2010 is still an odd year for me to write, much more so than 2000 was. 2010 is clearly the future in my head. If you had any doubt we are now living in the future here are things that will happen in 2010 (bits of this already announced / demoed at CES).
In 2010 you’ll be able to read your newspaper on tablet like they had in star trek (yes, I realize a lot of this tech is out there now, but Hearst’s ereader shows how much the industry is embracing this.)
After reading cote’s blog post on the chumby, I got intrigued. The chumby is a small linux device, specifically designed to run flash based widgets, served up from the chumby servers. It looks like and interesting device, priced at a reasonable price point, and eminently hackable.
Your Modified Device and/or Licensee Applications must comply with the following: (i) your Modified Device and Licensee Applications must not enable you or anyone else to access the Chumby Service and/or servers without an active network ID issued by Chumby; (ii) your Modified Device and Licensee Applications must not block or interfere with any advertisement that is served by or distributed through the Chumby Service and/or servers; and (iii) any Modified Device or Licensee Application that connects to a Consumer Content Network must also enable the end user to connect the Modified Device and Licensee Application to the Chumby Service in substantially the same manner as the Modified Device or Licensee Application connects to the Consumer Content Network.
Which pretty much counts me out. The license which is “you can only write software for our device that registers with our service, and that serves our ads” seems to completely miss the mark of having a fun, openly hackable device. It’s frustrating when a consumer electronics company comes so close to making an open piece of hardware, but then freaks out at the last minute with their licensing and substantially shuts down their community growth in the process. Hopefully they’ll realize that and adjust their license in the future to be actually open.
About 6 months ago I bought an Olevia 542i 42″ HDTV. It isn’t the best 42″ TV that you can get, but it is one of the best deals, and it is a very respectable set. Nice features of the set include a VGA input port, upgradeable firmware via USB, and an RS232 interface to remote control it (in addition to IR). Olevia publishes the full set of protocol codes for the RS232 in a 4 page pdf file.
Not so nice features, there are 10 TV inputs, but the factory remote only has an input next button to flip between them. That means going from HDMI to Component2 is 9 button presses. Not very fun. When programming a logitech harmony to automatically change between those states you need to leave enough time gap to not miss codes, so it takes a long time to get from HDMI -> Component2.
Logitech Harmony remotes are little embedded computers with a state machine. You use a windows app to program the thing over USB (works fine via VMWare). They also get regular updates from logitech when new IR code databases are published. Apparently, some time ago someone figured out that there were IR codes for direct input setting (there were rs232 codes for it, so it made sense that you should be able to get to them from IR). 3 weeks ago they made it into the Logitech Harmony database. Last night I updated the remote, and now I don’t have cycle time.
It’s really nice to live in an era where a product isn’t dead once it’s shipped, but that it continues to improve while you own it. Especially something like a TV.
Two weeks ago my venerable iRiver H340 decided that this whole battery powered thing was so passe, and refused to run for more than 5 minutes at a go before declaring that it was done, and should be plugged back in. This is an incredibly unuseful state for a portable digital audio player. My attempts at open heart surgery to replace the battery appeared to go well, but the H340 no longer thinks it has any battery now.
Must support UMS (USB Mass Storage). Rsync is the way the universe intended us to move data around, and I’m not interested in using someone else’s DRM laced protocols (which may or may not work in Linux) to get access to my player. Hence no iPods or “Plays for Sure” players.
Relatively large storage. The H340 is a 40 GB HD. I just rsynced everything over to it, and didn’t need to decide in advance what I wanted on my player. Small flash drives are nice, but they don’t support the way I use a player.
FM Radio. My H340 had an FM radio in it, which I thought was an odd feature at first. Then I had power issues at the house, and I used it to listen to NPR while I worked from home waiting for the power company to arrive. In the last year I’ve started to use my player while mowing the lawn (under some really nice ear protectors). If it’s Saturday or Sunday morning, I like listening to Morning Edition while I do it. I might be able to live with a player without FM, but I really wanted it there.
Ogg support. While this is less of a requirement than those above, I have some content ogg only, and I really didn’t want to deal with converting or reripping that content. Plus, I haven’t sent Thomson my 3 quarters yet.
This very quickly narrowed the field. The winner of my search turned out to be the Cowon A2, which is a 30 GB player that also does movies.
There are so many good things about this player, including the fact that it ships with a GPL notice in the box, and that it does USB host support (so you can transfer data to it from other USB devices). However, a single feature that I didn’t even know it had in advance has sold me on this device forever.
One of the items in the top menu is Recent Files. In recent files is the last 10 files that you have stopped viewing/listening to. These files can be of any type the player supports, and the reason for stopping can be anything (power shut off, pause, jump to something else). It stores the files, as well as your position in them, so they can be resumed directly where you were previously. This is bloody brilliant. No more needing to wait to get to the end of a CD in an audio book before I jump to the latest podcast I pulled down, to avoid having to seek for 5 minutes to figure out where I was in the audio book. For this single feature, I would recommend this player.
So here’s to at least another week in geek nirvana with my new toy, and now I finally get to see the cover art that is embedded in the drunk and retired podcast episodes.
Last night my MediaGate MG-35 arrived. This is a small front end device for playing back video, audio, or picture content off of a central server. I’ve got an xbox solution for this in the main living room, but with Susan and I using the exercise bike a lot more of late, I wanted the same thing going on in the family room. It was reasonably cheap (I got the one without a local hard drive for ~$120), so was worth the risk.
Once plugged in an running, the device was pretty easy to use. The remote is a little small (it’s actually powered by a watch battery), so it is hard to know if you’ve always hit the buttons. The interface isn’t as intuitive as XBMC, and the Samba server scan takes a little time when you first start to drill down into your media folders, but it isn’t very awkward. The interface looks a lot prettier than most of the filesystem browsing DVD players I’ve seen out there, which is a nice change.
Video playback worked fine, though one set of encoded videos I’ve got were a little jumpy. They are 704×400 in size, and I’m doing a test on some other media to figure out if it is a specific encode, or if the device just doesn’t have enough juice to scale at that size (which would actually be a scale down for the 4:3 tv it is on right now). I’m slightly curious if the MG-350HD has a better video processor to handle that (as it is “designed for HD”), but the price jump on that unit makes it a little beyond what I’d be looking at. I’m also curious if I’d get the same jitter if the media was local, vs. coming over a smb share.
For how we are going to use this, and the price, it works fine. It isn’t stellar by any means, but you can only expect so much from a device this cheap.