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Subject: Re: New 30gb mp3 jukebox by polaroid.
From: Neon John (johngd_at_bellsouth.net)
Date: 2004-07-03


Marcus,

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're just an
enthusiast that has been taken in by the DI hype and not a shill for them.

I got taken in last year by their "real soon now" promises of doing what they
said they'd do - release the sources - and bought a Gen I unit to evaluate as
a potential RockBox host. This was maybe the worst piece of consumer
electronics sh*t I've ever laid my hands on. And that's saying something.

You don't actually have yours yet so let me describe things.

I could not imagine a worse user interface. It is a rigidly structured
database architecture that forces the user into doing things one way and one
way only. That way MIGHT be OK if all one wants to do is linearly listen to
albums. God help you if you want to build useful playlists, listen to audio
books or any of the other stuff we take for granted with RockBox.

One of the potentially best features, the built-in FM transmitter is useless
in practice. The reason is that they turn off the carrier whenever something
isn't actually playing. Press pause or stop and you get an ear blast of
interstation hiss. Or more likely, several adjacent stations blaring at once.
The deviation is low so one must crank up the volume on the FM receiver. That
means the hiss literally blasts your ears and the stereo system.

The thing they seem to advertise the most, HiSi is, for the most part
worthless. Maybe if I lived in a closet and only listened to Top 40 music I
might find it useful. I don't and don't. I really don't know how well it
works because it never actually worked for me. I know the names and groups of
the familiar music I listen to. The stuff I don't know is likely to be odd or
obscure. I fired it off against some of the more eclectic stuff the local
NPR/college station plays and got zero hits. The reason is obvious - for the
function to work, someone must encode the songs and put them in the database.

The only thing worse than the user interface is the desktop software. You
know it's going to be a mess when it insists on installing that virus
transport facility and spyware crap called microsoft .net. Once installed, it
takes over your computer and brings it to its knees. My 2 gig laptop was
barely useable whenever the software was running. That's just the start of
the nightmare.

Unlike the Archos where you simply copy audio files over and play them, the
Neuros forces you to first install the music in the desktop database. For the
approx 18 GB of material that duplicated what was on my FMR, it took just
about 24 hours of crunching and gobs of disc space. It took about that long
again to copy the stuff over to the Neuros. Only part of the problem was the
USB 1.1 interface. But my Studio 10 could be loaded in just a few hours using
the same interface.

Neuros says that music files can be copied directly to the hard drive. That
is true but they can't be played there until they're crunched into the
database. That's a case of telling the technical truth while telling an
actual lie.

The desktop software is SO bad that someone wrote a Java replacement. Unlike
most piggy software written in Java, this thing is a speed demon compared to
the OEM stuff. The big problem with this software was (I haven't updated in
several months so it may have changed) that it lost all playlists anytime a
change was made to a database.

Initially I loaded the thing up with background music and used it in my
restaurant. It was so difficult to change the programming that I finally,
mercifully laid it to rest, removed the hard drive and put it in my Studio 10,
making it a Studio 20. I haven't yet figured out what to do with the only
other useful thing inside the case, the LiIon battery. Maybe hook it to a
Jesus cord and see if I can make it explode....

I'll leave open the door just a crack for there to be wholesale changes in the
Vers II unit but if I was a betting man I'd bet against it.

Another thing I should mention about the player is that it is huge.
Significantly larger than the Archos. If the photos on the web site are
accurate, they've only changed the color of the physical package and not the
size. It completely fills a pocket of my work pants, the same pocket that my
JBR gets lost in. See the pictures below for a side-by-side.

One last thing. I bought the combo FLASH and HD player package. The web site
leaves the impression that one can load up the FLASH player from the HD. I
asked about this before I bought but did not notice that they neglected to
answer that question. I now know why. this is not possible. The two players
are completely independent. The battery and the storage is in the cradle.
The player has no memory, at least none that is user-accessable. The cradle
is useless without the player being inserted.

I have put up some pictures of the units. Notice the very fragile and
unsupported pins of the connector between the player and the saddles. I'd be
afraid to mate and un-made these connectors very often, as great care is
required to avoid bending the pins.

http://bellsouthpwp.net/j/o/johngd/files/Neuros/

The next issue is the company and their outright lying. One can count on the
fingers of one hand the number of times I've called someone or something a
liar in public. This is one of them.

I found the company and the product by googling for "open source jukebox".
That was a year ago. They were gaining the benefits of wrapping themselves in
the moniker of "open source" without actually doing it. Back then NOTHING had
been released. We all know what "open source" means. What they're doing is
NOT open source. It is lying about open source.

Still believing their lies, I wrote the company and asked where to find the
sources. Kathryn, their public relations flack, wrote back with a series of
excuses, then came to this list to repeat them. She was nice enough but she
was regurgitating only what she was fed. It was reasonable for her to expect
change a year ago. It is not now. Kathryn, you've had plenty of time to find
a job with a reputable company so there is no excuse for you still fronting
for this outfit. (She's on this list.)

