PermaLink Linux on an iPod? HDTV? Let's play!06/12/2006 03:49 PM

I've had an amusing few days fooling with new things to do with older objects, among them putting Linux on an iPod and making an HDTV set actually do its job.
If you have one of the newer fifth-generation iPods (the thin ones that do video, too), you might have missed a little thing in the tech specs for it that says the thing can record at some fairly impressive data rates, up to CD quality.  On earlier units, most of this same capability was there, but I suspect Apple deliberately dumbed it down to keep record labels from getting worried that iPod users might use it to convert old crappy REO Speedwagon LPs to MP3, dust and all, rather than buying a new, crappy REO Speedwagon CD.

Well, guess what, folks, as far back as the third generation, iPods have been able to record at an astonishing 96Khz, 16 bits.  However, you've been limited by the available hardware and software (generally the Griffin iTalk) to a lousy 8Khz.

When people ask "why put a build of Linux on a little iPod?"  well, you can now tell them "because then you can use it as a very good-quality digital recording device!"

I have a 20Gb 3rd-gen iPod, the kind with the horizontal row of four buttons across the middle.  It now can dual-boot either the original Apple OS or a fairly current Linux kernel complete with packages that do some neat extra stuff.  Yes, you can listen to all your existing music and playlists, but you can also record, browse the file system, or even do standard Unix commands (within reason).  There are also reports that it's possible to telnet to an iPod if you have the right physical connections.  All I wanted was the ability to record, so I put the build on in a sort of minimal way with just the tools to do recording and playback.  It works.  It produces uncompressed WAV files, which of course are gigantic at higher bit rates, but I also gave Linux a one-gig partition in which to live, which means I can record about an hour and a half without filling the thing up.  You can then mount the thing in disk mode, copy your WAV files off, convert them to MP3, and then plop them in iTunes for sync to the regular music partition on there.

It is, of course, not without a couple of snags.  For instance, the recording utility expects you to have a /Recordings directory on the Linux partition, but nothing automatically creates that.  You have to add a line to /etc/rc to do a mkdir /Recordings, reboot the iPod, then mount it again and remove the mkdir from /etc/rc.  Kind of a pain, and it required some fooling around because the documentation is a little sketchy, but it now works.

Other things:  you have little choice in the fonts that the system installs, and it installs a bunch, most of which look like shit on the small grayscale screens.  Maybe they look better on the iPod Photo, but I have an iPod Video, which isn't really supported yet.  You can, if you wish, change the system font for everything to any of these fonts, but again, most of them look like shit on the small screen.

It does boot remarkably fast.

In other news, I was up at Suzanne's again this weekend, this time with an HDTV tuner I bought a few weeks ago and found useless at my house due to the distance to anything like a watchable digital television tower from my house.  She, however, lives midway between the Philadelphia and New York transmitters, and after swapping an unamplified directional HD antenna for an amplified model, suddenly a bunch of digital stations were available.  Yes, I should have been able to just put the HD antenna on her regular set, but her set is rather old (four years is ancient for HD sets) and her rabbits have nibbled some of the buttons off the remote, and the remote is the only way to get it to do the channel-detection.  So, I said the hell with it and wired the external tuner into the component-video ports on the back of the set and did all the dirty work with that.  

The first thing you notice is the paucity of HD programming on most stations during the day.  I was hoping to see World Cup -- perhaps Iran vs. Mexico -- in HD, but by the time I got the thing wired up it was time for local evening news.  Nothing looked much better than regular old cable.

The second thing I noticed is that early projection HD sets suck compared to modern DLP projection sets or tubes, and either of them suck compared to plasma or LCD.  There's simply no comparison.  My ex-girlfriend a couple of years ago bought a good Sony HD set (tube) and plasmas and LCDs look even better than those.  The convergence on Suzanne's set it also a little off, but there appears to be no way to adjust that from the front-panel buttons, meaning it can only be done with the rabbit-gnawed remote.  That trick doesn't work any more.  So, the picture is fuzzy.  We did eventually watch a little of the NBA Finals game on Sunday night, but I was not overwhelmed by the sharpness of the picture.

How do you tell your girlfriend that her pride-and-joy television is already over the hill at age four?

In some ways, it's nice that I even have to consider that.
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