Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

The second in Doc's series of reports on this year's trade shows.
Hack Your Tube

Fortunately, Linux still has promotional advantages for some companies; especially those competing against closed-box makers who value all of Linux' virtues other than its hackability.

Take TiVo boxes. As we all know, TiVos run on Linux. But, as with so many other embedded Linux cases, TiVo as a company defaults to silence on the subject of its operating system. So it was a welcome relief to find a company at CES (one of the Eleven) that not only builds TiVo-like boxes on Linux but decorates its logo with a penguin:

img src="images/head_nav_r2_c2_f2.gif" alt="figure"

The company is Interact-TV and its "Telly:" boxes are designed to be much more than DVRs (digital video recorders--the category TiVo created). Interact-TV boxes are, in the Linux tradition, all-purpose devices. Home entertainment servers, they call them. Telly boxes feature TiVo-like PVR functions, but they also provide an interactive storage and content management system for all your video, audio and photo archives. Interact-TV CEO (and Linux Journal subscriber) Bob Fuhrmann explains:

We want to make these things as open as possible, so you can record and store files any way you please, through any connection you choose. You can rip audio CDs into any format you want: MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WAV, uncompressed--whatever. You can burn audio or MP3 CDs. We have USB and FireWire connections for whatever outside devices you want to plug in. Our video library supports MPEG2, MPEG4, MPEG1, OGV or OGM files. Again, whatever you like.

And because it's all in a network-mounted drive, you can do a lot with it: Internet radio, CDDB database lookup.

There's a built-in Web server, so you can access it from any Web-enabled device on your home network. It has SAMBA. There's a Wi-Fi option. We support most CAT-5 and USB wireless adapters.

Again, it's all open. You may want to replace the hard drive or add a second one. You may want to upgrade from CD-RW to DVD-RW. We let you do that without breaking the warranty.

A lot of our customers are Linux savvy. So we give them root access. Please, go hack away. We're already seeing a lot of community development. In fact, some of the features we're introducing at the show came from the community.

We have support for two-screen interactive applications, coordinated with either a live or recorded program, which wouldn't be possible if the unit wasn't also connected over the Net.

We also have program guides that you can download for satellite, cable and terrestrial TV reception. But we also support content that isn't mainstream, communities of artists, for example. Our goal is to allow any kind of content to be easily downloadable to the box. And to make it accessible to PCs because it's a network-mounted drive.

We're also open to future developments. HDTV is coming along this quarter. It'll be a swap-out of parts for registered users.

I asked him if the company might do a DVR for Internet radio, something I'd love to see. He replied:

We've had some requests for a DVR for radio, NPR listeners, for example. And we've been talking with RealNetworks about its Helix platform. They've bent over backwards with reasonable licensing programs for companies like ours. Their developers have been very helpful and open. So we're planning on moving forward with that. Our current offering is still a little bit spotty. Pure MP3 stuff is straightforward, but there's less and less of that. Some of the sources are switching to Windows Media 9 or Real and dropping MP3. Helix has a good architecture for switching between codecs in an agnostic way. We'll also probably enable some of the additional video codecs as well.

"What about DRM?" I asked.

We don't want to get directly involved with DRM, but we do want to give customers access to protected content. Working with RealNetworks is helping with that. We also may have to license Windows Media 9 directly. We've been sort of avoiding that, but the customers may give us no choice about it.

Fuhrmann said the company sells both directly (you can buy on-line) and through resellers. Because the products still appeal mostly to early adopters, we can expect them to appear first at boutique retailers and later at "big box" stores. Meanwhile, they're selling as value-adds for home entertainment systems. Best Buy, for example, offers a home networking service at some of its locations, and media servers are a natural fit for those installations. Interact-TV also has an OEM strategy in which they sell only the software. EOS is the "entertainment media development platform".


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Anonymous's picture

"So, it's clear that Linux is fast becoming a pure infrastructural commodity--like the air we breathe. Why promote what's best taken for granted? Thus, take Linux's decreasing visibility as the inverse of its ubiquity"

Um, how about it's a sign of possibly rampant GPL violations? Or maybe still Fear of Microsoft? Don't say the L-word too loud! And what about us poor schmuck end users, who just want this ***** to frikken WORK on Linux??

Don't send Doc to any more shows, send someone who will ask hard questions, and come back with some solid information.


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Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

Nobody at either booth knew if Linux was involved in their systems; but at trade shows like this one, what sells isn't tech. It's girls. XM drew a long line of fans looking for autographs from Juli and Tiffany, the "seductive hosts" of Playboy's Night Calls show.

According to netcraft Playboy use Solaris.
Draw your own conclusions.

Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

Hi this is HanishKVC here.
I want to inform u that u might have missed some linux based products at CES.
As I work for a company which makes Digital Media product designs and also act as ODM from India called Fedtec. We were part of the TI booth at CES. We had on display WORKING CONCEPT product of Digital Video Recorder and Multimedia Jukebox based on TI's DM270 chip on display, which was running our port of uclinux for this dual core ASIC consisting of ARM and DSP with some programmable accelerators for video processing. These products support mpeg4 encode/decode, mp3 enc/playback, Divx support, mjpeg, jpeg support (all these use DSP and Accelorators). Also gif is supported but this uses ARM only.

We support multiple OSs like vxworks, uitron, linux, ucos, stlite, nucleus etc in our products. However at the booth we had 2 products running uclinux and one running uitron.

In general we get many requests from product companies asking for product designs based on linux.

Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

davemc's picture

While this is interesting in the identification of the new "cool" stuff, the lack of Linux mentions is not newsworthy. For any infrastructure to be successful, it must be omnipresent, or as mentioned in another comment, kind of like power cords.

Years ago, I made a statement that "Linux won't be important until no one cares." (as an example : ( ).

Now that we can simpy accept Linux, we can move on to the new battle for the last mile minds, the home user, the business desktop, the average game player.

Many of them don't mention Linux for the same reason...

Anonymous's picture

...that they don't mention having power cords. It's kind of taken for granted.
But for the brouhaha it would cause, this almost makes one long for an avertising clause in Linux's licence. Perhaps for the next show we can print some "built on Linux" stickers to tag participants' banners with.

Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

If linux is used everywhere in embedded applications, I bet
the amount of GPL violations is staggering.
Will the GPL be powerless in the future, just because
of the sheer amount of violations?


Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

Unications web site does not yet show the medic-center, that I could find.

Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

Found the hidden link - another site