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DIY linux-based MP3 player Appliance 153

An anonymous reader submitted " has just published an interesting how-to article about converting a GCT-Allwell set-top box into a linux-based TV set-top MP3 player. As a helpful aside it does useful things like email and web browsing through your TV. Looks like a fun project. A related article shows how to turn the same set top box into a router."
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DIY linux-based MP3 player Appliance

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  • Last week I hacked up a microwave oven by putting fluxcapacitor on it and installing a custom Linux in its tiny memory. It got zapped into next Tuesday, so I can't verify that it worked until next week.
    • When's the soundtrack being released?
    • Last week I hacked up a microwave

      I kid you not: last saturday I wrapped some Al foil around an old radio vacuum tube, wired it to a Tesla coil and got enough X-Rays to make a few smudges on photo paper. After I get the lead shielding up and a geiger counter to make sure I'm not getting dosed I hope to use more sensitive film and get some real see-thru-stuff pictures,
      Like this guy here []. Unfortunately, no time travel occured.

      There is a high voltage transformer in a microwaver, a couple of kilovolts. Just run that thru a tripler scavanged from an old color tv and get bodacious arcs and sparks. Just try not to kill yourself ;))

  • It looks kind of complicated though. Are you legally allowed to hack a set-top-box ? Doesn't the DMCA prohibit this ? I am sure when I signed up for cable, they explicitly stated that the cable company owns the set top box.

    Mind you, I guess if they have no real way to find out what you have done then the DMCA doesn't come into it. What kind of soundcard to these things have ? Is it 16-bit or 24-bit ?

    If I was making a home mp3 component, I would want one of the newer 24-bit soundcards like the new soundblaster.

    • No, you can't hack the set-top box that the cable company leases to you. You can, however, go out and buy your own cable box and do whatever you please with it.
    • The DMCA absolutely does not prevent this. It's your hardware. You own it. You aren't stealing their code, or breaking anyones copyright protection system.

    • Yes, the DMCA clearly states that you cannot wipe your ass without having microsoft's permission in triplicate.

      Did you happen to notice this was not a cable box? Does your cable box have a 10/100 Base T Ethernet connection? RCA stereo out? 256 MB Ram?Keyboard and a mouse? Does it run Microsoft Win95, 98, NT, WinCE, RTOS QNX, Citrix, and Linux?

      And let me guess.... you own a cable ready tv or vcr and you've never realized you don't need a set-top cable box (unless you have A/B channels).

      You would want a 24 bit soundcard.... why? Because 24 is higher than 16? To play what? What mp3s are you going to find where that would matter? What level of encoding are you going to use where you'll be able to hear the difference between playback on a 16-bit versus 24-bit soundcard? MP3 is a lossy format, the bottleneck in quality will be in the mp3 files, not the sound card. Even the software you use to play back the mp3s will probably make a much bigger difference in the perceived sound quality than the 16/24 bit difference. Not all mp3 playing software is equal.
      • I want a 24-bit soundcard so I can rip my CDs at a higher resolution. MP3 does not have to be lossy. You can set how much disk space you want each track to use by changing the bit rate. Being a bit of an audiophile, I notice things like poor sampling rates and compression artifacts.

        • 1. MP3's are lossy, you just get to chose how lossy.

          2. CDs only have 16 bits of resolution, unless you've got HDCDs.

          3. Disk is cheap, rip uncompressed WAV files.

        • This is an MP3 player. NOT a ripper.

          You would load mp3s onto an mp3 player, from the net, your harddrive, whatever. But they would have to be already in MP3 format. You would NOT rip them from a cd, not in the player at least. You could do that on your computer, where you might want to have a 24 bit soundcard. You'd then load them in thru the ethernet connection. MP3 DOES have to be a lossy format. It is by definition. It doesn't have to be an AUDIBLE difference, but data IS lost - that's how it makes files smaller than wavs. Lossy isn't a dig, or a synonym for lousy, it's a technical description. There are lossless formats, MP3 is not one of them. If you convert a wav to an MP3 and then back into a wav, the second wav is not the same as the first, data has been lost. If they were the same, it would be lossless. What software are you using for ripping? What size are your files? 24 bit soundcards and mp3 are an unnecessary combination... if you need professional sound quality you need uncompressed audio, if you don't then the 24 bit quality will be totally lost in the resulting mp3.

