The new PACE Set Top Box
Paul Brett sneaked into the launch, what did he find out?
On Thursday the 15th of February PACE unveiled the prototype of their latest Set Top Box (STB) design. As many RISC OS users will know PACE currently produce the BUSH internet TV, which is based on RISC OS. So the announcement of a new STB design from the market leaders shouldn't come as as much of a surprise, how wrong could one be?
The PACE PVR STB
The first important point, this new machine is not based on an ARM processor, not only that but currently the box does not run RISC OS. Instead it is based on Windows CE. The processor is a Hitachi, the graphics chip set is based on the Power VR chip set, oh and the new machine is a direct result of the new deal between PACE and SEGA. SEGA? Yes SEGA, the Japanese games giant has decided to pull out of hardware manufacture and concentrate on software. Under this new deal PACE will be able to produce a STB based on SEGAs 128 bit DreamCast games console chip set.
We can all speculate on whether PACE will be porting RISC OS to this box at some future point (Phil Space has - ED) however what we can say is what the new box design will be able to do.
What is PVR?
PVR is simply stands for Personal Video Recorder. These devices are becoming increasingly common, indeed many people will have heard of the TiVO device. This can record digital video to its own internal hard disk for later viewing. It also allows you to "pause" live TV and continue watching later - by recording and playing back at the same time so you can effectively watch TV with a delay between what is being broadcast and what you see.
However the new PACE design is much more than just a PVR.
The full monty
The new PACE box can record programs to its own internal 40Gb hard drive. It supports broadband applications including Cable, Satellite and DSL, and it plays DreamCast games. The current design is a prototype. If you look carefully at the picture below you can see the games controllers plug in the top of the machine. On the production machines they will plug in the front.
The 40GB hard drive can store many hours of video, and also up to 60 full games. The concept is simple, the digital information provider adds a " games channel" to their network. The user can then download a demo version of the game free of charge. If they like the game they can rent a copy and it is downloaded over the satellite/cable link to the hard drive. In use this will be very similar to the current system used my Sky Digital allowing you to rent movies.
Some of the games that have been shown running on the box include Crazy Taxi, Shenmue (an unbelievable game - ED) and the soon to be released Sonic Adventure 2. However the box has more tricks up its sleeve than just playing games. You can also play networked games using the internal modem. These include titles like Quake3 Arena. While playing games you can also have a picture in picture display of any TV channel. It was suggested that a digital camera may also be offered as an option allowing the box to also behave as a video phone, you could then also see the person you are playing against in an on-line game!
Another ability takes the concept of the SEGA VMU (Virtual Memory Unit) even further. These small devices plug into SEGA DreamCast controllers and act as memory cards, however you can also download games to them. When removed from the main controllers they can be used as a sort of miniature GameBoy. The concept is to allow applications and games to be downloaded into some form of portable digital assistant (PDA) that can be used anywhere.
As far as ports go the new box seems to have an infra red port, four games ports, an expansion port and a modem port. One rumour suggested the inclusion of a USB port in the finished device. Standard DreamCast peripherals, controllers, keyboards, mice, light guns etc will plug straight in.
As well as showing digital video, with picture in picture, the new box design can be used to surf the internet using either an on-screen keyboard or a special infra red version (similar again to the current Sky boxes). You can also send and receive e-mails.
PACE have very high hopes for this new design. Indeed Andrew Wallace, Senior Vice President at Pace was quoted as saying that the new box will "create a new games business and a new generation of game players." He was also quoted as saying "There was a pragmatic reason in that it would be relatively straightforward for us to do, given the architectures we already had." And one of those architectures is RISC OS.
And as for the price, at the moment we can only guess but I would imagine a figure of around £450 would not be too wide of the mark. We know that PACE have the TiVO PVR in their sites. Industry sources also suggest that PACE and Sky have been having some meetings over recent months.
Now we can only hope PACE will alter the design to allow RISC OS to run on it, the benefits for us in the desktop market would be enormous.