The Neuros OSD Connects Your TV to the Internet

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Play digital video, view photos and listen to audio from memory cards or hard disks, or browse YouTube and record TV shows in MP4 with this small Linux-based box. Oh, and you can hack it too—it's open source.
Setting Up and Using the OSD

After upgrading, you'll see a “Thank You” screen that invites you to set up the OSD through a few interactive screens. The first one is for LAN configuration. Just as during a standard Linux installation, both static and DHCP configurations are possible. I tried them both without any problems. After configuring network and Wi-Fi, which you can skip altogether, you can configure the IR blaster.

Once everything was up and running, I finally started using the OSD. I've played MP3 files, recorded and played TV shows and YouTube clips and browsed digital pictures. After testing, I can say that the OSD works as advertised. Some parts of the user interface could be more efficient, but all in all, it is simple to use. A French language pack is already available, and Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch and Portuguese should follow soon.

The menu system is similar to standard living-room DVD players, with a sliding bar on the bottom that tells you how much free space there is on the internal memory or the external devices (memory cards or USB drives) you are using. You also can customize the graphic theme and screensaver.

There are three video recording modes. The first is called Quickstart, defined in the OSD manual as “take a leap of faith and simply press Record”. The second is Standard mode, where you can change parameters, and finally, there's Advanced mode, which provides more flexibility and control but requires a bit more competence for proper use. Image and audio quality of TV recordings were almost indistinguishable from the originals, even with the default settings.

The remote has standard, VCR-like keys to control video playback. Video recorded with the OSD takes about one hour per gigabyte at the highest quality. The maximum duration of a recording depends on the maximum file size supported by the host filesystem.

The YouTube browser is simple but effective. All the essential functions are grouped in Videos, Search, Favorites and Settings submenus. The Videos menu has buttons for listing all new clips or just the most-viewed ones for the time period you choose (day, week, month or year). Once you find the video you want, the OSD plays it full-screen. YouTube quality on standard TVs isn't great, but that's not the OSD's fault, and there are no glitches during playback if your Internet connection is fast enough.

The OSD photo viewer has full-screen, thumbnail and slideshow modes. In slideshow mode, you can configure the duration of each slide. The audio player has a playlist-creation functionality.

In my tests, all types of files (video, audio and pictures) were played with the same quality, without degradation or other problems, no matter whether they were on a memory card, USB drive or computer on the local network.

Hey, the Command Line!

The OSD is a nice and small box with serial port, Ethernet port, Linux inside and very little power consumption. Besides a graphical interface built on the Qtopia toolkit, it has a LUA interpreter, a Telnet server and BusyBox. If this doesn't make a hacker want to mess with the OSD, nothing will. As a matter of fact, there already is a community customizing and extending the OSD in various ways or using it as a mini-server. To get inside the OSD, simply type telnet and the IP address, then log in as root with the default password, pablod. This drops you into a standard shell, within the limits of BusyBox.

In order to browse my PC partition from the TV, using the OSD remote, I simply typed:

mkdir /media/polaris
mount -t nfs 192.168.1.2:/mydata/osd_test /media/polaris

Note that, besides Telnet, you also can open an OSD console on your TV from the Advanced applications menu. The on-screen keyboard is much slower to use, but all the keys are there.

Figure 6. Looking into the OSD via Telnet

Advanced Features and Hacking

The Advanced applications menu also lists an MP4 Video editor (beta). When I tried it on an MP4 file on my computer, it wouldn't even open the NFS-mounted directory, which, as I already mentioned, was reachable without problems by the OSD file browser and picture viewer. Neuros confirmed to me that this application is still just an experiment, usable only on small clips stored in the cards or USB drives.

Figure 7. Browsing NFS Partitions from the TV Screen

The list of features coming soon, some of which are Google Summer of Code projects, is really interesting. Besides Samba, Web and FTP servers, the latest announcements mention streaming via Fuse, a Last.fm client and an Ogg Theora codec. Currently, the software that actually plays movies and music and shows the menus, called osdmain, is not designed to communicate with other programs. However, work already is ongoing to overcome this limitation and interact with the OSD over LAN. For more information, check out the Neuros Developer Web site (see Resources).

______________________

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

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