A few months ago Paul Allen’s Digeo company acquired Moxi, who at the time was working on a TiVo-like PVR Linux-based solution, also named Moxi. Many expected that the co-founder of Microsoft would modify the product to use WindowsCE, but instead the Moxi has continued to be developed with Linux. In fact, Digeo seems really happy with the popular open source kernel. Continue reading to learn more about this exciting new product and view the exclusive screenshots we have for you. We talked with Toby Farrand, Digeo’s CTO last week, and he provided us with some exclusive insight on the inner workings of the Moxi product. Digeo specifically chose Linux as the underlying operating system because of its open nature that allows all kinds of modifications and because it is fast and stable. “It was a very easy decision”, Mr Farrand told us. “Linux is secure, complete and reliable”.
Digeo’s developers have made a large number of check-ins to the 2.4 and 2.5 versions of the Linux kernel. These changes were mostly to do with partitioning code and its security options, but Digeo are also the main maintainers of the ext3 filesystem. In addition, the Linux implementation used in Moxi boots from Open Firmware.
The Moxi product is the most powerful PVR system to be found today in this specific embedded market. It runs on a 733 Mhz C3 Cyrix x86 CPU, uses a Broadcom graphics chipset with dedicated video capabilities and is fully configurable by a cable provider. It comes with 40 GB of hard drive, but can easily use more than 100 GB. Moxi supports HDTV and has a TV-out (naturally), but no VGA output. Providers can customize the machine and the OS will also provide the required software for any additional peripherals (for example, a DVD or a CD-RW drive).
Digeo is concentrating on making Moxi a presentation device and a media center (it includes decoders for MPEG, MP3, DVD, Real but not Quicktime) and direct camcorder support is being considered for the future.
However, another very useful feature of Moxi is its ability to be… a server. It can function as an internet gateway and has a built-in firewall and router. It includes a modem so you can connect to the Internet directly, while it also supports plain ethernet and even wireless. Although these features will not be useful to all people, they bring Moxi a step ahead of the competition and they come pretty much “for free” due to the use of the GNU/Linux operating system. However, the Moxi is not (yet) an internet appliance so it does not offer a web browser.
Moxi can also be used as a VideoPhone. It can connect to other Moxis or via the PC, and supports the H.323 protocol. It will include MSN Messenger as well.
Moxi is the realisation of what Microsoft and Apple are trying to achieve with their notions of a “digital hub”. Moxi is a PVR with the ability to play DVDs and other multimedia files, connect to a digital camera, view PhotoCDs (or view images on TV via an ethernet link to your computer), provide access to the internet and more. Mr Farrand believes that PCs can’t be as successful in this particular area, because home computers do not interact correctly with TVs and cable providers, and that computers can’t work as integrated with a channel (e.g. a scrambled cable channel like HBO which needs special bypassing) as a dedicated solution can offer. PCs take a “top-down” approach to try to behave as specialized devices, while in reality they are multi-purpose devices. This can create specific problems in usability and functionality of the system. Also, PCs are not secure enough for the PVR purpose, as most channel providers won’t like to see their content easily pirated. Moxi provides such security after special agreements with the cable provider or channels. Another critical problem with PCs is latency and multithreading. “You don’t want your recording to freeze or lose frames while you are checking your email or running a scheduled CRON job you had forgotten about”, says Mr Farrand. “You expect recording and playback to work as well as when watching it on TV, live. Microsoft’s or other solutions wouldn’t have the same sophistication and seamless integration that a dedicated product would”.
The current focus of the company is the USA market, but creating compatible versions for other regions wouldn’t be too hard, Mr Farrand told us. In the US TV market, the Moxi can record on 5.1 surround sound, at 256 KB/sec and preserve this quality on playback. Users can change these settings via the TV user interface (which uses Macromedia Flash!).
The company plans to add OpenGL (and CGL) and 3D support and also license and port some games to their platform. The current games included in the device are simple games using Flash. Another useful feature of Moxi is that the ROM and operating system can be completely upgraded on the fly from the cable operator via the included modem. This way any bugs or other problems on the customer’s device can easily be fixed.
Moxi will be available via cable providers or other Premium TV companies, and the hardware will be custom for each one of them. The price is not set in stone yet, but the company expects it to be in the same price range as the competition. Leasing options will also be available.
Moxi is expected to be launched in the begining of the new year, and it looks set to be an interesting player in the growing market of the PVRs and personal media center systems.