The Neuros MP3 Digital Audio Computer

A review of first portable hard drive player to support Ogg Vorbis playback.
Developers' Corner

Digital Innovation hosts an open-source developers community at open.neurosaudio.com. Although Positron, the Neuros database specifications and the future Neuros API are available freely under the BSD or similar licenses, the Neurosetta firmware itself is not open source.

What is important is that Digital Innovation's position on open source, patents and DRM is stated clearly at open.neurosaudio.com/archives/000003.html. This page includes the declaration that “patents are an important defense against larger well-funded competitors in the consumer electronics space, but they will never be enforced against the Open Source community or other independent software developers”.

At the lower level, the Neuros then can be treated as an external USB 1.1 drive with a single FAT32 partition. This makes it possible to access it from any operating system supporting that class of storage devices. The specifications of the internal Neuros database are available publicly.

Conclusion and Credits

I would like to thank the Neurosetta and Positron developers, especially Stan Seibert, who provided technical support for this review.

A portable, integrated FM radio and digital music player obviously is a useful and cool gadget. Looking at it only on this level, the Neuros already scores well, but it is not the only game in town. The real news is it is the first portable hard drive player to support Ogg Vorbis playback. Now Linux-only users can enjoy and manage only one collection of high quality digital music in an open format, both on the desktop and on the road.

A portable OGG player means freedom from forced support of closed formats and from manual installation of software when using them on the desktop. Neuros promises this. Undoubtedly, the user interface still is not ready for general use (as of August 2003), and all the features, starting with HiSi, are not available yet under Linux, but the music is already there and it sounds good.

Product Information. 

The Good. 

  • Useable with Linux-only computers and OGG music.

  • Good sound quality, even with beta firmware.

  • Broadcast music to FM radio.

The Bad. 

  • Not all features are usable under Linux.

  • Linux/OGG playlist management not completely stable.

Marco Fioretti is a hardware systems engineer interested in free software both as an EDA platform and, as the current leader of the RULE Project, as an efficient desktop. Marco lives with his family in Rome, Italy.

______________________

Articles about Digital Rights and more at http://stop.zona-m.net CV, talks and bio at http://mfioretti.com

Comments

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The first portable ogg player was...

Anonymous's picture

...the Sharp Zaurus 5500, with wireless support and micro-drives and all the other features and more of the Neuros. Indeed I can nfs or smb mount my terabyte server, if I don't have enough local media... The Neuros is cool, but can't compete with an open platform.

Very good Idea, want to see more of these

Anonymous's picture

I thing that this open sourced device is great and I hope to see more device sold that way. I thing it will be also great to have

.DVD player (desk)
.Hard disk Video recording

That would be very nice thing. It's very frustrating when we dont have a feature that we all know could be easily be added with a simple firmware upgrade but we dont have this choice. Inovative Technology give us this choice. I'm very glad and prode to encourage this.

Thanks

Re: The Neuros MP3 Digital Audio Computer

Starkey's picture

I think the reviewer is missing some important parts of the Neuros, that makes it a great product.

Digital Innovations is very open with their customers about the state of development with the Neuros. The Neuros allows firmware upgrades, which enhance and add to the current feature set. For example, only mp3 was supported when I first bought my Neuros. Now the player supports Ogg Vorbis, WMA and WAV formats. That's just an example of how this product grows.

Support from the Neuros "community" is great. Anyone who has Linux knows what this is. The forums at the Neuros' website has lots of information about the current and upcoming features. Much more than was mentioned in the article.

Also the openess of the software and database allows one to write third party applications. I have written (with help) a complete open source sync manager in Java (http://neurosdbm.sourceforge.net). This was written specifically with Linux in mind, but works on any Java enabled platform. Just the ability to do this appeals to the hacker in all of us...

Linux support is great. DI doesn't officially "support" Linux, how could they? They are small company. But the support from the community is just as good. Anyone who has used Linux knows how strong this kind of support is.

I'm one of many Neuros users who would never give up their "baby" for another Music player. Don't take my Neuros from me!

(I posted this in the wrong place the first time. Sorry for repeat.)

From the reviewer: DI position on Open source

Anonymous's picture

"I think the reviewer is missing some important parts of the Neuros, that makes it a great product."...

I am well aware of the openness of Digital Innovations, and
the qualities and potential of the Neuros "community".

The reason was simply space constraints: I had to fit in
the given word count an overview of those good things and also the basic features and info on
how to get it up and running on a Linux box.

