See also the status page for where things currently stand.
27 February 2004
- Since the last news posting I have set up the eBox from scratch again, this time with Gentoo Linux (which
is what I use on my desktop). This has worked pretty well and in particular is much easier to update to the latest
bleeding-edge software than Slackware. As of about a week ago the eBox is now 2.6 kernel based as well, with the bootsplash patch to show a logo instead of messages at startup and shutdown. I am also now using xine to play MP3s instead of XMMS (as it is already installed for video playback, works better for TV/remote operation, and basically saves me the hassle of setting up XMMS in the first place.) Lastly, TVTime has replaced the aging xawtv.
- I've finally upgraded from the somewhat limited built-in remote control to an ATI Remote Wonder, which works with the latest snapshot of LIRC (0.7.2pre2). It operates by radio instead of infrared, and connects via the USB port. I'm not as impressed with it as I thought I would be - it seems a bit cheap and tacky despite costing nearly $90 NZD, and the button layout leaves a little bit to be desired. Still, it does have a much better range than the old IR remote and lots more buttons (with appropriate labeling this time, too).
- Another thing I have added to the eBox is a wireless card. Installation and setup was pretty painless (the card I am using, a NetGear MA311, is based on the Prism2 chipset for which there are several open-source drivers, including linux-wlan and HostAP). Note that if you install a wireless adapter, regardless of OS you are going to want to secure it pretty well - firewall it properly and possibly even set up IPSEC or some other encrypted VPN. Don't just rely on WEP - it can be broken easily.
- Somewhat on an impulse, I bought a Shuttle ST62K to replace the eBox. These are great little P4-based units with only one very quiet fan (for cooling the CPU as well as the rest of the machine) and an external fanless power supply. However, I neglected to do full research as to whether it was Linux compatible, and to my disappointment I have found it is not. There's a whole list of issues, which I have detailed on this page. I expect things will improve shortly. If you're considering buying one of these for a non-Linux based entertainment PC though, and don't mind the lack of an AGP slot and only one PCI slot, I'd highly recommend it as they are very quiet right out of the box. Anyway, the end result is that I had a barely useful eBox with the ST62K, so I gutted it and rebuilt the old machine again. Maybe in a few months time...
7 October 2003
- Other than software I haven't done much to the eBox, it just sits there happily in the lounge
and is used occasionally for playing movies. I did figure out how to fix USB keyboard - it was
simple actually, all I needed to do was enable USB keyboard support in the BIOS (sigh...)
- Since the last update, eboxy 0.3.7 has been released, and the
site has been moved to Sourceforge.net. I did this because the software has really taken on a life
of its own. Check the new site for updates on eboxy development.
- I have been working with Bill Stotts on getting MySQL support in eboxy. He has also been working
on his own version of the eBox on a GCT Allwell platform, and was kind enough to write a
page about it which I have added to the site. Watch for updates in the future.
27 April 2003
- eboxy 0.3.6 has been released. This is mainly a bugfix release, but also includes some minor new features. Check out the changelog for more details. Also, this evening I uploaded a new version which fixes the internal version not being correct (it still reported as 0.3.5, oops).
- I finally got round to doing some serious capture testing on the eBox. One night last week I captured just over an hour's worth of video, and the results were fairly impressive. 640x480, 25 frames per second, in MPEG-1 format (capturing in software using mp1e). OK, so using I-frames only results in the file being a whopping 3.6GB (!), but at least it doesn't drop any frames. Capturing with any greater compression seems to be too much for the eBox's 1.1GHz Celeron, and frames start dropping all over the place. Unfortunately avifile seems to be dropping huge chunks of audio even when it doesn't drop video frames, but I haven't had time to look at why this is happening or discuss it with the developers. In any case, the mp1e solution is pretty good for the time being, so now what I really need (as always) is a good way of setting up scheduled recordings.
- I have written and uploaded a document regarding the status and future plans for eboxy. I believe anyone currently seriously using eboxy should read it (especially if you think you might be interested in helping out) and tell me what you think.
2 April 2003
- After several weeks of downtime, thanks to my hosting provider who for all intents and
purposes has gone AWOL, the site and my email address are now moved to another provider and are
back up. If you emailed me within the last few weeks I won't have got your message, so please
- I haven't really been doing much work on eboxy lately, due to other commitments
as well as not being able to update the site. However things should now be back on track.
23 January 2003
- Interest in eboxy has picked up a fair bit lately, and upon the suggestion of one user I have now set up a mailing list on SourceForge for general
discussion about eboxy. Details on how to subscribe, archives etc. can be found here.
