Linux Device Roundup
Kingman: Limiting myself to currently available offerings:
Netflix Player—instant movie gratification!
Nokia N810—sofa surfing!
Motorola U9—ooh, curvy!
MooBella ice cream machine—moo!
The ones you build yourself—custom!
Lehrbaum: As mentioned above, the Roku Netflix box. Key features are its low cost, simplicity, low power consumption, ease of wireless configuration and a very nice, clean UI.
Powers: Although I've never touched one, the Nokia devices look like awesome little handheld devices. The ASUS Eee PC 701 was very significant, and even if just by merit of originality, it's one of my favorites. I like the OpenMoko FreeRunner, and although it's not ready for prime time yet, I think it might be a huge boon to Linux-based cellular phones. Add in the adorable Tux Droid, and I think you have a handful of really nifty Linux devices. One is even penguin-shaped. [See page 46 for a review of the OpenMoko Neo FreeRunner and page 64 for an article on hacking Nokia Internet tablets.]
Weinberg: On a purely personal note, some of my favorite Linux-based devices from recent years include:
TomTom navigation systems.
Kangaroo TV (NASCAR streaming video).
Dash in-car navigation with real-time interactive traffic data. [See Kyle Rankin's review of the Dash on page 50.]
BMW Series 3 and 5 vehicles.
Roku's Netflix Player (www.roku.com/products/netflixplayer)
“Instant movie gratification” coos Henry Kingman of Roku's Linux-driven Netflix Player, a networked video device that delivers Netflix streaming content directly to your television. It provides access to a library of more than 12,000 on-demand titles from Netflix. The Netflix Player is HD-ready and has all the connections you need to connect to a TV, HDTV, home theatre or A/V receiver, including HDMI. The device includes Ethernet and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), allowing one to play, pause, fast-forward and rewind movies directly from the Internet over a home network.
Roku has used Linux on the Netflix Player has since its inception. Roku's David Westerhoff, Director of Software Engineering, says his company chose Linux because it has “come a long way” and allows it to “focus on developing [its] application and helps keep the costs down”. Westerhoff adds that having the source code gives his team the flexibility to “go deep if necessary to debug, troubleshoot and optimize our software for the best user experience”. During product development, Roku developers found and fixed about a half-dozen distinct bugs in the build toolchain, plus some driver-specific bugs. However, the 188.8.131.52 Linux kernel has been very stable and required no modifications to the product.
The device uses the MIPS-based PNX8935 SoC from NXP Semiconductors for application and video processing. The application is written primarily in C++ and runs a Linux 184.108.40.206 kernel. Roku uses DirectFB to provide an abstraction layer for the graphics and video services on the platform and Qt 4.3 to provide a framework for UI development. The device has no hard disk, just 256MB of DDR RAM to provide the memory needed for its applications, plus the buffering necessary to support streaming video playback.
“Robust video streaming over home networks takes a significant amount of effort to get right”, adds Westerhoff. Therefore, the Player uses dynamic bandwidth detection to select the best possible stream for the user's network and then monitors it continuously during playback to provide the best user experience possible. If the available bandwidth changes, the device responds by selecting a new stream at a bitrate appropriate for the situation.
Wind River Linux Platform for Infotainment (www.windriver.com)
Although the Wind River Linux Platform for Infotainment (WRLPI) will remain in development until late 2009, our experts see it as a watershed development for the Linux device space. Wind River calls the platform an “automotive-optimized commercial Linux” for applications for the in-vehicle infotainment segment of the automotive industry. John Bruggeman, Wind River's Chief Marketing Officer, spoke of a “pure open-source strategy”—that is, not just a distribution but a “full and complete platform”.
The company chose Linux because consumer electronics manufacturers and suppliers in the automotive sector have found that traditional proprietary approaches come with numerous barriers. These include not only integration and interoperability challenges, but also a lack of the flexibility to create true differentiation. Wind River says that its platform will improve both product development and time-to-market concerns.
WRLPI will be optimized for the Intel Atom processor and will offer pre-integration with third-party networking and multimedia applications, such as speech-recognition and speech-to-text technologies by Nuance Communications, Inc.; Bluetooth and echo-cancellation and noise reduction solutions by Parrot; music management and automatic playlisting technologies by Gracenote, Inc.; multimedia networking solutions by SMSC; and DVD playback by Corel's LinDVD.
Wind River's senior VP and GM of the Linux product division, Vincent Rerolle said that WRLPI will “reduce the daunting complexity in the in-vehicle market” and be a “disruptive innovation expected to challenge the traditional approach to proprietary solutions and spawn a level of creativity not yet seen in this segment”.
Other WRLPI features include support for popular audio and video standards; connectivity with numerous devices, such as the iPod; rich 3-D graphics support; power-state management; quick booting/initialization and automotive standards connectivity (for example, CAN and MOST).
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.
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