          For the most in-depth coverage of the MP3 format, including comparisons of encoders, file size, actual audio tests, etc. go to [] By the way, if all you care about is quality and not size, just don't convert to MP3. Seriously, 320 bit MP3's don't offer enough size savings to make the conversion worthwhile. There is a .shn shorten file format which is lossless and does make files smaller, don't know much about it.
  • by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Thursday October 25, 2001 @12:13PM (#2478126) Homepage
    The Allwell 1030n is a National Semiconductor Geode based machine, not the Celeron that he claimed he bought.

    Go to the Allwell website [] and look up the STB1030N from the products pulldown. Right now, they're selling these things for "router appliances" and really cheapo set-top boxes. In the router appliance arena, they're not too bad; in the set top box arena, they're weak (though usable for many things.).
  • Open-source and Linux-friendly, Media Box [] looks to be about the keenest solution that I can think of for this sort of thing. Aside from the fact that it requires at least a Book PC-sized form factor in your entertainment center and all the heat and noise that comes with it.
    • It looks like Media-Box requires windows ME or 2k. How is this Linux-friendly?

    • From the webpage you just provided:
      Media-BOX is not open source (yet).

      Looks nice, but not open source.
    • Well hers something that might catch your interest. I live in NY (outside Manhattan) and get digital cable along with my broadband from Time Warner. The digital cable comes with these new boxes with serial USB, firewire and some other goodies as well. The model is a Scientific Atlanta Explorer 2000, and I have been having much difficulty finding any of the real specs on this thing.

    • Because It is insanely overpriced.

      Trying to get a group of people to hack and design the software for a device is not achieved by raping them hard on price.. Developers cant afford to spend more money than a nice SMP server costs just for hacking on something that may dissappear next week. Sell them to developers at cost or a loss, then you'll get a large group working on them... Oh and if your cost is that high? close the doors and start business elsewhere.
  • This is in regards to the non-closed Italics Tag which will probably be fixed by the time most moderators read this.

    CmdrTaco recently spoke about making a slashdot pay site for readers that don't want to be spammed with ads. I must ask, what are we getting for our money?
    I'd suggest that if you intend on people paying for it you start spell/grammar check articles to be posted, and check your tags

    Something as simple as an Italics flag not being terminated (which should be in the code, because extra terminating flags don't hurt a thing) definately discourages anyone from paying for slashdot.

    If I am going to pay you for your services, then I'd expect you to do more than click a button all day saying "this article is in" and "this article isn't."
    • "I'd suggest that if you intend on people paying for it you start spell/grammar check articles to be posted ... don't hurt a thing) definately discourages ..."

      "definitely", surely? Or is this a US English / British English thing :)

    • I didn't even notice he forgot the [/i]. Come on now... Lets bitch about something useful today. If you have been reading /. for years, even months, you should expect these types of errors on a regular basis. Instead of finding fault perhaps you should look at the beauty of human error. After all it is the subtle differences in an artists technique that enlivens art. Look for the errors and celebrate them as proof that our dear /. crew has not been replaced by robots.

      If you'd rather bitch feel free but I think there are much better things to bitch about like the unintentional duplicate stories. This reminds me of usenet where flames about spelling pretty much mark the man.
      • His point (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by wiredog ( 43288 )
        Is that a missing </i> shouldn't happen in a pay site. Especially as frequently as it does here. Admittedly, when I saw it, I had to double-check the author to see that it wasn't Timothy. He's the most common offender there. Taco usually just demonstrates that US public schools can't teach spelling.
        • Re:His point (Score:1, Offtopic)

          by cymen ( 8178 )
          Personally I find it funny just because some people are so uptight they can't handle a missing </i>. This site has been a pay site all along. Maybe you and I didn't pay for it but someone did. Just because /. is going to offer a pay version without ads doesn't suddenly mean they will have mounds of income to invest in spelling assistants.

