Rockbox mail archiveSubject: Re: question to all blind rockboxers
Re: question to all blind rockboxers
From: Amy <amy_at_faylen.com>
Date: Thu, 17 May 2007 20:24:59 -0500
I wish I could get mine working. Still waiting to look for a decent price on
eBay. I would prefer one with rockbox installed already, but I'm thinking it
very unlikely at this point. sigh
----- Original Message -----
To: "Rockbox" <rockbox_at_cool.haxx.se>
Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2007 6:03 PM
Subject: Re: question to all blind rockboxers
> Actually, just one minor correction if I may, Paul. The fourth whole on
> the subpack as you described is not a line jack. Rather, it's not a line
> out jack. It's actually a line in / out jack, ad I believe it can be
> changed via the firmware and settings. The other jack that is right next
> to your usb is actually a remote jack. And the slit's purpose is unknown
> right below the headphone jack. Under the slit is actually a piece of
> plastic, which reveals the USB 1.1 OTG port. If you feel carefully, you
> will feel something that is not quite smooth. It should be noticible.. I
> Thought it was the internal microphone, but you don't want to get that
> mistaken... that's where you said it was. Just a few things I thought I
> would point out.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Paul Erkens" <pjealt_at_xs4all.nl>
> To: "Rockbox" <rockbox_at_cool.haxx.se>
> Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2007 3:48 PM
> Subject: question to all blind rockboxers
>> Since I got my IAudio x5, I really had a whole bunch of stuff to learn. I
>> was rather a novice. The information on the net aimed directly at blind
>> people is there to some degree, and that's wonderful already. But it is
>> not very extensive up till now.
>> I'm writing a document right now, from which other blind folks can learn
>> what I had to learn. I started writing this afternoon, and I'd like to
>> know from you guys out here, if you think I should do it differently,
>> keep going this way, or leave it altogether because I'm completely wrong.
>> If any of you cares to take a look at my first attempts, I am pasting it
>> below. If the reactions are okay and I can get it finished in the near
>> future, I'm planning to send it off to the rockbox team, and see if they
>> find it useful enough to place it on their site for other blind
>> adventurous souls to use. Rockbox is made by very knowledgeable people,
>> but introductory docs for the unknowing like myself, I haven't found so
>> far. Would you as a blind reader find this a useful document? Especially
>> the section describing the IAudio mp3 player itself.
>> Comments welcome. It is my first attempt to write it, unfinished nor
>> polished. I'm not a native English speaker. I just want to know if I'm on
>> the right track to really make a difference when I get it done. I'd like
>> to contribute my little bit.
>> Guide for the blind: rockbox on your IAudio x5 mp3 player.
>> Contents ideas:
>> What are we talking about?
>> -walkmans and accessibility
>> -what is mp3 really?
>> Description of the IAudio x5
>> Hearing the demos on the unit
>> an explanation of firmware
>> what is rockbox for us?
>> How the speech system works
>> About the files to download and what they do
>> Welcome. This guide is intended for blind folks, wanting to have an
>> accessible mp3 player. I am blind myself, and from the directions on the
>> internet, I finally managed to get rockbox to work on my player. The
>> information I needed was not bundled in one place, and most documents
>> were very brief. Now that I have my own player going and now that I've
>> seen how great rockbox just is for us once it's running, I want to share
>> my knowledge and experience with you, so you don't have to invent the
>> wheel again.
>> In short, if you already know what an mp3 walkman is: with rockbox, you
>> can now navigate almost all menus, configure almost all options and do
>> almost anything a sighted user is capable of, using the display screen on
>> the unit. New functions and possibilities are added constantly, and what
>> you can't do today, may be possible next week. Rockbox makes your mp3
>> player talk, so you will know what you are doing as you operate its
>> controls. That is what rockbox is all about for blind people. A work in
>> progress, already working on many different mp3 players, talking to you,
>> and improving continuously.
>> This is not a technical document, because I'm not technically inclined
>> myself. I will explain what you are required to do, why you must do it,
>> and in our case without vision: how it should be done.
