So, this morning I was having a retro moment and wondered about the original Xbox, the classic one from 2001 which was so popular. It was build on a pseudo Windows system with an Intel processor. Then I remembered the PS2 slim which was reintroduced long after the PS3 had taken over as Sony’s flagship and how Sega have also licensed their technology to create retro clones.

If we look at the Xbox1’s original specification:

CPU: 700MHz Pentium III Coppermine
RAM: 64MB DDR1 @ 200MHz
GPU: Custom NVidia ASIC @ 233MHz
Audio: NVidia custom Surround Processor
Storage: 8GB IDE HDD
Optical: DVD-ROM
Security: Secure BIOS
Extras: 100Mbit Ethernet, Analogue Component HD, USB1.1, and other AV connectors

So, when you compare this to the CE 3100 from Intel, which is being used by set-top box vendors to build the next generation of multimedia products, you find some interesting parallels:

CPU: +800MHz Pentium-M
RAM: Up to 3GB DDR2
GPU: Intel GMA500 (PowerVR SGX 535)
Audio: Dual core 337MHz DSP processors
Storage: Flash or SATA
Optical: DVD via SATA
Security: Crypto-processor
Extras: GBit Ethernet, HDMI, USB2, and other AV connectors

So, Dear Microsoft, why not ‘Reload’ the old XBox classic as a new product and get some revenue from that old architecture? The CE range supports DirectX 9, so there should be legacy support for the graphics calls. I don’t know how the GMA 500 compares to the Xbox1’s custom ASIC but they are 8-9 years apart in development so they can’t be too different. If there are differences they might be resolved with a bucket of faster DDR2 RAM and the better CPU clock.

I would imagine an XBox Reloaded spec would look something like this:

SoC: Intel CE3100
RAM: 256MB of DDR2 @ 800MHz (a bucket extra useful for other things)
Storage: 8GB of Flash (shouldn’t need more, but can utilise USB 2 flash or HDD)
Optical: Slimline DVD-ROM
AV: HDMI, TOSLink, Composite
Networking: 100Mbit ethernet (GBit might increase power/cost)

The whole thing should be able to emulate the Xbox’s original design without much special assistance, just the addition of SATA support to the microkernel, modification of the security mechanism and replacement of the graphics drivers (the highest risk element). If there was any problem with this it might even be possible to use a microkernel bootloader or BIOS to emulate the IDE on SATA in legacy mode and possibly even map the GPU calls. I would put a bootloader on the box which booted a version of MeeGo Linux stored in Flash as an alternative media player tool and possible DVD player alternative function.

Thus you would have a decent media player, a TV browser and a most importantly of all: a very cool retro-games console capable of playing games like Halo, Project Gotham Racing, MotoGP and Splinter Cell. All for under £100 retail! I know you can get a new Xbox 360 for £160 but there is always a market for the retro and a lower end product. The return on investment could be good and it could reach new markets as a “computer for all” in developing markets!

Dear Readers,

I know I have neglected this blog and website for some time, but now is probably an opportunity to use this page to explain myself in more than 140 characters.

Four years ago I was a moderately disgruntled Senior Lecturer at Ravensbourne College, I was referred to speak to a head hunter by a friend on the basis of my broad experience and knowledge. As a result of two interviews I was able to obtain the position of Chief Technologist at Humax Electronics in the UK. Humax is one of the top five manufacturers of set-top boxes in the world and the UK’s top manufacturer of digital television recorders. This role has seen me drink a great deal, socialise a great deal and most importantly it has seen me gain a great deal of knowledge about a sector which I had very little experience of; in addition it is perhaps worth saying that as a broadcast engineer by training I had very little appreciation for this industry which I now see differently. I have a better understanding of commercial issues as a result of my work with my colleagues and most especially my boss, Graham North, who is among one of the most respected people in the business.

Now, four years have passed and it is time to move on. It is not for me to explain here the motivations for my moving on, but I have opportunities that I can follow. I hope I can reveal further details about my mysterious new employer once I have started but for now I must concentrate on doing the best for Humax until I leave.

I will miss my colleagues, I will miss my work and the opportunities that it brings to meet new and interesting people. But as one door closes another one opens and I have little doubt that I will meet many of those that I know again because this is a small business.