- I have made several plugins available in CVS. Read the announcement here. I have
also fixed a few bugs in the eboxy core. Feel free to grab the code from CVS, and please report any bugs you find.
- Unfortunately the copy of the eBox skin I posted last update appears to have been corrupted during upload, so I will be uploading a new (and updated) version shortly.
- There is now another Linux PVR portal site on the scene: the Linux PVR Depot.
5 January 2003
- Happy New Year!
- eboxy 0.3.5 is now out, and it's a fairly major release. Things that made it in this time include a file browser plugin, a new plugin
loading method that allows scripts to be bound to plugin events, plus all the features mentioned in the last news update. Things are finally starting to take shape!
- After all this time and effort developing eboxy, I now actually have eboxy up and running on the eBox. What?! You mean to say it wasn't already? Yes, I know, I've just
got caught up working on eboxy instead of actually using it. The skin I'm using, as shown in the image to the right, is available for download in the files section, and needs a fair bit of work (actually, this is
just a temporary skin until I get some decent graphics done).
27 December 2002
- Some new projects up on the resources page, and a new portal site for Linux DVR/PVR news at linuxdvrnews.com.
- I took a break from eboxy last week, but work continues. I am now on holiday for Christmas so I should have a bit of time to work on it. If you're feeling adventurous
you can grab the latest version from CVS, which has configurable key bindings, text field widgets, and scroll bars/slider widgets. I have also put together some
instructions on getting SDL_gui to work on gcc 3.2-based distributions (Mandrake 9.0 was what I tested these on). See here for details.
- After much messing around I finally got a working replacement for the EPIA C3-800 system that I mentioned in the last update. I now have Gentoo Linux installed on it
and it seems to work OK (thanks to Via for releasing the source to the network drivers and other bits and pieces!). However, as yet I haven't had time to test
performance or video capture or anything like that.
- Finally, a reader sent in a recommendation for a quieter DVD drive: a CyberDrive DM-166D. I got a
DM-168D from Dick Smith Electronics which appears to be pretty much the same, and it really is quieter than all the other drives I
have had so far - even more so when reading CD-ROMs, which was a big problem with other drives. Thanks Nic!
24 November 2002
- eboxy 0.3.4 is now out, and finally has listboxes! Several other minor features were added and bugs were fixed. The addition of listboxes should pave the way
for file browsing and other useful things.
- There is a slight problem with the current release - SDL_gui does not work with GCC 3.2, so if you're using a version of Linux that includes this compiler as the
standard C/C++ compiler, you won't be able to use eboxy. I emailed the author of SDL_gui a few weeks ago and haven't had any response, so I intend to try to patch it
myself. I'll put a notice up as soon as I sort the problems out.
- Last week I purchased a Via EPIA C3-800 motherboard and Procase/Morex Cubid PC2688 case. These use the new Mini-ITX form factor, and are quite compact. Unfortunately
the case has to go back because the power supply doesn't work, but once I get a replacement and get it up and running I'll post some more details, particularly with regard
to how it performs with Linux. In the mean time you can look at this review at mini-itx.com.
31 October 2002
- Some nasty bugs turned up in eboxy 0.3.2, and these are now fixed with the release of 0.3.3 today, along with a few other minor changes. All users are encouraged to upgrade.
- I noticed that somehow the plugin API docs got missed out of the archive, and I also neglected to upload them to the website - both of these issues are now rectified.
27 October 2002
- eboxy 0.3.2 is out. If you are or were thinking of writing a plugin for eboxy then you need this, because the plugin system has
changed significantly. I added the first real plugin, simplemusic (which can play MP3, OGG, MOD and MIDI and other files in the background), as well as HTML
documentation. There have also been quite a few other minor bugfixes and improvements.
10 October 2002
- Yesterday on The Linux Show, there was a bit of discussion about one of the hosts (Russell Pavlicek) building a Linux PVR. The details are
here, or you can listen to yesterday's show
(starts at about 48min 20sec).
- I have added two things to the resources page. Firstly the above, and secondly the Orwell(gb) project
which I was told about by email (thanks Jeremy!).
- Work continues on eboxy. I have made some major changes to the plugin system to make it much easier to write plugins. I am now keeping everything in CVS on
SourceForge (see the eboxy project page). Hopefully I will be able to put these changes into CVS shortly.
29 September 2002
- eboxy 0.3.1 has just been released. As I mentioned in my last posting, plugins and scripts work, however I still haven't had time
to do a decent skin or make any example plugins. It'd be great if I could get some help in this regard, so if you have coding or computer art
skills and would like to help improve eboxy, please contact me. Thanks!
