Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Quest for a Media Server

I have been on the lookout for a "Media Server" for quite some time now - a computer with very low power consumption that could run Linux and had accelerated video decoding with HDMI output. Media players similar to the TViX are finally being launched by other companies (Western Digital, QNAP). Hopefully we will see the segment grow into the main stream user community, which will put more pressure on manufacturers to come up with firmwares that are less buggy.

Another interesting range of products is the NAS segment. Network Attached Storage like the QNAP Turbo Station units have grown beyond acting as simple storage units and offer services such as BitTorrent clients, FTP and HTTP servers, in fact complete Linux systems. In the case of the QNAP Turbo Station, you can in fact install Debian on it, as it seems without too much hassle.

With their ~20W footprints, these products are great replacements for a HTPC in the case of the TViX-like media players, and for a regular ATX-based home server in the case of the NAS. But what if you could have both? Would it be impossible to equip an ARM-based device like the Turbo Station with a graphics processor like the Sigma Designs chip in the TViX?

As an alternative, it seems that Asus are releasing the second generation of eee Boxes, and while the "low-end" models are not powerful enough to play HD material, maybe the "high-end" b208 is, with its dual-core Atom processor. Since they are equipped with ATI Radeon chips, one would think that video decoding offloading to the graphics processor should be no problem, at least in Windows, which still seems to be the main focus of graphics card manufacturers when it comes to driver development. On Linux, only nVidia seem to have a working framework for video decoding (VDPAU, still too fresh to have made its way into most Linux distibutions it seems). AMD/ATI have a great open source initiative going on (as opposed to nVidia), but so far there seems to be no way of offloading video decoding in Linux with the proprietary Catalyst driver or the open source Radeon and RadeonHD drivers for ATI cards. The Quest continues...

No comments:

Post a Comment