>> I can only describe the procedure for the IAudio x5 mp3 player. Other
>> players, I don't have any experience with so far. If you have something
>> other than the IAudio x5, this document will provide you with background
>> information so you will understand what's up, but the specific
>> installation details for other players than the IAudio x5 are not covered
>> We will begin by providing you with some useful background information.
>> Only read it if you're interested. We will discuss audio compression, and
>> similar background topics. Then, we'll dive into describing the IAudio x5
>> unit, showing you how to get started with rockbox.
>> In many cases, I will refer to the IAudio x5 rockbox manual on the
>> rockbox site. This document is an addition just to get you started; It's
>> by no means a replacement for anything.
>> If you have any suggestions for this document, please write me at
>> pjealt_at_xs4all.nl. I can't provide support for general rockbox problems,
>> because all I do is write and maintain this document. Please write me
>> only if you think an important concept is missing from this document.
>> What are we talking about?
>> So, what are we talking about in this document in the first place? Simply
>> put: until rockbox came, we did not have good access to digital walkmans.
>> But now we do. If you buy yourself an x5 walkman from IAudio, this
>> document tells you how to set it up for yourself, so that it talks to you
>> as you operate it.
>> walkmans and accessibility
>> If you like music, talking books, radio plays or other forms of recorded
>> audio, it is great to have a mobile device, on which the audio you want
>> to listen to is stored. When I was young, I used to have one of the first
>> walkman players that could play cassette tapes. It weighed almost two
>> American pounds, which is near to 1 kilo gram in European measurement. It
>> required six pen light batteries, it had head phones attached, the
>> batteries lasted less than two hours, and I was extremely proud to walk
>> around with that brick. But after two months of intensive use, the tape
>> started to slow down, the sound became bad and I did away with it
>> finally. Not only had the player been expensive, but it wore out pretty
>> These days, walkmans have improved dramatically. The music is no longer
>> stored on cassette tapes but on different media. The modern media are
>> digital in nature. How digital audio works exactly, falls outside the
>> scope of this document. The advantage of using digitally stored audio in
>> your walkman is however, that its sound quality is much better. Besides,
>> it is now much easier to instantly play a song of your liking. You don't
>> have to change tapes and cue back and forth, to find the song you want to
>> hear. Instead, you navigate through your collection using a small display
>> screen on the walkman, to find and play it.
>> And here is our problem. If you can't read the display on the unit, you
>> won't be able to access most of its functions and settings. These devices
>> become more and more menu based, with logical categories in which you can
>> find the option you want to tweak. Absolutely fabulous for sighted
>> people, but by far not for us. You know how computers are made accessible
>> though. The screen is read to us by an electronic voice, and because of
>> that, we can navigate our files, do text processing and many other
>> computer tasks, even including installing windows XP without sighted
>> assistance. If you are determined, that is.
>> Generally, most manufacturers of modern digital equipment don't really
>> adapt their stuff such, that people with disabilities can make good use
>> of them. We can get along some by memorizing key stroke sequences, but
>> modern devices have become way too complex. This meant, that the pleasure
>> of digital walkmans was only available for us if we didn't demand too
>> much. You could buy yourself one, but only 20% or so of its functions
>> that you payed for, will be usable for you.
>> Well: no more. Thanks to the time and effort spent by the rockbox team,
>> we now have the possibility to use these modern walkmans, and not just
>> that. We can also make a well informed choice among the different models
>> on which it runs. Rockbox won't work on all modern walkmans, but more are
>> added over time and what these people have achieved so far, is
>> impressive. Just take a look on the rockbox site, and see which mp3
>> walkmans are already currently supported. Go to your local dealer and get
>> yourself one from that list.
>> What is mp3 really?
>> Next, we need to understand what mp3 really is. Mp3 is not a walkman, a
>> player, nor a dvd feature. Mp3 is a file format. Let's see what this
>> A file on your computer is something you will be familiar with. A file
>> can contain a letter or other text, it could contain a picture, and
>> likewise a file on your computer can also contain audio. If you play an
>> audio file on your computer, you will hear the sound from the file out of
>> your pc speakers. There are a number of different audio file types that
>> are currently used throughout the world. Simply put, there are only two
>> basic types of audio files: compressed, and uncompressed. Let's talk
>> about what this means.