25 September 2002
- Lately I have been spending a lot of time working on eboxy. After some major victories last week, I have now got plugin support and scripting working almost
to a level that I'd be happy to release with. There are a few minor issues that need sorting out, and unless I discover any major bugs I expect to release it
sometime early next week. It'll be version number 0.3.1, reflecting the initial state of the plugin system which I would especially like to get comments on once
it is released.
- There are now quite a few Linux software packages and sites out there for Linux multimedia PCs, and as I've found them over the last few months I've been putting up links on the
resources page. Please let me know if you've found a relevant site or you're doing something similar to the eBox yourself, and I'll add
it to the page.
1 September 2002
- I got a cheap USB keyboard, and found that Linux handles hot-plugging of USB keyboards just fine, even under X. So troubleshooting will be much easier in future
(with a standard keyboard it seems that you have to restart X and have a mouse present before it recognises that a keyboard is attached).
- It never ends... I had huge troubles with an AOpen DVD-1648 DVD-ROM drive, so I decided to chance it (again, sort of) and buy a Pioneer DVD-117. As it turns out, it performs
better but is still noisy and doesn't look as good.
- eboxy 0.3 is out. This fixes a few bugs and adds a number of minor features (eg. label templates, multi-line labels, optionally
hiding the GUI when running external programs).
11 August 2002
- eboxy 0.2 is now available. Just some minor feature additions, such as static label and picture objects, and a few bugfixes. I'm
going to try to keep the interval between releases short, so keep checking back here for updates.
- Well, the IRMan has been useful, but it's time to unplug the dongle because I managed to get the TV card
IR receiver working with LIRC. It didn't take much in the end, you just have to know what to do. I've updated the remote control
page with lots of info on setting up LIRC.
- I tested the FM radio part of the TV card, and it works fine. All I need now is a user interface. I've added a little bit of info to the video capture page
on FM radio software.
- The Slackware 8.1 page has been updated with the package choices I normally use. It's not quite a step-by-step install guide yet, but
it's getting there.
- I've decided to make my patched version of mmounter available in the files area. It's not in a perfect state at the moment, but I find it useful.
I'll fix it up a bit more later. The configuration file and the scripts that I use with it are in the files area too, and I've also updated all the other scripts and configs
to what I'm using currently on the eBox. The eject script in particular has a bit of a hack that makes the tray go back in if it's already out (it's a bit harder to do than
you might think). Anyway, enjoy. :)
2 August 2002
- eboxy 0.1 is out! This is the first first release of the software I have been working on for on-screen control of eBox functions. It's
pretty simple at the moment, but it's a start. Comments welcome.
- Finally, I have some pictures of the eBox as promised. Hopefully people aren't too disappointed with the fact that it looks much like a
normal desktop PC (I have not gone into designing my own case, and probably won't for some time). For me, it's what's on the inside that counts most, particularly
what I've done to reduce noise.
26 July 2002
- The lm_sensors project released a new version (2.64) just recently with improved chip support, including support for
various VIA chips like the one in the eBox's motherboard. I managed to get it working with little trouble, so I can now read the temperature & fan speeds in Linux.
- Speaking of fans, I now have only two fans in the eBox, both running at slow speed. The first is in the power supply and is also ducted onto the CPU (so
it draws air through the CPU heatsink). The second is tied in using elastic shock cord to reduce noise, and blows on the PCI cards and generally keeps the air
inside the case cool. The CPU temperature seems to be hovering around 30-35° so I'm fairly pleased, and the noise level is very low.
- I moved the eBox to the lounge to try it out on the TV again (it has been sitting on the bench in the computer room for a while now). As I mentioned above, the
fans are very quiet now, but there is one problem: the DVD drive is noisy in the extreme. If you've got any suggestions for quiet DVD drives that are still available
please email me, because this is the biggest problem I have with the eBox at the moment.
- I have made some real progress on the GUI software for the eBox. It now reads an XML file and together with some images, it builds a simple GUI consisting of
buttons and multiple pages. Pressing a button can run an external shell command or jump to a different page. TrueType fonts and PNG alpha transparency are supported,
and it can be controlled by the mouse, keyboard or IR remote (via LIRC). I just want to get a default "skin" done and fix a few bugs, so if all goes
according to plan I will be releasing the source next week (under the GPL, of course).
- I found a very interesting project while browsing freshmeat the other day: MythTV.
