Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?

The Borg Box and Convergence Fantasies 239

Gather round kids and let me tell you a story. A story of "Convergence": a nasty buzzword many of us have dreampt of in hot lusty dreams that we wouldn't admit to our mothers. The dream is the borged media box: combining the functionality of your Tivo, your MP3 Box, DVD Player, CD Player, and so much more. It's not here yet despite lots of trying, but its getting closer.

If your closet looks anything like mine, its full of stereo equipment. Some obsolete (VCR?), and some of it is critical to survival (Tivo). But the stack of components are seperate devices which provide flexibility, but are unable to integrate cleanly into each other. What I'm describing here is The Dream. A simple box that can fulfill the tasks of my tuner, reciever, CD Player, and has a ton of new tricks that nobody has done yet.

As always, I'm looking at this through the eyes of an open source hacker. Where possible I mention projects that could provide a framework. And I also make a huge assumption about disk space. Right now 80 gig hard drives are available for only a few hundred dollars. But since it'll be years before this box really exists, we will presumably have hundreds of gigs at our disposal. When we cross 500 gigs, things get interesting... we suddenly can store a few hundred movies... a month of TV... a few months of your favorite radio broadcasts... all in one beautiful box. This project could certainly be done on windows, but ideally it wouldn't matter, since most people would never see the underlying OS, and besides, the massaging of closed source applications to fit within this framework wouldn't be possible.


The most important devices are those that are already critical in a stereo today. We need to build upon that base before we can really start breaking new ground. That said, first and foremost, we must have a CD Player. But not just any CD Player, this CD Player should automatically rip every CD you insert and store it in Ogg Vorbis, ideally at a high bit trate. While programs like Grip and FreeAmp provide an excellent foundation, the interfaces to each will need work to fit within the Borg Box.

Why stop with a CD? We have to dedicate the physical space to read discs, lets include a DVD Player. VideoLAN has a pretty solid player for Linux now. But why stop there? Like our music, we should automatically rip, catalog, and store our DVDs. This should be optional of course because the disc space required to store DVDs is going to be fairly huge. But imagine if the last 20 DVDs you watched were stored on this box? It might take 50 gigs to store at a good compression rate, but when your buddy comes over you could quickly show him that scene you mentioned the other day without rummaging through that pile of DVDs and CDs that inevitably accumulates on top of every flat surface without 5 feet of your stereo. And in 3 years, that terebyte disc may be real. And since the player is purely a software thing, Dolby Digital, DTS 5.1, and future 6.1, 7.2, and whatever else comes next could be provided with a software upgrade (unlike today where you may need a new DVD Player or Reciever)

The DVD storage leads me into what is the new essential video component: Tivo . Anyone who uses a Personal Video Recorder for more then a few weeks knows that going back is just not an acceptable solution. Tivo simply makes TV tolerable again. But Tivo has its problems. We need bigger hard drives and more storage. The Tivo interface breaks down as the number of programs increase: the 35 Hour DirecTivo model becomes unmanagable when you have 60-70 shows on it. What happens when we can stick a half a TB of disc space on this? But afaik, no open source application duplicates the functionality of the Tivo.

We should include a Tuner as well, but I'd like it to be able to play a few tricks that most can't. I enjoy listening to Howard Stern in the morning. So my mega media box should start recording it at 6am. And the audio it records should be indexed nicely with the other audio we have. Audio compresses extremely well so we could keep a lot of it around. Recording a 5 hour radio show is only going to be a few hundred megs. I've seen bits and pieces of this software in place, but with Tuner cards available for less then a hundred bucks, this should be a negligible addition. The real effort will be the programming, but since we're already doing much of these things already, it shouldn't be that hard: The PVR will need the ability to record time/date, so radio stations could simply be extra channels. And the audio stuff already is encoding CDs, and providing a nice interface for selecting music. It won't be as simple since most radio stations won't have accesible "Guides" for what is on when, but we could make do with simple time/duration/station.

While we're at it, users with high enough bandwidth should be able to stream audio and video from the net. URLs are just channels and stations. A nice internal list of popular sources of content would be a nice start. This won't matter today, but as broadband becomes the norm, web based TV should start not sucking.

We'll also need to provide a few inputs for other devices. The real trick here is that since we're going to want to do things like crossfading and overlaying audio, so these will be hard to do. Honestly, with all the devices that this box has, hopefully we wouldn't need more then 2 spare inputs, but that is a big issue that remains to be seen.


I'd love to see a version with an integrated DirecTV reciever (ala the DirecTivo which has some really great features, but no traditional cable tuner which really sucks). But that is a very difficult step and don't see that happening in any sort of open source project, so this may be an unattainable dream for our Borg Box.

A version capable of being a Cable Modem would be awesome. The cable company could make some serious bread selling something like this. They are already leasing Cable Modems and Digital Cable boxes. This would cost far more, but they could also charge a lot more for the huge gain in functionality. But imagine plugging this in to your cable jack, and being done. DHCP handles the net connection. Digital Cable. Its all done. DSL for those folks would be nice too, but you'd still need a cable input for video.

X10 Control would be sweet as well. Then events could be raised to do anything that X10 can do. The doorbell could trigger the front door camera, and change the video source to the camera by the front door (the X10 devices to do this security stuff is only a hundred bucks, so its not cost prohibitive). There are countless nifty things that you could do, and the only cost to the box is a few dollar firecracker to broadcast and recieve X10 signals, plus code to configure simple event handling. And that would be the ahrd part: coding a clean and flexible X10 system would be tricky work.

De-Interlacers are somewhat expensive devices that could probably be reasonably implemented as part of the playback. I'm sure it wouldn't be as top notch as a dedicated processor or high end progressive DVD Player, but it seems like this could be done nicely, and then we could pull one more component out of the chain. I suspect doing a good job with this would quickly become clock cycle consuming. Maybe co-processors could be employed for the job. This would only affect HDTV users, although in 18 months, that might be the majority of users for this device. Lets face it, this thing is going to be high tech, and the mainstream isn't even ready for Tivo yet!

New Tricks

A phone jack will be necessary for a variety of purposes (CD Lookups, TV Guide Information) for users without ethernet access to the world. Why not rig it up to allow notification of phone calls? You're watching a movie and the phone rings. The audio fades, and optionally the video pauses. A window pop's up and tells you who the call is from. Festival could even say it out loud.

Since we'll have a net connection, various reports could easily be generated. Some things could be snarfed automatically. Perl modules exist to get things like weather, stock quotes, and status of your pop mail. I'd love to wake up, press a button, and hear "Its 65 degrees and sunny with 10 mph wind from the northwest. LNUX is trading at 12 cents a share. And you have 1092 messages waiting". Well, I'd like it better if those last 2 numbers were switched, but you get the point. Advanced users could code simply scripts to acquire new information making the options limitless: Traffic reports ("It will take you 12 hours to get to work because you live in California dumbass") and any compliant rss website could give you news headlines. Couple that with X10, and you could make it so a motion sensor triggers your report. Add bounds for time. If the borg box detects motion between 8am and 10am in the living room, give the morning weather report. Suddenly, you have the report as you're getting your keys and wallet, and know without even looking outside if you need your coat.

While we're at it, why not provide an alarm clock? Its easy, but overlooked. Your alarm could be your customized news report I mentioned above, your favorite morning radio show (starting at the beginning, and not at 7:45 during the middle of that annoying commercial for the head shop), or your choice of obnoxiously loud ringing tones guaranteed to raise the dead.

Since all the devices are integrated, we have a variety of controls available that most recievers don't have. We could crossfade one device into another. I know its picky, but hey, it sure would be cool. You could fade the radio volume 50% to get your caller ID spoken to you. Its the little details that would really make this stand out.


The real trick is going to be the interface. If I tell my amazing media box that I'm interested in Tenchi, it should be able to provide me with the Tenchi Soundtrack that I ripped. The Tenchi DVDs I watched a few weeks ago (and if its not on the hard drive, it could at least remember what I watched and when). And the episodes that have aired recently on Cartoon Network. And since we have a net connection, why not search Napster, Gnutella, and Google? There's a plethora of solid sources of multi media out there. The real trick is going to be providing a clean interface for picking what it is your want. The UI will provide you with key information. Icons representing local media, media you've already seen, DVDs you have but maybe haven't ripped, things that could be streamed, things that are coming soon. But it can't be overly complicated (by default. There always should be advanced options).

Actually communicating with the device should be available on many levels. A simple remote control for the bulk of normal everyday functions: Play. Pause. Fast Forward. Menu Navigation. "I Like This Thing I am Seeing, so show me more like this in the future". A wireless keyboard should be an option too. With this GUI, more complex features would be available: writing perl scripts, typing in more complex search requests.

Someday voice interaction would be excellent as well, but thats a bit off yet. Today's voice recognition is not up to the task of taking commands from a room full of ambient noise: it simply can't figure out when it is being addressed. But its not far off. "Borg Box, Good Morning" could be the trigger for your morning weather report. "Borg Box, Good Night" changes to a play list containing mellow Brian Eno tracks. Can you imagine? It sounds like the high tech star trek stuff, but the parts are all getting really close.

Hardware Interfaces

Ideally we would provide component video with options for 480i for backwards compatibility, and 480p at the minimum for HDTV. If we could do 780p, we could provide a very crisp video signal, and make a lot of nifty things possible, like fitting sharper smaller fonts on screen. Maybe a VGA adapter too. We could probably do this the same way the Playstation 2 does: a nice little dongle gives us all the options necessary even for older sets, without cluttering the actual device.

Audio should by default come out via optical toslink cable. Admittedly, many recievers don't support that, but backwards compatibility to to channel RCA stereo plugs would be nice. Surround sound would only be available through the optical channels, just as the PS/2 operates today. We won't make the mistake that the DirecTivo does of only sending the principle signal to the optical port, and only mixing in other effects to the RCA ports.

Obviously we will need a phone jack for primitive net access, and for phone functions. But also an ethernet port for the lucky folks with DSL, Cable, or real network connections.

We'll need a cable jack. Ideally it could handle Cable Modem input, Digital Cable Input, and just plain old cable. But for starters, just cable is enough. If cable companies participate, a lof of magic is possible.

An IR port could provide input for a remote control and a full blown wireless keyboard. The keyboard could be sold seperate to keep costs down if necessary, but wireless input is cheap, as are remotes.

We probably also should have power too, although a future version should also include a cold fusion module so that this box can power your house as well. Hey, we're dreaming, why not go all out ;)


Expensive. We're talking thousands of dollars for this hardware. And who knows how many hours for the software. Much of the functionality I've described already exists in various forms, but writing a consistant, well designed UI requires rare skills in the open source world. And a device like this is almost entirely about the UI. Many Slashdot readers could build this box, but its going to take special people to actually make the UI friendly enough to gain mass acceptance.

Costs could potentially be taken on a bit by Cable companies leasing these an alternative to cable boxes/cable modems. Since they already lease those for 5 bucks a month each, customers are used to it. And this provides the functionality of a thousand dollars worth of hardware.