Yours,

Bob

There is a theme running through the questions that I have been asked lately about some aspects of technology and that is the questions as to if a new technology will “dominate”. Now, I’m not talking new tech of the class like “the mobile phone”, but I am talking about some new gizmo, new software structure, or new web-based service. In this article I want to comment on this phenomena and what I think of it:
Continue reading “Giant Killers in Technology”

I already knew it was a thin edge that people found themselves on if they offered free wifi, but I didn’t realise until today that it will soon be illegal to share an internet connection if you don’t log the identity of the person using said connection!

Thanks to a Tweet by Liam J. Hayter with a link to his blog I found out that apparently it will now be a legal requirement to take responsibility for who uses your internet connection. You will be liable for any illegal usage of your connection if you cannot prove who else used said connection.

So I have written to my local MP just to try and head it off at the pass, perhaps you might do the same:

 

Continue reading “Dangerous WiFi law making”

We haven’t been out to the theatre for a while and we really wanted to get something in before year end. The cinema was really the easiest choice so we decided to catch a film which has been making a fair bit of noise lately: “Avatar” by James Cameron staring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver.

Continue reading “Avatar 3D: My Opinion and Review”

Introduction:

The coming launch of ‘Freeview HD‘ will doubtless have implications for retailers as well as consumers and in this note I hope to help address some of the questions. There are several new features which are implemented in ‘Freeview HD‘ which might impact consumer and some less obvious features you might not know about.

New features:

  • DVB-T2

This is a new type of transmission technology which has evolved from the existing DTT standards and next generation communications theory.

  • H.264 HD video

Using the more recent developments from MPEG using the H.264 compression method the video can be transmitted in as little as 25% of the bandwidth that would be required for the same type of transmission in MPEG2. This allows HD which would consumer substantially more bandwidth to be transmitted efficiently.

  • MHEG HD

MHEG is the standard for interactive services in the UK and is a very light weight system. It failed to impress some people in it’s original form but substantial progress has been made in the last few years to delivery a much more powerful user experience. The speed and graphics quality has been enhanced and the implementation on Freesat has already proven popular with consumers. As time passes the developers are able to demonstrate further enhancements in graphics performance and quality. The most significant step is in being able to render graphics to the screen with HD resolutions.

  • MHEG Interaction Channel

This allows MHEG applications to communicate back to the broadcasters over the consumers broadband package. This potentially gives consumers access to interactive voting, a wider range of content than can be broadcast and even streaming catch-up television. Broadcasters will decide what services they will implement but the connection is available to consumers on their product for those future services.

  • Audio Description

All products are now expected to be capable of audio description, this system allows people with visual impairments to have a description of the programme they are watching. TV is popular with a wide range of people and we are looking to include as many groups as possible. It will even work on HD channels, so the whole family can enjoy the latest releases. Some products may not support mixing multi-channel surround sound with AD tracks to produce surround out, but AD will still work with surround but produce a stereo output.

  • HD Subtitles

In addition to supporting existing Teletext format subtitles and standard DVB format subtitles the new boxes should now support HD format DVB subtitles which provides decent subtitles for HD video broadcasts.

Less obvious features:

  • HD Simulcast

The broadcaster can signal that a programme is also available in HD so that a viewer can get the best quality version even when watching the SD channel.

  • Content Management

Broadcasters have difficulties obtaining rights for some programmes to be broadcast in HD on free television. So in order to be licensed by ‘freeview’ the manufacturer must agree to record the broadcasts subject to rules that are transmitted by the broadcaster for each programme. It is possible for the broadcaster to signal that they will not permit the programme to be copied or that it may only be copied once. They may also indicate that the programme can be streamed or copied to DVD. The ability to archive and copy programme content is not a requirement but where it is implemented it must follow the broadcast rules.

  • Network Change Notification

The transmitter network can signal when changes are going to happen, this way when a re-tune is needed the receiving device can react more intelligently than they currently do.

  • Guidance Descriptor

A broadcaster can use new signaling on both programs and channels to indicate that their broadcasts contain content which may might not be appropriate for certain viewers. It is not intended just as an “Adult” genre but it is designed to show a wide range of sensitive issues, possibly including photosensitive epilepsy and violence.

Questions:

  • What type of antenna does Freeview HD device need?