>> On a regular audio cd, audio is stored plainly. The original sound has
>> been encoded into small groups of digits: ones and zeroes, and these are
>> stored on the compact disk. It is possible to have your computer's cd or
>> dvd drive read that digital audio information off the cd, and storing it
>> in regular computer files on your hard drive. This process is called
>> "ripping a cd", i.e. copying the audio data over from the cd on to your
>> computer's hard disk.
>> However, a simple cd contains an enormous amount of data. If we speak in
>> megabytes, a cd contains roughly 800 megabytes worth of audio data. Once
>> you have the contents of your cd inside your computer, you can hook up
>> your digital walkman to it, and then transfer those files.
>> You should be aware however, that the storage capacity of your digital
>> walkman is usually quite limited, if you compare it to the capacity of
>> your computer's hard disk. Audio, in its plain form, is quite big. When
>> digital walkmans first came to market, we had devices that could contain
>> 32 megabytes max. Now if you realise that in plain storage format, an
>> audio file eats up 10 megabytes for every minute of music, you will
>> understand that in these players, there was only room for a song of about
>> 3 minutes in length, and obviously, you want more music in your walkman
>> than just one little song.
>> Two things have been done to overcome this problem. First, a group of
>> clever people invented a method of reducing the size of regular audio
>> files down to a tenth of what they used to be. This is what is now
>> called: audio compression. It essentially just means, bringing down the
>> size of the audio file whilst retaining the maximum possible sound
>> quality. The human ear is not very accurate, compared to a computer. What
>> audio compression does, is throw away those parts of the audio that we
>> are not likely to perceive. The more of the audio you throw away, the
>> smaller the resulting file can be.
>> And now we have something to work with. On a windows machine, a file
>> containing plain audio is called a wave file, usually having a period and
>> the letters w a v at the end of its name. Wave files can be quite big.
>> Usually, they are uncompressed. Plain.
>> On the other hand, the most common way of compressing audio these days,
>> is called mp3. So the word mp3 just refers to the way the audio itself is
>> compressed. Compressed audio files usually have a dot and the letters m p
>> 3 at the end of their name.
>> To summarize: if, for example, you see a file called song.wav on your
>> computer, you know that it usually is an uncompressed audio file, because
>> of the dot wav at the end. If you encounter something like song.mp3 or
>> today.mp3, you know that it is compressed audio, because of the dot m p 3
>> at the end of the file's name. This is only a rule of thumb, because we
>> did not take into account the fact that even wave files can be
>> compressed, and still be called .wav. But let's not get lost in the
>> We mentioned before, that mp3 reduces file sizes by throwing away
>> frequencies in the audio you are not likely to hear. The better
>> compression you want to achieve, the more audio you need to throw away.
>> If you keep going, you will get to a point where the audio damage becomes
>> perceptible. You will hear it. So there's always a tradeoff between
>> filesize and quality. In mp3 jargon, the compression factor that
>> determines both the final file size and also the resulting sound quality,
>> is called the mp3 bitrate. If you are going to create your own mp3 files
>> from cd's you have, then the bitrate is something you can configure.
>> Bitrate and compression factor refers to the same thing, as far as mp3 is
>> A song in wave format containing 3 minutes worth of cd quality audio,
>> would become 30 megabytes in size on disk. If you make an mp3 out of
>> this, then you will still have a file of reasonable quality if you
>> compress it down to a tenth of its original size. One song in mp3 format
>> could then become 3 megabytes rather than 30, and still sound quite okay.
>> And if you only have 32 megabytes of storage available on your player,
>> that's quite an improvement. You can now store ten songs, rather than
>> just one in uncompressed format. In other words: audio used to be way to
>> large to handle. Mp3 has given us a solution, by drastically cutting down
>> the file size of our digital audio.