Adversiting is also a huge potential revenue stream. Yes its annoying, but if it meant you could get this box for $1000, would it be worth it? Personally I'm all for highly targetted advertising. If I search for Tenchi, my ad should be about anime. While the banner ad market is poop, this kind of targetting could be hugely valuable. Cartoon Network runs hundreds of ads a week for anime, but they are preaching to the converted: you're already watching their network when you see this ad. This method could get anime fans who maybe didn't realize that Big O is running on Cartoon Network, and is a really excellent show worth watching. You may have a lot of anime DVDs, and not know Cartoon Network's lineup changed. And nothing irritates me more then mismarketing. If I am alone in my basement, I should never ever ever see an add for feminine hygiene products. I will never purchase them. They wasted their advertising dollar and my time. Its one step away from telemarketers interupting me and my pizza.

Ideally you can build the box yourself, choosing the functionality you want and need (Don't want a tuner? click a checkbox during install, save $100 on the tuner card). The most expensive part would probably be the hard drives. Right now, 2 80 gig hard drives would be the best place to start, and thats going to run $500. The PC might only run another 500, but we'll need things like a Tuner, an mpeg encoder and decoder, a DVD Player. Ideally sources exist for getting a pre-fabbed box. I don't think my dad wants to build his own, but he sure loves his tivo.


People talk so much about the inevitable convergence of all media. But it sure is taking a long time. The device I describe is an undertaking on the scale of a project like the kernel or GNOME. So many bits and pieces of the puzzle are available: we have IR reading software, rippers, mpeg encoders and decoders. Its just a matter of time before someone puts the parts together. It could be built using GPLd parts, but if nobody does it, it won't be. Many companies have started down this road: Indrema bottomed out, Tivo sales continue to be lackluster, ZapStation will most likely never ship anything more then a press release. But none of them have truly addressed the big picture... I only have time to talk about it. Does anyone have the time to actually do it?

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Borg Box and Convergence Fantasies

Comments Filter:
  • I have a spare Celeron processor, and just picked up a second hand motherboard on the cheap. What I plan to add is:

    A Hauppauge WinTV PVR, saves to 704x480, MPEG2
    DVD reader
    As much hard disk as I can afford
    My TNT2u, when it's superceeded by something else,
    until then, my ancient Riva128 with TV out.
    Add RAM to taste, and serve hot!
    DivX, flaskmpeg, virtualdub

    I'm not really expecting the wintv card to work in linux, but that'd be an added bonus.
  • That's because your CDs are random-access, while DVDs are not. You typically want to shuffle your entire collection and perform operations that cross many disks (usually shuffling). Whereas, for a DVD (at least every DVD I've ever seen) you would want to watch the whole disk, and only 1 disk, per sitting.

    • Is ripping DVDs really necessary? I mean, is it really that much of a pain in the ass to find a DVD if you're properly organized? I'd much rather cut $300 off the price by dropping the 200-gig HD and buying a $20 DVD rack.
    • What about the ability to burn DVDs? Apple already has a cheap DVD burner, it can't be too long before the technology (which was developed by another company, I forget which) appears in other devices, or on the parts market. A DVD-based box with the functionality of a VCR would sell like hotcakes.
    • Built-in networkable user interface. Let me access the MP3 library from any computer in the house or anywhere, or order it to tape a show I forgot about from work.
    • iMovie-style camcorder interface and DVD authoring. Something simple like that. This would also require a FireWire port to be added.
    • The device is way overfeatured for its job. We've seen this sort of thing before, it was called WebTV. The geeks you are targeting it at could build the equivalent for half the price, put it together themselves, get something better, have more fun doing it, and already have a real computer anyway. The consumers, who are, conservatively, 100 times more numerous, would have no use for most of these options and no inclination to spend huge amounts of time tinkering with it to customize it properly. If it doesn't work as well or as fast as the devices it replaces (VCR, DVD, TiVo, radio) it won't be popular.

  • Yes exactly. There are two essential rules when it comes to do-it-yourself convergence versus convergence-in-a-box. One is, as you mentioned, reliability and upgradability - one box means one horribly expensive part to replace if something goes wrong. Component cards oppose the 'in a box' concept - you're not supposed to have to much around inside this box, are you?

    The other issue is quality. The quality of components will always have the potential to be higher - partially because someone designing a component doesn't have to trade quality in this part for quality in some other part, and partially because, well, the market for a component that just plays CDs can't be subdued by a poor CD player with a pretty good tape player attached. Also partially because you can't get away with no-name (or bad-name) parts the same way - in a shelf stereo, nobody notices prima facie the fact that the CD part was made by child labor in China; not so with a CD component - you're buying a CD component made by child labor in China, or you're not.

    To think that an 'in-a-box' system can have precisely the featureset that you want it to have is contrary to the experience of years and years in the PC industry - that a pre-built system may be good enough, but it's never cutting edge, optimal, or right for every circumstance.

  • Cost an arm and a leg?

    Decent rear projection TV - $3k
    TiVo - $500 + service
    Decent Tuner - $1k
    Decent Speakers - $1k
    Decent DVD player - $1k

    This is not a market that is shy about spending a buttload of money for fancy entertainment gadgets.

    Maybe a year ago the market for this device was fairly large, lots of stock-options-rich dotcommers out there. Not so many right about now, but still SOME people out there have the money, the nerdiness to deal with the inevitable UI gaps such complexity demands, I really think that such a system should be doable. I mean, if TiVo was doable, this is.

    But it should be based on Satellite feeds and DSL for networking. Not Cable. Cable is evil.
  • ... PLUS:
    Virtual Game Station. . .
  • I'm not defending big business here, but I'm recognizing that there really isn't any way to compete against them.

    Consider the web server situation.


  • ATI TV-Wonder PCI Tuner (Linux compatible, even) TV out video card - ATI, or a TNT2.. cheap.. Geforce2MX, cheap.

    I was under the impression that the various ATI cards had next to nil for Decent Linux support. I know my bro's ATI All-in-wonder has shit for support.

  • Things like this are the reason I don't buy those all-in-one scanner/fax/copier office doodads - what if it breaks?

    I envision a chassis system: Bare chassis gives you RCA A/V and the good ole' modulated out. Then you buy modules: DVD module. CPU module. RF remote module. VCR module. Optical audio module. Dolby 5.1 module. Component Video module. Satellite module. Storage modules. Networking (100bT, 100bF, 1G, etc.) The list goes on and on.

    Now if something breaks the chassis powers down the section and the rest works. No need for hot-swap although that'd be cool. I'd love to design something like this a module at a time but some big company would eat me for lunch and have it out earlier simply because they have far more resources.

  • The 2GB AVI file size limit is dead. OpenDML killed that problem off.
    My intermediate files for SVHS output are routinely over 30GB each, single AVI files.
  • High-bitrate LAME MP3s sound great. High bitrate DivX files still suck. Max out the bitrate slider, and it still looks like crap compared to a DVD.
  • Sorry, I've been using the OpenDivX code since day one, as well as SBC through Nandub, etc, etc, etc.. It's all still far far from being usable on a large display, like a TV.
  • Under windows (Sort of. Under Win2K, the software is better than usual for ATI, but it still is fairly unstable). Under linux, well, 3d is getting there, TV-in is working fairly well (no capture support; the proper API is lacking in X). TV-out has been reported to work with a framebuffer, the proper modeline settings, and an appropriate ritualistic sacrifice.

    Motion compensation and other DVD-acceleration techniques, well, don't hold your breath. Not only is an appropriate API lacking, but ATI doesn't seem to want to release specs. (Not suprising; considering how long motion compensation has been out there, it took a remarkably long time for _any_ vendor to release info on their motion compensation units.)
  • Check out an interesting solution [] from ReplayTV [], TiVo's [] often overlooked competitor. It's a Home Media Server idea that is quite intriguing. Of course, it's currently vaporware, but for those of us who have ReplayTV, this could be a the dream-come-true!
  • * Automatically catalogues media clips (BeOS does this to an extent, I've heard)

    Do not understand... Please describer further as to why this is important.

    * Replicates TiVO functionality to an acceptable degree

    According to hauppage web site, WinVCR from Cinax is available for my WinTV card.

    * Does a decent job at being a convenient radio tuner

    WinTV-FM card

    * Does a decent job at being an alarm clock

    This has been easy with every computer with a built in clock.

    * Streams decent-quality (visual and production) video from the Net on a channel-lookup system


    * Plays HDTV signals


    * Does a decent job of being a voicemail/phone answering/notification system for incoming calls - or for that matter, does any decent voice functionality over voice lines at all

    This software has been available for years. I had a USR Voice modem back in 1995. One of my friends at work has a whole phone system attached via USB to his PC. He can retrieve email via his phone, etc. Unfortunately that vendor did go out of business, but there are some others.

    * Triggers events via anything other than timers, keyboard taps, and mouse clicks

    What do you want to trigger off of? There is plenty of home automation software out there to trigger events from a variety of sources.

    * Displays information services in an acceptable format on a TV screen

    Have not tried this.

    * Crossfades or partitions anything via automatic windowing (yea I know you can drag titlebars and window boundaries to your heart's content, but your good old "tile windows" command is usually not good enough for practical usage)

    Please provide more detail.

    * Decently controls events on a PC via a remote control

    Once again that home automation software is readily available that will do this.

    Why limit yourself to remote? I would rather control my computer via voice commands, which I can do although not very far advanced.

    I don't know, I'm pretty amazed at all the stuff I do with my computers at home. I have a WinTV card, so I watch TV in a window. My scanner photocopies to my laser printer at the touch of a button, etc.

    It's improving. I don't think we are there yet.
  • The only reason I mentioned Hauppage and WinTV products is that I bought a WinTV-Go card last year for only like $40 and I find it to be the most amazing piece of hardware I have ever owned.

    Now granted, while I've been able to get it to record video I have had some problems capturing sound at the same time... But my main purpose is really just to watch TV in a window on my monitor.

    As far as TiVo goes... The technically challenging part of TiVo is the video recording and playback system. Everything from then on is just controlling that subsystem.

    Honestly, the only thing I would ever want out of Tivo is VCR like functionality. I want to tell some device to record Star Trek at 8pm on channel 38 on Saturday, and not have to worry about putting a tape in the machine.

    As far as home automation goes. Ok, the software I was looking at is Homeseer. It is relatively trivial for me to activate software based on some triggered event.

    The door opens, the system can trigger my televion to turn on, change to CNN. A web browser to open on my desktop and browse to the local weather, and oh I don't know maybe an MP3 player playing some music.

    The options are rather endless considering the system is easily interfaceable, and there is a lot of home automation equipment out there. X10 is not the best way to go, the devices have slow response and are not realiable, there are others.
  • I suppose. The WinTV card I have needs some refinement. When you switch channels there is a loud burst of noise through speakers which is annoying. Overall though the quality of video displayed is quite good, as is the video capture.

    It would be nice if such functions became standard on the computer, which would allow for improved software.

    As far as Tivo, I could care less about the TV listings. The piece of Tivo which excites me the most is the ability to pause TV while I'm watching it. This is technically challenging and required some signifigant amount of bandwidth available from the harddrive as you have to read and write video at the same time.

    The program listing controlling recording is not technically challenging. A computer program to do that would be incredibly easy to write once you have the capability of capturing video to a file.


    Now I just trigger record events at said times.