Freeview HD uses a traditional UHF antenna as used by existing terrestrial television.

  • Will I need a new antenna for DVB-T2?

No, not unless you don’t get a good signal level currently. The T2 transmissions are being designed to perform under equal conditions as the existing digital transmissions but with more bandwidth to put more information in.

  • What does DVB-T2 provide to broadcasters/consumers?

The development of DVB-T2 was not just about the steady march of time but has been done to provide more data in the available bandwidth. This means that the broadcasters can send more information per transmitter. DVB-T already allows many channels to exist in the same equivalent

  • I have a High Definition ready TV, will it support Freeview HD?

Freeview HD requires the product to support the DVB-T2 transmission standard, only products made on/after winter 2009 and which say they support “Freeview HD” will work with the new service. All current IDTVs will need an external set-top box device to be able to receive Freeview HD. The current definition of “HD TV Ready” does not cover the new UK standard for HDTV.

  • Can I upgrade my receiver to support T2?

It is not possible to software upgrade any existing products to support DVB-T2 due to the significant differences between the platforms. In theory certain IDTV displays from certain manufacturers may be upgraded by replacing certain parts of the hardware, but no manufacturer has yet stated their intention to do this.

  • When will broadcasts of HD services start?

No dates have yet been confirmed, but it is expected that in preparation for product being available broadcasts are expected to begin during Winter of 2009. This schedule may change in response to changes in conditions and consumers should not expect to have reception before 2010. The service will have limited coverage to begin with and only certain areas will have availability to begin with. Consumers should check their coverage to determine what services are available in their area. It may be that a product like the Foxsat-HD or Foxsat-HDR (using the Freesat service) is the best way to get access to free HD channels.

  • When will product be available for Freeview HD?

While the technology of HD has been available for some time the variations required for the Freeview HD, particularly DVB-T2, will require significant work. Because new silicon chips must be designed for this service there needs to be careful work on this investment.

  • How many HD channels will be available?

There will be an HD service from the BBC and other services are expected from ITV-HD and Channel4 HD. Eventually a fourth and perhaps fifth HD provider are expected to join the platform. The platform operators are aiming to upgrade the video encoders to improve their efficiency in order to maximise the volume of content available on the platform for the available capacity.

Further definition:

  • DVB-T2:

A working group of the European DVB organisation has evolved this new standard for transmission. This has allowed more data to be broadcast in the same terrestrial spectrum. This is achieved by using powerful error correction technology as well as learning quite a number of lessons from the work on DVB-T. It has been many years since Digital Terrestrial Television was first launched in the UK and in this time the engineers/scientists have studied the different parameters available to engineers then this time has highlighted areas for improvement. The change in error correction is based on some mathematics which was first used in DVB-S2 and has now been refined further for DVB-T2. Overall the system is exploiting the next generation of technology and the latest innovations in transmission/communications theory.

  • Multiplex:

A multiplex is the container which is used to broadcast digital services. The UHF radio frequency ‘channel’ in which a single analogue service was broadcast in can now be occupied by a multiplex which can contain many digital television services. There are currently six multiplexes in the UK which carry all of our digital television viewing. Each multiplex can carry services of differing quality averaging between eight and fourteen video services.

  • Bandwidth:

Bandwidth is the measure of size of the information carried, the term can be used in analogue or digital environments. In analogue it is the number of Hz and in digital it is the number of bits per second (the rate at which data is carried through a system).

  • High Definition (HD) video:

Currently used to define any superior resolution of video over 720×576 in pixels.

It turns out that some of the new generation of energy saving lightbulbs may pose a small health risk according to the Health Protection Agency. The advice is to avoid spending more than 1hour in close proximity to a bulb (such as a desk-lamp) because you might receive as much exposure as a day of summer sunlight!

More from Google News here.

New broadband provider… a new year. Excellent:

Uptime: 0 days, 4:11:09
Modulation: G.992.5 Annex A
Bandwidth (Up/Down) [kbps/kbps]: 1,291 / 7,264
   
Output Power (Up/Down) [dBm]: 12.0 / 18.0
Line Attenuation (Up/Down) [dB]: 21.5 / 39.5
SN Margin (Up/Down) [dB]: 7.0 / 6.5

 Ah, heck, it might not be 24Mb but its enough for me.