>> Old mp3 players were equipped with a memory chip and these devices are
>> still widely used, except that the memory capacity has grown enormously,
>> which is the second improvement over the first digital mp3 players with
>> limited capacity. Mp3 walkmans in the form of a small plastic stick can
>> well contain 4000 megabytes, 4 gig, which is really quite something. And
>> that's not all.
>> Modern mp3 walkmans don't store their audio in a memory chip. Instead,
>> they have a tiny hard disk built in to them. This leads to walkmans with
>> great storage capabilities. 40 to 60 gigabytes (being 40000 to 60000
>> megabytes) is no exception these days, giving you ample space for
>> thousands of songs.
>> There are many brands to choose from, if you want such a walkman or mp3
>> player. Before purchasing one, you need to decide for yourself how much
>> you are going to store on it. If a couple of gigabytes is enough, a
>> player with a memory chip will suffice. But if you want 40, 60 or 80
>> gigabytes worth of music, then you should buy a player that has a hard
>> drive built in.
>> Description of the IAudio x5
>> I chose the Cowon x5, which is an mp3 walkman manufactured by a company
>> called IAudio. This player comes in a few flavours. The things that make
>> the difference between the various models are the capacity of the hard
>> disk inside it, and the battery life. If you have an x5l, then the l
>> stands for long battery life. The player is thicker because of the bigger
>> battery. Mine has a normal battery life, it is not the thicker one, and
>> the hard disk can contain up to 60 gigabytes worth of data.
>> The player is as small as a packet of cigarets. It is a metal casing that
>> feels very solid. It has only a few buttons, and a joy stick. You can buy
>> an optional leather protection for it, and even when the player is inside
>> the protection leather, you can operate it well. Let's describe the unit,
>> so you will know what is where.
>> Put the player on a flat surface in front of you. If you feel its roof
>> and all you encounter is four tiny dots, one on each corner, then you now
>> have the unit upside down. The side that is now facing the table, should
>> face the sky. If however, you now feel a very smooth rectangle and a
>> button inside a circle, then the unit is already half way in the correct
>> Now, we must make sure that the player is in the same position as I have
>> it here, in order for the side descriptions to match. As you can feel,
>> the roof of the player consists of two distinct levels. A thick and a
>> thin part. Now, the thicker part that feels all smooth, is the visual
>> display screen. Rotate the unit, so the display is at the top of the
>> unit, furthest away from you. The bottom part of your x5 contains this
>> little knob inside a small circle. This is your joy stick, and we will
>> discuss what it does later on. Now, we can describe the four sides of
>> your x5 in succession.
>> The left side contains your head phone connector, and a slit to make the
>> player act as a USB host. The top has a light, the right has power/hold,
>> record, play, microphone and reset hole, while the bottom has the subpack
>> connector. Okay, slowly this time.
>> We'll start with the left side. Sliding your finger from top to bottom,
>> so from the top left towards the bottom left corner, the first thing you
>> encounter is a tiny round hole for your head phones.
>> A little further down is a slit, which is probably a connector you won't
>> be using very often. Sighted people can use it to have the x5 act as a
>> USB host, so they can connect their digital camera to the x5, and
>> transfer the pictures they have in the camera, over to the x5. This way,
>> the camera's internal memory card can be wiped out and the photo shooting
>> can continue again. Rockbox may utilize this connector for other
>> purposes, but to my current knowledge, it is of no use for us right now.
>> The rest of the left side does not contain any extra connectors or
>> The top side, running your finger across, reveals no more than a visual
>> indicator, showing wether the x5 is currently charging. If you're totally
>> blind, this is of no use to you.
>> Then the right side of the player. Again, slide your finger from top to
>> bottom, from upper right to bottom right. First, you will find a switch
>> that you can slide up or down. Initially, it is always in its middle
>> position. This switch has many functions, but to begin with, remember
>> this as your power switch to turn the x5 on and off. Push upwards and let
>> go. Then listen closely if you hear the hard disk spin up. If not, just
>> try again until the device switches itself on. After a few seconds, the
>> hard disk will shut off again, but the device is still awake. Making the
>> hard drive spin, takes power from the battery, so as soon as the x5 is
>> done reading and writing to the disk, it stops to save power. To turn the
>> x5 off again, do the same thing. Push the switch up and let go, until the
>> device switches off.