    Keeping the television listing database isn't even that hard, it just requires 12 trained monkeys. But monkey's cost a lot to feed, and I can't afford to keep them in my garage. :)
  • I can think of a few reasons:
    1. You can never have too much hard drive space. It never fails that, as soon as somebody makes a leap in hard drive capacity, something comes along to fill it, even if it's just more bloat from $FAVORITE_OFFICE_SUITE. That something could be HDTV. TiVo gets 30 hours by recording analog TV at low ("VHS") quality. How much 780p or 1080i do you think the same size hard drive could handle, even at low quality? And after seeing part of an NHL game in HD*, I wouldn't want low quality.
    2. Data is Bandwidth is Time is Money. If my lossless-compressed media files never leave the box the hard drive is in, it's no problem. Performance is only bound by throughput on the system bus. But I don't see much value in having a massive BorgBox for each and every display/speaker set in my house. I'd much rather have a mofo-huge BorgServer in the basement/closet, serving any number of thin BorgBoxen set-top devices, all connected by cheap, plentiful Cat 5. Until something faster and cheaper comes along, or I start pulling down Sultan of Brunei money, I'll err on the side of efficiency.
    3. Do you need your entire music collection to be CD/SACD/DVD Audio quality? Really, are you losing any subtleties by ripping Dokken at 128 Kbps? :-) Whenever I get around to it, I'll re-rip Dvorak's 9th Symphony at 320Kbps, but I don't need that much bitrate for hair bands.
    You're right that the VCR isn't obsolete. Not yet, at least. I don't think people will go for DVD burners until they can get rid of that intellectual-property-lawyer smell.

    *: One of Best Buy's old demo recordings included a Buffalo Sabres game. I don't recall the format, but I think it was 780p. On a ~61" screen, you could read the names on the players' backs clearly, and the puck was far easier to follow than on analog TV, even without any lame FoxTrax comet trails.

    We're not scare-mongering/This is really happening - Radiohead
  • My ideal convergence system has individual a/v components, each with a single data/control port in the back. These go into either a router or the back of the Borg Box. The analog sources all go into the components, not the Borg Box.

    The borg box then becomes all about issuing commands and manipulating data streams, something that Linux should be well suited for, and not about tons of specialized hardware doing endless conversions between analog signals. It also lets me swap out and upgrade a/v components, and choose the ones that fit my needs and price range.

    Then, only the Borg Box gets to talk to the screen, the keyboard, the mouse and the speaker amps.

    I don't have a lot of hope for consumer-grade components with FireWire ports in them any time soon, though.

    Jon Acheson

  • Personally I'm all for highly targetted advertising.

    Of course, the problem with targetted advertising is that, in order to be able to target you, the advertiser has to know something about you. Presumably, this info will be gathered automatically - e.g. the system will keep track of what films you watch on DVD/cable and if, for example, you watched Clerks, Mallrats and Chasking Amy, it would advertise Dogma to you.

    So, where does it end? Supermarkets already use loyalty cards to track what we buy. The credit card companies can look at our accounts to see what we buy and where. Our mobile phones betray our position to the mobile phone companies and their records details who we speak to and when.

    You might wonder 'So what if my supermarket, credit card issuer or mobile phone company has this information?' Or whether DoubleClick has data on all my watching, listening, browsing and online shopping habits. Well, to be perfectly honest, the possibility that someone, like a Government, or a cracker, could access this information and use it to profile me, isn't a very alluring prospect.

    In Robert A Heinlein's novel, Friday, one of the characters suggests that every individual has a duty to do what they can to disrupt the governments' data-gathering efforts - using cash, paying a little bit too much tax if you can't get away with paying less - anything to disrupt the system.

    Otherwise, you're guilty of complicity in violation of individuals' privacy on a massive scale. Worse than that, you're a sheep. And, in the end, sheep get slaughtered.

    Patrick McGoohan said it best - I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.

    Be seeing you.


  • It might take 50 gigs to store at a good compression rate

    I hate to tell you this, but the video and audio stored on a DVD is already compressed. While its possible another step of compression will make it smaller, its also possible the data added by the compression will make it larger. Its a bit like zipping jpeg's.

  • This box sounds like a product in search of a market (or perhaps it's just looking for suckers).

    Maybe it's just me, but I have trouble believing that Joe Consumer is going to be terribly happy when he loses 500 GB of movies on his Borg box when the hard disk goes bad (as it eventually will). Unless they do something like RAID5 and make it easy for Joe to locate and change out the failed disk and for RAID reconstruction to begin automagically, I doubt that such a box is going to fly. If they do do RAID, what's this thing going to sound like when it's sitting on top of your TV? Anyone who's stuffed a half dozen disks in a PC and put it under their desk knows that the noise isn't something you want to listen to while you're watching TV. If they don't do RAID, how are they going to convince Joe that he's suppose to buy a carton of DLT tapes and a $2K tape drive to back up his Borg box on a regular basis? (Oh, right. Once it takes off, all these costs will come down. Har har har.)

    Like I said, maybe it's just me, but I can't see this as a successful product until the vendors provide some means of ensuring the integrity of the stuff you place on all that disk storage. And the solution can't force the consumer to become a data center manager. What's all that inconvenient about CDs/DVDs anyway? (Besides the cool factor of downloading, that is.) And where's the bandwidth to allow all this downloading to happen? Heck, I've been trying for the better part of two years to get broadband where I live -- near one of the largest cities in the U.S. -- and if it can't get done here, how's it going to be available to a wide enough extent to make this borg box worthwhile?


  • ``Nobody ever said the thing had to have 500GB as one logical volume.''

    Well, Joe Consumer buys his PC with a single 40GB disk in it -- and a backup device is always, always, an expensive option that consumers rarely buy. The mentality is ``I need a bigger disk'' and not ``I need a second disk''. Geez, I mention to frinds that they can add another hard disk to their PC and the reaction is similar to what you'd expect when showing fire to a cave man. I can't imagine the consumer electronics industry developing something like this that'll deal with multiple disks. Heck, I doubt that they'll even have a good solution for dealing with a single big disk.

    ``Water cooling solves the lion's share of PC-loudness problems, unless you're overfond of high-rpm SCSI disks, and is getting less expensive (hardocp reviewed a commercially available $200 water-cooled chassis about a week ago).''

    Well, as a matter of fact, I am fond of those fast SCSI drives. :-) Personally, I'd have real strong reservations about anything that brings water and computer equipment together in the same box and only costs $200. What was the URL of that review again?

    ``I live in an area near a major US city (Chicago). I can't get a 33.6 modem connection, let alone broadband.''

    That's the city I was talking about. (I'm up near the Ill/Wis border but I may as well live in a third world country as far as Internet access is concerned.) I really couldn't care less about downloading music and, especially, movies. I just want to get Internet access, dammitall, and access that doesn't assume that all I want to do is connect via AOL so I can insert smileys into my chat sessions using a drop-down menu.

    All in all, though, I see these borg boxes as being the same thing as the combination fax/printer/modem/etc units that are popular with some home office users. I just am not looking for a piece of equipment that, when one component dies, I can't do anything. Just like I'll keep my computer and entertainment systems separate, thank you.

  • I won't buy it unless it can make me coffee and do my laundry... Although the X10 interface sounds promising to that respect :)
    Slashdot didn't accept your submission? [] will!
  • If it comes from thew Open source community it will be a dream come true. If it comes from Microsoft or other gestapo members of the closed source mafia (colorful words added to invoke emotions.) then it will be a nightmare.

    Microsoft hates mp3, and it will hate ogg/vorbis even more. (in fact it hates any format that doesnt have content control or is under thier ownership (html is forced upon them and they dont like it, they'd love htMSml (compiled of course!))

    The record industry and movie conglomerates OWN the hardware and software megaliths. If anything comes out of phillips or sony it should be looked at as if it was looking back at you.

    now... what you dream of can exist now. you could build it now. linux can do all of that, including control of devices that are not "compliant"...

    Problems arise when you start wanting things more specific... like super high fedility. I assume you want your audio to be un-frigging-believeable.. foundation cracking bass, mid's clearer than the actual instrument plugged into your head, and high's that shatter all the glass in clairity and strength. Start integrating things and you lose quality. Would you like a nice example?

    The AVID video production studio. instead of having the encoder and decoder as combined/integrated units, they are seperate, the TBC is seperate, the audio mixer and processing boxes are seperate... why? for quality. Then the software is seperate also.

    Why? you ask... well, what is better... a film produced by an expert that uses all those discreet tools or a moron that pushes the "make movie button". if spielberg did things the easy way then he would have been forever unknown.

    now granted we are talking home entertainment. and if you buy a real home automation system then the ease of using all these items and your dreams would be mostly complete. ( I can have my tuner tune to howard stern and have the dat recorder start and record from that source with a simple function from my home's central computer.. and changing that to mp3 storage would be trivial) but does anyone really want this? home automation installs are rare, resale of a connected home with a HA system is the same as a normal house (no value for the HA system) therefore the public doesn't want it, otherwise I'd be selling a helluva lot more of these and not just to the disgustingly rich. (anyone can afford some level of home automation) and I wouldn't be asked to rip out systems for people moving because people wont pay an extra dime for an automated home.

    it's a nice dream that is a reality for some of us, but it will never become a standard.

  • I heard this "uber-box" has already arrived. Some people call it a "PC", or "personal computer". These "PC's" can be purchased anywhere, and are relatively inexpensive! Anyone can use a "PC". There's a wide range of applications available for "PC's" already. Some people may not have heard of "PC" but hopefully someone can clue them in before yet another wheel is re-invented....
  • Well, if you are going this far, why not make it a toaster too? I mean, heck, throw a blender too. That way, you can have it be ripping a DVD while it produces a milk shake. Isn't that what everybody wants?

  • I think what I'd like to see is a linux distribution focussed on entertainment and ease of use. then you could buy whatever hardware you want and feel you can afford, install the distro and it would catalog your hardware and attempt to fit it all together into it's UI.

    so _if_ you've bought a DVD player, it'll to rip your DVDs. _if_ you've bought a consumer IR receiver, it'll accept commands from it. _if_ you've got an internet connection, it'll get the TV schedules and do the TIVO stuff. and so on.

    all this stuff is available, what would be a leap would be to make it easy to install and tie it all together. and making it a distro means that your hardware remains modular.
  • Most people figure, what's the big deal with a supermarket knowing what I buy? Well, the reality is that the supermarket couldn't care less what you buy. But, other companies do care, and they buy that information. What companies might be interested? Well, the one that's really scary is the insurance companies. I bet that a person's food-buying habits provides some excellent information about their health, and the likely long-term cost of insuring their health care. I don't know of any companies doing this for sure, but the insurance companies really have both a legal and fiduciary responsibility to shareholders to at least investigate the predictive value of the data.

    So, next time you think those cards are just going to earn you a bunch of junk mail, think again.
  • >>I only have time to talk about it. Does anyone
    >>have the time to actually do it?

    Ahh, the spirit of open source...
  • And when it becomes outdated, I can replace them...if I had some massive "box" i'd be stuck with what I had.

