My New TV Runs Linux

sharp_aquos_small.jpgOh yes, I broke down and bought a Full HD TV. What can you do, they’re practically giving them away after the Christmas price hike. And I have other excuses! Old set? A 16 inch one. Plus, I had plans to hook up a PC and watch HD content. Can’t very well do that on an SD TV. The new one is a Sharp LC-37X20E. I know it has red push and I know this has to be corrected either in the signal source or via the service menu, but once you do that, it’s an excellent set with good black levels, fast response and the ability to show a great amount of detail. I’m happy.

It does come with an extra feature though: it runs Linux. When reading through the manual, one of the last pages includes a references to the GPL and the LGPL, and it lists libpng, zlib, the Linux kernel etc. as being included inside your TV 🙂 Sharp provides the source at this website. This is a fantastic first step! Sharp sells hundreds of thousands of LCD TVs each year, and they all run Free Software. Sharp is not alone: I haven’t done a formal survey, but I hear that using Linux as kernel and some GNU utilities or busybox is becoming the norm with flat-screen television makers. It makes sense for everyone: They save billions of dollars in R&D because they don’t have to develop their own kernel, and the customer gains the stability and features Linux can provide. It’s certainly win-win.

Now I’m not all happy with the way Sharp is treating this. They are currently making the typical “Free Software newbie” mistake of just dumping their source somewhere on a website and leaving it at that. This makes me believe Sharp is primarily in this game because of the financial benefits they are gaining, not because of any social interests. In an ideal situation, Sharp would have set up a svn server or something where people can contribute changes and then roll out the firmware to new TVs. They do state somewhere that they will review and accept user modificiations, but the way their GPL website looks — it just doesn’t smell right yet.

I’m confident that companies like Sharp will become good players in the Free Software community over time, though. This is not something you can learn in just a few weeks, it takes an ideological shift on many levels of the company, and anyone who has ever worked for something medium-to-large knows how long this may take. At any rate: Thank you, Sharp, for choosing Free Software for my TV. I have it hooked up to an old PC I don’t need anymore. With GNU/Linux, it runs movies at 1920×1080 on that TV without breaking a sweat. It’s yummy to behold what a 100% Free Software stack can do nowadays in terms of media.

8 thoughts on “My New TV Runs Linux”

  1. I’m curious about the GNU/Linux TV. It must have a lot of functions to require such a complete operating system. I guess I’ve been out of the modern TV loop…

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  2. Oh, there’s only the kernel, no real operating system on top. The only thing they seem to have is a basic shell with busybox. I presume they simply drive the display in a very efficient way with a streamlined and reduced Linux kernel. It’s quite a good fit for the hardware, I guess, as it probably supports much of the embedded hardware that a TV typicall runs on right out of the box.

    We are poking around the device a bit, trying to get a shell on it etc. According to the sources at Sharp’s site, it’s running Linux 2.4.25, but even that may be misleading.

    More news as it happens 🙂

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  3. Thanks, Paul! Nice to see that you have a dual-core CPU in there, I hope you’ll manage H.264 at 1920×1080 with that. With my 2.8 GHz P4, I always have to re-encode to XviD, but then it works surprisingly well. I’m not sure if any of our boxes could handle DRM-crippled Blu-Ray discs.

    It’s too bad you had to resort to more fans later on anyhow. I wonder how the PS3 does it. I haven’t heard how much noise one makes, but the rumor mill says it’s pretty quiet while playing Blu-Ray, so it should be able to do XviD or H.264 fine at the same noise level. Would a PS3 be an option for you or do you like the flexibility you get from a x86 CPU?

    Oh, and isn’t it bizarre that our PCs have to waste electricity simply because of Hollywood’s digital restrictions? 🙂

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  4. No progress at all, I got flooded with work these last few weeks and none of us seem to have time to continue at the moment. I have a few days off in July, maybe I can do something then 🙂

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  5. Listen. Do not have an opinion while you listen because frankly, your opinion doesn?t hold much water outside of Your Universe. Just listen. Listen until their brain has been twisted like a dripping towel and what they have to say is all over the floor.

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