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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Friday, 18 April 2008

Neuros OSD - the fun that can be had...

I've just spent most of my free time over the last couple of days playing with my recently delivered Neuros OSD. As I already mentioned, I had intended to buy a small PC for under the TV, so we could watch - and listen to - files saved on the network or streamed from the internet, and send video from the Sky box across the network so we could watch TV in the kitchen or elsewhere in the house.

There are a few 'small footprint' PCs available, but all of them are expensive for the limited role they fulfil, and, since we have a hard disk recorder and on-line storage on the mac, some of the functions it could perform would be duplicated.

So I ordered a Neuros OSD from Maplin on-line, using a money-off voucher from their mailing list, and - despite the free 'economy' delivery, it arrived the next day!

My Neuros OSD, remote control, and streaming TV on the iPaq!Opening the box, I was quite pleased with what was in there, since all the breakout cables - including serial and an 'ir blaster' TV remote control on a wire - were included, and the unit itself was tiny!. It was smaller, certainly, than anything I was expecting, even a standard Freeview box, but not flimsy and quite artistically designed, with a gentle curve of the top (or front if held vertically in the supplied stand) surface.

I found somewhere to put it - on top of the video recorder (hardly used, but still there in case we want to put an old Disney film on!) - and, after copious amounts of irritation with (in my opinion, poorly conceived) SCART connectors, I wired it up with the rest of the kit under the television.

Out of the box, and after a firmware upgrade, it could do some cool things. There was a bit of a frustrating wait before it could see the mac's storage, but when it could, the video from the Sky box could be saved as an MP4 file, and played with no problems.

It could also play a selection of the videos on the server, and they looked quite good on the TV, despite being at standard television resolution, through the composite input (so no RGB component). It could also play music - although I hadn't wired it to the stereo - and show pictures, although not at fantastic resolution. Finally, it's recently become able to play YouTube videos, although again it's quite slow.

Since - by its very name - it's an Open Source Device, though, there were some other features that I wanted to investigate, the first being streaming of video across the network. Fortunately, someone had already addressed the need.. which takes me onto the array of extra things it can do, most of which are introduced and discussed on the Neuros forums.

A couple of things to note

Before embarking on the 'extensions', though, I would recommend plugging in a CF, SD card or USB stick of some description on which the software can be stored, since the device doesn't have a huge amount of its own, and some areas of its fiile system are volatile.

Which reminds me - the OSD can also play videos, music files and photo slideshows from almost every conceivable multimedia card plugged into the array of sockets on the side. It's definitely versatile..

The device has a default username and password which isn't immediately obvious from the forums:
login: root
password: pablod

using the Neuros OSD to stream video across a network

This is surprisingly simple. Since an 'ASF' file can be created - which has file header that can be picked up by a piece of software like VLC, all you need to do is set the default destination to somewhere on the network, start it recording, and then open the file using VLC. It's not ideal, though, because a file is created - and grows - for the entire length of the recording.

Even better, then, is a piece of software called stream_fuse by a hacker called mgschwan. The steps to do this are:

  • Copy the stream_fuse binary file to the storage card
  • Create a directory on the storage card called stream
  • Use the menu system on the front of the machine to set the default record location to SD-card/stream, and set some defaults, depending on whether you're intending to view at home or away (yup.. I've managed to watch TV from a wi-fi hotspot!) Here are some example settings - you'll need to go to the Advanced menu to see these screens:

  • Settings for streaming to the internet
    Settings for streaming to the internet
    Settings for streaming to the LAN
    Settings for streaming to a local network
  • Then, from a telnet session (I use the free, and excellent PuTTY to connect on Windows) log in using the username and password as above, and then enter the commands in bold:
    	neuros login: root

    BusyBox v1.6.1 (2008-01-29 11:41:46 CST) Built-in shell (ash)
    Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.
    ~ $ cd /media/SD-card
    /mnt/tmpfs/mount_SD-card $ chmod 775 /media/SD-card/stream_fuse
    /mnt/tmpfs/mount_SD-card $ /media/SD-card/stream_fuse /media/SD-card/stream
    /mnt/tmpfs/mount_SD-card $

  • Finally, open up VLC and open a network stream to http://ip.address.ofyour.NeurosOSD:10001 - it should display TV on your screen! To use the OSD on the internet, it's a simple case of forwarding an external port using NAT to ip.address.ofyour.NeurosOSD port 10001

remote controlling the OSD from a web browser

Now, I've only managed to cajole the OSD to be remotely controlled through a local network connection; because I have a webserver at home already, I can't just pass port 80 through to the router. But it's still a straightforward process to install a simple but effective web front-end, and it's all credit to Matthew Wild, who wrote not only the application but a tiny package installer to make installing it so easy!

Simply follow the instructions to install lpkg and wooble from his website - again, using the SD-card to store the downloaded files - is all you need to do. I managed to deviate rather horribly from the prescribed method, but all I had to do was format the SD card and start again (although I had to delete /mnt/OSD/registry.lua.dat too, to clear out the package information) to bring it all back to life. Here are the links you need:

What's next? Well there are only a couple of things I'd really love:

  • a front-end to the BBC's iPlayer - like YouTube except with more quality content! Apparently the directors of Neuros OSD are being asked to consider developing this..
  • A directory of internet radio stations and a player. A simple link to Reciva and a connection to the MP3 player software would be all that's needed.. though I wouldn't have the first idea where to start with that! Hmm.. I wonder if it'll play streaming MP3 stations...

As you can see it already does SO much of what I've always wanted a piece of kit to do - we could even rig it up to a video camera when we go away, and archive security footage - and see what's going on while we're on holiday! I'm sure, once the children have had a play, they'll have some ideas as well..

Posted by james at April 18, 2008 11:18 PM

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