    Ah, but that depends on exactly what has become outdated. In many cases, the reason something has to be scrapped and replaced is because it can only do what they thought of at the time they burned the ROM. A PC with Free Software doesn't become obsolete nearly so easily. Don't like how your do-everything box misses a frame now and then when playing DVDs, clips audio, or doesn't know how to play the latest trendy codec? Download a patch. That's a lot more efficient than replacing a component.

  • Maybe you can FOIA the software from the FBI. ;-)
  • Is ripping DVDs really necessary? I mean, is it really that much of a pain in the ass to find a DVD if you're properly organized?

    It is if you have a lot of them. My CD collection became completely unmanagable and ripping was the only practical way I could get back to listening to whatever I want, whenever I want to. I only have 2 DVDs right now, but if that ever got up into the hundreds or thousands, ripping would be a must.

  • I find it hilarious that a site like this which is notably linux (and thus unix) oriented is so fucking obsessed with this convergence thing... it's a concept totally at odds with the unix philosophy. I read the Unix in a nutshell book many years agao (edition 2 maybe) and I recall being totally drawn to the design philosophy of many small programs that do just one thing well but and interact in an intelligent way so they can be joined simply to do complex things. That's the beauty of the system... I don't need one program to do everything... i just run this file through this filter or that and pipe it over here and it does what i want.

    I look for hardware to be the same way, which is why i like the visor and it's springboard system so much (not that i own one, i'm speaking conceptually)... by itself it doesn't do terribly much more than any old leather bound DayRunner, but if i want it to be gps, i pop in a little card (via an intelligent interface) and i have a gps. cell phone? same deal, different card. mp3 player? no problem... why would i want one device which does everything and if one part breaks i'm fucked. and i can't upgrade any parts if say, somone beats mp3, i have to replace the whole device instead of just the mp3 module...

    1 general device with a well known interface. many little addons which do One thing adn do it well. this is the way it should be and I'm surprised more unix types don't say so more often.

    my $3.50 or whatever...

  • With a wired or wireless Ethernet adapter, you could send compressed video and audio streams to any TV or computer in the house that has the appropriate playback hardware and software.

    Also, add a web site to the box so you can schedule recordings from work or on the road.
  • The author predicts 500GB hard drives in the future, which will most likely come to pass in some form or another-- and then goes on to suggest auto-ripping CDs to Ogg Vorbis files. Vorbis is great, but what the heck for? 500GB is about five times more than enough to store my entire music collection completely uncompressed. Add in a lossless compressor of some sort (musiczip? I don't know what else is available) to chop it in half if you like, but it's not really necessary at that sort of drive size.

    Also... why is the VCR obsolete? Until my Tivo will spit out a VCD or DVD with a recorded show on it, it can't completely replace my VCR. In fact, the Tivo actually *uses* the VCR as its only method of producing a portable copy of a recorded show.
  • What about using BE as the OS, it's multimedia enhancements are absoultly awesome, this would create a revenue for people at BE.

    The GUI is quick to load, the filesystem is designed to handle extremely large files, multiprocessor support, lots of not so fast processors (not neccessarily intel) would be affordable and would increase cheaply the clock cycles.

    Available in a rack mount, but a pretty one in diffrent colours to attempt to fit in with the living room, it would just look like a cupboard or they could be separated and could be scattered around the living room dvd player by the telly, cd player by the cd rack, these things don't have to be big, the CD/DVD-RW could be no bigger than a portable DVD player, take yer storage device (number 2 100Gb) to your mates house to watch a movie on his 52" LGP screen.

    Interconectivity, somesort of extremly quick wireless interface betwen components, could cause issues with next door neighbours with a similar setup, (that would be another topic though).
    I think firewire or usb2 would be clever and a cheaper option.

    As an added bonus the device(s) could have the drivers intergrated on a rom, when it is plugged in or brought near, it broadcasts that it is here and needs installing.

    Mabye each item with it's own processor, so the 'unit' made up of individual devices is not crippled when the PSU module goes down.

    Automatic updates (optional) for all software, inc flash rom chips.

    .....and yes if you like you can browse the net/send emails.

  • Hop over to the main web site at [] or the sourceforge web site at [] -- this guy's been working on this for years. It's all done in Perl, works on *inx and Win32 platforms, with open-sourced code. Misterhouse does all the X10 stuff, can be voice driven and speaks itself, play mp3s, etc., etc.

    He has a number of interfaces, including a Tk and a HTML version. This is an important point, because a lot of folks commenting mention most of this can be done, but I think Rob's point is that such a box should be accessable to the average consumer. A home-built brew isn't that, and the confluence of tech needed to make it happen is way out of the reach of the average consumer as well. Projects like Misterhouse aren't perfect, but make it a lot closer.

    NOTE: Try the SourceForge site if the first one,, doesn't respond, like it isn't for me.
  • I will not but one, because although 300 cds weigh a little bit, if someone steals you stereo they have all your music.
  • The mistake in this article is all to common it assumes more of the same. However, my dsl connection (512 kbps) is already capable of streaming very high quality audio and vhs quality video. The only reason I don't use this capability is because there's not much content to stream right now. However, it is only a matter of time before somebody figures out that streaming audio/video content is something worthwhile. My guess is this will happen somewhere in the next few years as storage, networking and processor capacity keep growing. Once it happens, what am I going to do with those discs? We'll no longer need them. The whole concept of a backup/local storage of data is going to go away. I'd rather rent/buy a few terabytes on a fast server and use my ultra fast network connection (wireless? why not?) to access it from anywhere on this planet than keep fiddling with faulty discs, failing hard drives and so on.

    Meanwhile, I'll keep saving money to buy me a dvdr :-).
  • VCR []
    does it in divx!--works great for me, so far--record a show, download it to work, watch at leisure!
    beats the black&white TV that I usually use!
    soon as I figure out how to stream divx, I will be set!
  • * Does a decent job of being a voicemail/phone answering/notification system for incoming calls - or for that matter, does any decent voice functionality over voice lines at all
    yippeee!--I am working on it! so far I have got it talking to me on calls, now working on adding rules, and having it talk to the caller!--both are actually not to hard (I hope, looks good at the moment!)--started out modifying cid, and will be using vgetty for the answering machine parts!

    And just as a note, most of the other functions you are asking for are in(Tivo, radio, etc) are in similar 'almost finished'/working states--just give it a few months! especially the alarm clock -just cross mpg123 with cron!--duh!
  • Displays information services in an acceptable format on a TV screen.

    I am looking into the matrox 450 for just this!--seems to be available for 70 bucks, but I can't figure out how the support for it in linux is yet(as in how well is dual head supported, and does xawtv display fullscreen properly on the tv head)
  • First, like I said above, I am working on the phone thing, now as to home automation: see mrhouse, on freshmeat.

    As to Crossfading or partitioning windows: I think you(or I) have the wrong idea about what he meant by crossfading--I believe he meant more of in the style of audio--for instanve he used the example of dropping the volume on the mp3's to hear the caller id talk to you via festival--this happens to be exactly my project at the moment, so I know exactly what he means it's the idea that you drop something to the background when something else (like the phone) needs your attention.

    Now as to remote control-their is an application in linux that translates a remotes signal's to keypresses--people want this to control functions of the pc(such as video viewing,etc) via a regular remote--from what I hear, they work pretty flawlessly
  • We could probably do this the same way the Playstation 2 does: a nice little dongle gives us all the options necessary even for older sets, without cluttering the actual device.
    Shouldn't that be a "pigtail []", instead of a "dongle []"? A dongle serves a copy-protection function, where pigtails allow differing connector types. My boss gets this wrong all the time, and it drives me nuts when he calls his ethernet pigtail his "network dongle". If only I could copy protect his network connection...


  • Aah! PC Chips! Aah!

    Notes: avoid this vendor like the plague. They're well known in the hardware industry as being the absolute worst (and I do mean the worst) motherboard manufacturer in the industry. I have bought or obtained 3 motherboards from this company, and those're the only 3 I'll ever have. 2 never worked in the first place, and the 3rd has serious BIOS problems (which I worked around, but it still can't keep the system clock on power off).

    Check out s/ usage.html
  • See my parallel post. Build a machine yourself, or try to find a different machine like this, but don't buy this one. PC Chips motherboards are horribly unreliable and just all around trash.

    Don't bother buying this unless you plan on throwing the rest of your money away.
  • by drenehtsral ( 29789 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2001 @09:48AM (#265963) Homepage
    I think in this debate, the biggest setback is that everybody is trying to design the be all and end all home automation/entertainment/information center, and that is just not going to happen. The design cycle is too long, and people to make a device that does it all is going to cost an arm and a leg.
    If there were some published open standard for modules that could perform some set of defined functions through a published interface, we would be a lot closer. I'm working under the assuption that an industry standard would develop for say video devices that would deal with thigs like seeking, playing, recording (if it's an rw device), and any other cleverness like naming tracks, etc... and each device could opt in with each of it's capabilities, publishing them to the "hub" device that would handle communication between devices.
    This is important for several reasons, first, if a technology gets phased out, you can swap parts (or just add a new module) to keep up with things, rather than having to replace your entire system to deal with one standards revision or new media type.
    The other reason off the top of my head is that a modular system would allow competition between manufacturers to produce the best module of a certain type, therefore raising the bar for quality, and also allowing users who need a less spiffy module of one type to buy a lower-spec'd but inexpensive one (for instance users on a budget could get the ntsc tv set instead of s-video for their home system, and be able to upgrade later).
    As new device types are added, new control API's will probably be needed (i.e. MakeCoffee() ), to keep this from killing users, each device should also publish a default api->ui wrapper, so when they plug in their coffee maker they can use it right off the bat without any software installs, and then later when they want to install a module that automatically make coffee whenever there is a twilight zone marathon scheduled on the sci-fi channel they can do so.

    Now i recognize that for the most part i'm just pissing in the wind here, because to get this started you'd need a non-profit organization willing to be the guardian of the standard (something like the w3c, but with teeth, so that incompatible systems could not be marketed as compatible (to keep bastards like microsoft and netscape running one-up wars of proprietary extensions developed for the sole reason of shitting on the other guy's picnic..))

    The trick is the following:

    Any company (or even an end user with the tools) should be able to produce a compatible device without paying expensive licencing fees. The fees should be on a volume scaled per-unit-shipped basis, so that the small players aren't killed by huge up-front licencing fees.

    Every device should include the data necesary for no-frills full-functionality operation so that even the densest of users can plug the connector into their hub and all the right menus or icons will just be there when they next use the system.
  • I'd be willing to spend time working on the project. In fact, I'd be willing to spend time on the UI, specifically.

    From the HW/SW/Interface side, it is quite apparent (and hopefully obvious) that modularity is the key. This allows a 'simple' frame box to be sold, and upgraded with the parts the user wants. It also means that going from Technology 1.0 to Technology 2.0 is less painful.

    This allows some legal issues to be skirted (since they can plug in modules from third parties to do special 'tricks'), and heavily follows the PC hardware model (company A provides the frame, but companies C, D, E provide components).

    There's just something RIGHT about all this, even if Commander Taco's message goes too far. :)
  • Much of what you're talking about is a mere extension of the simple boombox type systems. Cheap stereo equipment has been available for ages now that have combined receivers, amps, turn tables, cd players, tape decks, etc for a long time.

