Neuros OSD: The most interesting Linux device I hadn’t heard of

It has been fun to watch what interesting Linux devices make it to market.  From Corel Computer’s long-dead NetWinder to the Linksys SNLU-2 and HP’s Linux-based Media Vault NAS devices, to say nothing of Motorola’s once-famed Linux phones, the OS shows up in all kinds of odd devices.

One device I hadn’t caught when it was released in late 2006 was the Neuros OSD.  It wasn’t until I hit page 16 of the Ars Holiday Gift Guide that I learned of the Neuros OSD’s existence.  And what an interesting and odd device it is.

The Neuros OSD is a small, solid-state, silent ARM-based Linux “computer” that is completely Open Source, from software to hardware.  Not only that, the company has already integrated user-generated code, a way to view and search YouTube video, into firmware updates.

Neuros OSD

Neuros OSD

The Neuros OSD, referred to simply as OSD for the remainder of this post, has a composite/S-Video in and composite out, an ethernet port, and a boatload of media readers, but what does it do?  Record and play video.

At the heart of the OSD is the ability to play into the device and record it straight to MPEG4.

I connect a DVD, VHS, LaserDisc, and Wii into a cheap passive switch into the OSD which is then plugged into my TV and stereo.  When not actively in use, the OSD goes passive and just sends video/audio through to my TV and stereo.  When I want to record something, I just hit record and either save to a USB drive or over the network to a Samba share.

For the most part, the device works perfectly.  Certainly recording, while obviously in real-time, works prefectly.  Unlike most of the DVD recorders on the market, it simply ignores copy protection, making an almost perfect digital copy of whatever passes through it.

The OSD has record presets for TV, PSP, iPod, and many other devices.  Videos recorded by the OSD can play on pretty much any video player.  For me, it is a perfect way to finally archive and backup our old VHS tapes.  My wife and I have many movies that we occasionally watch but don’t do so often enough to repurchase on DVD.  (Assuming you can even find some of them on DVD.)

In addition to recording, the OSD can play back videos over the network.  I’m not a fan of downloading movies for both ethical and time reasons, but I do occasionally rip a movie in Handbrake to watch later.  These videos play perfectly on the OSD.  The original firmware had a pathetic UPNP browser.  This has been removed from the current firmware, which is good because it worked just well enough to frustrate me, but not well enough to be truly usable.  UPNP is great and I wish that the OSD properly supported it, but better to leave it off entirely than to have a half-baked implementation.

As an Open Source device, people have written plugins for the OSD.  Neuros has even bundled a rudimentary but quite functional YouTube viewer into the device.  Other apps include a very slow picture viewer and basic MP3 player.  Honestly, I don’t find these particularly useful, but I do find the terminal and telnet server handy.  The OSD is open through-and-through.  In the true open source spirit of release early and often, they release firmware patches quite regularly.  Neuros even replaced the programming interface after the OSD’s initial release.  The latest releases of the firmware are based on the QT toolkit, which the company hopes will make for easier development in the future.

The new OS version runs slower but is far less buggy than the non-QT version.  While the UI isn’t the fastest, performance for both recording and playback are fluid.

Overall, the OSD interface is plain but functional.  Don’t expect any fancy effects, don’t expect an Apple-like attention to detail, but you can expect to play with it for a few minutes and be comfortable with the interface.  I’ve seen much worse UIs in consumer devices, I’ve seen better.

I’ve had the OSD for a month or so now.  I don’t use it every day, but I have already used it to digitize much of our VHS collection, and it has worked well as a simple set-top player for our videos.  The OSD isn’t perfect:  The UI is a bit slower than I’d like and lacks attention to detail.  It also isn’t HD.  This isn’t a problem for me, but I could see it bothering some people.  Still, these are minor quibbles for one of the most interesting Linux-based consumer devices that I’ve seen.

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