From Out There

Thoughts from years of using Free Software in the wild

My New TV Runs Linux

Oh 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.

3 Responses to “My New TV Runs Linux”

  1. guido Says:

    Really “free” or just another TIVO?

    I would like to know if you can actually change the software or will the TV stop functioning if you do so. Is there something in the manuals?

    I am also interested what other companies are using Free Software for their products to include them to the list of “free’d” hardware

    Thanks and have fun with your new device!


  2. rca Says:

    Using modified software

    There is nothing in the manual. Sharp expects to be the only supplier of software for the TV and they distribute new firmware versions via DVB-T and other means. There is a USB port you can use for service. A colleague has discovered that it might create a USB network, so perhaps a Sharp technician can upload firmware from their laptop by hooking it up to the TV.

    Sharp is not being a good player in Free Software like this — ideally, they would supply the build scripts to make working firmware and also some documentation for how to get the firmware onto the TV.

    Whether the TV has any tivoization, we don’t know yet, this is something we will have to reverse engineer.

    It’s all a bit sad :( But at least they don’t use proprietary software, which is a good first step.

  3. TV Repair Schematics Says:

    TV Repair Schematics…

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