It's the first usable timeshifting/recording app I've seen for Linux (well, other than the Tivo that is). I haven't had time to try it out yet, though.
- Finally: if I manage to borrow a digital camera next week I might have some pictures of the eBox up soon :)
4 July 2002
- The eBox itself is in a bit of a state of flux at the moment. I've been evaluating Slackware 8.1, and so far it's pretty
good. Check out my updated setup instructions for the tweaks I've applied (considerably fewer than 8.0). I have the IRMan hooked up to
my main PC while I'm working on the GUI (finally) - at the moment I have a little test LIRC client and a cut down test program from the
SDL_gui library, so it's very early days yet. Oh, and KDevelop rocks
for Linux C/C++ development :-)
- Using nvtv, a Linux utility that lets you tweak TV-out on nVidia cards, I have improved the TV-out
from the eBox's video card so that it fills the entire TV screen. It looks much better - I could almost do without the Dxr3 now.
- Adding another 256MB RAM to the eBox has dramatically improved capture performance. Avifile now seems to have no trouble capturing up to 512x384 at 25fps
directly to DivX, with on-the-fly deinterlacing. Last time I tried it at 640x480 it almost worked, but after 625 frames it started dropping like mad. I can only
assume this is a bug, but I will have to investigate further to find out what's really happening.
- I had a go with a go at setting up Wake on RTC alarm using wakeup. It works fine except that it seems
that due to the way the BIOS works (at least on the DFI motherboard I have in the eBox) if you switch off the mains power to the machine and then back on, the
wake-up time is ignored, presumably because the code in the BIOS that checks it doesn't get run until the machine has been powered on once. As far as I can see
this makes it absolutely useless for my purposes - if there's even a micro-power outage before the scheduled wake up time then the machine will not power back on.
So basically at the moment if I want scheduling I'll have to leave the machine on beforehand.
- Not two months ago I mused on the status page at how it would be nice if you could use Winamp visualisation plugins in XMMS. What
do you know, someone has gone and done it! Linux development seems to be at the stage where if a program
doesn't support something you want or a neat program you want doesn't exist, just wait a month or two and somebody will implement it. Of course if everyone
did that then no development would happen. Still, that's the way it seems.
8 June 2002
- I got an Audigy sound card for the eBox. It was a bit expensive, but I don't think it can be surpassed for sound
quality, features and compatibility. Further info on the updated music page.
- Video capture works, finally! I can now capture at 640x480 25fps without dropping any frames. mp1e makes this possible. See the
updated capture page for more info.
- I've made a new files directory and uploaded a bunch of scripts and config files from the eBox in case these are helpful or interesting to anyone.
- I've put up some details of what I did to set up Slackware 8.0 on the eBox. If you're trying to duplicate what I've done, you might find it interesting.
- The time is fast approaching where I'm going to have to start writing a GUI for the eBox. There is a limit to what you can do by just running programs from the press of a remote
button (with LIRC/irexec) - I want graphical menus.
26 May 2002
- DVD playback is almost perfect (just some slight jerking when the entire frame is moving, at least with Xv output anyway - I haven't tested Dxr3 output for an entire movie).
Dxr3 output now works fine with Xine again, and menus work pretty well for most DVDs. I found three separate things that were affecting performance:
DISPLAY is now set to :0.0 (local), I have thrown away the old IDE cable and replaced it with an ATA-33 cable for the time being, and I will be ordering a new Creative Audigy sound card
- The DISPLAY variable was set to 127.0.0.1:0 (which results in shared memory not being used, because X apps think they're being used remotely)
- A bad IDE cable on the DVD drive was causing data errors to occur, resulting in DMA turning itself off. I should have realised this was the problem earlier, as dmesg was
reporting "DriveReady SeekComplete Error" multiple times, which is usually an indicator of something being wrong with the hardware.
- The on-board sound is dragging down performance of the entire machine, and causing the video to go out of sync with the audio.
- While attempting to get DVD playback working, I did a full reinstall of Slackware 8.0 and all the software I use for the eBox on a different hard drive, so I got an opportunity
to write down exactly what I did. I will convert this to a webpage once I get a chance.
- I think I have found some TwinView-related bugs with the nVidia drivers. Check out this nvnews thread
- According to the supplier, there is nothing they can do about the faulty DVD drive I bought as they can't reproduce the problem. I'm not too happy about this, but having
worked in a service department I can understand their position. I'll probably end up using this in another machine rather than the eBox once I get it back, since it's no good
if it can't read all DVDs.