I agree completely with your comments. For the record,
they where the other main reason why I proposed this
review to LJ last year (the first being having finally something with a Linux interface and OGG support).
Thanks for the nice
complement to my review (and for sparing me from typing
it myself as a comment :-) ...)

Ciao
Marco Fioretti

Fairly dated information

Anonymous's picture

There are some items in this review which are rather dated (since it was originally written back in August of last year).

The Neurosetta firmware is no longer the most recent ogg-capable firmware available for the Neuros. If you use firmware 1.45 from www.neurosaudio.com/support/support_updates.asp you get ogg, non-drm wma and mp3 support.

There are 2 options for sync software under Linux. Positron is a command-line python script, as stated in the review. There have been some updates to it since this article was written, but those aren't yet rolled into the version available from xiph's site. The other option is NeurosDBM (Neuros Database Manipulator), a java app written by one of the Neuros users. It has both a gui and command-line mode, and is more actively developed than Positron. It's also open-source, and is hosted on sourceforge. neurosdbm.sourceforge.net

Digital Innovations (maker of the Neuros) is actively developing some significant updates to this product. They are working on several USB 2.0 backpacks, one with the same form-factor as before (using a 2.5 in hard drive) and one that is smaller (using a 1.8 in hard drive). The larger of the 2 should be out relatively soon, with the 1.8 in version following after. They are also working on a significant rewrite to the firmware of the Neuros which will support some of the features that users have been asking for from the beginning, with browse-while-playing and auto-resume probably topping the list.

Re: The Neuros MP3 Digital Audio Computer

Anonymous's picture

The Neuros will also support gapless playback for Ogg Vorbis when new beta firmwares are released to the public. MP3s will not be supported for gapless playback.

Re: The Neuros MP3 Digital Audio Computer

Starkey's picture

I think the reviewer is missing some important parts of the Neuros, that makes it a great product.

Digital Innovations is very open with their customers about the state of development with the Neuros. The Neuros allows firmware upgrades, which enhance and add to the current feature set. For example, only mp3 was supported when I first bought my Neuros. Now the player supports Ogg Vorbis, WMA and WAV formats. That's just an example of how this product grows.

Support from the Neuros "community" is great. Anyone who has Linux knows what this is. The forums at the Neuros' website has lots of information about the current and upcoming features. Much more than was mentioned in the article.

Also the openess of the software and database allows one to write third party applications. I have written (with help) a complete open source sync manager in Java (http://neurosdbm.sourceforge.net). This was written specifically with Linux in mind, but works on any Java enabled platform. Just the ability to do this appeals to the hacker in all of us...

Linux support is great. DI doesn't officially "support" Linux, how could they? They are small company. But the support from the community is just as good. Anyone who has used Linux knows how strong this kind of support is.

I'm one of many Neuros users who would never give up their "baby" for another Music player. Don't take my Neuros from me!

Re: The Neuros MP3 Digital Audio Computer

Anonymous's picture

An alternative Java application, http://neurosdbm.sourceforge.net/ will alleviate your sync and playlist problems. Requires JSRE 1.41 or greater, I believe.

The "fingerprint generation" routine inside of Neuros Sync Manager on Windows is basically the only closed-source function in the application. When released to Linux, it will be included as a compiled library.

Neuros Sync Manager is currently coded in C#.

Beta firmwares are in testing for multi-threaded browsing and playback, as well as a host of new features that are platform indepentant.

Re: The Neuros MP3 Digital Audio Computer

Anonymous's picture

The Neuros Sync Manager for windows is also open source. I have no problems running it with linux (Red Hat Fedora Core 1) and I get greater than 20ft MyFi transmission.

Unlike the iRiver and Rio Karma the Neuros really has open source on the brain. They also have a great online community check out their forums to see what I mean.

Seamless playback?

Anonymous's picture

It's nice to read about the technology, but does this player support seamless playback (no gaps between the tracks) or is it just another fancy toy?

Rio Karma

Anonymous's picture

The Rio Karma series also support OGG and FLAC (woohoo!).

Unfortunately, they don't support the USB DISK class driver and must be accessed through special win32 software or over a network using a java applet. I initially expected it to support SMB over the network (it should at that price) - but no, only a simple page accessed using http where you can download the java app.

WTF is wrong with having a simple directory tree accessed on FAT32 with the USB DISK class driver, and having a "reindex" option in the player menus? Is it really that hard? Plug in, mount, copy, unmount, unplug, press "reindex", play.

I'll buy one when I can do that.

-- Craig Ringer

Re: The Neuros MP3 Digital Audio Computer

Anonymous's picture

iRiver iHP series support Ogg Vorbis. Much cooler.

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