Archos 705 media player

Mar 29, 2008 / 0 comments

El Reg reviewed the Archos 705 yesterday. They only gave it 50%, which I think is a little harsh. I bought one of these back in November when they first came out, as something to help easy my daily commute by train. I have to say I don't regret the purchase; while there are various niggles that annoy me it basically does what I want.

My main drive was the size of the screen. There are plenty of options available if you want in the region of 4", but I wanted something bigger that could still be shoved in a bag without any hassle. The 705's 7" screen is great. I can sit it on the tray table on the train and it gives a clear viewable image that doesn't leave me squinting trying to see it. The second concern was the battery life. At 7" you start to get into the UMPC area. However there didn't seem to be anything around that both offered enough battery life and had the grunt to decode DivX. I need a guaranteed 2hrs (ideally a bit longer) so I can watch something without being interrupted. I've certainly had over 3hrs on the Archos and various reviews claim it'll do 5hr for video without problems.

Archos call the 705 a DVR. I've no idea why; I certainly wouldn't consider it one. I have the DVR station, but I've only used it to connect the Archos up to a hotel room TV and never for actually recording anything. There's no tuner (neither analog nor digital), so you need a Freeview/cable/satellite or similar box to provide a signal. Plus it seems pointless to convert a digital TV signal to analog and then for the Archos to have to re-encode it. Much more sane to record TV on your PVR and pull the file off that and onto the 705. Except there you hit a bit of a problem. By default the Archos supports DivX and WMV. To get MPEG2 or H.264 support, or indeed AC3 audio, you need to pay extra for a license that will enable the appropriate codec. This is annoying and I've ended up just using mencoder to convert Freeview records to an Archos friendly format rather than shelling out more for the codecs. Archos do seem to have dropped the ball here. The MPEG2 license fee seems to be $2.50 per device. The TI licensing seems to be about $2 for MPEG2 + AC3. Archos sell the plugin for €19.99. I doubt AC3 licensing is over $15, which rules out Archos merely keeping the cost down for customers by allowing them to pick and chose which codecs they want to avoid paying license fees.

The 705 also comes with a web browser. Which, of course, you have to pay for. I ended up getting this thrown in with my 705 + DVR station bundle. It's powered by Opera and reasonable enough. The only time I've really made use of it is while staying in a hotel; it was quite nifty to have the 705 hooked up to the TV and be able to lie on the bed with the keyboard remote control and lookup film times or interesting places to go. Internet access is provided by wifi; if it had bluetooth as well then I might make use of it on the train, but as it is it's not really something I use much.

As I said at the start I'm still happy with my purchase. It's not a cheap item, but it has the screen size and battery life I wanted and there wasn't a lot else out that offered both. Having to pay for codecs is a bad move on Archos' part, but I've avoided doing so by re-encoding. If you want something that's a decent media player of this size then the 705 is definitely worth considering; if you're not sure about the size aspect you may be better off with a 605 (the 4.3" screen version) or even something from Cowon (who unfortunately don't seem to have anything in the 7" range).

Finally, if you already own a generation 5 Archos device, you might be interested to know that shell access has been obtained. The device is pretty locked down (signed kernel modules, no /dev/mem, signed root cramfs filesystem), but there's an arcwelder exploit to get an ssh login over wifi and an Archos Hacking forum on Archosfans.

Hacking the Wii

Mar 25, 2008 / 0 comments

I hacked my brother's Wii this weekend. It was fairly painless (and pointless at present). All you need is a copy of Zelda: Twilight Princess (which I don't have, hence using my brother's Wii for this) and an SD card. You use the Twilight Hack as a Zelda saved game, which then causes a buffer overrun when you try to talk to the first character in the game. This is exploited to load a boot loader which loads and runs a boot.elf file off an SD card in the Wii's memory card slot. Pretty easy to do.

There's not a lot out there at present. Wiibrew seems to be the main hub of activity. I tried the GameCube Linux Proof of Concept Linux port; once they add USB support it might actually be useful as that'll open up mass storage and input via a keyboard. There's a Sega Genesis emulator on Wiibrew which isn't too bad, but I found it a bit temperamental at reading ROM images.

