The XMBCbuntu ZBOX server has really changed things in my house. It’s become hard to justify the $50+ cable bill seeing as how I only watch one television show when it originally airs (Breaking Bad). I’m not invested in a Triple Play package – I get my Internet access from a 5Ghz Ubiquiti link to my office (in addition to an aDSL backup line), and for phone service I have an Asterisk server as a PBX with a SIP trunk to Teliax. Quite simply, cable doesn’t do much for me.
I’ve also cut down on shelves — my video and music collection is being converted to digital and packed away in the basement. Most books I purchase on my Nook. If I can’t buy a video or album new as a DRM free digital download, I simply don’t.
The only issue so far with the XBMCbuntu set-top box has been audio – the Radeon HD 6250/6310 sound card seems to have no hardware feature to increase or decrease audio — only mute it. That means I turn the TV up really loud to watch an episode of The Wire, and when my wife switches back to the Nintendo Wii the sound is startling.
Thankfully ALSA is more than just the ALSA mixer, and has an entire plugin architecture behind it.
Using an .asoundrc file, I’m able to connect my HDMI audio output to a softvol plugin and increase audio that way. No more cats running from the upstairs loft scared half to death.
slave.pcm “dmix:0,3” #card 0, device 3
Quite simply, I’m binding the sound card with a softvol plugin, setting it’s maximum gain to 50dB. Set the volume using alsamixer, and store your settings using “alsactl store” so they persist across reboots.
While this is the first time I’ve utilized ALSA this way, I’ve long found that while watching movies on my netbook during long flights, mplayer’s softvol feature is extremely useful. You might find this trick handy when trying to hear a film over a loud jet engine:
mplayer -softvol-max 100 RobotAndFrank.avi