Home Office / Gaming Room Project – Part 5. Adding a dual-screen computer and Freesat

This project has been rumbling on for months now. You can read all about the various stages either below or get the story in our review section. Basically, it started when my wife showed me this picture and said, “Could we get something like that?”..

This started a process of swearing, smashing the wall to bits, re-plastering, painting, re-piping, cabling and even wiring up a satellite connection.

The satellite feed

Wait, a satellite connection? Yes indeed. I wanted Freesat in this room and I wasn’t prepared to give Sky TV any more cash. We’ve got a dish high up on the wall with two feeds coming out of it for our main Sky TV in the lounge. One feed is for your live TV and the other is for recording, or you can record on both and watch something on catch-up.

Sky Q complicates things but I won’t go into that right now as I’m more than happy with my ultra-cheap retention deal from Sky and the old Sky+ HD box. We’re not going to bother with Sky in this room as my son will no doubt be on Netflix or something similar.

The LNB (that’s the bit on the end of the dish) has 4 outputs, but not all dishes have 4, so do a check first. You can swap out the LNB really easily. They’re available on eBay and it’s a 5 minute job. Heck, you can even download a satellite finder app on your phone and put the dish up yourself if you don’t have one already.

Believe me, it’s really easy. I’m no “DIY Wizard” – I just have a bash and learn from my mistakes. You can put your dish up, cable it and have free satellite TV in no time.

Anyhoo, in the “Gaming Room” I just wanted Freesat. The TV we got has that built-in, so it’s just a matter of getting an extra feed piped into my dish and plugging it into the back of the TV. Job done. It’ll record onto a USB stick too.

You might need to get a Freesat box if your TV doesn’t have a satellite tuner but again, these are pretty cheap.

So, off to eBay to get an appropriate cable. This 15 metre length of coax should do the job. You can get a “twin feed” one for about £1 more. It comes with the clips to tack it to the wall usually too.

OK, here’s what arrived..

Way back in Part 1 of this project I took the time to put a small length of Sky / satellite coax from the wall-plate at the back of the TV down into the floorboards and into the garage. This meant that I was left with an easier job. Preparation is key.

Again, I’m only going to use one feed as I doubt this will have a channel being watched whilst another is being recorded. Plus, with all the catch-up services now available, I really don’t see a big requirement.

All I need to do is feed this down the wall, into the garage and marry it up with the smaller length of cabling which comes down from the Gaming Room. A coupler was used here – another eBay purchase..

Here’s the satellite dish itself. Way up at the top of the house and I’m no fan of heights, but needs must.

Close-up, you can see the LNB and the four outputs. I’ve screwed in one end of that eBay cable and then clipped it alongside the other cables down the house so it looks neat. A bit of black electrical / insulation tape is used to wrap around the satellite arm and keep the cables together here. You can use cable ties / zip ties if you have them.

An LNB stands for “Low Noise Block”. It receives satellite signals bounced off your dish, then amplifies them so that your receiver can receive and tune in.

OK, so after clipping this all along the wall, into the garage and then coupling it, we’re set! All of these channels can be received through Freesat, including a small selection of HD channels.

The “office” computer

It’s taken time, effort and money, but now we’ve got this far. As you can see, I’m using a laptop temporarily ..

There’s a gap in the middle though, and that’s where I want to stick a couple of monitors (details of that can be found in my earlier piece).

However, I’d not really thought that through. A “couple of monitors” meant actually paying for some nice slim ones with thin bezels, then the mounting brackets and then – oh yes – an actual computer to plug them into. Lots of money, and it’s just after Christmas. Oh, and I also broke the vacuum cleaner whilst cleaning up all the dust from my wall excavations, so that was an unexpected final hit.

The long, long month of January until payday seemed to go on forever, but I finally got funds to move onto the next stage of this project.

The monitors will have to wait a bit because, sadly, I’ve got to prioritise new brakes for the car and something called “food” for the family. However, I started looking for a PC.