    However, go to anyone's house with a good sound system and you'll find that individual components still provide better sound. The reasons are simple:

    1. Producing one box that does everything is not cheap, so companies will try to make it cheap by sacrificing quality.
    2. Producing one box that does everything requires a whole slew of specilization and it's unlikely that a box that does everything will have the quality with respect to design than a box who's sole purpose is to implement that single functionality will have.

    Will they be popular and useful? Certainly.

    Will I buy one? Doubtful.

    • No Macrovision
    • Macrovision immunity
    • No region code checking
    • Universal Broadcast Standard (PAL,NTSC,SECAM,HDTV)

  • since it will probably be a pc-dvd drive in there, bios hacks already exist to ignore region codes. check
  • I'd disagree. Yes MP3 players are new, but cable boxes aren't. Try and find a VCR which will talk to an external cable box.

  • 30 6 * * * /usr/local/bin/mpg123 ~/mp3s/Tool-Aenima/*.mp3

    Don't you sleep in on the weekends?
  • by K8Fan ( 37875 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2001 @10:10PM (#265978) Journal
    De-Interlacers are somewhat expensive devices that could probably be reasonably implemented as part of the playback. I'm sure it wouldn't be as top notch as a dedicated processor or high end progressive DVD Player, but it seems like this could be done nicely, and then we could pull one more component out of the chain.

    See the perfectly functional DTV [] over at SourceForge. I've dumped my DVDO iScan in favor of this free program. The folks at AVS Forum [] are very interested in this area and have been hacking the Tivo. It's a great site.

  • * Media Clip cataloging

    Simply put, 256 character filenames are not fully descriptive of an underlying file and I could use more in terms of storage. Unfortunately, without building a custom app, the only thing I use now to browse MP3s, video files, images, etc. is Windows Explorer. Browsing media content on a filename basis is dumb (like dumb terminal dumb). I heard BeOS uses ID3 tags in the filesystem for MP3 catalogs - good but not quite there yet. I want the interface to ALL the media clips on my computer by any way I choose - in terms of sorting, grouping, ordering, hierarchies, etc. It isn't that hard to do for something like MP3 but it gets harder as you include multiple media formats. Everything physically should sit in one directory, and filenames should be irrelevant (perhaps GUIDs would be nice). Oh, and I want the media player to be like Winamp.

    * TiVO functionality

    WinVCR is NOT like TiVO. TiVO is a lot smarter about recording things than WinVCR is. WinVCR is more like... a VCR. And note, no one (including me) asked for VCR functionality built into this system. Gee, I wonder why... (hint: big bulky mediocre-quality tapes)

    * (anything answered with a Win-TV product)

    Do you work for Hauppauge? ;) No, seriously, I should look into that product again... but it seems to me that you'd need to pick from HDTV and a radio tuner at the moment from the Win-TV line. Not to mention that they're so friggen expensive, and that I can't find any product reviews on the Net (I need some kind of product comparison before I buy ANYTHING). There's a WinTV DVR now that does TiVO stuff, but again I couldn't find a product review. So I take these recommendations with a grain of salt for now. As for most other products... well, shitty drivers and viewers are to blame for my reluctance to jump further into this arena. I noticed most programs that try to mess with video overlays fail very badly... and this is the fault of the OS and the video card drivers. And this is under Windows, too... there probably is non-existent support for some of the better stuff under Linux.

    * Clock

    Yea every computer has a built in clock... but no alarm program in the OS. And I haven't found a truly useful alarm application that doesn't get in your way too much. It's got to be easy to use, not some monstrosity that wants lots of system tray room and has too many options but not enough features (snooze, decent event triggering with enough options for popular programs, maybe remote-control compatibility, etc.)...

    * Streaming video via Realplayer

    Hahahaha! Sorry to call you out on this one, but this is pretty funny to me. Real Player is an application that I've been trying to avoid for the past three years. And it never works right for me anymore, either. I think I need to reinstall it... but anyway, it's one of the worse media formats out there, and one of the worst media players by far just for being a big nuisance...

    * Phone functionality

    There aren't any popular phone products for computers cause there aren't any good ones. Again, we get into the problem of too many features and not enough functionality... and most voicemail programs are also a nuisance as well. Don't forget shitty drivers. It's about time someone wrote a better phone program. Don't look at me, I hate programming. :)

    * Home Automation software

    Beyond X10, haven't seen anything worth considering. Besides, I don't want a computer to be another light switch... I want it to be a BETTER light switch. X10 isn't better, it's just another one as far as I'm concerned. And I already have light switches. Also, I want SOFTWARE events to be triggered as well as household appliances. Again, it's time someone wrote a better event-trigger software system that works well with popular applications.

    * Crossfading or partitioning windows

    Taco mentioned the crossfading, kind of like overlaying or having two displays on the same screen space... like double transparency. Window partitioning... well, I'm tired of what Windows and XWindows look like now... window management should be smarter and should have more formats/choices. Sonique is a good example of a program that does interesting things with its own screen space... but it needs to go further than that. I say, chop about 1/8th of the screen off the right side and make it a universal status/functional area of the screen so that we can put things into dim focus (word doc taking up most of the screen but TV playing upper right hand small window, winamp sliding in just below that, a remote control panel onscreen below that... but with options for where things go. This is a UI thing.

    * Remote control the PC

    The opposite of above - I need a program to remote control the PC, not a program to have the PC act as a remote control. Again, nothing useable and non-pesky enough out there that I know of. Same thing for voice commands...

    I think it's good that all these products are out there in some form, but I'm saying none of them are quite ready for prime time yet. The states of media catalogs, TV tuners, real life event-triggering and event-triggered software, user interfaces, display technology, bandwidth, and media applications are all not what they could be, and where they should be. I'm hardly one to talk because I contribute nothing to that area, but I just see it as a tremendous opportunity. Then again, it's the irony of putting a lot of work into being entertained... you have to wonder if it's worth the effort.
  • by brianvan ( 42539 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2001 @09:35AM (#265982)
    As far as I know, with any operating system or application, there is NO software that:

    * Automatically catalogues media clips (BeOS does this to an extent, I've heard)
    * Replicates TiVO functionality to an acceptable degree
    * Does a decent job at being a convenient radio tuner
    * Does a decent job at being an alarm clock
    * Streams decent-quality (visual and production) video from the Net on a channel-lookup system
    * Plays HDTV signals
    * Does a decent job of being a voicemail/phone answering/notification system for incoming calls - or for that matter, does any decent voice functionality over voice lines at all
    * Triggers events via anything other than timers, keyboard taps, and mouse clicks
    * Displays information services in an acceptable format on a TV screen
    * Crossfades or partitions anything via automatic windowing (yea I know you can drag titlebars and window boundaries to your heart's content, but your good old "tile windows" command is usually not good enough for practical usage)
    * Decently controls events on a PC via a remote control

    ... and so on.

    There is a great need for this stuff, no doubt... I'm sure many of us spend countless hours performing manual tasks related to entertainment that represent work more than entertainment... an irony if I've ever seen one. And I believe much of it exists... albeit in primitive, obscure, or component form. There are a lot of the things on Taco's list that are here today - the CD/DVD player, the remote controls and IR ports, the X10 systems, good file compression, TiVO and its consumer electronics counterparts, and so on.

    The task is wrapping it all up. And it's much harder to construct a consumer electronic system that works on TV technology, that has a simple user interface, and that meets the processing/hardware requirements of all this functionality. This is why the PS2 doesn't do all of this... it's too much to build in at once without driving the price through the roof. PCs can do it much easier, though - they're expandable, they're versatile, and they're not as expensive as consumer electronics.

    Now, you must think I'm on crack for saying "not as expensive as consumer electronics". But honestly, PCs are component systems that don't have to be bought all at once. The initial shell-out is high, and the overall cost can be staggering on a small budget... but over time, it's not a bad thing at all. I've never had $3000 to spend on a computer at once, yet that's easily what my computer cost altogether (the SCSI subsystem alone breaks $1000). Stereo systems are like this as well - but you can easily spend $1500 the first time out on one of those as well. Most consumer electronics are either too dumb to cooperate in the manner suggested here, or can be a royal pain in the ass when they're integrated - TV/VCR combos come to mind.

    Before this gets way too long, I think the correct approach is to:

    1. Use existing PC hardware and write flexible, well-interfaced software packages for separate media functions. Not just your typical poorly-written driver software to watch TV, use a remote, or capture video - but software that does these things good and with greater power. The ideas are out there, typically the functionality is not.

    2. Encourage new PC hardware to fill in the functionality gaps (HDTV tuners, USB plug-n-play IR receivers, radio tuners, big ass hard drives) and write quality software packages for those as well. Not to forget, the hardware needs OPEN STANDARD INTERFACES... not a separate programming interface or application for each brand of tuner, media player, etc., but something like the way all sound cards are SoundBlaster compatible or 3D cards have DirectX/OpenGL functionality.

    3. Finally, someone builds a system with existing, well established hardware and software, that accomplishes the task of integrating all these components seamlessly, with an easy to use interface, that just plugs into the TV and the phone/cable line, and does all this stuff for you in your living room.

    So... improve what we have, create what we need, and bring it all together when it's ready. But as it is now, it's not ready yet.
  • ... if you don't eat your meat "medium-rare".

    (Besides, you get a worse cut/quality of meat because they know that you could never tell with well done.)
  • I have to agree with you, as I was reading the article I was thinking the exact same thing.

    >Hardware DVD card if you want quality++
    >ATI TV-Wonder PCI Tuner (Linux compatible, even)

    Get the recent ATI Radeon All-In-Wonder.

    Excellent hardware-assisted DVD quality with TV-in.
  • I always record to mpeg-1 with the ATI TV-Wonder, have never dropped a frame, and always get stellar quality. Your definition of crap quality might be the reason though - I'll be happy with "looks good in a window" and "good enough on my TV". Fwiw, that's on a $80cdn duron 600 running at 900mhz.

    Once I record the stuff, I post-process to mpeg4 for archiving.

  • by xtal ( 49134 )

    *drool* thanks for the links.. next bonus I get I'll be doing some shopping, looks like!

  • So was I.. the ATI TV-Wonder PCI Tuner works 100% in linux now (as of the current kernel revision, how many before, I know not). The card uses the BT878 chipset and is well supported and has good quality, in my uneducated opinion. You need to insmod the tuner with a couple parameters though.

    No idea about all-in-wonder cards. I stay the hell away from all-in-anything. :)

  • Of course, the output quality will suck... these are PC components, not HiFi, and a PC box is a very noisy place.

    Yup, I listen to my crappy mp3s and watch my crummy divx movies all day. I guess I've been fooled by the loss of fidelity, bah. Good enough for me. You wanna drop $3000 on a stereo, fine! I'll drop that into the motor for my car. To each their own, in this case, ignorance is bliss.

