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.
OSD in the Family and on the Road

Besides the main scenarios listed in the Neuros ads, I plan mostly to use the OSD in three other ways that are more interesting to me. First, the OSD makes it possible for kids to play YouTube clips, photos from their digital cameras or their MP3 playlists in the living room, without messing with dad's computer. Second, as the OSD is so small and light, I see it as a traveler's friend. Take it with you on vacations to view your digital photos right away on any motel TV or back them up to a USB drive, without carrying along a more expensive, fragile and bulkier laptop. Portability and the small size also mean I finally will be able to “steal” hours of VHS family movies whenever I visit relatives who often don't even own a computer. Saying, “Hi, Auntie, may I plug this tiny box in to your VCR and leave it there while we have dinner?” takes more time than actually doing it.

Missing Pieces and Problems

The USB interface supports only the 1.1 version of the standard. Neuros itself warns that recording to USB could cause frame drops due to speed bottlenecks. Adding a memory card adapter (which Neuros sells separately) to the kit would have made it more versatile. Also, the list of supported formats isn't 100% reliable. The firmware I tested, for example, can't handle the .mov videos generated by my Kodak camera. The audio played fine, but all I saw was a black screen.

The first thing I thought when I read the OSD datasheet was that the absence of digital inputs makes it impossible to copy DVDs or DV tapes without degradation. Neuros answered that the OSD is meant to offer flexibility and compatibility with the most common TV sets, at an affordable cost and with the simplest possible interface. They explained (and I agreed with them) that, in this context, adding digital output is not really necessary, especially because it wouldn't sensibly increase the final display quality. Digital input, instead, would have increased the cost enough to make the OSD really hard to sell.

Conclusion

All in all, I only had one real problem with the OSD, which I saved for last because it is (potentially) quite serious and also because it may well be solved by the time you read this.

As I mentioned before, the single functions work fine. The user interface, however, froze badly enough, in certain cases, to make the OSD unusable without doing a power cycle. To be more specific, this happened regularly when I had the Ethernet cable, the USB key and memory card all plugged in at the same time. The memory card alone also slowed the device, so part of the problem may be physical or formatting problems with the card itself. Even with other configurations, however, I noticed a recurring pattern. Heavy-load tasks, like playing or encoding video or audio, would go on without problem for hours, but using the remote too quickly or for more than a few minutes could slow down the OSD to a halt, especially when a storage device was plugged in.

By the looks of it, this is almost surely a bug in the particular firmware version that I tested, so don't judge the OSD by this problem, and check the Neuros Web site for updates. The Neuros OSD remains a handy and versatile device, although it's not exactly cheap. Taken one by one, all the features work well, and the device can be hacked and extended in many ways, so it could be a useful addition to your digital living room.

Marco Fioretti is a freelance writer and digital rights activist, author of the “Family Guide to Digital Freedom” (digifreedom.net) and member of several groups working on promoting wider adoption of Free as in Freedom formats and software.

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

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