Still, it's a start and it's pretty nifty that you can do this without having to modify your Wii in any way. I expect more groovy homebrew will appear as the hardware of the Wii gets better mapped out.

This week I have mostly been listening to...

Mar 13, 2008 / 0 comments tag:cover

I blame Flash but it's actually not been bad; the odd terrible choice, a few excellent versions (some of which were new to me) and mostly just acceptable covers that give me a reasonable range of stuff to listen to at work.

My DG834G considered dead

Mar 11, 2008 / 0 comments

I tried again this weekend to OpenWRT my Netgear DG834G ADSL router with SVN r10500. Less joy this time; it boots the kernel and says something along the lines of "Please wait while OpenWRT does its thang", prints a message about loading the FPU emulator and sits there. However I'm pretty sure this isn't OpenWRT's fault; trying to flash the router back to the stock Netgear image is failing. ADAM2 does the erase ok, but once it gets to trying to do the flash it just sits there even when left for hours. I don't know if this is because the flash blocks are going or some other reason, but I think I can be fairly sure the hardware is on the blink. I'll try again to turn it back into a normal device, but somehow I don't rate my chances.

So, having broken my primary ADSL router I fell back to my WGT634U + Speedtouch USB combo. I'd found my other frog and hoped it might prove more stable, but no. Got a maximum of about half an hour of connect time. Which leads me to believe the original Speedtouch just isn't very good at either ADSL Max or a full 8Mb/s (yes, I live in the middle of nowhere but in general I get full ADSL Max connect speeds).

I gave up at this point (it was Sunday night) and on Monday decided to have a look for cheap routers on eBay. And then I remembered I had a BT Home Hub lying around. It's locked to BT by default, but I knew there were various discussions on putting Thompson Speedtouch 7G firmware on it that would open things up. It meant finding my Windows box and booting it (Wine wouldn't cut it unfortunately due to magic network voodoo or something) in order to do the upgrade, but I now at least have a stable 8Mb/s connection again. The Home Hub is running Linux but it's a Broadcom chipset with no source for the ADSL drivers that I'm aware of, so I don't hold a lot of hope for hacking it. However I have a D-Link DSL-502T on its way (for less than a tenner) so I haven't given up on AR7 yet.

Epic IPv6/DG834G fail

Feb 19, 2008 / 0 comments

Since I've moved to Castlerock I've started using my DG834G to provide my ADSL again, as it was quick to setup and easily found in all the boxes. Up until now I've just been using it with the normal Netgear firmware, but I'm getting to the point where enough of the rest of the house is sorted that I want to think about the network layout. Part of that is enabling IPv6 (I'm with an Entanet reseller these days, and Enta claim to do IPv6), part of it is not bridging the wireless and wired networks (I'd like to be able to trust the wired one a bit more) and part of it is just being able to run useful bits on the router itself.

Anyway. I had built up an OpenWRT SVN image last month and tonight I decided was the time to try it, having been putting it off for ages. Epic fail. Managed to get the backup of the Netgear image done fine, eventually got the new image on there, waited and waited and no joy. Wouldn't even ping on the LAN side. Further investigation showed that it would ping for a few seconds when first power cycled and then die. So I had to find my serial console level shifter so I could have a look. All signs point to it failing when loading the wireless or ADSL firmware blobs. Bah.

I spent a while trying to get the old firmware back on it; ADAM2 seems really unhappy if it receives unexpected traffic (like, say, DNS requests because my network thinks the router is the DNS server/gateway) while you're ftping an MTD image. I got there, but decided I'd try out my WGT634U setup again, which is what I used in Norwich. Found the frog, fired up the router, changed my old Black Cat details to the new Enta ones and crossed my fingers. At first all appeared well (well, except for no IPv6 PPP; must email Enta to see if they need to tweak settings at their end for my username), but after a while it became apparent that the ADSL connection was flakey; it was resyncing every couple of minutes. Bum. It might just be the frog; I do have another one somewhere, but I ended up just falling back to the DG834G with the stock Netgear firmware ie exactly where I started this evening. I've pulled latest OpenWRT SVN and I see a few kernel/VLYNQ patches regarding AR7, so I shall try another build and see what happens.

Epic fail. I shouldn't play with networking on a school night.

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