          What I wonder is if the editors edit the stories in little textarea boxes like we do. If so I'm not surprised at all with the error rates. Now that /. has migrated to the new slashcode perhaps it is time for them to look at how editing is done. A simple parser for missing tags, a spell checker, an URL checker (in case of multiple stories), etc... For all the time we spend here and the number of people working on /. the slow speed of change is rather depressing.

          So in the end maybe I agree with you guys. But I still think you are weenies for getting excited over a missing tags and spelling errors...
    • I totally agree. There should be some kind of review (and if there already is, it needs to be fixed) before a story is posted. I like the comments that the authors add to the submissions, they usually start interesting discussions, but when the authors sound like idiots because they can not spell or they use horrible grammar, it detracts from the submission and the authors' comments. I know all this has probably been said before, but I believe if /. really wants to move in a paysite direction, they need to be a little more professional.

      (and because this is a grammar/spelling post I probably spelled at least two things wrong and made three grammatical errors...)

    • Please go away and take all the grammer, html, spelling, nazi's with you.
  • by schtum ( 166052 )
    • An ogg vorbis player would be great, I just don't know if it's caught on enough. Just think of how prevelant mp3's had to be before we really saw some legitmate standalone players, although you would think with a linux based player it wouldn't be hard to add....
      On the other hand I think we still need a few more rev's of the ogg vorbis tools before it can go mainstream. I'm still hearing a few artifacts every now and then when encoding and the encoder itself needs much optimizing. But it's continuing to get better, and I will continue to use it..Plus its free (as in beer and air and birds)

  • by cr0sh ( 43134 ) on Thursday October 25, 2001 @12:23PM (#2478186) Homepage
    I have been "running" a group for a while now (almost a year old) dedicated to the task of hacking the Acer NT-150 set-top box - this box was intended for an actual service that never made it during the .com era - a lot of people have put a lot of work into getting this box to do things it wasn't meant to do.

    Go to my site, follow the links, and see what has been happenning (actually, the mailing list archive is the most useful and up-to-date - I haven't had a lot of time to update the site for a while, but the majority of stuff is there as well).

    While not an "MP3" playing powerhouse, there has been a ton of hack value...
    • You would probably get a lot more hits if you mentioned whether the Acer NT-150 can still be brought (and hopefully for cheap).
      • A few of the people on the mailing list sell them via ebay auctions. These devices aren't off-the-shelf things - they were made by Acer specifically for OEM use - Acer won't even acknowledge much of anything about them. So, the only people who got them were cable companies and a few others. In America, it was N|C (now Liberate), in Europe it was NTL (cable company). Some of the people related to these companies and others have found my list and have helped with the hacking (providing needed info, selling boxes, etc).

        So, yeah, they are available, but only sporadically...
  • Why, if you want a set-top mp3 player (why I have no idea) don't you just buy an Apex DVD player and burn mp3's on CDs? It works quite well. And why, if you need a router, don't you just BUY one? There's plenty out there that are actually DESIGNED to be routers, and some are very good deals.

    "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."
    • How do you think the people that made your router learned to do it? By going to the nearest McUniversity and trying stuff out on embedded projects in the Engineering Building.

      These articles are for people who want to try this stuff out at home. And learn through doing.

      Or just to have fun. Yeah, I could run out and buy a Honda Accord like all the other sheeple, but I kinda like working on my old 2002 on the weekends. Its the same idea.

      You are part of the great braying herd.
    • well, your troll post aside...

      Show me a embedded router that can be a MP3 player, router, HTTP server, FTP server, DNS server, DVD player, be totally upgradeable, i.e. sound, video, processor, etc.

      I can show you my little Duron 750 that does all these things. Under Windows, no less. (working on the Linux port)
    • Perhaps we wants a central place for his mp3s?
      Or his MP3 colection is larger then A single cd can hold? or maybe he wants different play list depending on mood?

    • Get a dreamcast? Get a DVD player that plays MP3s?