>> This power switch has yet another function. If you slide it down, it
>> won't flick back to its original position in the middle. After sliding
>> the switch down, it just stays there. In this position, the unit is on
>> hold. This means that none of the other buttons perform any function.
>> Very handy if you want to tuck away the x5 somewhere in a pocket, and you
>> want to be sure the battery won't go flat by accidentally starting
>> playback without head phones, which obviously wastes battery life.
>> Note: you can test wether the device is on or off, by making sure this
>> switch is in the middle so that the x5 accepts key strokes, and then
>> attempting to play, see below. If it playes, then the unit is still on.
>> This is no guarantee that the player is on or off indeed, but is is
>> something to begin with.
>> Further down the right side, just below the power/hold switch, you will
>> find two rectangular buttons. The top one is rec, the bottom one is play.
>> More on these later.
>> Further down, you may feel a couple of teeny weeny holes in the metal
>> strip. The top hole is the internal microphone, and the bottom hole is
>> reset. To reset the unit, you can stick a long, thin object into it,
>> which will touch the hidden reset button. Use it in case your firmware
>> crashes and you want to start over.
>> Finally, the bottom side. In the middle, this side contains a metal slit
>> that almost feels like a slot for an sd memory card, but that is not what
>> it's meant for. This is the connector for the subpack, being a small
>> plastic device that you got together with your x5. One side of the
>> subpack plugs into the x5, and on the other side of the subpack which,
>> when connected, is now the bottom side of the device, you will find a
>> number of connectors.
>> From left to right, the connectors on the subpack are as follows: AC,
>> USB, line in and line out. The last two I am not sure about. They may be
>> line out and then line in.
>> Hearing the demos on the unit
>> If you are like me, before doing anything else, you will want to hear
>> what your x5 really sounds like. If all goes well, you won't be
>> disappointed. Wear your ear phones and plug the cable into the socket on
>> the top left side of your x5, as described earlier. Then, turn the unit
>> on as described. When the hard disk spins up, wait for it to spin down
>> again and then press play. If you don't hear anything, try play again. I
>> heard music immediately and it sounded just awesome. Not that I love the
>> demo itself, but the quality is pristine.
>> Now, feel your joy stick. This joy stick can be moved in all four
>> directions: east, west, north and south, or three o'clock, nine o'clock,
>> twelve o'clock and six o'clock if you prefer. Place your finger south of
>> the joy stick, six o'clock, and push upward, away from you. The volume
>> will increase. Likewise, place your finger north of the stick and gently
>> pull the stick towards you, down. The volume will decrease.
>> Pushing right will move to the next file on the player. Moving left first
>> goes to the start of the current song or, when done in the first few
>> seconds of the track, moves you to the start of the previous track.
>> You will notice that the demos more or less all sound the same. There's
>> video together with the audio, but just forget about that because it's
>> useless to us.
>> What is firmware?
>> You may wonder, how your mp3 player is capable of playing digital music.
>> Your pc has a micro processor to read from disk, process sound, create
>> video etc. But what about your mp3 player? Well, your x5 is a computer on
>> its own. It too has its own memory, its own hard disk and a micro
>> processor. The operating system is usually stored on the hard disk. In a
>> pc, that is usually windows (sorry linux lovers, just by means of
>> saying), and on mp3 players, the operating system is going to be rockbox.
>> Now to understand what we are actually changing to make the player go
>> rockbox, we need to go over some concepts first. You know that your
>> computer has a processor and that it has memory too. If you turn the pc
>> on, it loads its operating system from hard disk, and then waits for you
>> to do something with it. But let me ask you. How does your pc know that
>> the operating system to load is stored on hard disk? You know that the
>> computer can only do something if it has software that tells it what to
>> do, and the operating system is exactly the piece of software to do that.
