Feeds

Wanted: Reg hardware hackers for set top fun

What Peter Dawe did next

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
PEAK APPLE: iOS 8 is least popular Cupertino mobile OS in all of HUMAN HISTORY
'Nerd release' finally staggers past 50 per cent adoption
Apple spent just ONE DOLLAR beefing up the latest iPad Air 2
New iPads look a lot like the old one. There's a reason for that
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
Microsoft fitness bands slapped on wrists: All YOUR HEALTH DATA are BELONG TO US
Wearable will deliver 'actionable insights for healthier living'
Caterham Seven 160 review: The Raspberry Pi of motoring
Back to driving's basics with a joyously legal high
FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on
Next driver to battle fake chips with 'non-invasive' methods
Amazon hopes FIRE STICK will light up its video service
We do streaming video? It seems we do...
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.