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Hardware Hacking Television Build

First Impressions of the Neuros Link 64

Posted by kdawson
from the full-screen dept.
DeviceGuru writes "Having recently constructed the BoxeeBox, DeviceGuru blogger Rick Lehrbaum naturally was eager to check out Neuros Technology's somewhat similar IP-TV set-top box. Lehrbaum's first-impressions review of the Neuros Link describes the device's hardware and Ubuntu-based software, shows screenshots of its functionality, identifies a handful of weak spots, offers some specific suggestions for improvement, and shares a few hacks (including adding an HDD and Boxee). All in all, he concludes, the Link's hardware is more than worth its minimal $300 pricetag."
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First Impressions of the Neuros Link

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  • From TFA: (Score:3, Informative)

    by andrewd18 (989408) on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:07PM (#27012677)

    The board's Integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 GPU supports resolutions up to 2560x1600 and can supply HDMI video at up to 1080p (1920x1200).

    The Link's OS also comes with ATI's proprietary 3D-accelerated graphics driver preinstalled.

  • Re:Sounds nice but (Score:4, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:12PM (#27012743) Journal
    All about volume.

    To really cut the price, you'd need to go with some non-x86 embedded setup. Trouble is, that would increase the software development costs and (much worse) would mean that you'd need to hassle a whole lot of "content providers" to get things working with their services. x86+flash, by contrast, is pretty broadly supported without special agreements.

    If you have to use x86, how many of these things do you have to stamp out before your economies of scale can approach those of boring miniITX motherboards? 10,000? 100,000? I'm sure any mobo manufacturer would be happy to do a reduced price highly integrated version just for you, if your order is large enough; but Neuros probably can't hit that at present.
  • Re:Framebuffer? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7NO@SPAMcornell.edu> on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:20PM (#27012859) Homepage

    Framebuffer? Are you insane?

    Last I checked, there were no framebuffer implementations that had support for video acceleration - not even hardware scaling.

    Essentially a showstopper for video playback, especially high definition content.

  • Re:Framebuffer? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7NO@SPAMcornell.edu> on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:21PM (#27012885) Homepage

    An additional note:

    The OP links to GeeXboX while talking about framebuffer video, but GeeXboX is pretty clear about the fact that they use X and not framebuffer. Nearly every news item refers to updates to their X.org configuration.

  • Re:Sounds nice but (Score:5, Informative)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:29PM (#27012979)

    Mother board is $80 [newegg.com]
    Processor is $50 [newegg.com]
    4GB of ram is $50 [dealnews.com]

    Small cases aren't cheap. But the builder in me would rather build something out of a nice hardwood or plexi-glass. (Depending on the decor of the house).

    I can't wait until XBMC supports full hardware decoding and HDMI Audio out.

  • by horza (87255) on Friday February 27, 2009 @12:48PM (#27013253) Homepage

    The review misses one of the most important things in a home media device which is: is it fan-less and how noisy is it?

    It also mentions MythTV but doesn't do any form of comparison to the main alternative.

    Finally it mentions Hulu as the main media portal... and fails to mention this isn't accessible outside of the USA.

    Phillip.

  • by isthisnicknameinuse (1365519) on Friday February 27, 2009 @01:31PM (#27013935)

    > The review misses one of the most important things in a home media device which is: is it fan-less and how noisy is it?

    It's not fanless, but the fan is not very noisy. It's definitely not audible with any kind of audio being played back by the TV. It's normally inaudible against daytime background noise. You can hear it in a silent room, or at night.

    > Finally it mentions Hulu as the main media portal... and fails to mention this isn't accessible outside of the USA.

    Hulu is just one of the various video providers that is integrated. Most of them are USA-only (blame big media...), but there are some that work outside of the states.