We chatted back and forth in private email a few times until I realized that I
was wasting my time, that they had no plans to EVER release the actual
firmware sources.

I see on the forum that JoeBorn is emitting the about the same stream of
excuses he was using last year. I predict that a year from now, if the
company is still around, he and Kathryn will be emitting even more excuses and
the sources STILL will not be open.

Joe and kathryn, just in case you don't know what Open Source means, I'll
describe the process.

You zip up the entire firmware source code tree along with any supporting
files and the license of your choice (you could do worse than to GPL it). You
put that zip file on your web site and you announce the URL. You let us worry
about development tools. We're sharp guys, we can figure things out.

One other thing before we leave the company. Anyone contemplating buying one
of their products should realize that the company has embraced so-called
digital rights management (DRM) with open arms. All the proprietary formats
that allow someone else control what you can do with content on your own
player are supported. I recall some spam I got awhile back offering me an
Audible-enabled player at a discount if I'd sign up with Audible.

At first blush, supporting all formats might seem a good thing to do. It's
not. The more these cancerous formats gain hardware support the more they're
likely to succeed in displacing MP3 and other open formats. If you believe
that it is your right to do anything you wish with something you buy then you
CANNOT support DRM.

I should point out that DRM is the polar opposite of open source. The DRMers
would keep all details secret if they could. A company that supports DRM
cannot also fully support open source. Period.

Let's suppose this company listened to its corporate conscience and tomorrow
released everything. The future for a RockBox port would still not be very
bright. I learned a few things in my chats with Kathryn. The most important
is that this is basically a software player. All the compute-intensive stuff
done in hardware (MAS chip, etc) in the Archos is done in software in the
Neuros' DSP. This includes MP3 encode and decode and even the synthesis of
the FM modulation. Rockbox, in contrast, is basically a user interface and a
data shuffler. A RockBox "port" would most likely involve a rewrite from
scratch, using the feature set of the Archos Rockbox.

I should mention parenthetically that wanting to keep secret how they
synthesize the FM signal is one excuse given for not releasing the sources.
That's fine. Just take down the claims of being an Open Source company and
everyone can be happy. I'm not sure I can fully understand how something as
basic as generating a frequency modulated baseband signal with a DSP can be
proprietary....

I'm far from a DSP whiz but I know that C isn't the language of choice for
such applications. Maybe GCC could be forced to work but it wouldn't be fun.

Marcus, I'll do you a big favor if you like. If you'll pay the postage I'll
give you my driveless Neuros. Scrounge up a drive somewhere and you'll have a
working unit. I even have the optional leather belt holster! You can cancel
your order and save your money. The slower speed of the USB1.1 interface
won't matter much - you'll hate the thing so much you won't use it enough to
matter. If you're interested, contact me off-line.

John

On Fri, 2 Jul 2004 19:29:15 -0700, Marcus Bryner <marcus_at_docbryner.com> wrote:

>Rockbox is great, but Archos isn't making "Rockbox friendly" machines anymore,
>and more power to you guys developing it if you make Rockbox work w/ Archos'
>new models (which appears to be quite a lot of work).   :)
>
>Digital innovations (Neuros) is the only company that is even interested in
>open source firmware, which is slowly happening.   Looks like BlueChip beat
>me to adding this link, but if you go to the last 1/3 of the posts or so, you
>will see that things are starting to happen (hopefully):
>
>http://www.neurosaudio.com/community/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=3655
>
>Looks like they had trouble getting an open source assembler and C compiler to
>work for the processor chip the Neuros has.  But is seems they are making
>progress in the past week or so (with help of Neuros engineers and even the
>president Joe Born on their forum).
>
>I liked Rockbox and it does a lot of things that the Neuros firmware doesn't
>do yet.  One of the big reasons I'm buying a Neuros is that I hope you will
>be able to port Rockbox to it, or by them having open firmware, my wishlist
>will eventually be developed--which won't happen with the other
>manufacturers!!!
>
>Marcus
>
>**** BlueChip wrote: ****
>CrowTRobo deserves much respect for years of input into the dev scene.
>http://www.neurosaudio.com/community/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=3655
>is an interesting read - pointing out that the source is not so open as DI
>would like to imply >:(
>
>**** On Friday 02 July 2004 03:14 pm, Eric Linenberg wrote:  ****
>> I don't mean to rip on the Neuros, and I think they make a very nice
>> product, but where is this "open" firmware?  They advertise this, yet
>> I don't think it is a reality.
>>
>> -eric
>_______________________________________________
>http://cool.haxx.se/mailman/listinfo/rockbox

---
John De Armond
johngdDONTYOUDARE_at_bellsouth.net
http://bellsouthpwp.net/j/o/johngd/
Cleveland, Occupied TN
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