Feeds

Wanted: Reg hardware hackers for set top fun

What Peter Dawe did next

Mobile application security vulnerability report

Exclusive Fancy yourself as a hardware hacker? Peter Dawe, who brought the internet to the UK in the 1980s when he founded Pipex, the country's first ISP, is looking for a few good women and men to experiment with his latest venture the Babelbox. He also gave us a sneak run down.

BabelBox is effectively a Linux-based "set top box", designed to be tinkered with. There's on board video and audio processing, analog and digital video in and out (to SCART or VGA), Ethernet, a mike, and an infra red port. What you do with it is therefore up to your imagination.

It's a bit of a departure for Dawe, but then he's rarely been either idle or predictable. After Pipex, he started Europe's first interconnect LINX, and in 2001 broke the cartel pricing on bandwidth by selling dark fibre. For this, and for setting up the Internet Watch Foundation, he was awarded the OBE. And that's something that eluded The Goodies for many years.

(Right now, he's also devising a solar powered water pump for developing nations, amongst several other projects.)

Babelbox side viewBabelBox is a bet that broadcast TV will go the way of the net, and the mobile phone industries, says Dawe. The major providers initially adopted a "walled garden" approach in the early days of the internet - AOL only recently abandoned it - and having been burned with WAP, mobile networks are finding only tepid interest in their closed content for their 3G networks. He acknowledges that if broadcast TV becomes cryptographically encoded, BabelBox is not going to be able to decode it.

And some of the uses Dawe hopes people will find for the box are imaginative, to say the least. He's hoping MythTV, the Linux digital video recorder, will be ported, and he can see it playing audio or video content stored around the home network - as a kind of DIY SlingBox. But he also envisaged the BableBox finding a home as a karaoke machine, or as the interface to a universal remote control.

"Imagine picking up any remote control and you'll get a menu telling you what to do next," he said.

The microphone is included so VoIP applications can be written.

Babelbox Top View

The key, however, is the price. BabelBox starts at under £149 and in time, given sufficient volumes, will be almost a giveaway item for retailers to bundle. To get to this price point meant making some sacrifices.

There's no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but more unusually, there's no USB port either. Babelbox has PS/2-style connectors for wired keyboard and mouse, and an iRDA port instead. This wasn't just for cost reasons, Dawe told us, but simplicity. "The engineering people tell me I'm mad and the support people tell me I'm a genius. But we wanted a deterministic environment - we wanted to know exactly what was attached to the box which makes support costs lower," he says.

"For the serious geek, there's a PCI bus to play with."

The other drawback is that there's no memory management unit - it really is a basic ARM chip, a Sigma 8610 video controller, 64MB of RAM and 128MB Flash, running uCLinux. Then again, it consumes just 6 watts of power, and is fanless, and so totally silent.

So it's an IPTV box that doesn't do DRM or support HDMI, Dawe readily admits. He does however, point out that flatscreen TVs are overpriced, and people who attach a cheap computer monitor LCD to a FreeView box via the BabelBox, will be quids in.

Got a suggested use? Here's what to do.

Send your CV and development idea to innovation (at) dawevision.co.uk -We'll help judge the best, and the best three entries get one of the first Babelboxen due at the end of the month, and a developer's kit.

Good luck. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
For Lenovo US, 8-inch Windows tablets are DEAD – long live 8-inch Windows tablets
Reports it's killing off smaller slabs are greatly exaggerated
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Microsoft unsheathes cheap Android-killer: Behold, the Lumia 530
Say it with us: I'm King of the Landfill-ill-ill-ill
Seventh-gen SPARC silicon will accelerate Oracle databases
Uncle Larry's mutually-optimised stack to become clearer in August
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.