Tag Archives: geekout

Roku 2 May Be Able To Play Quake 3

The Raspberry Pi project, surprisingly enough, is one of my favorite stops to figure out the Roku 2 box potential. This project is using the same BCM2835 as the Roku 2 is rumored to use. In fact, their general specs almost perfectly match the Roku 2, with 256 MB Ram and several similar support components.

The Raspberry Pi team has put together a demo illustrating the power available in the BCM2835. They’ve got their system running Quake 3 Arena at decent frame rates.

This Raspberry Pi demo shows that the BCM2835 has a lot of horsepower to run games. The Roku 2 platform has this same processor and there’s the potential to see some pretty cool things happen. BUT, and this is a big one, it relies on Roku putting together a top-flight software framework to let folks harness this power. A quick check on their website confirms that they’re looking to grow their software group pretty heavily with 5 software-related recs open now.

Roku 2 Software Stack

Even though it’s off topic, the picture for Roku’s software stack is getting pretty clear from their open jobs and other known details. They’re running a Linux on an ARM processor with OpenGL 3D acceleration support. They’re using C++ for their internal development and running QT for their GUI management.

Again, this points toward great potential for the Roku 2 to really rock, but it will depend on Roku successfully hiring software engineers and pulling together their Native Development Kit (NDK) that lets developers code in C++. If and when the NDK goes public, things will get quite wild.

Roku 2 XS Teardown

After waiting for free shipping and processing, I’ve gotten hold of a Roku 2 XS. With it in my hot little hands, it’s time for some poking and prodding.

First Impressions

I gotta hand it to Roku; they made their new box look sexy. It has a very small form factor and is incredibly light. I did notice that the shiny plastic smudges and scratches easily. This doesn’t matter much in my cabinet, but it was a little disappointing since I like to keep things pristine. You might want to keep the protective plastic on it until after everything’s setup.

Now, most people would’ve plugged it in and taken a look at the video quality and streaming performance. While I will get to that, I had a different calling. Like just about other red-blooded, curiosity-seeking engineer, I took it apart.

The Roku 2 is very simply constructed, with just 4 pieces to it. There’s the top and bottom case, the purple back plate, and the PC board. It’s assembled using 4 screws. All the interesting materials are on either side of the PC board.

Roku 2 XS Top Side

The Roku 2 has most (but not all) of the interesting components on the top side. Almost all the external world interface are here, and lots of memory.


The connectors are highlighted in red and blue. Going from bottom left to upper right, we can see the IR remote sensor, USB port, HDMI connector, A/V composite jack, Ethernet jack, and the power plug.

For the chip components on the main board, I’ve identified:

  • DRAM: One Samsung K4P2G324EC holding 256 MB of low power DDR2 RAM.
  • A/V DAC:  An AKM AK4430ET for creating stereo audio on the composite A/V output. The earlier Roku used the AK4421.
  • Power Supply: Broadcom supplies the BCM59002 for generating various chip power supplies from the 5v power jack.
  • Ethernet / USB: The SMSC LAN9512 provides USB and 100 Mbit Ethernet. I suspect that this part is removed in the Roku 2 HD and XD versions.
  • NAND Flash: Hynix provides the HY27UF082G2B NAND Flash holding 256 Mbyte of storage.

This confirms some findings from Engadget’s article that revealed the Roku 2 box to the world. Specifically, 256 MB DRAM and 256 MB flash.

Roku 2 XS Underside

The bottom side of the board is pretty barren but holds a few curiosities.


For connectors on the bottom of the board, there’s a reset button on the back (a nice change over the Roku XDS which required a power cycle to clean it up flipping it upside down) and the MicroSD memory card slot. Also notable are the “chip” antennas for the WiFi and Bluetooth wireless communications. This change in antenna structure may be related to the rumors of reduced wireless range.

The big metal boxes are shielding around the wireless transmitter / receiver chips. The metal shielding helps with passing FCC requirements to not interfere with other wireless devices. The PC board has markers on it that name the metal boxes as WiFi and Bluetooth areas. Because of the size of the metal plate, I’m assuming that the main processor is paired with the WiFi transmitter in the metal box. Since I’m unwilling to do a destructive teardown on an XS unit to find out, it will have to stay a mystery for now.

What About the Roku 2 Main Processor?

The purported processor, a Broadcom made BCM2835, continues to be source of fascination on the web. Broadcom has not published materials on their website. Fortunately, a small company called Raspberry Pi has turned up and is also using the BCM2835. From their blog, they note that they’re using the BCM2835 with SMSC Ethernet / USB chip to make a simple Linux platform. They’ve identified their provisional specs (which I’m assuming the Broadcom processor meets) as:

  • 700MHz ARM11
  • 128MB or 256MB of SDRAM
  • OpenGL ES 2.0
  • 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
  • Composite and HDMI video output
  • USB 2.0
  • SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot
  • Optional integrated 2-port USB hub and 10/100 Ethernet controller

These specs sound like the Roku 2 box. Their language has provided hints that the BCM2835 is a successor to the Broadcom BCM2820 line, an ARM11 based application processor that included Broadcom’s VideoCore video decoding co-processor. The last Roku box used a MIPS architecture for the main processor. The shift from MIPS to ARM is an indication that Roku got something useful out of it, and I’m guessing it was cost. This change would require a major investment in methodology, software, and tool changes to move to the new platform. This also explains my complete miss on new features since I guessed wrong on the main processor and a lot of my predictions were based on the wrong processor.