  • Re:Sounds nice but (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoeBorn (625012) <jborn@neuro[ ]dio.com ['sau' in gap]> on Friday February 27, 2009 @03:16PM (#27015391) Homepage Journal
    I'm from Neuros for those that don't already know, I'll answer the x86 v embedded elsewhere. Regarding economies of scale, let's look at it a different way. As many of you know, Neuros history is in embedded systems from scratch. This is our first x86 project as well as the first using off the shelf components. We actually did it because of the economies of scale advantage. The PC industry has such an established supply chain, with such huge volumes that its creates a huge advantage. You have to live with x86 plusses and minuses, which, again I'll address separately. But if you favor x86, which obviously we do for this currently. Sticking with off the shelf makes sense (at least to start). As posted elsewhere, this MB *at retail* is $80 that's really quiet a value for that piece of hardware. Look at the GPU, and the host of peripherals and expansion. Firewire, tons of USB, s/pdif, 7.1 audio, HDMI, DVI, VGA, PCI, SATA, etc. Sure, much of that is worthless for a mainstream wal-mart product, but not for a Gamma launch to folks that want to experiment and play around. Likewise with the case, it's nice having size for a internal 3.5" drive, and/or an optical drive. The case could be smaller certainly, but today, it's the size of a TiVo, so it's not an unreasonable compromise IMHO. Of course, as the product matures, we'll cut out many peripherals, and put it in a smaller case, certainly there will be cost savings, but some not immaterial tradeoffs. It wouldn't surprise me if we continued to sell this unit along side it. I suspect many would continue to prefer it. Best guess is that the savings will be on the order of $50 for some of the customization above. Important no doubt, but not everyone would want those tradeoffs, particularly at a stage where we're specifically targeting hackers.
  • Re:Sounds nice but (Score:3, Informative)

    by JoeBorn (625012) <jborn@neuro[ ]dio.com ['sau' in gap]> on Friday February 27, 2009 @03:37PM (#27015689) Homepage Journal

    To really cut the price, you'd need to go with some non-x86 embedded setup. Trouble is, that would increase the software development costs and (much worse) would mean that you'd need to hassle a whole lot of "content providers" to get things working with their services. x86+flash, by contrast, is pretty broadly supported without special agreements.

    you got it exactly right, and in fact, traditionally we've done all embedded HW, and we could produce a proprietary solution in quantity of 100 if we wanted. It's all about the benefit of the above.

    And let me expand upon the above and explain why x86 makes fundamental sense for a device like this (at least for the forseeable future). What you outline above portays it from our (the mfg's perspective) but let's look at it from the user's perspective, because that's where it really comes alive.

    When you say "special agreements," let's think about the ramifications for you as a user. Let's also recognize that it's not just agreements, it's technical integration effort too. So all of a sudden, a new Hulu launches tomorrow, and it's virtually guaranteed that it will, right. Well, first off no embedded device yet supports flash 10, so you are out there. Eventually these device will support flash 10, but how well, flash 10 that includes HD video, because if not, well again, you might be left in the cold. What if its some other plug-in (which often is it) well, then, in many cases, the integration hasn't even started.

    The net effect is that you find yourself in the current situation. It's great that there's a $100 box that plays youtube and netflix, but what about nbc.com? what about youtube HD? what about stumbleupon video or dig video, etc etc. Sure, in theory they can all ultimately support all these content provides but a) that doesn't do you much good today and b)how many new content providers will have appeared by then?

    Until there is broad agreement on a standard for video (and not just playback but browsing and navigation, etc) then x86 as flawed and expensive as it is is only choice for comprehensive playback.

    Another note, at this point, it's not enough to just have x86, you need a powerful CPU. Again, this limitation will surely go away eventually, but for the time being, there is sadly lots of software that runs only on the CPU. Boxee did a great job of porting to the AppleTV, but ask them about the limitations of the ~1 GHz x86 CPU, which prevented Hulu HD from playing, etc.

    Don't get me wrong, this stuff will change eventually, and Neuros will be delighted to go back to embedded to embrace it will smaller, cheaper hardware, but for now, the lack of a set of standards forced us to a PC architecture to provide comprehensive access to content.

