moegoe a.k.a Deceptive 🙂


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