Conclusions

Roku has put together a low-cost solution that provides some extra computation power for their next solutions. They’ve kept the component count down and have kept the features lean to minimize costs. The extra processing power, plenty of RAM, and OpenGL graphics should help enable the games that they’re touting for their new Roku 2 boxes.

Predictions For The Roku 2

Update: The Roku 2 has been announced.

My previous post on the Roku 2 FCC filings left many questions unanswered. I’ve read through the filings and made some predictions and hopes on what to expect for the Roku 2.

Roku 2 FCC Filings

Engadget identified 8 different documents filed with the FCC:

  • Attestation letter: This promises that the device is to only be used in the US. It identifies 3 model numbers – 3000X, 3050X, and the 3100X.
  • Declaration of Authorization: This designates a 3rd party to represent Roku in the application. It identifies the model numbers and the market as IP-STB, an internet set-top box.
  • Confidentiality Request: This requests that the schematics, block diagrams, and descriptions of operation not be disclosed. It also requests a 45-day delay in releasing external and internal photos, test setup photos, and the users manual. We’ll be checking back in 45 days. I suspect that there was a slip-up and Engadget got hold of the test report without the photos removed.
  • Declaration of Conformity: Roku promises that they meet the FCC requirements necessary to have the FCC compliance logo on their box.
  • Request To Supersede: They’re changing the FCC label location and requesting to be able to do so.
  • Label And Location: Description of the FCC label. This includes an outline of the box size.
  • RF Exposure Evaluation: This describes the transmission power of the 802.11b/g/n wireless system.
  • Test Report: This is the bulk of the testing details and has some very interesting nuggets

The first take-away is that there will be more information in about 45 days. I would speculate that the new Roku boxes will be unveiled before the FCC does it for them, which places the product announcement on or before mid-August. Now, let’s get into the details.

What’s In The Roku 2 Test Report

The test report is both the longest at 95 pages available online out of a total of 114. Some findings that we can take from the report:

  • The 3100x will use a 7.5w power supply while the 3050x and 3000x will use a 5w power supply (page 6)
  • The Roku box is being tested with an Apple iPod Nano (model #A1199) plugged into the USB socket (page 10, 11)
  • Pages 96 – 114 have been removed from the FCC website. The index lists these pages to contain photos of the test setup and the device being tested. The records show that the report was revised on 6/30, a day after the Engadget release of photos. Oops!

So, what did we get? Roku is doing something with Apple iPods hooked up to the boxes, and the 3100x needs some extra power. Beyond this, we’re left to what Engadget has extracted from the original report to speculate.

The New Roku 2 Processor

Engadget did identify a new processor, presumably from the now redacted photos, to be the Broadcom BCM2835. The previous main processor was the Trident/NXP PNX8935. The old processor was quite long in the tooth, having been around since at least 2006. The BCM2835 appears to be so new, Broadcom has not publicly launched it. Or it’s a semi-custom chip. Either way, that implies that Roku’s getting something fairly modern. We can take some guesses at the performance by sifting through Broadcom’s materials.

Broadcom introduced a new series of IP TV and set-top box chips in January. This rather powerful group has somewhere between 4x and 7x more processing heftiness compared to the existing NPX solution. More importantly, Broadcom is pitching the expansive software stack, including a web browser stack (Webkit HTML), Adobe Flash compatibility, and DLNA support. Whether Roku goes with something based on this family or something with a little less horsepower, Broadcom does bring a lot of features to the table. I suspect that was a strong motivator behind the change from NXP to Broadcom as the supplier of choice.

Roku 2 Field Reports

From Engadget’s original report, we can expect more RAM, bluetooth capabilities, an Apple TV-like form factor, and some remote control improvements on the high end. In addition, a beta tester sent in some photos. The beta tester reported that the video looked better, but in most other ways seemed to be a similar system.

Roku 2 Predictions

I see great potential here, but reading the tea leaves is hard. Still, I swirl them around, avoid the grim, and take a guess. Some of this is hope enabled by the bits and pieces revealed in the FCC filing, but at least it’s a warm-fuzzy hope.

First, the Roku will be unveiled by August 15th. All units will have web browser “channels” enabled within a few months of release using the Broadcom Webkit software support. They’ll also have Adobe Flash support. This will, hopefully, allow Roku to bypass the limitations that Hulu places on set-top boxes. The Roku 2 family will also add support as a DNLA player to allow video streaming to it. I expect Bluetooth keyboard and mouse support for the web browser.

The 3010X will add some additional features onto it. It will play audio and/or videos hosted on iPods, iPhones, and other similar devices, and have a snazzier remote control that doubles as a joystick.

You’ve got me on the record for my guesses. Let’s see what happens in the next few months.  If Roku is looking for beta testers, I’m happy to sign up.