Rob Purchase just blurbed the news on IRC that he has now made Rockbox on the Cowon D2 produce its first 10 seconds of (ear-blasting) sound!
One day in late 2001 I had a talk with my brother BjÃ¶rn and our mutual friend Linus about how their portable MP3 player was very cool but the software/firmware on it was rather limited and lame in many ways. (Correct, I didn’t own any portable music player at that time). As usual, we brought up the idea about being able to hack it yourself and oh how good couldn’t you make it then? Not very long afterwards, we had a mailing list setup for discussing how to reverse engineer and improve the Archos Player firmware. Personally, I had no device yet but it sounded like good fun so I subscribed and participated from the start. After a few months, I got myself an Archos Recorder to be able to get down on the metal too, and the Recorder was also slightly different and thus brought some more challenges to the team.
The Recorder was a step forwards since it provided better sound and a (gasp!) graphical LCD. Some of the first work I did in the Rockbox project was to work on the code for the LCD, to bring text to it using fonts and to provide line drawing routines etc. Keeping the entire screen in a separate “frame buffer” that is updated to the screen with a lcd_update() call was an early design decision that has stuck ever since.
We took the Rockbox a long way supporting more and more of the early SH-based Archos targets, including the V2s, the FM and the Ondio series. But eventually of course the models started to get hard to get and out of production. It was time to start looking into moving to other targets, and other targets would more or less force us into a world with software audio codecs!
I got my original Recorder stolen, but I had it replaced and put in a 80GB disk and it was much rejoicing.
We did scan the market for targets that used somewhat standard components for which we could get specs and docs and we found the iriver h1x0 series and the work began. As usual we got plenty of help from everywhere and it didn’t take too long to show the nay-sayers that we could indeed transition Rockbox into the future with software codecs. We also took it to the h3x0 series with its color screen not that long after and my golly, didn’t an entirely new world of opportunities open? 40GB of disk was just about enough to hold most of my music collection.
What’s the fun of Rockbox if I couldn’t follow along? I got the iAudio X5 early on in the porting effort and joined in and got my first color-screen target. Of course I didn’t like how the mere 20GB disk narrowed what music I was bringing with me, but hey some sacrifices had to be made for the greater good of advancing Rockbox! 😉
Rockbox was now booming and flourishing, coming to new targets all over and getting more and more developers involved.
A guy from SanDisk contacted us asking about a Rockbox port to their Sansa E200 series, and even though they sent me a bunch of targets etc they never provided any docs or actual help on the effort of porting Rockbox to these babies. Not even the figuring out the firmware format, as that was instead made by our own secret super-hero MrH.
Time flies and soon enough (like in the late 2007) none of the targets Rockbox ran fine on were no longer being manufactured and started to get hard to get in shops all over the world. The eternal race to get Rockbox ported to a currently manufactured model of course just got more important.
It was almost two years since I got the Sansa e200 series from SanDisk and it was time to join in the efforts of bringing Rockbox to some Meizus. The amount of interested people and the existence of a (leaked) data sheet for the main SoC helped me settle for buying this.
As I’ve already explained, I bought a D2 too at the same time I got the Meizu so that I could do comparison for people and just play around some extra.
Of course, my timing is dubious as I got my two new targets exactly at the same period in my life when I went back to work (almost) full-time from having been on paternity leave for six months. Together with my extra “admin duties” such as the euro devcon and gsoc 2008 happening, I really haven’t had much time to actually dive into low-level fiddling with the ports yet. Hopefully I soon get adjusted and get some time to really help out.
I’ve not mentioned anything about developments on new Rockbox targets lately, so I thought I’d do a little run-down of the targets that seem to have momentum right now:
Toshiba Gigabeat S – quite similar to the Zune hw-wise but not entirely. This already runs Rockbox pretty good and even has music playback. Still not offered for download and treated as “supported” since there’s currently no user-friendly installer method, especially on Windows. Freescale i.MX31L equipped.
Creative Zen Vision:M – Still a rough install method that requires you to rip out the harddrive, insert it into another computer, wipe the FS and replace it with FAT and then it still has no music playback… but there’s a video showing how it looks!
SanDisk Sansa “v2 series” – The recent architectural upgrade by SanDisk is quite similar over a range of models (e200 v2, c200 v2, m200 v2, Clip, Fuze etc) and recently there have been lots of new info creeping up in the forum thread, offering hope we might soon see a proper “first shot” at flashing a modified firmware.
