Hardware platforms

The media players project doesn’t require any special hardware to run, although we do expect the usual:

  • network interface
  • display and sound card (to play videos)
  • storage

However, since we are storing videos, we are aiming for large storage specifications. As of July 2014, the Isuma.tv store is around 1 TB (terabyte, or 0.9 TiB, tebibyte), so we currently deploy 2TB hard drives.

The rest of this section is dedicated to current and previous platform specifications.

Rugged specification

This specification was built in 2015 in order to set strict requirements of durability and availability for tough environments. The list of requirements is sorted by priority, with more important items first.

  1. Durability

    The MPs may be subject to dust, humidity, low temperatures, high temperatures and general user abuse: dropping, pulling out wires, etc. The MPs are to be operating in extreme conditions like the Canadian Arctic or the Brazilian Amazon. For example, Nunavut temperatures vary from -50°C to 10°C but humidity is low. In Olinda Brazil, temperatures vary from 20°C to 30°C and humidity is on average at 70%.

    So ideally, we would like a tough piece of hardware that could take anything. But, if this just to unrealistic in regards to all our other requirements, we may need to think about having different MP models for different climates.

    SSD storage devices may be prioritized over HDD for their greater resistance to shocks.

    The machines should self-heal as much as possible. For example, the device should be able to automatically restart after a power outage, which is usually just a configuration in the BIOS.

  2. Storage capacity

    Media players should have a capacity of at least 1 TB (10^12 bytes).

  3. Ports

    there should be at least the following ports on the media players:

    • 1 Ethernet (internet from modem)
    • 2 USB (keyboard and mouse)
    • 1 VGA (we currently connect a VGA splitter to the only VGA port on the current model, to carry the video signal from the MP to a scan convertor where it is converted for television broadcast, and to a TV monitor to access the MP to save a playlist for broadcast)
    • 2 auxiliary stereo sound (one port to send the sound to the video modulator for television broadcast, and the other port to send the sound to the TV monitor)
    • 1 user-friendly power adapter (it can be internal or external, as long as the user doesn’t have too much opportunity for mistakenly inserting the power adapter the wrong way or touching what seem to be exposed wires)

    This is a minimum. Having extra ports is not an issue.

  4. Expandability - field upgradeable storage

    Media Players may need to be setup with some sort of RAID technology to allow for future storage expansion. In short, the expandability requirement requires that we setup some sort of stripping configuration, but this may threaten its stability so it’s a trade-off.

    Some machines have hot-swappable “trays” of hard drives that can make swapping in and out multiple redundant drives easier, and that is what we use in the datacenter. But unfortunately, those devices are usually not sealed against the environment, so it conflicts with the durability requirement. Regular users with little technical ability should be able to perform storage swaps in the field. This will require special storage enclosures, ideally hot-swappable screw-less drives.

    One big concern here is that people can learn how to remove and install disks, but the hard part is which disk to add/remove and when. We could make LED displays for this, but in our experience, software control for those LEDs has been limited, so this is the biggest hurdle here.

    Also, it should be possible to add content to the media players by shipping storage devices that would be somewhat attached to the Media Player in the field. The extra device would be used to sync new content in and out of the Media Player, but also, and ideally, used to expand the storage capacity of the media player.

  5. Availability

    Perhaps from supplier in Montreal to decrease delivery times and eliminate any customs delays.

  6. Size

    As small and as light as possible to reduce shipping costs and for easier handling.

Lightweight specification

Those specifications were designed for lighter models that do not have the same strict environmental requirements as the rugged model, but that should be small, lighter and cheaper.

  1. Price

    Less than 1000$ CAD, shipping and hard drives included.

  2. Size

    As small and as light as possible to reduce shipping costs and for easier handling. Should be no bigger than the current solid logic 2.5 version: 11”(W) x 11.5” (D) x 2.5”(H) and approx. 10lb (drives included).

  3. Availability

    Perhaps from supplier in Montreal to decrease delivery times and eliminate any customs delays.

  4. Storage capacity

    Media players should have a capacity of at least 6 TB (6 x 10^12 bytes).

  5. Ports

    there should be at least the following ports on the media players:

    • 1 Ethernet (internet from modem)
    • 3 USB (keyboard, mouse, sync drive)
    • 1 DVI (monitor and scan convertor for cable TV)
    • 1 extra VGA a plus
    • 1 stereo sound port, extra auxiliary a plus
    • 1 user-friendly power adapter (it can be internal or external, as long as the user doesn’t have too much opportunity for mistakenly inserting the power adapter the wrong way or touching what seem to be exposed wires)

    This is a minimum. Having extra ports is not an issue.

Note that this is similar to the rugged setup except the following requirements are gone:

  • durability
  • expandability

The “ports” requirements is also slightly different.

Shuttle XPC small desktops

We have one Shuttle machine in the office, in the XPC series, there isn’t much to say about it other than its peculiar form factor is not very convenient.

Logic Supply desktops (v2.5 series)

Around 10 machines were built with some Logic Supply Mini-ITX cases, although the original product link is now dead. We also had trouble with shipping and delivery to Canada. Finally, some hard drive sockets were damaged during travel, which makes us doubt of the viability of this platform on the long term.

Advantech rugged servers (1.0 series)

We have deployed some Advantech UNO-3282 servers on the field.

_images/UNO-3282-front_B.jpg

Two of those servers were provisionned for Isuma and are still running after years of service. They have sealed cases that are very solid.

Advantages:

  • very sturdy
  • sealed, so it won’t collect dust
  • power button protected from accidental tripping

Disadvantages:

  • heavy
  • power supply is external