  • That's divx-old style. That was crap. The new OpenDivx stuff you can't tell from DVD.
  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2001 @08:34AM (#265996)

    Go buy a cheapass PC like a duron. Add the following:

    • 128M RAM
    • DVD-ROM Drive (Plays CD's, too)
    • Hardware DVD card if you want quality++
    • ATI TV-Wonder PCI Tuner (Linux compatible, even)
    • TV out video card - ATI, or a TNT2.. cheap.. Geforce2MX, cheap.
    • Sound card. I use a cheap ass soundblaster.
    • Wireless keyboard and mouse (logitech)
    • A huge-ass HD (Nx80gb+, $300xN). Or NFS mount your linux server.
    • Think lusty thoughts about a wireless USB hub

    Now, mix in the following software:

    • MAME. Enough said.
    • DVD software (Creative DXR kit works in linux)
    • Some TV recording software (lots out there)
    • Game-of-the-week (NFS looks nice on a quality TV)
    • What computer DOESN'T pay MP3s or CDs..

    Now put it by your TV.

    There you go, more convergence than you can shake a bloody stick at. Perhaps you meant a nice, unitied, all in one interface? Well, there's a great project for the open source community to pick up on, heavens knows I'd use it, don't have time to write it now. I work all day with Motorola set-top boxes, and one of those would also make a great platform for this, although the tools aren't free (IIRC). A PC works fine, and it's CHEAP.

    Hell, one of the nifty things I've done is time-shift DVD rentals - rip it uncompressed and then play it back on the weekend (when you KNOW it won't be there .. heh). It doesn't look pretty, but it definately works, and IMHO smokes the hell out of anything available now. A hacked Xbox might change that though.

    • Some TV recording software (lots out there)

    Can you point to one that works? The ATI card that you mention can only record AVI files without dropping frames. Same with the Hauppauge cards. And if you make the resolution anything better than "crap" then you bump up against the 2G file size limit on AVI files. ("A 32-bit pointer ought to be enough for anyone..." Thank you, Microsoft).

    To have useful TV recording software, you need something that will record a bunch of 1.99G files for you and stitch them together during playback, or you need an MPEG encorder card, which costs $500.

    You can't build a cheap TiVo yet.

    • What about the ability to burn DVDs? Apple already has a cheap DVD burner, it can't be too long before the technology (which was developed by another company, I forget which) appears in other devices, or on the parts market. A DVD-based box with the functionality of a VCR would sell like hotcakes.
    • iMovie-style camcorder interface and DVD authoring.

    Please note that Apple's DVD burner, and the concept of "DVD authoring" are mutually exclusive. From John Gilmore's What Wrong with Copy Protection: []

    Apple's recent happy-happy web pages on their new DVD-writing drive, announced this month ( It's full of glowing info about how you can write DVDs based on your own DV movie recordings, etc. What it quietly neglects to say is that you can't use it to copy or time-shift or record any audio or video copyrighted by major companies. Even if you have the legal right to do so, the technology will prevent you. They don't say that you can't use it to mix and match video tracks from various artists, the way your CD burner will. It doesn't say that you can't copy-protect your own disks that it burns; that's a right the big manufacturers have reserved to themselves. They're not selling you a DVD-Authoring drive, which is for "professional use only". They're selling you a DVD-General drive, which cannot record the key-blocks needed to copy-protect your own recordings, nor can a DVD-General disc be used as a master to press your own DVDs in quantity. These distinctions are not even glossed over; they are simply ignored, not mentioned, invisible until after you buy the product.

  • I doubt you'll ever be able to do this properly with an x86 machine.

    Theres just no way that you fit all the consumer PCI cards you need to do this in a box and have it work properly under Linux (and theres no way in hell it will work properly under Windows).

    Hardware conflicts, crappy drivers and OS issues will conspire to screw you up royally at every turn.

    What would be necessary is a hulking great video card - possibly based on the NewTek Video Toaster NT, that integrated realtime multi-stream full duplex playback and recording of MPEG-2 and uncompressed (for subsequent software MPEG-4 compression for the DVD ripping) video. You get MPEG-1 hardware acceleration for free with this setup, so MP3 encoding/decoding would all be in hardware too.

    A Tuner module would be easy enough to add, and could happily incorporate both FM and TV tuning - just route the output to one of the VT's ins.

    Preferably everything would be synced with a global timer, and the OS used would feature minimal latency for these time-critical applications.

    The UI for this system might not go out a VGA card at all, and could be sent out through the Toaster as a realtime video overlay.

    If you opted for a the 'games module', you could get a GeForce card and use that, it's TV out routed to one of the Toaster's uncompressed inputs.

    Ogg Vorbis? I want to be able to download my tracks to my portable player too, so unless space is at a premium, then MP3 is good enuff for me.

    However, there would be the option to bypass the hardware compression and get the 'uncompressed' audio for software compression, so you could use OggVorbis, or even WMA if you wanted.

    Combine this with a RAID array of 10000 RPM hard drives which come in a separate case for deployment in the closet, rather than next to the TV, and hook it up to the front-end unit with fibre channel.

    Then you'd have convergence. I think I'd get a standard PAL/NTSC/SECAM version working before i attempted HDTV though.

    No software/consumer-component solution will be up to handling the demands of doing this kind of stuff 24x7 without breaking.

    We can't even write a decent, crash-free web browser in a reasonable amount of time, and a project like this is way more complex than that.

    I'll check back in 5 years when the Sony PS3 and Apple iHub are getting on with the job of doing this type of stuff, making Apple and Sony rich beyond belief and everyone is still fighting over whether to base their 'Convergent Solution' around KDE or GNOME.

  • One last thing...could someone snag the source code behind the Speech-To-Text translation in Echelon for inclusion into this? I'd really dig being able to index all that radio/movie/tv stuff with a localized search engine, so I can easily find that scene from "The Ref" where Dennis Leary is commenting on why Gus should be so upset :)

    Why waste your time (and cycles) with speech reco, use closed caption data.

    I'd love to have a Tivo-like box that monitored a few channels for certain key terms in the closed captions, then recorded relevant shows (of course it would have to be buffering the previous x minutes like Tivo). For example, say you're interested in censorware, you could scan CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, TechTV, etc. for words like "filtering software" "Net Nanny" etc.

    Tivo's wishlist feature kind of approaches this by allowing you to search TV show descriptions for actors, keywords, and directors. But I want more!

  • > So, where does it end?

    It certainly won't when you're culture-jamming with fake info. I realize the inherent dangers of the convergance of all this personal data, etc, and the loss of privacy that accompanies it .. and with all due respect, jamming just makes life more expensive (through loss of effeciency and the fact that decisions are based on provided and tracked information) for those of us who either play the game or boycott it altogether. I'm not much of a privacy freak, but judging from the number of people who 'claim' to have problems with it, even a mildly successful full-boycott of the mediums of technology that you feel abuses your right to privacy could probably make believers out of advertisers/etc. And at any rate, every single one of us wants at least one, if not more, companies (like, for me: tc electronics, Emagic, Digidesign) to operate leaner and more informed to the needs of their consumers. Like one mans trash is anothers treasure, you may enjoy jamming, but you're not doing /everyone/ a favour .. no worse than the companies/governments/alien races themselves who you claim will abuse it.

    And shit, I dont mind being known as a number; if it stops the 5 pounds of junk mail delivered to my house every week, stops the needless destruction of trees for blanket marketing, streamlines the amount of time you and I have to spend every week with the inevitable amount of corperate-supplied information we are bombarded with (ie, advertising) every week, what the hell is the problem with being a number, or stamp, or whatever? (which brings up another point .. words are dangerous .. being 'stamped' or 'indexed' sounds really scary! impersonal! yeah! orwellian! but seriously, you index your own friends in your head .. heck, we index all our customers using their names as the key. But if it was numbers, they'd never know, and I'd venture to say, they'd never care.) I'm my own unique person .. with my own special feelings, and emotions, and thoughts, but I certainly am not relying on company X to validate this! =) If you dont want to play the game, by all means, don't, but you're not doing anyone favours, and contrary to what you might think, that includes yourself.
  • Uhh, Rob, why do you care what the weather is like outside? Do you even go outside? ;^)

    However, the biggest problem with this sort of dream is that it means the manufacturers must surrender control: the video manufacturers must surrender control to you of their content, the various hardware manufacturers must surrender control to you of their hardware. They no longer can lock you into their hardware (You must have a Sony TV and Sony VCR and Sony DirectTivo and Sony Stereo and Sony....).

    Furthur, what happens when a bunch of people set up a system whereby you can distribute when the commercials start and stop in a program. Then, skipping commercials becomes automatic.

    Unless the sheeple demand these features (like that will happen: "What's perl?"), it won't happen.
  • Why does it usually imply corporate control? Why can't some open-OS based piece of hardware with completely free (in both senses) software give us convergent tools? Why not have the hardware open too?

    I can build a reasonably open (yes, it relies on corporations for chips, etc, but there are limits) system which does a whole LOT of this stuff right now. Of course, it'd be big, unweildy, expensive, and incomplete, but those are the things time has shown itself to be good at fixing. Why do I need to rely on corporations? I can buy a Rio, or build an equivalent on my own right now. I think this will be true of the next steps of evolution as well.

  • I think Taco just described what an iMac will be in two years.
  • DIY is cool, but I'm more concerned with opening the box, turning it on, and having it actually work with minimal effort on my part. No point having the damned thing if I have to fuck around with it to make it work. I do enough of that just getting Tribes 2, EverQuest, Quake ]|[ to all run on the same Windows box.
  • In addition to replacing a single item, having seperate boxes allows you to send one of them to the repair shop and still enjoy the benefits of all the other devices. It would really suck to loose e-mail, phone, radio, games, movies, web, stock reports, irc and music just becuase the damn power cord whas chewed up by the cat.
  • Taco was right on when he said "Framework", because that's what this needs to be. A bunch of devices with a common interface. A central cpu which delegates tasks. "oops, time to record tenchi...better notify the Tivo". I don't want to spend $2000 on a box that does it all. Because now i'm going to have to decide if i want the one from Company A with really good audio output, or the one from company B with really good video output. I want to pick my Tivo-unit from one company, my Audio unit from another, and have them work together with my main CPU from Company C that makes a really great interface. I want to be able to replace my Tivo with the next great version without spending another $2000 to replace my entire Borg-unit. This has to be componentized, it just needs a better framework/communication backend.
  • Part of the idea of "convergence" is that the magical box won't need to do so many different things. We shouldn't need equipment to handle 5 different types of or sources for video. DVDs (or something similar representing physical distribution) and streamed MPEG5 ;-) (something for wire or satellite distribution) should be all that's needed. Similar principles apply for audio. "Convergence" will only be worthwhile if the sources for media are consolidated too (I mean, of course, through common formats, not AOL-TimeWarner-CNN-Disney-Etc). Otherwise we just end up with, as Taco discusses, the need for a "do everything" box of nightmarish complexity.
  • Which part of campaign contribution don't you understand? Democracy is easily usurped because it costs money to get votes, and the capitalists have all the money. So the would-be policy-maker has to pander to the capitalists' twisted desires in order to win.

    Yes, I understand this. And I agree with it.

    But then my question is this: is it because democracy provides the foundation for capitalism to thrive that capitalism and democracy are so often intertwined?

    (And if this is the case -- which I assume it is -- then why is capitalism allowed to so easily trounce democracy and mold it into the shape it -- capitalism -- wants? Is this one of the essential arguments of the anti-globalization protesters? That capitalism too often holds democracy hostage to corporate interests?)