      My DVD player (cheap, i'm poor) an AIWA XD-DV370 plays mp3's just fine and any newbie can use it out of the box. Plus with the remote you can take off any regional coding restrictions. Plus, it's a DVD player! Not the best, but pretty great.

      Plus, there is the SEGA Dreamcast! This machine can be used for anything, even running X.
    • Oh, I dunno, maybe because it's fun? Maybe because you get more satisfaction building something yourself than taking it out of a cardboard box?

      Here's a novel concept! Let's not build things ourselves, let's just buy everything we need cuz it's cheaper and gives us more time to watch TV!
  • Been there done that (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday October 25, 2001 @12:37PM (#2478260) Homepage
    Many many of us did this and have been using our GCT allwell mp3 players (and Divix players) for over 1 year now. but we weren't robbed by GCT allwell for the tune of $500.00 for the box, we paid $59.95 for the exact same hardware (sans the ethernet) from compusa called the websurfer pro.

    Dont do the Disk on chip route, stuff a 20 gig laptop hard drive in there and store the mp3's on that. (Or 2 of them for 40 Gig of storage.)

    Me? I added a hollywood+ mpeg card and use my box as a movie on demand system... now to get a server with a couple of tv tuner cards to record tv shows and pipe them to the allwell box for later playback :-)

    Oh and the article is no-where near a step-by-step to getting an mp3 player running, it only covers really basic steps to getting linux on the Disk on chip.
    • Me? I added a hollywood+ mpeg card and use my box as a movie on demand system... now to get a server with a couple of tv tuner cards to record tv shows and pipe them to the allwell box for later playback :-)

      Did you use any custom software for this or just the em8300 drivers and Xine?

      Rick (rick*
      • I am using the regular linux driver doe the Hollywood+ card and I use a perl script to run a small C app to split the audio and Video for the card. I suffer from audio sync problems, but Hopefully I can either find a decent command line player or hack the X software to remove all the Xwindows fluff and create a command line interface that works kind of like mpg123 :-)

        One of these days I'll have time to write up a webpage and gather my software in a way that others can actually install/use it.
        • Yeah, you're gonna have sync problems playing like that. Some people use aaxine as a commandline player for for their dxr3 (sortof a works by accident feature).

      ^^^^^This is a good detailed account^^^^^
      of turning the WebSurfer Pro into a web-server or a router with the Linux Router Project.

    • Do you know of any location I could get my hands on one of these now? (esp. at the $59 range)

  • by Ether ( 4235 ) on Thursday October 25, 2001 @12:40PM (#2478277)
    About a year and a half ago, a company tried selling these rebadged thru Comp USA as "Websurfer Pros". At first, they didn't make you sign an activation contract, so you could get them for $50 out the door, for a 233 with 32 and and Disk on chip.


    A friend of mine had one of these- it's an OK piece of hardware, but not anything to write home about, when you can pick up complete PPro systems for under $100, which have none of the space and configuration limitations of that slimline formfactor (limited expansion slots, small case, etc). As a set-top, it's underpowered, for my taste. The IR keyboard (at least the one that came with the WSP) is nice, tho. TVout is decent, also. The WSP also did not have the built-in ethernet.

    Note that you also can't swap out the CPUs on these beyond the Cyrix MediaGX processor (it has on cpu video and sound).
    • The clue is the MB1030 Ver 2.0A on the motherboard. (BTW, My current employer is responsible for the design and software that was on those- it's QNX based for that model, subsequent models used our own homegrown Linux distribution...)

      I've got 5 of these things sitting on the floor of my office right now. There's more elsewhere in the space- it's my understanding we're planning a fire sale on these and a few other things on EBay shortly.
  • Nice product. All you need to do is add a two port 10/100 NIC in the PCI slot, like this one [] (for a mere $275) and you can even have it manage a DMZ.

