Planning

Choosing an Operating System:

The most common options are Windows, Linux, and DOS. As mentioned before, time to boot, and stability are extremely important issues when trying to meet my requirements. For me, DOS was the obvious choice, provided that I could find some software that I was happy with. DOS is fast and simple, keeping the hardware requirements low. It's solid as a rock, and boots quickly. It's not for everyone, though. If I wanted/needed my computer to do a number of things simultaneously, play DVDs, GPS, etc, I would have picked something else.

Software:

Back in 2001, MPXPlay and Damp were among the most commonly used DOS-based music players. Both support disc/title/track naming. Both are capable of playing MP3 files. I ended up choosing MPXPlay because it can also play sound files in other formats (WAV, etc), and because its song list handling was more flexible. MPXPlay can load its list of songs from a playlist, or it can be pointed to a particular directory. I chose to do the latter, and write front-end software to handle the directory navigation.

Edit: As of November 2006, MPXPlay is still alive and well. Over the years, support for a number of audio compression formats has been added. This includes FLAC, APE, OGG, AC3, AAC, WMA and more. Hardware support has been expanded a great deal, as well, including support for a few PCI sound cards.


Controller/Display:

A full-sized keyboard would be impractical for obvious reasons. Other options include keypads, infrared remotes, and joysticks. Any of these will work.

A keypad seemed a bit cumbersome, though. If I used a remote I'd probably end up losing the thing. In the end I decided to use a joystick. Out of the many joysticks available, I chose the Gravis Gamepad Pro. Three reasons: First, it has an adequate number of buttons. Second, is has a layout that I'm happy with. Third, there is DOS-based keystroke emulation software available. This is important, because the Gamepad Pro uses the PC Gameport in a non-standard way.

Likewise, a computer monitor would not be a practical option. Two alternatives are TFT full-screen graphical LCD's, and LCD character displays. Due to cost and space requirements, I chose to go with a character display. There are two types of character displays: parallel and serial. Parallel LCDs are less expensive and have better software support, but require soldering and use thicker more expensive cabling. While serial LCDs are more expensive and have less software that supports them, they come pre-assembled, require less conductors in their cabling, and work better over longer distances.

In the end, I chose the Matrix Orbital 2041 serial character display. It's a 20X4 serial LCD which comes pre-assembled and is supported by a couple of front-end TSRs that were written specifically for MPXPlay.

The computer:

So far I haven't mentioned anything about the computer, itself. This was done for a reason. Issues like processor speed, memory requirements, and hardware compatibility are heavily dependent on the operating system and the software being used. There's no point in shelling out the money for a computer until one is sure that the operating system, software, display, and controller work together. In the meanwhile a person's home computer will usually be more than adequate, especially when using a boot manager.


Last Update: 12-8-2006