>> But, when you first turn on your computer, the operating system still
>> needs to be loaded from hard disk first. So, how can the computer know
>> how to perform its very first steps, if the operating system has not
>> been loaded yet? The computer tests its memory for errors right after you
>> turn it on, but at that time, the hard disk has not even been touched to
>> start loading the operating system. What makes the computer perform its
>> startup tasks?
>> The answer is: the bios. Bios, b i o s, stands for basic input output
>> system. It's a small piece of software, not stored on a hard disk, but on
>> a tiny chip somewhere on your motherboard, deep down inside your pc case.
>> When you turn on your pc, what happens is that the bios first checks to
>> see if all hardware is connected properly, and the bios then takes care
>> of loading the operating system, windows. The bios only knows a few very
>> basic functions to communicate with the hardware, enough to get the
>> computer started. The operating system does the rest.
>> The same goes for your mp3 player, your x5. When you turn it on, the
>> first thing that happens is that the microprocessor starts running the
>> program code, stored in the player's rom memory. After initializing the
>> hardware, this code is responsible for loading the rest of the operating
>> system from the hard disk.
>> Because software is something created by humans, it can always contain
>> errors, called bugs. Every now and then, computer manufacturers release
>> new versions of this code on the internet. But as I said, bios code in a
>> pc is stored on a chip inside the computer, not on the hard disk. Well,
>> it is easy to download a new version of a certain file, on to your
>> computer's hard drive. But how would you reprogram the contents of a
>> special bios chip, deep inside your computer? Luckily, you don't need to
>> worry about it, because the computer has a mechanism to do this for you.
>> If you want to update your computer's bios, for example when USB
>> functions strangely and you read on the manufacturer's site that the
>> latest bios version fixes this, then you can simply download a file
>> containing the new code. You then put this file in a special location,
>> turn your machine off and on, tell it to look for the new bios file, and
>> let it reprogram its own bios chip as you wait a few seconds.
>> Now. Your x5 also has sort of a bios, and an operating system. When you
>> first buy your x5, it's got startup code and an operating system inside
>> it, provided by Iaudio. The code programmed into the rom memory of the
>> player itself, is called the firmware. According to wikipedia, firmware
>> is embedded software, but this can be a confusing and difficult term.
>> Firmware in your x5 is like the bios code in your pc. It runs when you
>> start the player, and makes the player react to your key presses and joy
>> stick movements.
>> However, this initially provided operating system from IAudio is not
>> blind friendly at all. It does not speak, and you'll have a hard time
>> remembering how many times to push your joy stick left, down, right etc,
>> in order to get to a certain function.
>> What rockbox is, is a complete replacement for the player's internal
>> operating system. From the ground up, it has built in support for speech,
>> so that we can use it as well. Part of rockbox must live inside the
>> player's rom memory, and part of rockbox resides on the hard drive.
>> So we need to get rid of the original IAudio operating system and startup
>> code in our x5, and replace it with startup code and the operating system
>> from rockbox. There are two separate processes to carry out.
>> First, we need to put the disk part of rockbox onto the hard drive of our
>> player. Next, we need to replace the boot code, so that the player knows
>> how to load rockbox when we turn it on. A property of this x5 player is,
>> that the original firmware can not continue to exist in the player after
>> rockbox has been installed. On other players, at startup, you can choose
>> to either run the IAudio firmware or the rockbox firmware. On our x5,
>> this is not possible. Once you install rockbox, you loose your original
>> firmware. No problem, because rockbox is better for us than Iaudio's
>> Which files to get?
>> Everything you need can be downloaded off the internet, from
>> www.rockbox.org. For blind people using screen reading programs to access
>> the information on the computer screen, this site is not easy to work
>> with. If you need to, ask some sighted assistance if you can find someone
>> willing to help you some. It's up to you to know what to get and where to
>> look for it. You don't want to frustrate your helper by leaving it up to
>> them to hunt for something they haven't read or learnt about.
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