    (we'll refrain from mentioning the Quad port NIC for $600 ::grin::)

    • Nice product. All you need to do is add a two port 10/100 NIC in the PCI slot, like
      this one [] (for a mere $275) and you can even have it manage a DMZ.
      Umm...somehow I don't think a 64-bit PCI card will work too well in a box that only has a 32-bit PCI slot. Maybe you meant this 4-port NIC [], which is a 32-bit PCI card (and it even supports Linux).
    • Nope, I tried that. It didn't like talking to the ethernet ports.

      It would have been great if it had worked...
  • It sucks!

    I can imagine how crappy the sound coming out of that box is. Any computer claiming to be a music player can't be taken seriously unless the output is digital. Analog computer outputs are good when driving 2-inch low quality computer speakers but start sucking royally when you are driving a real home Hi-Fi system.

    • Baloney. The outputs on my DiscMan, tape deck, turntable and LaserDisc player are all analog. All played through a 100 W/channel amp with pretty decent speakers.

      What's the difference? It would just get converted all to analog before it hits the speaker wire anyways...

      • The environment in a PC is very noisy, from a digital "hash" perspective. Analog circuits are sensitive to interference in this environment. I'm told that really good sound cards shield against this, but it is a difficult thing to do and get right. (In a dedicated consumer device, the circuitry can be layed out to avoid this, but a PC is subject to change: adding/removing cards, etc.)

        Better (as in professional) sound cards have provisions for external digital I/O and external A/D and D/A boxes (much better than your run of the mill consumer DAC).

        So, the request for a digital audio output connection isn't without merit.

        • Assuming no hard drives, no 100Mhz bus, no SVGA monitor, no additional PCI cards, a relatively small/slow CPU and a tiny power supply, this thing will have much much much less RF noise than a normal PC that needs a shielded soundcard.
          • You have a point, but I've found that the hash generated from the bus drivers to be a big contributer to noise inside a PC. Often the sound card itself (or in this case, the on-board sound interface) is it's own worst enemy in this regard (as far as cheap sound cards go).

            Bottom line is that I'd be wary of an analog audio interface from a digital device sight unseen (or rather sound unheard).

      • The reply above this one couldn't have explained it any better - PC analog output is horrible.
        • It doesn't have to be, but I think that it would be cheaper to provide a digital output than a clean analog one.

          In those cases where there is none, and you can't add a sound card with one (like this), I've often toyed with the idea of intercepting the AC/97 digital audio bitstream, and with a bit of hardware hacking, produce an S/P-DIF output of the "standard" stereo channels... or just pulling the whole AC/97 interface signals out of the box and use an external codec.

          • I toyed with the idea too. I remember reading a webpage complete with pictures and schematics on exactly how to do it, using a chip from Crystal Audio that you could get free as a sampler. It was a long time ago (about when Awe64 Gold was top of the line) and I don't remember where I read it. I also had the idea of getting a friend to make me a custom ISA or PCI board to output the electrical S/PDIF signals while the actual sample -> S/PDIF bit encoding would be done in software...
            Neither came to fruition.
            • Oh, I was thinking of something completely different: grab the AC/97 5 line (I think) serial bus signals from the mobo and run them to an AC/97 codec that gives either S/P-DIF on a card inside the box, or out to an external AC/97 analog codec.

              But, yeah, Crystal Audio has some nice stuff... they once sent me a Digital Audio Product Reference book for free even though I made it clear that I was a hacker who'd probably never make more than one of something. Kudos to them.

  • Just for fun and geek value, I'm working on an old 486 to play mp3's, by sticking it into my stereo cabinet and plugging it into my home network.

    The challenge? I don't want a keyboard or display plugged in. Sure, I could work something out with a wireless keyboard, but here's what I'm doing instead:

    I'm taking an LRP distribution, stripping out much of the networking stuff and adding mpg123. By streaming mp3's to specific ports on my server, I can have mpg123 play whatever is streamed to it. And no moving parts after it boots.

    The only user interface, then, is the floppy itself. I can stream drum 'n' bass to one port, house to another, techno to another, etc. By choosing the right floppy, I select which stream I listen to.