This is when things got a bit tricky, because I (ok, the wife) wanted everything to be “minimalistic”. No cables on show, no big boxes or trunking. So, I was looking around on eBay for a mini PC that could sit quietly in the cupboard on the left. I was looking for a quiet / fanless unit and it needed to have two monitor outputs.

Something like this would do, right?

Trouble is, it’s expensive for what I need. In all honesty I don’t need Windows at all.

The Gaming Room also has to be a Home Office. My wife is at college, my son will be doing his exams in a couple of years and I’ll be wanting to use a computer at some point for doing this mad stuff.

Gone, though, are the days of needing a full-fat Windows machine with Microsoft Office installed. We’re now in a world where you can use Office 365 through your browser or Google Docs. It’s easy, it all auto-saves and you can access your work from multiple places. Sure, Windows will let you do all that, but so will the Chrome OS.

As I’ve mentioned pretty recently, I’m a big fan of Chromebooks. They don’t have lengthy patching needs, they don’t get filled with viruses and you don’t need to worry about installing loads of apps either. I’ve currently converted a Dell laptop into a Chromebook and I’m really happy with it so… why not get something similar that can output to two screens?

Well, step one was to try and use that very laptop. I tried this with two monitors at work and it failed miserably. Although the mouse pointer appeared on the external screen, nothing else did. I can only imagine that some custom drivers are needed and the CloudReady Chrome OS didn’t quite have all this included. So, I continued with my search.

This is when I found a Chromebox. This is basically a properly installed (and supported) Chrome OS on a micro PC. Have a poke around eBay and you’ll find various devices – Asus have the CN60 / M0990, Samsung have the XE300M22 and HP have the CB1. They’re usually cheap and they’ll usually have two outputs on the back. Not only that, but the Chrome OS runs fine on a lower-spec machine, so a 1.6GHz chip and 4GB RAM works very well.

So this is perfect, and it’s my sort of price-range..

One night, after a few beers, I “accidentally” bought one of these and it turned up about 10 minutes ago. I can’t show you too much right now as I don’t have the monitors just yet, but the low price I’m paying for this Asus CN60 / M099U means that I can get those monitors a little bit quicker. Boom!

Here’s how the Chromebox turns up. It’s about the size of a shoebox, but half as tall..

Open it up and the actual Chromebox is on the left with a mounting bracket, cables and manuals on the right..

The main unit (on the left) isn’t a whole lot bigger than the power pack!

Just to give you an idea on sizes, here’s that shot again but with an iPhone alongside.. Tiny, right?

Just in case you’re interested in that mounting bracket, here it is. You can place the Chromebox on the wall or perhaps on the back of your TV. I’m going to stuff the Chromebox in the cupboard instead though.

On the rear is a DisplayPort (which you can convert to HDMI if you get an adapter, they’re about £6 on Amazon), a HDMI port, two USB ports, an Ethernet jack (should you need it, but I’m just going to whack this on WiFi), audio and power..

On the front, another two USB ports, just in case the two on the back wasn’t enough. You should just be able to notice the power button on the corner there..

I should point out that this particular Chromebox is at the end of the “official Chrome support”, but it still works beautifully on my quick one-screen testing – I’m more than happy. The newer variant of this is available on the Asus website, but it’s nearly £280 and, as mentioned before, I’m tighter than a camel’s bottom in a sandstorm. This CN60 / M099U was a little over £60 used from an eBay auction.

Oh, I should mention that there’s a card-reader slot too.

Here it is in situ. You may notice that I had to drill some holes in the back of the cupboard. The PS4 was sounding like an Airbus taking off during Fortnite battles and the door was being closed “to make it look nice”.

Grrrr! Ventilation is a must!

Now onto the next stage, getting those monitors! When I’ve got the cash for those and the mounting brackets, I’ll post the next and hopefully final installment of this mammoth project! 🙂

Oh, one added benefit. The cat loves the box. For those of you who want to read the story so far, check the links below..