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Open Source Television

Customization Possibilities

After spending some time with the Neuros LINK, several simple expansion ideas became apparent and are as easy as downloading and installing these Linux-based applications courtesy of the Synaptic package manager:

  • Configure the pre-installed Pidgin client for on-screen multi-IM and IRC services and customize messaging options to less intrusively display inbound messages without too much disruption of foreground media playback.
  • Install Skype or the open source Twinkle SIP softphone to take on screen phone calls while watching television.
  • Install timekpr to log out the kids after a certain duration or time of day (especially on school nights).
  • Install various open source Linux-based games such as Assault Cube for free massive multiplayer online living room action.
  • Install the Misterhouse Perl-based scripts for X10 device home automation. Turn the living room lights off and the stereo receiver on from an onscreen overlay.
  • Install a compatible TV tuner/capture card along with the MythTV packages for a TiVo-like time-shifting video recording and playback experience.

Naturally, any useful package available for Debian-based systems can easily make their way onto the LINK. In fact, Neuros' initial objective is to have early adopters integrate the various open source projects into a cohesive platform that provides LINK owners with the most comprehensive, compelling and economical living room media experience technically available today.

Development Opportunities

For developers who wish to extend the media experience, Java, Mono, Gtk, Qt-based, or even terminal-based applications written in various languages that support such bindings could easily create their own UIs and functional media processing systems. Here are some ideas already simmering in my mind.

  • Integrate the Totem player with YouTube look-ups by installing the Greasemonkey Firefox add-on and writing a parsing add-on that redirects videos directly into the Totem or VLC media players in full screen mode, ala AppleTV's YouTube video viewing experience.
  • Install Festival and write a simple Python-based screenscraper to grab and read the morning news.
  • Hook an X10 controller and monitor a wireless motion sensor in the home mailbox to announce when "You've got mail!"
  • Write a simple wxPython or RubyFX container that connects to a wireless motion-detecting webcam placed near the front door and activate a video overlay when a visitor comes calling.
  • Create an RSS aggregator optimized for the television resolution viewing experience.
  • Write a Django or Ruby on Rails web app (hosted on the LINK) to manage and optimally display new LINK application development ideas.

Only the Beginning

While readers may somewhat correctly surmise that the Neuros LINK is nothing more than a sub-PC with HDMI ports, I would contend that it represents a transitory bridge from solitary PC to social interaction. The HDTV flat-panel viewing experience from a living room couch is a very different environment compared to a computer desk, chair, mouse and full-sized keyboard. The LINK shifted my way of thinking about how the PC paradigm needs to evolve to better suit this communal environment, and the LINK is least threatening platform available today that allows me to experiment and prototype such ideas. Additionally, the thought of sharing and crowdsourcing LINK-optimized expansions and modifications is appealing. Neuros' Joe Born summarized the LINK development opportunities best by stating:

Developing for the TV is brand new, it's a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor, and it's so vitally important. The worldwide installed base of TVs dwarfs PCs and we have an opportunity to participate in writing the history of how delivery to the TV happens. It's also a really fun period because it is so clean slate, TV show browsing changed dramatically with the advent of TiVO and the DVR, and it's bound to change again with all this content coming online at the same time from every source without much sense or order, but no one knows just what that experience will look like. Now is the time when the world is ready for the simple, clever idea that will change everything, and it's almost guaranteed that idea won't require a bunch of capital or resources, and won't come from a big company, so it's a pretty ideal time to get involved.

For more information about the Neuros LINK gamma program, visit neurostechnology.com.

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