    Off-topic, yes. But I'm genuinely curious especially if "convergence", as I argue above, is not so much the convergence of entertainment devices but is actually the convergence of democracy and capitalism to fool consumers into thinking that they've been empowered. (Maybe this is the Hegelian dialectic at work -- capitalism + democracy = synthesis of -- what?! -- electronic device that consumers believe (sincerely) that they cannot live without?

  • by StoryMan ( 130421 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2001 @08:50AM (#266047)
    The ideal "converged" box is already here. I have it, and I'm sure others do, too.

    It's the home-built PC, spec'd out to whatever needs doing at the present time -- TV tuner, MP3 jukebox, audio server (or satellite client), whatever.

    I'm surprised that people -- especially slashdot folks -- keep seeking this so-called "elusive" grail. It seems that people are looking for a "formally converged" box. Something like TIVO + ZapStation with a little bit of the late Indrema's attitude thrown in for good measure.

    But my question is -- and continues to be -- WHY? Why are folks seeking a formally converged box?

    The answer is this: anyone who complains about the lack of a converged box has yet to grasp the simple fact that "convergence" -- at least in its "formal" sense -- is a synonym for "corporate control."

    Why on earth -- and I mean this sincerely -- why on earth do we want to cede any more of our "entertainment enablement" to corporations?

    Convergence is a dangerous thing. It's not something we should look forward to, nor is it something we should theoretically support. (I say theoretically because, in practice, I do love my TIVO and I *do* lust after the ZapStation [if only because it's got a pretty cool case and would fit in my stereo rack nicely].)

    All the formally converged box will offer -- above and beyond our individually spec'd out home-built boxes -- is another way for corporations to impose their will (via their unending capital) upon consumers. The "will" is always masked as "choice" or "enablement." This is really a crucial point, and it's one I wish Katz would write about.

    The problem is that corporate will is *always* -- always, always, always -- at the expense (literally and metaphorically) of consumers. Consumers will pay good money to have their rights curtailed. I don't understand this, and while, yes, I admit that I, too, do this, I force myself to become aware that even the most reasoned and savvy consumer is liable to be hypnotized by the siren-song of the corporations.

    I'm still trying to understand how democracy is so easily usurped by capitalism -- and trying hard to see both sides of the globalization battles -- but what I see more and more is capitalism being used to undermine and eradicate the rights of citizens in democracies where the corporations are allowed to function. The problem area (for me, at least) is the role of corporations. (Take, for example, the doctrine of copyright and fair-use. Tell me -- seriously -- why so few politicians vocal about the concept of fair-use? Yeah, Hatch is worried about this -- but he remains cautious and will probably cede his concerns once the RIAA and MPAA convince him that in a digital age, there is no fair use.)

    Anyway, I could go on. I won't.

    But, please, don't worry about convergence. It's simply a pretty buzzword for a thing we don't want (but think we do -- this is the genius of democratic corporatization).

    If you want the grail -- the ideal box -- go out, for godsakes, and build it yourself. Use Linux, Windows, BE -- whatever floats your boat.

    Snag the hardware wherever you can find it cheapest.

    Paint your informally converged box to match your stereo.


    But don't look to corporate interests for the answer. They'll give you an answer -- and will do it with a smile on their faces -- but it will cost you. (Windows XP, I suspect, will be the proof of this -- as if it needs proof.)

  • I have a PC. I can make it do all these things, plus whatever the hell else I want. I fear the idea of do-it-all appliances; they spell the death of the all-purpose PC.

    Everything you wanted in a computer, but without the freedom!
  • Recently, there seems to be a trend to get digital devices to do more than their analogue equivalents. In Britain, we have seen the introduction of digital tv (terrestrial and satellite), and digital radio is starting to come in. Both of these have been used not to increase the quality of transmissions, but to increase the number of things that can be transmitted. If you don't believe me, take a look at MTV on OnDigital and look at all the fuzziness in areas of high contrast (satellite is admittedly better but still shows the same faults). Similarly, mp3 players allow people to carry round hours of music, replacing CD players before them. Same deal with loss of quality.

    What I want to see is not an increase in quantity going from analogue to digital, but an increase in quality. When CDs replaced tape, the killer feature was the higher sound quality, rather than the fact that you could store 1000 hours of musical fuzz. Taco's box, and most consumer electronics these days, do exactly that. Because "1000 hours of music and it's digital with gizmos" sounds a lot better than "1 hour of music and it's digital and good". I'd rather buy all my music again on SACD than have some whiz-bang box download it off napster.

    Anyway, rant over.


  • Taco, not too worry.

    Steve Jobs has the identical vision and is working hard to make it come true. Although a colossal failure, this is what the Cube was trying to be. Remember the Lisa? Steve will be back.

    Mind you, I'm not saying "buy Apple." Apple is mostly closed and Steve is an arse. But this large company with a proven record rolling out (consumer) innovations is working hard on your dream -- all built up from BSD

    Just as Open Source has coopted so much from UNIX and Windows, so Open Source will coopt "convergence" from Apple -- with little of the corporate control other posters (rightly) fear so much.

    All good things come to those who wait

  • Nice idea but it disappoints me that there's almost no mentioning of a network (except for the cable modem that is).

    After all, people having multiple TVs wouldn't want to buy a box for every TV they have. A sollution would be to make all interaction with the box go via the network. If I want to program the box to do something I point my browser at it and have a nice interface, unlike what I would espect from an application running on a TV screen. If I want to copy files to/from the machine I could use FTP, if I want to hack the software I could use SSH :-).

    But of course it's not desirable to go to your computer every time you want to do something with the box. The perfect solution would be to have a network connection from the box to all TVs, and from all TVs to your PDA [1] (bluetooth anyone?). You could then do simple things like selecting a file to play or setting your alarm clock. If the PDA's screen would be to limitted then the TV screen could be used.

    If bluetooth or something simallar doesn't get integrated into TVs and/or PDA's by that time then small stations could be placed near all TVs. They would be connected via the cable to the box and would be able to tell the box to send a certain peace of audio on a certain frequention which they would then send to the TV via SCART. Simple remote controls could then be used to communicate with the stations.

    [1] Heck, all remote controls should be replaced by something like this [].

  • Be in the form of the HARP device, gets close to being able to do these things. l

    It hasn't got the tuner or tivo functionality, but as Taco notes, there's nothing stopping anyone from adding that functionality. Adding the tuner and tivo functionality should be relatively easy for most hackers...

    And, the interface work has been done.

    The only thing it lacks are the magic slashdot words, GPL and Linux.

    A host is a host from coast to coast, but no one uses a host that's close
  • Be in the form of the HARP device, gets close to being able to do these things.

    Look HERE [] for a picture of just such a device.

    A host is a host from coast to coast, but no one uses a host that's close

  • I don't want to spend $2000 on a box that does it all. Because now i'm going to have to decide if i want the one from Company A with really good audio output, or the one from company B with really good video output.

    I actually have a different reason for not wanting an all-in-one box. I'd hate to have to worry about whether or not listening to mp3s and watching DVDs steals too many cycles from the PVR component that's busy recording a Very Important show. I'd really hate to be doing other stuff, only to go play the program back and discover that every 3rd second of the show got dropped because the CPU couldn't keep up with driving the MPEG-encoding chip.

  • Some of the functions can be done, but unfortunately, most depend on using each HW manufacturer's API/SW, and most only work under Windows.

    The best place I've found for information on the current state of this "Borg PC" is the AVSForum HTPC board []. Some of the forum members have customized their PCs to a degree that comes pretty close. They aren't an every user, dumb down PC, but some come pretty close at being user friendly... The problem remains being the cost. The Gateway Destination came pretty close to bringing it all togheter, but it was underpowered, and very few people would pay for it (so it was discontinued)...

    Some manufacturers are starting to come around and to provide automation features, that enable some customization (like ATI, which now has an API for remotes). Girder [] seems to be a great hub for programmability features, where several Open Source projects converge in controlling the HTPC.

    A few general comments: * 560 GB of storage is almost affordable for personal use. Just use 8 80 GB HD with a RAID 5 controller (like the 3Ware 6800 []). It'd cost ~$2300, which isn't cheap, but you'd have plenty of storage, and you even get some redundancy...

    * UltimateTV and the XBox are going this way. The XBox will be HDTV compatible, and future generations might include a HDTV tuner. And then using USB you might get additional funcitonality. A merging of UTB and XBox might also be possible. Probably the biggest objection would be that this is a MS solution...

    * There at at least 3 HDTV PC Tuner cards available (Telemann HiPix [], Hauppage WinTV-HD [], and AccessDTV []). All the manufacturers are working into building digital PVR functions into their products, which will make HDTV tuners a Tivo alternative (at least for OTA broadcasts).

    * SnapStream [] is working to provide PVR features on your PC (there was another, but I don't have a name handy), and the company is very open to user feedback and open source development (as the IRTuner Project [] shows).

    * Don't forget PDA's and mobile multimedia devices. As more multimedia is available, the box will make it accesible on the go, so you can take movies with you when you commute, or access music from anywhere in your house (using 802.11b) w/o requiring a PC or a full blown device, just your PDA. SnapStream recognizes the potential of PDAs, and is offering PocketPVS [] so you can transcode video and play it back on your PPC.

    HDTV might be the catalyst that pushes the HTPC out of obscurity, and that creates the borg box. With every US household having to replace their TV in the next few years, more will start to consider cheap HDTV PC Tuners, using existing big screen displays and/or large screen Monitors (and VGA compatible TVs).

  • The thing that seperates the uber-geek system from the consumer electronics system is the interface. A geek doesn't mind hammering away at a command line, piping commands through 6 different utilities, or other gymnastics, while a consumer wants to point and click, or something even better.

    The very fact that we think functionality before interface means we will fail in creating a consumer product. An interface is always restrictive, in the name of simplicity, while we desire full functionality. Just look at the VCR - all households (I hope) have learned how to play and eject a tape, some know how to set the clock, and many don't even know how to set up a timed recording. It is popular, not because of the 26-page man file for play(1), but because you play a tape by pressing a big green arrow.

    So, what would the interface be? We're looking at database searching, which has always meant typing or long lists before. Remote controls are not made for alphabetical entry, and I've seem some good hacks, but not great hacks. This leaves a keyboard interfacer, or a voice interface. How far are we from that? We haven't even talked about what the display looks like, or if it has a CLI yet.

    What about wires? This is where even consumer electronics leave room to be desired - the backs of these things look ugly, and air-flow requirements mean that they can't be shoved in a pretty, fully enclosed cabinet. A unified interface between subsystems, like 100 base T ethernet, may make things prettier, but begs for a home network. My 1930's house isn't quite ready for that.

    And yes, you will want subsystems. CD's won't be around forever, and a seperate subsystems allows for removal and additions. I don't want to buy another $3000 system just because the replacement for DVDs has arrived. And Hollywood will probably come out with a new format every 5 years, when the previous copyright protection hack has become trivially breakable.

