Student common room and living areas were well equipped with AV
equipment, but many of the students were reliant on support staff to change channels etc.
We created a cost effective accessible interface which would enable many of
our students to access TV, DVDs and MP3s independently.
Step 1: Hardware
We wanted to use ‘off the shelf’ hardware as far as possible to keep costs down. The
advent of the ‘all in one’ PC makes it possible to purchase a touch screen Windows PC at
very low cost. At the start of the project we purchased some Asus EEE PCs for approx
£400 each, and later we purchased some similar MSI machines with slightly bigger
screens for the same price. These machines are based on netbook architecture, so
would not be suitable for processor intensive tasks like video editing. However they are
more than capable of running the sofware needed to create an accessible media centre.
The next issue was to equip these machines with an environmental control unit so that
they could send out infra red codes to control other devices like a Sky+ box. We initially
used a USB backbox supplied by Sensory Software
(http://www.sensorysoftware.com/backbox.html). This did the job just fine, but the box
is not just a GEWA controller – it also has switch inputs and amplified speakers built in
which were not required for this task. The price of this box was greater than the PC
itself, therefore not really satisfying the ‘cost effective’ criteria! After some research we
found a TIRA sender which could be purchased direct from the manufacturer in Canada
for approx £50 each (http://www.home-electro.com/tira2.php). This device is fully
supported in The Grid 2 software – see below. Although much more cost effective, it
should be noted that it also takes much longer to set up initially. Using a GEWA prog
device, the IR codes are stored in the GEWA itself and so it is only necessary to ‘teach’
each buttion from the original remote control once. However, with a TIRA device the IR
codes are stored in the individual Grid 2 buttons and so need to be taught repeatedly
when setting up a grid of this kind.
The PC was mounted on the wall using a VESA mount at wheelchair height, which can tilt
and swivel. Relevant ports and switches (such as Power!) were labelled to make
operation as user friendly as possible.