- Video capture still isn't really working properly. avirec (from the avifile package) keeps crashing and freezing the machine. ffmpeg doesn't give me the performance I need.
I think this may take a bit of time to sort out.
12 May 2002
As you can see if you've been here before, I've changed this site from one single page to a proper site that is much easier to navigate. I need to add photos and more instructions,
which I will do over the coming weeks.
- I bought a new DVD drive, an AOpen DVD-1648. But the unit I got seems to be faulty (won't read some DVDs) so I'm sending it back for testing. (Why do I always get dodgy hardware? sigh...)
- I've lined the inside cover of the machine with sound-deadening material, which has made it quieter. I have added an extra 60mm rear fan to improve airflow, mounted with rubber
washers and connected with the negative line on the +5V rail of the disk drive connector (with the positive line on +12V, this results in the fan running at 7V so it runs slower
and thus quieter). I have also replaced the noisy standard Intel-supplied CPU fan (a Sanyo Denki) with the Enermax UC-8FAB adjustable speed fan I bought earlier.
- The latest versions of both Mplayer and Xine have improved in some areas but have basically broken Dxr3 playback - sync and DVD menu problems abound. Also, I have found that I am
getting way below expected performance with my GeForce 2 MX with xv output. So basically at the moment I can't play DVDs :(
- I have played around with video capture a bit. avifile seems to be able to capture to DivX, but what I'd like to do is capture using
a lossless compression codec like Huffyuv (which is currently not working with avifile) so I can edit the video later. I haven't
tried encoding to MJPEG yet, this could be another option.
- I wired up an L2014 LCD display ordered from EIO to the parallel port, but I can't get
lcdmod to work with it, despite the fact that it works fine with LCD Smartie
under Windows. It's a very nice display though (reverse backlit, 4 lines by 20 characters). I am thinking about cutting a hole in the PC's faceplate since it's too big to fit in a
single 5¼" drive bay cover plate, but I only get one chance to get it right.
- I can now download images from my digital camera (an Aiptek Pencam USB - not a recommended product IMO). I used GPhoto 2.0 for this.
13 April 2002
I spent a few weeks investigating the various options. I purchased the following parts new (with comments as to why I chose these):
- DFI CA-64TC motherboard: socket 370; AGP slot and no onboard video; no useless slots (AMR/CNR); 4/5 PCI slots and one ISA slot in case I want to use an I/O card; Wake-On-LAN support; onboard sound
- Asus V7100 MagicTV GeForce2 MX200 video card: cheap; has TwinView-capable TV-out (independent monitor and TV display at the same time); seems to be fairly well supported under Linux.
- Via Cyrix III (C3) 700MHz CPU: doesn't generate very much heat - reportedly can even be used without a fan at all.
- Seagate Barracuda IV 80GB hard drive: fast and extremely quiet. Turned out to be one of the cheapest at this size, too.
I already had a spare mini-tower ATX case for initial testing, and my DVD drive (a Pioneer DVD-103S slot-loading type) so I assembled the PC and turned it on. The CPU fan started,
but nothing happened. I tried all settings, searched on Google and DFI's website, nothing to indicate why. I then tried my P3-500E CPU in the new motherboard, which worked,
and then the new C3 in my old Abit BE6, which also worked. So I emailed DFI to ask why they wouldn't work together. No response after one week. Emailed again, a week later,
still no response. A week after that I emailed the DFI sales address complaining about the lack of support, and got a reply the next day. (This is not the first time I have
had to do this sort of thing in order to get support from a computer company, but this does not in any way make it acceptable). Apparently, despite stating that the
Via C3 700MHz is supported, my particular CPU is a "Samuel 2" and is actually - wait for it - not supported, even though it works in a motherboard
which is over 2 years old (the BE6, which is Intel 440BX based, detects it as a Celeron 700). I replied, but I haven't heard a thing from them yet. DFI's level of
support has appalling as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway, I decided to press on, and left the C3 in my second machine as it seems to work fine. The entertainment box would have to put up with a P3-500E, which while not too
shabby, it's not exactly a screamer by today's standards either. Still I thought, it should be plenty for DVD playing and video capture, as it had been until I purchased
my current main machine.
With the hardware now functional, I was first going to install Red Hat Linux 7.2, because that's what I've been using for a while now on my main PC. But then I decided
I wanted something fairly lightweight since I was going to be compiling everything new myself, so I wouldn't need RPM or any of the other stuff that you get with RH.
So I installed Slackware 8.0 which I had on CD already. The installation went smoothly, although I can't say I like the installer.