    This isn't a small matter of money or programming. It's designing across disciplines. Is it OK to send audio over ethernet, and decode it at the speakers? That would reduce wires, but may not please audiphiles, and make for expensive speakers. Is the system a rack-mounted system, too ugly to keep in the main room? Do you require a off-line computer, or have a full system running on the borg box, with perhaps a wireless keyboard? Note, I haven't even gotten to the software, and it already looks pretty hairy.

    Still, I'm salivating over the possibilities. I think I'll make a research budget...

  • by micromoog ( 206608 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2001 @08:37AM (#266094)
    I like the idea of having separate components to do everything. True, they could integrate better, but I like the idea of replacing just my VCR with the next big thing, then a year later, replacing just my CD player.

    Having it all integrated would be convenient, but would imply that all the technology would age at the same rate. Not so . . . my stereo receiver could be 15 years old and still kickin' fine, but my cable modem needs to be replaced every couple of years at least (as bandwidth improves).

    Maybe a "magic box" that has component cards that can be swapped in and out, much like a mainframe's architecture . . . but you'd still be stuck with one vendor.

    Overall, screw the magic box, and give me my closet full of gear.

  • People talk so much about the inevitable convergence of all media. But it sure is taking a long time.

    Rob, not to sound old-fashioned or anything, but you've got a wicked skewed sense of 'long time'. Useable portable MP3 players have only been around for a few years []; the Tivo is even younger []. These things are developing at breakneck speeds; the odds that within five years your coveted "Borg Box" won't exist as you imagine it today are pretty low.

    Five years from now, when you're holding the "Ultimate" (by today's standards) Borg Box in your hands, you're going to be wondering, "Yeah, but why haven't they developed one of these that integrates <insert hottest technology here> yet? And how come it only holds 12,000 hours of video? My computer can do six times that!"

    Technology takes time to mature, and quite frankly, I'd call the pace at which this stuff is developing at nothing short of blazing. Bear in mind that only a decade ago, having anything over 256 colors for your PC was something to brag about, and that a decent SGI workstation from five years ago would be hard-pressed to handle a game of Tribes 2, and that just two years ago you would've had to have used an old-fashined VCR to record the N'Sync Marathon.

    Give it some time.

  • I hate to tell you this, but the video and audio stored on a DVD is already compressed. While its possible another step of compression will make it smaller, its also possible the data added by the compression will make it larger. Its a bit like zipping jpeg's.

    Fortunately, we don't have to aim for lossless compression. MPEG4 works wonders....

  • Really, this could all be implemented as a PC right now. The only thing missing is a UI design, which with some decent programming skills and a lot of time, should be able to be hacked together. Of course, this Borg box is only part of my household fantasy.

    You'd need it to be able to independently run 2 or more television monitors, or sets of speakers in seperate rooms, with an IR port for control.

    It should be able to be programmed to record something or control household X10 devices via HTTP, and have FTP transferring capabilities.

    Instead of an IR remote, how about a RF or, even better, 802.11b or Bluetooth, remote?

    While we're at it, and I'm envisioning this as the hub of a household's technology, it should handle your voice mail and email communications (including options to page/call you when an important message is rec'd), as well as be your DHCP/DNS/File/Print server for a small home LAN.

    Don't forget AMPLIFIED Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1 outputs and inputs.

    Dual tuner inputs would make the magic of Picture in Picture possible. Take it one step further, and have web/headlines/menu/etc. as one of the pictures.

    Don't forget the CD burner to make a CD from those OV files, as well as MPEG4 compressed DVD movies on CD.

    And, of course, what about the games?!? We wanna play games, don't we? On the big screen TV? Of course we do. So, it should be able to play computer games, but also have video inputs for console systems, which it would do video switching for.

    Oh yeah, and it should be available on an easy monthly payment plan! =)

    Obviously, this sort of thing can be implemented in a PC, minus an elegant UI. But it's just too much damn work! I want one of these things so I can be lazy...not so I can hack around with it! This is a lazy man's's gotta come preassembled. =)

  • You answered the points well, but I just want to add my $.02 to the discussion.

    Automatically catalogues media clips (BeOS does this to an extent, I've heard)

    The problem with this is that media clips can be in several different formats, and at several different sampling rates, plus they might have different lengths. If we have the raw data in a known format always arranged in the same way, we have a good chance of building up a databaase to catalog the data, as long as there is a large demand for it. The CDDB is a good example of this. However, there is no equivelent way to classify mp3s. My computer has a hard time going through my mp3 collection and telling me when two songs sound familiar.

    However, for a lot of formats, it doesn't really matter. Having to manually enter the name of an movie when I rip it from a DVD isn't a great difficulty for me.

    Displays information services in an acceptable format on a TV screen.

    I haven't tried this in linux, but windows 98 (and I believe windows ME) has dual monitor support, and its possible to send output of one program to a different monitor. It probably wouldn't be that hard to set up the second video card to use TV-out and just connect it to a TV. I'm looking into doing something simular for a more "classic" feel for my console/arcade game emulation collection.

  • Look, preach integration of media components all you like (BTW: you have it already and its called a goddamn laptop) but you're not going to cause any great herding towards the inevitable failure of this idea. Let us look at the facts: people who want an integrated box don't want to pay much for it. People who want this kind of quality want to be able to switch out parts when they become obsolete (my friend's $800 DVD player from 1997, for example, is inferior to today's $150 Panaphonics, Magnetboxes and Sornys) If they don't want to pay much for it, the components can't be well made or well designed, because good parts and good design cost good money. And if it isn't well designed, nobody will buy it, or at least not at the price point you'd need to support it. It's a viscious cycle that results only in mediocrity. Case in point: the Apex AD-600a DVD player. This thing did DVDs, MP3s, SVCDs and XVCDs and had great zoom and multiregion features. It also had the fastest scan time of any dvd player i've used, component or not. But it sucks. The quality of every function of the AD-600a is inferior, from the chipset which is prone to overheating to the MP3 playback which clips and has a terrible interface. Sure, they sold a lot of them, but when the AD-660 came out, none of the features were improved. In face, Apex increased stability only at the expense of some of the neatest features of the AD-600, mainly the hacked menu. Other combo boxes like the UltimateTV and the Playstation 2 have similarly cut corners, and see sagging sales and practically no profitability.

    And yet, at the same time, you can't find an A-V shoppe that can hold the $800 Pioneer DV-09 in stock. This thing is flying off the shelves. It doesn't play MP3s or dial the internet. But it does do one thing better than any other player on earth: it plays DVDs. No progressive scan features, no fancy disc flipping or changer. It's a single play DVD player (okay, it's also a bangin' CD player but that's a symptom of the high quality 24 bit DAC, not a feature they set out to design).

    When I started organizing a list of components for my new stereo, this was the thought I had going into it: wouldn't it be great if one box did everything I wanted it to with perfect quality and it was inexpensive and painted the guest room if I asked it to and put away its toys when it was done with them? The answer is yes, of course, but that's about as realistic as saying "were going to ban all guns because criminals can play nice." The reality is that mutliplayers are always of substandard quality to moderately priced component equivalents. So I cooled it...I replaced my AD-600a with a Pioneer DV-434, a relatively inexpensive DVD player that had better playback but no MP3. For the MP3s, I picked up a Rio handheld mp3 player, and though I lament the loss of SP/DIF, it wasn't as important to me as having a nice display and decent playback. For a receiver, I nabbed a sweet Sherwood and a pair of Energies; for digital recording, I use my old Buz box hooked up to a small BSD machine. For games and internet, I have the mac and the athlon. For progressive scan, a Sony WEGA XBR which is the jewel of my collection. Price for all this is of course moderate to huge, but it's nice stuff. When you buy nice stuff, you feel better while using it and keep it longer...hell, I don't know if I'll ever get rid of my Energy eXL-16s, they're sweet speakers for under $300. And when it becomes outdated, I can replace them...if I had some massive "box" i'd be stuck with what I had. Finally, because of the seperation of my components, I can use them in ways you couldn't use this magic box. If I want to switch between the laserdisc of star wars and an SVCD i built of it to check the quality, i don't have to start and stop the box. If I want to watch the kung fu on my VCD of Project A while playing the Clerks soundtrack, I can do that. If I want to watch the news and tape McGuyver, i'm cool. In face, if you think about it, what you want this magic box to do, the freedom you'd need it to have, you can only get from components. And if you don't like all the wires, you can learn to deal.
  • My argument is that great electronics would never need that patch. Besides, nothing says that each individual component can't be upgradable -- all pioneers have a boot mechanism that allows technicians to insert a cd, boot the device and flash the firmware. Furthurmore, my LD player didn't originally have dolby out...I added that aftermarket with some clever hardware hacking and help from the web...same with the comb filter on my shitty sharp VCR I never use.
  • Finally, someone builds a system with existing, well established hardware and software, that accomplishes the task of integrating all these components seamlessly, with an easy to use interface

    Actually, all you really need is a set of really good (and readable) user-interface guidelines for designing TV-based applications, sort of like the Mac interface guidelines. A library of standard layout tools for displaying menus/pop-up boxes/program grids, and handling text input via a remote etc. would make it easy to follow the guidelines and make usable apps.

    This would really just be another graphical shell. You might include standard APIs for all sorts of video and audio playback, along with a bunch of driver code. Within that framework, it would be very easy to get cool TV-based apps up and running (without reinventing the wheel each time.) Eventually when the hardware starts to catch up, this would be a viable choice for any set-top box manufacturer. A linux-based shell, with a large library of portable applications might be really attractive to them.

  • 1. Wouldn't a PC with the right peripherals and SW do what is being proposed?

    2. The handheld industry is borging up a storm, combining cell-phone, PDA, personal music player, personal voice recorder, still camera, video camera, wireless web, PC, radio, tv, etc. [] functions in all 2^N-1 combinations into spaces smaller than the Apple Newton.


    P.S. The 2^Nth combo is just you and your imagination, sunshine.
  • Because the people who QFD the functionality of mass-market software aren't interested in giving you good things, they're interested in giving you things with (price/effort)*e^(-ttm) maximized.

    If the most popular UI (Windows) and Multi-media lib (DirectX) were open-source, no doubt you'd see the things you talk about.

    And its competition (Mac) is too busy hoarding the toilet paper to provide more than basically marketable functionality, as smooth and blue as it is.

    Meanwhile, their open competition (Linux/X/BSD/etc.) is too busy trying to figure out how this week's herd of distro drops works to do any plush development, and can't normalize the HW interface tightly enough to achieve critical mass.

  • Is ripping DVDs really necessary? I mean, is it really that much of a pain in the ass to find a DVD if you're properly organized? I'd much rather cut $300 off the price by dropping the 200-gig HD and buying a $20 DVD rack.
    Suppose you have small children. Do you really want to:
    1. Have to keep track of DVDs in a household where everything is being continuously scrambled by noisy agents of entropy, and
    2. Have to depend on them still being in playable condition when you can find them?
    Ripping to disk would be a godsend for parents. The originals go on a high shelf, the copies can't be lost (they're inside the machine), and the kidlets might even be able to play their own movies by pointing at icons on the screen instead of having to ask mommy and daddy to do it for them.
    spam spam spam spam spam spam
    No one expects the Spammish Repetition!
  • ...may it never reach my house.

    Convergence usually implies [] corporate [] control []

    No thanks. Keep my meat well cooked and my hardware open and free.

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb