Sensibo Sky: The Newest Gadget in my Home Office

It’s that time of year once again, when the mercury rises and I am reminded of how the air conditioner in my home office is so critical to comfort and productivity. This is a little story of how I recently enhanced the now nine-year-old master of cool.

The Fujitsu Halcyon ductless mini-split air conditioner installed here is one of the larger models they make. It’s rated for 30,000 BTU (2.5T if you prefer) which is quite large for the 400 square foot office. It was sized to accommodate a full-height rack of broadcast equipment that used to occupy a corner in my office.

Back when it was installed, it was enough that it did the basics. It kept the space cool and dry, without being noisy. It meets those requirements even today.

The Master of Cool

With no controls on the device itself, it’s operated using a simple IR cordless remote control. The remote functions are very basic; on/off, target temperature, mode (cool, dry, auto) and control of the motorized vanes that direct air flow. I hardly had to use the remote control beyond on/off. Since it’s an IR remote, it only works when pointed directly at the indoor unit.

I can’t fault the Fujitsu air conditioner, since it’s installation we have become more sophisticated users. We’ve had a Nest thermostat installed in the house for years. We’ve become accustomed to the ability to program a schedule of temperature changes to minimize energy use. We also appreciate remote control from our smart phones, whether we’re home or elsewhere. This leaves the mini-split feeling primitive and costly to run.

Sensibo Sky

A few weeks ago I discovered Sensibo Sky, a small IoT device that adds all the remote control flexibility of a Nest thermostat to a split ductless unit with IR remote control. It’s similar to the Logitech Harmony remote control scheme, in that it emulates the IR emitter of the original remote, connecting it to our Wi-Fi, and making it accessible via the web and smart phone apps.

Originally priced at $149, Sensibo Sky initially seemed a bit pricey. I found a recent offer of $99 with free shipping too good to pass up, so I bought one.

Continue reading “Sensibo Sky: The Newest Gadget in my Home Office”

Logitech Squeezebox 3 vs PiCorePlayer on Raspberry Pi 3B+

Long, long ago, in the earliest days of this blog, I described my DIY approach to a whole house audio system. The strategy centers around a collection of Logitech Squeezebox 3 streaming audio players, each mated to a pair of powered audio monitors. All this worked great until the aging SB3s started to fail. Drying electrolytic capacitors cause arthritis in electronics.

Squeezebox_v3

Faced with failing SB3s, and the occasional desire to grow the installation, I resorted to using a most excellent combination of the Raspberry Pi3 B+ single board computer running PiCorePlayer in combination with a HifiBerry DAC. I’ve got HiFiBerry DAC+ where –10 dbm RCA output is suitable and DAC Plus Pro XLR where +4 dbm XLR balanced output is required.

hifiberry dac  in steel case

The RPi, HiFiBerry and PiCorePlayer combination work great! They outperform the original SqueezeBox 3 in every way, save the lack of an IR remote control. Also, they cost less, even with the fancy metal case.

hifiberry pro xlr in case

All the above is preface to help explain something that I discovered this past weekend. There’s a fundamental difference between the behavior of the SB3 and a RPi/HFB combination.

Continue reading “Logitech Squeezebox 3 vs PiCorePlayer on Raspberry Pi 3B+”

Awaiting a New Laptop

After 6 years with the Lenovo X1 Carbon (Gen 2 circa 2013) I’m seriously considering a new laptop. In truth, the existing X1C still does most of what I need. The display is getting dimmer. The battery life is shorter. It’s short on ports. The 256 GB SSD feels a bit constrained, but it remains a basically functional machine.

My experience has been so good that I would buy another X1 Carbon (Gen 6), but Lenovo has thrown me a curve in the form of the X1 Extreme. It’s an enhanced model that include more; bigger display, more ports, more potent CPU, and most significantly a more capable nVidia GTX GPU. The second generation of the X1 Extreme is about to be released, which has my purchase plans temporarily on hold.

The discrete GPU is a real benefit to anyone who does any kind of live streaming. My favorite tools, vMix and OBS, can both leverage the hardware H264 encoders on a GTX card, offloading a ton of work from the CPU.

Continue reading “Awaiting a New Laptop”

Power-Over-Ethernet Splitters are Good Fun!

Power-over-Ethernet is for more than IP phones, Wi-Fi access points and surveillance cameras. It can be used anywhere there’s a low-power device that would benefit from continuous power and the reliability of Ethernet connectivity. Assuming your network switch (or POE injector) is connected to a UPS, POE allows the attached devices to remain powered in the event of a power failure.

In my home and office, I use POE to connect and power a number of Raspberry Pi single-board computers configured as music players. The RPi3 B+ isn’t natively POE capable, so I use a POE splitter like the one pictured here.

Anvision POE splitter

Given a POE-capable switch upstream, this wee splitter provides 5 VDC at up to 2.4 A via a standard micro-USB connector. This model from Anvision is under $10. A 4-pack is just $37 on Amazon.com.  Continue reading “Power-Over-Ethernet Splitters are Good Fun!”

Immersive DSP: A Product That Inspires

MG_5192_6e28b20d-90c2-4d2b-a25a-71616216bc9d_1024x1024Now and then I discover a product that inspires my imagination. I’ve long dreamt of very sophisticated, whole house audio. In fact, whole property would be a better characterization. The ability to put any sounds I like anywhere. Not to be loud, but well distributed and zoned to be able to create effects.

We’ve achieved this to some degree, by deploying streaming music devices that feed multiple zones: front porch/yard, back yard, office, garage and dining room. At first each was a Logitech Squeezebox 3, but as these have died off I’ve transitioned to Raspberry Pi 3B+ with HiFi Berry audio cards. While I first tried the HiFi Berry DAC+ Pro, I now use the DAC+ Pro XLR.

In some places the streaming engine is connected to pair of small, self powered monitors. I still like the M-Audio BX5 Series. Very good sounds and great value.

While I’m not unhappy with this arrangement it does not satisfy some of my more outlandish desires. For example, I’d like to do a proper Halloween haunted house & yard. To my mind that would include sound effects located all around the yard.

This idea resurfaced when I recently saw the Immersive DSP SPK-4P, a PoE+ powered, IP-connected loudspeaker. It tickles the imagination to consider a small, powered speaker that could be located almost anywhere on the property. Each one treated as a discrete channel for the purposes of directional sound effects. No one loud enough to be annoying, but collectively very capable.

PoE_speaker_1024x1024

Each SPK-4P has two 15 watt class D amplifiers, allowing each powered cube to be mated to a passive twin. I can envision a speaker mounted to every fence post, roughly every 8 feet, along three side of the property. A great ring of inward aimed acoustic cannons, ready to send the spiraling sound of dragons flying past across the property.

I see other companies are starting to offer POE capable amplified speaker for commercial installation. Newer PoE standards that deliver more power make this more and more practical. PoE+ (802.3at) provides for 25 watts. 802.3bt provides up to 71 Watts. Digital switching amplifiers are highly efficient, turning most of that available power into sound.

It would be fund to experiment with AVB, which is a standard method for distributing digital audio over an IP network. Like DANTE, but backed by different group.

Alas, wee wonders cost. Around $350 for the powered version. My implementation would require at least 20! So it remains with the dragon of my dreams. Even before Game of Thrones, I always wanted a dragon. Think of the screams at Halloween.

dragon

Polycom VVX-1500 Keeps On Truckin

The other day I had to stage a little test that required a few SIP end points. For a lark, I powered up a Polycom VVX 1500 that has lived on my credenza for quite some time. It’s been idle for a long while, basically since the VVX 600 took the prime spot on my desk and became my daily driver.

vvx-1500 frontal

It happens that we don’t have POE everywhere I’d like, so the elder VVX had been powered off for a bit. Applying power, it began to boot, which is a process that can take some time. On this particular occasion, a considerable time, as it seems the device found a firmware update and automatically began to install it. I had forgotten that the VVX 1500 had been configured to use boot.onsip.com as its boot server.

While it fetched and loaded new firmware I had some time to lookup the current state of software offered for the VVX 1500. I was amazed to find that the old VVX 1500 is still actively supported! The latest firmware is 5.9.1.0615 released in January 2019. The OnSIP provisioning server offered 5.8.3.2414 which appears to be from Q4-2018.

that’s impressive for a device over ten years old. This one came my way when Small Net Builder asked me to review a pair. That review was published in September 2009. The folks at OnSIP did their own review in 2011.

While its video capabilities now seem dated (CIF resolution) the VVX 1500 remains the single best sounding phone I’ve ever used. It’s impressive that Polycom is still able to offer firmware updates for the mighty beast. Such longevity is testament to a very forward looking hardware design.

Other products I’ve used, Gigasets for example, are so hardware constrained that software support tends to be limited. The device has just enough memory to function. Over time, as the firmware invariably grows in size, it will be left behind.

I see that other iconic Polycom, the SoundStation IP7000, is currently sporting 4.0.14 firmware released in December 2018. It is also a remarkably long-lived product. We were still buying them for ZipDX projects in June 2017. In truth, it has well and truly been superseded by the Trio 8000 Series, which are dramatically more flexible.

My sit/stand desk has a little more space since I switched from a dual-monitor arrangement to a single 4K display. Maybe it’s time to take the burly VVX 1500 for a spin as my daily desktop phone once again. It sounds so great, and those metal buttons are just so…polished.