Mazdaspeed 3 Project - Centrafuse
[Part of my Mazdaspeed 3 project series]
What is Centrafuse?
Centrafuse is a so-called "front-end" application for Windows-based Car PC setups. Front-ends are designed to be the primary thing running on a system. Their interfaces are optimized for touchscreen use, and serve as the user interaction point for everything else you do with your PC while driving. Though you can certainly just launch (and switch between) applications as you normally would on a Windows system, using a front-end really does improve the look-and-feel as well as the experience, and makes the Car PC feel more like an OEM system.
Some points about Centrafuse, specifically:
- It presents a simple, highly-skinnable touch-screen-aware UI, with pages of buttons for various activities; its sort of like a universal remote in that sense
- Media playback is at the core of the app, and worked into the UI at every turn (e.g. there are play/pause controls and track info on almost every screen)
- It has a bunch of built-in modules of functionality on top of the media playback, most notably Navigation, but also web browsing, OBDII diagnostics, and more
- It supports useful things like system startup and shutdown management, running as the Windows Shell, simple connect/disconnect functionality for networks
- There are many plugins available, to extend functionality in arious ways (there's even a plugin-browser plugin)
- Any windows application can be embedded into the Centrafuse UI, which gives a pretty nice-looking and seamless way to support basically whatever apps you want
There are several other front-ends available, including the popular Road Runner (now RideRunner) and StreetDeck, as well as a host of lesser-known ones. While in my opinion they all have the same general capabilities, I prefer Centrafuse overall (even though its commercial and closed-source). It has the right balance in terms of functionality, customization capability, and design -- it doesn't do everything, but it does what I need it to well enough without a ton of setup work, has good-looking skins, and is pretty stable. I have plenty of feature requests but no huge gripes (well, beyond there being no built-in or plugin RSS reader).
Skinning for my MAZDASPEED
In my MAZDASPEED 3 I use the Aura BW Red skin (a very simply modified version of the default Aura) for daytime use, and the Gizmo Red skin for evening use, with Centrafuse set up to switch between them automatically. Gizmo Red I especially like, it looks great at night. I made a few simple tweaks, including changing the logos, to make both of them fit with my car, but nothing major (I used some Mazda-specific graphic assets for the logos and startup screen and such). The skin ends up looking like this (clickthrough for more):
I did have to make one small tweak to Gizmo Red's config file so that the media controls would NOT be visible when in fullscreen mode (which was messing with my embedded apps), but alas, not a big deal. Also, note that the colors in the image above are not perfect given some weird screenshotting issue; the color is in reality much more reddish.
Though it probably isn't the best idea in terms of paying attention to the road, one of my favorite things about having a Car PC is the audio visualizations. Centrafuse actually uses Sonique's visualization system, so you can install other visualizations than what Centrafuse comes with. Some of them do take more CPU, but IMHO they are worth it if you like visualizations. There are a bunch here on XMPlay, and I've copied some locally since I'm not sure of the status of that site.
- Rabbit Hole (highly recommended)
- Phase (highly recommended)
Functional Setup: How I Use It
Generally I use the Navigation, embedded DashCommand, and the media playback the most in regular use, with the occasional net-enabled activity (like a twitter client) just for fun or to demo to somebody. I've also found that there are a ton of plugins available that, frankly, just aren't that interesting at the end of the day. I'd rather keep things focused and pull out functionality that I don't actually use all the time or that doesn't make a cool demo. Some highlights of my setup:
- Pulled out all plugins and skins not in use to speed load times
- Set up the one-click connect/disconnect via WAN by using Windows to manage my WAN connection as a dialup connection rather than whatever crappy software came with the card
- Using and happy with the built in Navigation app, though some have gone the iGuidance route I know
- Disabled OBDII connectivity and instead embed DashCommand (see this page for more info)
- I've embedded the Spaz Twitter client, FeedDemon RSS reader, Pidgin IM client, and Skype client, though frankly they work but are not really ideal
- Using the CAM module for access to my webcam
- Not running Centrafuse as Windows Shell -- I start it manually and then since my Car PC hibernates when powered off, all works great when coming back up
- I did have problems with GPS connectivity from Centrafuse after hibernates until I started using XPort to manage my device connection
- Skins and visualizations set up as described above
I am still looking for a better way to get Twitter, general RSS feeds, IM and Skype integrated. Any ideas on a smoother integration, let me know. Haven't had a ton of luck with the CFSkype plugin, for example. I'm also keeping an eye open for the soon-to-arrive major upgrade to Centrafuse, though as I've said before there really isn't a ton of stuff I need it to do that its not already doing. I you give it a try, good luck! Note also that Centrafuse has a forum on their own site, as well as a section on MP3Car.com, so there's plenty of help available from other folks.tagged: car