SanDisk Sansa M200 (v1) – very similar to the C100 model hw-wise, tcctool etc. There’s a working LCD driver but no NAND one…
Cowon D2 – I mentioned it before, but it is worth repeating since there is still work going on. Touch screen code has been committed and it seems quite useful at this point. No music playback yet and there’s something shaky with the NAND driver I believe.
I probably missed some model(s) (like I didn’t repeat the Meizu M6 work), but I think the picture is clear anyway: there have been some frantic action in the Rockbox camp lately and it shows that we have a large number of people who enjoy bringing Rockbox to even more targets…
A lot of people have asked me about my opinions on and comparisons between these babies, the Cowon D2 and the Meizu M6, and here’s my take. Of course a lot of this involves the original firmwares’ functionalities as that’s what I’ve been using on them so far. The Rockbox port for the D2 is progressing at great speed but isn’t yet capable of producing sound, and the Meizu port still has a long way to go (since it’s still in its infancy with research and reverse engineering being the primary doings atm).
Touch screen isn’t really the best idea for a portable media player I’d say, but I must confess that the UI with “pop-up” buttons is rather nifty. See this little video for a grasp on how it works:
I haven’t used it a lot but the UI is working nicely and is fairly easy to use. I haven’t yet got myself an SD card to insert and try out, but I should soon! It does have visible tiny little screws that shows it could be disassembled quite possibly without too much efforts. Some of my other Rockbox friends are interested in the D2 quite a lot because it comes in a DAB model too, but my version is limited to FM radio only and even
Next to the D2 this baby feels extremely small. It also has no visible screws or anything that reveals how it could be disassembled! The bootup procedure is first a bit silly since you need to hold down the PLAY key for a while but it doesn’t actually start until you release it, and you don’t know exactly how long you need to hold it. But then I think it proceeds nicely with the screen not even showing that it started, apart from a little “Loading…” text.
The M6 doesn’t use a touch screen but instead they have a “weirdo” slider pad with four button areas. Most of everything in the UI that goes up and down, like moving in menus, changing values, changing volume etc is done by letting a finger slide on the pad. This could’ve been a nice way of input if it wasn’t far too sensitive and thus I always seem to miss my goal menu item and have to go up and down several times before I manage to “hit” my target. Quite annoying!
Of course one downside with this player that isn’t a surprise at all but can be stressed, is the lack of any expansion slot so the original 8GB I got is all this unit is ever gonna see.
I think I end up liking the D2 somewhat more, mostly because of the slider on the M6 being annoying and that the D2 is expandable. The D2 also has a nicer OF (original firmware), but that’s not really what I care about since I plan to run Rockbox on both. Unfortunately I’ve not had a lot of spare time for actually getting into the hacking recently so right now I can’t comment on that much. I’ve seen interesting progress done by others in the mean time though!
I cannot say that the D2 is twice as good as the M6 so I’d actually say that M6 is a better value purchase.
Ok, that’s it for now. These are my first impressions, I’ll try to come up with some further ones later on after some more usage and hopefully some real rockboxing on them
I hadn’t gotten myself a new DAP in ages, and the last time I got one I had it donated to me from SanDisk. So it was really due time to get back into low-level fighting with Rockbox ports again. I ordered myself an 8GB Meizu M6 (SL) and a 8GB Cowon D2 (DAB-less), since both are very interesting flash-based targets with two very promising early Rockbox-porting efforts and we have data sheets for the SoCs used in both of them ( Samsung SA58700 and Telechips TCC7801).
I decided I should dive right in and also be able to do some nice comparisons of both these targets as they are quite similar spec-wise. Both units arrived at my place at the same time, so I got the chance to get a feel for them at once without any discrimination against either one.
Some first impressions without even having switched any of them on:
The M6 comes in a much smaller box indicating it’s “mini player” style already there. It was also much cheaper, almost half the price of the D2.
The D2 comes with a wall-charger but otherwise both boxes include earplugs, a driver-cd (windows stuff I presume) and a USB cable.
Comparing their physical appearances next to each other, there’s no doubt that the M6 is much smaller (even perhaps amazingly small – but yet with a screen that is considerably larger then for instance my Sansa e200) and I can’t help think that the D2 design is a bit weird has it looks as if it has something that can slide out but it doesn’t. I assume some of the D2’s extra size (thickness) is due to its SD slot (yes that’s full size SD not microSD) which is something the M6 doesn’t feature, not even a micro version. Both have USB mini-B slots and charges over that. The D2 has a small protective cover over the slot.
I’ll provide more fluff like photos comparing them against each other and against other targets soon as well, and perhaps something about how their firmware compares, the status of Rockbox on them etc. Stay tuned!
Update: M6 next to D2 pictures