The Firefox OS-based “Matchstick” media player has been delayed a half year to August, and will receive an overhaul to move to a quad-core SoC and add DRM.
The Matchstick was one of the biggest Kickstarter success stories of 2014, finishing its funding run in October with $470,310, almost five times Mathstick.tv’s $100,000 goal. The developer edition of the $25, open-spec HDMI stick — and the first Firefox OS media player — appears to have shipped, and the device was set to go out this month to the other backers, who paid as little as $18.
Yet, as so often happens in the crowdfunding game, the product has been delayed. According to a recent update on the Matchstick Kickstarter page, the release has been pushed until August.
Matchstick (left) compared to Chromecast
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In the meantime, the Matchstick will get an overhaul, switching from a dual-core Rockchip RK3066 system-on-chip to an undisclosed quad-core SoC. (Matchstick may well end up choosing Rockchip’s quad-core, Cortex-A9-based RK3188, used in the Android-based Ugoos UT2 media player, or the new Cortex-A17 RK3288.)
The redesign will fix some WiFi antenna issues, and will also add DRM (Digital Rights Management), which is required by “premium content providers such as Netflix,” says the company.
The move to a quad-core processor, which may well boost the retail price beyond $25, is required in order to support demanding new applications that developers have created for the HDMI stick media player. For example, GigaOM, which reported on the delay, said it received a demo last week from Matchstick for a “prototype of a video conferencing app that would use a phone’s camera in conjunction with the TV display.” The app is also said to incorporate a second-screen app that displays contextual information relevant to what is showing on TV.
As noted by GigaOM, the addition of DRM will no doubt displease many open source advocates, who were similarly dismayed at Mozilla’s reluctant decision to add Adobe’s DRM solution to the Firefox browser. Further red flags might be raised by the choice of implementing Microsoft PlayReady to secure DRM. On the other hand, “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” fans are likely more receptive.
Anti-DRM advocates want to promote a more open computing environment in which users, not content providers, are in control. They raise security and reliability concerns. “The inclusion of Adobe’s DRM in Firefox means that Mozilla will be putting millions of its users in a position where they are running code whose bugs are illegal to report,” wrote Cory Doctorow in the Guardian in May of last year when Mozilla announced its DRM decision. “So it’s very important that this code be as isolated as possible.”
Doctorow noted, however, that by following the W3C’s similarly controversial decision to implement open source support for DRM in HTML5, Mozilla is making the best of the situation. “By open-sourcing the sandbox that limits the Adobe software’s access to the system, Mozilla is making it auditable and verifiable,” wrote Doctorow. “This is a much better deal than users will get out of any of the rival browsers, like Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer, and it is a meaningful and substantial difference.”
Matchstick, which was founded by former Mozilla developers working on Firefox OS, appears to be using a similar approach to DRM. To make the mostly opaque, semi-proprietary firmware go down a bit more easily, Matchstick promises to “develop DRM as an independent project with the open source community,” and “contribute newly developed source codes for DRM back to the open community.” Matchstick is seeking help in this task from its developer community, which is being supported with a newly launched developer’s site.
The startup “wants to make sure the developer community’s creativity is not hindered by hardware or software limitations,” Matchstick told its many funders. “We feel strongly about supporting developers with something much more than a hacked Chromecast type device. The updates to Matchstick will ensure that.”
Matchstick, Flint, and Panasonic smart TVs
The Matchstick will continue to offer Chromecast-like content casting, which the company calls “flinging,” using the same DIAL (DIscovery And Launch) media-casting protocol as Google’s Chromecast. You can fling content to the device from Android, iOS, and Firefox OS phones, as well as from any device running Chrome or Firefox browsers. The device can run hundreds of apps available in the Mozilla Firefox OS store. When it launched on Kickstarter, the company said the device would ship with Netflix, HBO Go, Pandora, ABC, ESPN, Vudu, YouTube, Spotify, and others.
Flint offers Chromecast-like content flinging
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At CES last month, Matchstick announced an open source hardware and software development platform based on Matchstick called Flint. Philips/AOC and TCL will distribute an estimated one million Flint-enabled products including TV’s, monitors, and set-top boxes in 2015 alone, said the company at the time. There was no word from Matchstick whether the revamp will affect the rollout of Flint-based products.
Pansonic’s customized Firefox OS TV user interface
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Matchstick is one of several initiatives to bring Firefox OS to embedded devices beyond phones and tablets. A lightweight PiFxOS build of Firefox OS for the Raspberry Pi was announced in late October, although it’s still in the early stages. Also at CES 2015, Panasonic announced that four of its new Life+Screen Smart TVs will be released with Firefox OS this Spring.
Samsung smart TVs caught spying
Presumably, Panasonic’s TVs won’t record the conversations of viewers. According to the BBC News based on original reporting from the Daily Beast, Samsung admitted this week that its current crop of smart TVs might do just that. Apparently, if customers use the voice activation feature, the agreement permits Samsung to record all conversations in microphone range of the smart TV, with speech-to-text transcripts sent to an undefined “third party.”
Samsung claims that it does not retain the voice data or sell the audio. Yet, similarities to the snooping telescreens of George Orwell’s “1984” have led to a public outcry on the issue. The always-on recording presumably improves the voice recognition algorithm, but the data could just as easily be harvested like other personal data.
Similar spying claims about LG’s smart TVs back in 2013 led to LG permitting users to opt out of the continual recording of conversations whether or not users were giving commands. This appears to be available with LG’s new WebOS-based smart TVs. Later this year, Samsung will release its first Tizen-based smart TVs.
The Matchstick is now scheduled to ship to Kickstarter backers in August. Retail sales will presumably begin shortly after, but we expect the price will rise from the previous $25. More information may be found in the recent update on Kickstarter, as well as at Matchtick.tv website.