Initial setup of CDJ is a piece of cake; I simply plugged it in, and told CDJ to go index my collection. Out of 280 CD's, CDJ correctly identified 274, mis-identified two, and couldn't identify 4 because they weren't in the CDDB database.

Slink-e & CDJ

Brooks Talley | InfoWorld

Nirvis Hardware/Software Combo Automates CD Jukeboxes
Brooks Talley

Initial setup of CDJ is a piece of cake; I simply plugged it in, and told CDJ to go index my collection. Out of 280 CD's, CDJ correctly identified 274, mis-identified two, and couldn't identify 4 because they weren't in the CDDB database.

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Most home automation enthusiasts will agree that things just aren't moving quickly enough. Where's my java-enabled toaster, anyways? However, one area that's recently taken a leap forward is audio/video automation. Nirvis Systems, in Berkeley, California has one of the most compelling av applications: massive CD jukebox automation.

Nirvis uses a piece of dedicated hardware, the Slink-e, to communicate with Sony Slink-enabled devices. While the software available today is heavily CD-oriented, the unit can communicate with any Slink or Control-A device.

The currently shipping version of the hardware is the Slink-e 2.0, which offers 4 channels of Slink control. Since there can be up to three devices on each Slink bus, that allows for up to 12 Sony CD changers to be controlled -- at 200 discs per player, a whopping 2400 CD's. If that's not enough, multiple Slink-e's can be used.

In addition to Slink control, the Slink-e has 8 independent IR receivers and transmitters making it capable of being a handy multi-zone IR controller if and when software becomes available. Potentially, you could have each of the IR recievers and transmitters in different rooms, so remotes would work from anywhere, to anywhere. While the IR software isn't as mature as the CD Jukebox program, the Slinke can function as a learning remote control.

The crown jewel of Slink-e software is CDJ, Nirvis' own CD controlling program. CDJ is an excellent program that's evolving very quickly -- new releases appear every week or two. CDJ uses the Internet-based CDDB to look up disc and song titles, as well as CD-Text on those players that support it.

Initial setup of CDJ is a piece of cake; I simply plugged it in, and told CDJ to go index my collection. Out of 280 CD's, CDJ correctly identified 274, mis-identified two, and couldn't identify 4 because they weren't in the CDDB database. The misidentified discs were a result of the way Sony CD players only give minute-and-second information over Slink, so CDJ can't be exact as the CDDB database, which uses frames as well.

Upon purchasing some new CD's, I just had to throw them in any vacant slot and tell CDJ to locate new discs. Because it keeps track of which slots are empty, it can search only those slots (it can also be instructed to search every slot if discs get rearranged).

CDJ automatically fills in a keyword for each disc, based on the CDDB category the disc is in. Unfortunately, CDDB's categories aren't very granular, so everything from Depeche Mode to Judas Priest gets called "rock." Additional keywords can be entered by hand on a per-song or per-CD basis. For instance, I've entered the keyword "cover" for all songs that are covers.

CDJ's playlist is full-featured -- discs or songs can be added to it manually, by dragging and dropping them from the disc inventory, or it can do random play. During random play, you can specify a keyword that needs to be present for a song to qualify. I periodically enter "cover," to listen to all cover songs, or "goth," to play only gothic styled works.

One feature that sounds more interesting than it is is CDJ's four sliders, which can assign each song a rating based on "like/dislike," "tempo," "happy," and "danceable." For some reason, I practically never use them. That's partly because uncharacterized songs confuse the middle areas, and partly because my opinion of what I like varies day to day. And "tempo" doesn't allow for songs that change tempo. I am also using a small mixer (the lamentably discontinued FineLine from Midiman) to mix my two CD players down to a single output, which runs into my receiver. It's possible to use the built-in pass-thru in the CD players, but that means that CDJ can't pre-queue the next disc to be played, and increases the time between songs. Using the mixer, and the Sony CD players' fade-in and fade-out capabilities, CDJ can even have one song fade in while another fades out, giving a more DJ-esque feel. I personally don't use it, because it often results in the last seconds of gentle piano piece getting obscured by a guitar-heavy intro to the next song.

CDJ can also control the IR capabilities of the Slink-e, albeit in a limited fashion in the latest release. I have CDJ programmed to turn on my receiver and switch it to the CD input upon starting the program, and to turn off the receiver when I exit. I can also control the receiver's volume through CDJ, which is handy when I'm in another room.

Going forward, Nirvis has released an ActiveX component which will allow multiple applications to access the Slink-e at once. At present, it's not entirely useful because CDJ doesn't use it, and so no other Slink-e applications can run while CDJ is running -- which is most of the time. Nirvis is working on moving CDJ to use the ActiveX component.

Since Nirvis makes the ActiveX server available and documents the interfaces, programmers should have no problem developing custom applications that use the Slink-e.

So, the bottom line is that the hardware/software combo of Slink-e and CDJ is a great solution today, and promises to further improve in the future.

The Slink-e costs $179 from Nirvis ( www.nirvis.com ).


Brooks Talley is Test Manager at InfoWorld magazine.    Over the past 10 years, he's worked  extensively with technology, including roles as programmer, designer, network engineer, IS manager, consultant, and writer.


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