  • by JoeBorn (625012) <jborn@neuro[ ]dio.com ['sau' in gap]> on Friday February 27, 2009 @04:41PM (#27016615) Homepage Journal

    A box like this has to compete with AppleTV/Xbox on the lowend and mini pc's like the Mac Mini on the highend.

    exactly right, and I believe there's a place in the middle. A device with comprehensive playback capabilities (both downloaded content and web video) that operates like a piece of electronics. That's the vision, as many, including the reviewer point out, we're not there yet. We started from the PC side and are evolving to be more electronics like, both software and eventually more stripped down hardware. Our focus since release (and until production- remember this is a gamma product) will be on enhancing the UI for couch use. And, yes it will be a period of experimentation, XBMC, Boxee, Miro all work on the box and are in use by various members of the community. We (neuros) feel this is the sweet spot. No, it's not as cheap (or small) as a straight AppleTV (or the like), and the web interface isn't as couch friendly in the navigation. but its more open, expandable, free standing and comprehensive in terms of access to content and we are working on the shortcomings.

    Plus there are ample possibilities for home built machines with integrated chipsets that support full h264 acceleration.

    At this point, to a certain extent, you can really view this as a home built effort. It's not home built in the sense you have complete access to all the components, but honestly if there's something you want to customize about it, you can literally buy the parts yourself, or we'll sell you a sub assembly and we've listed all the components line by line on the wiki.

    The point is that there are economies of scale of a community working in collaboration directly with the manufacturer on a focused set of hardware. A good example of this is ATI, as mentioned elsewhere, we are working directly with ATI as a customer to solve the issues with the system. I think it stands to reason that we have more influence with ATI as a group than as individual hackers, and in fact you will find ATI/AMD engineers participating directly in our community.

    As anyone that's put together one of these systems knows, there are tons of minor details that need to be worked out, and it's vastly more efficient if we join forces on a focused application on a defined hardware platform. That's why we've made sure that engineers at Boxee, XBMC, Miro, etc all have sample hardware.

    As mentioned elsewhere the hardware does have direct h264 acceleration and is 1080p capable, athough this has not been full implemented in Linux yet.

    Unless it can play bluray rips, $300 isn't a very compelling price for the box. It's more expensive than other CD options and not as capable of the more expensive HD capable alternatives.

    ATI is simply the wrong direction to go for a box like this.

    the ATI hardware is capable, and believe me, I share the frustration wrt ATI. But understand that we came, like most here, biased against ATI at the outset (and we have ulterior motive or connection with ATI). Despite that, they were able to convince us, both with the offers of support for the project as well as current features that they were the right vendor for this device. This is something we continue to evaluate, but if you do the detailed analysis, there are issues with Linux support for both ATI and nVidia, and either vendor must evolve their Linux performance. The good news is that the playing field for Linux, unlike the desktop, is *vastly * more level on the set-top box side than it is on the desktop. More accurately, slanted to Linux's favor, so I believe this will drive a lot of effort. Obviously the success or failure of this project and those like it will be important too.

  • Re:It looks hideous (Score:3, Informative)

    by Enigma2175 (179646) on Friday February 27, 2009 @05:34PM (#27017237) Homepage Journal

    It's labeled "Gamma" for a reason

    What is that reason? Usually if a product is in final testing it is labeled "Beta" [wikipedia.org], if it is earlier than that in the development phase it is labeled "Alpha". If it not yet Alpha it is "pre-Alpha" or "in development". Gamma would imply that it is past Alpha and past Beta and instead of going into production it is gone into some new development phase.

    This thing looks just like the MSI Hetis 915 [msicomputer.com] and it has similar specs. I don't know if they sell the Hetis anymore, but I bought one several years ago for a MythTV frontend and it cost about the same. Neuros is selling oldish tech at fairly high prices for what you get.

    This box is only going to be useful for a HDTV, since it doesn't seem to have a S-Video or composite output. I don't know how well it will serve as a HDTV box since it has an ATI graphics adapter. I don't think the ATI linux drivers allow any offloading of the decoding (like XvMC [wikipedia.org] or NVidia's new VDPAU [wikipedia.org]. It has no hard drive thus can't serve as a media storage or recording box. It doesn't appear to have an optical drive and you control it using a clunky keyboard rather than a remote. This doesn't look like a very good HTPC to me.

    Hopefully boxes based on the ION [engadget.com] platform will be coming soon and will bridge the divide between cheap, attractive and capable.

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