    I haven't gotten very far (this isn't a top priority for me right now), but I'm convinced it'll work. I just gotta get around to running more Cat5 through the house...
    • You might find an even greater challenege awaiting you when you try to play mp3s on that pissy 486, unless its a 100-133 MHz monster. 'go faster stripes' won't help you here.
      • Maybe he will, and maybe he won't - more than likely it is one of those higher end boxes, but - hey, I don't know.

        But think of this - decode the MP3s on a beefy server, then stream the resulting PCM - a 486 could easily buffer and play that from the network. There are even tools that allow this under Linux and other *nixs - check my site and go to the Acer NT-150 stb hacking page - there are some links for this...
  • On a related note, does anybody have a recommedation on good small desktop cases that could be used for a settop box? I'd like to build my own Linux mp3/divx player and can't find any desktop cases with front panels that would look good in a stereo cabinet. Black would be nice but I can paint it if need be.
  • is "Whatever can be imagined can be manifest." Can you imagine a Beowulf cluster of these?

    Sorry, I couldn't resist. Go ahead and mod me down; why did I earn that Karma if I can't blow some once in a while?

  • Via has all the parts to make an awesome STB.

    Start with the Cyrix C3 at about 800mhz. This chip doesn't even need a heat-sink.

    Give it S3 graphics with TV output, 128 megs of ram, 32 megs of on board flash, and eth.

    Given Via's production capacity, they could probably build it for a hundred bucks. All of a sudden, you have a set top box that can do real things. Divx/Mpeg video 4 decoding, DVD playback, multiple web browser windows, Cheapo webs servers, and maybe even Tivo-type PVR stuff.

    Via could move a lot of thier Cyrix chips, and take advantage of buying S3. System integrators could get a STB with enough grunt to do real work. Imagine if DSS, switched from mpeg 2 to mpeg 4 compression. 2000 channnels, anyone?

    Has anyone in congress actually read the Constitution?

  • As all purpose as all purpose can be !
    it could play any know format onto tv screen or out the speakers (mp3, mpeg, ogg, divx, you name it) a bit of linux, and a small foot print, it is a neat multimedia box.
    It misses one thing : an opening for a DVD drive. You can put in, but the pictures don't an opening in the front of the device... May be the manufacturer is reading /.
    Happy hacking with that box ! By the way, what's the status of divx under linux ?
    • Doesn't the iDVD3036 have a DVD drive?

      I do wish that Allwell's site had more details about that box... they mention MPEG2 hardware decoding (using a Sigma Designs chip -- the same as in the Hollywood+ card someone else mentioned) as a standard feature of the iDVD3036, but I want such a box with the MPEG2 decoder and without the DVD drive. Allwell does not make it clear if such a thing is available.

  • Is NFS secure enough to run over the net as the author described? Would it be better to tunnel it through ssh (is this even possible)? At most he's compromising the server, which I believe he said is at his workplace. I don't mean to speculate, but I assumed that NFS was intended for a "secure" network.

    I've got NFS running on my home lan, and it doesn't seem like the type of thing you want to allow open to the net.
  • Reading about set-top boxes got me thinking...

    Seems like a while back there was a post about building your own really small rack-mounted servers. I was wondering about resources for building things like your own cases, perhaps resources on packing components into smaller spaces. I'd love to build a small PC-in-a-shoebox for set-top general use.

  • Sure, they're going out of style, but it runs Linux, does MP3, can surf the net, and hell, I think it plays some games too.
  • but with VGA, NTSC, optional remote control, PCI slot, USB, etc.

    So, I can use this instead of an audiotron, and spend about the same money, but get more.

    I could even make it a games machine for my younguns!
  • Ok, so you want to build a set top box?

    Get a non-tower pc case, Mobo[etc], Floppy drive, CD-Rom and sound card.

    Do your homework and make sure that all the hardware is supported by linux.

    You will have to find a way to get TV output [i'm not that smart].

    Put this disk []into the floppy drive and put in a mp3 [data] cd.

    Why bother using HD space to hold mp3s? The cd's can be used in car players, sega dreamcast and many DVD players... hell, any PC can read a data CD!

    No X11, no HD, no router, any crappy hardware.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith