Saturday, March 14, 2009

Using a Wii with a PC monitor and keeping your PC sound

Recently a friend of mine presented me with a problem and asked me to help. He had and his wife were both using the Wii and Wii fit to exercise. They had moved their Wii to their upstairs office / exercise room and wanted to hook it up to their PC monitor. Then they'd gone to Best Buy who sold them a video capture card and told them they could use that to hook it up to their PC. That's where I came into the situation. Well you probably won't be surprised to learn that that worked about as well as a marketing guy trying to use an oscilloscope. The quality was terrible, there was significant lag from the time it took the card to process the video, the resolution was poor and finally the program that displayed the video was complicated and crashed a lot. The first part of the solution was to take that video card back where it came from. Next we ordered a Wii cable that converted the component video output to a vga output. I didn't take it apart since it wasn't mine but there isn't much too it, and you could probably make your own but for $35 it's not worth the effort. Plus it was for non technical people so the easier the better. The only issue we had was the cable only worked in 480p mode. Not a big deal but if you don't have a component cable already then the Wii won't go into 480p mode. They didn't have a cable, but I did so with two more trips the problem was solved. The nice thing was they had an lcd monitor with two inputs which meant I could leave both hooked up and they could just switch them whenever they wanted. Of course they only had one set of speakers so I left that hooked up to the Wii. It wasn't long before I got the call, "so how do we get sound out of the PC and the Wii?". Now the simple answer is swap plugs, but that's a pain. I want this to be easy. My next instinct was, "ah we just need to buy a y adapter". When you think about it that's a pretty bad idea too. Yeah it will work, there's a pretty good chance you'll get some feed back noise. Even worse is now you have the possibility of two output drivers competing with one another. That should work for a while, heck it might even work forever, but if a year from now the output driver on the Wii dies we'll all know who's fault it is. Also what if you want to exercise but also listen to some mp3s at the same time? Well I thought back to the first electronic product I ever made and tried to sell myself (note the tried part :). It was called the Audiovive and the idea was simple. I was in college and I wanted to play video games and listen to my music at the same time. Like most techy guys I had a tv, a receiver, some surround sound and more importantly a soldering iron. The solution was the little guy below: It's nothing more than a passive two channel mixer, nothing fancy and it gets the job done. I was going to just give them this, but it was the only one I had left and being a little sentimental I decided I'd rather just build them another one. So for a few bucks in parts from digikey I whipped up a simpler version that I'll go through below. First off I ordered the following:
  • 3 of these headphone jacks CP1-3523N-ND
  • 1 of these pots P2B6203-ND
I chose headphone jacks because I have a ton of 3.5mm jack to RCA converters in my garage from the Audiovive project. I chose that pot because it was cheap, had two elements, and was logarithmic so we'd have better volume control. This is just your basic resistive mixer, no input caps no nothing. Here's the schematic. That's about it. It's pretty simple to wire up. When you're done you can turn the pot and it will balance the amount of sound sent from the two inputs to the output.

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