The Revolution Will Be Home-Brewed.

I have a modded XBOX hooked up to my TV.

In addition to playing XBOX games, it has a few custom applications courtesy of a few hundred amateur developers. These non-standard features include a dashboard that shows me current and forecast weather conditions. It’s connected to my network, allowing me to play rips of my DVD collection (wirelessly) and Music CDs. I can search and view videos on YouTube and Comedy Central. I can download and play amateur freeware games. I can point it to a folder on my computer with all my pictures and run a slideshow (with music) on my TV. Apparently, although I haven’t tried, I can even download video on demand through BitTorrent, timeshift with a DVR (TiVo) application and remotely control it using a Facebook application.

This nifty modified device comes to me courtesy of a chum who is familiar with the XBOX Homebrew community. Homebrew, a sort of Do-It-Yourself open source development kit for hackers, is predicated on the notion that the information should be free (as in speech, not beer), and that if I buy a device, I should be able to modify or change that device in any way I see fit. This point of view is not shared by the computing and media industries who feel that if they can’t control the distribution conduit, they’ll quickly lose control of the mass distribution system that they are the gatekeepers to. As a result, and thanks to the industry-friendly Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Homebrew style ‘tampering’ carries criminal penalties in the US (a version of the DMCA is soon to be proposed in Canada, according to University of Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist).

So my 79$ XBOX hacked with so-called Homebrew software provides me with a perfect lean-back IPTV experience that is, in some ways, far superior to the experience I would get with a 400$ AppleTV, XBOX 360, or PS3. In fact, virtually all the IPTV features on these ‘advanced consoles were, for the most part, inspired by the Homebrew version. Everything from the feature set to the User Experience Design are being copied from the Homebrew versions to the newer consoles by the big guns at Apple, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.

Still, what’s the big deal? If these other devices all have the same features, so what? Well again, it’s a matter of access. For the most part, only ‘signed’ (read: paid-to-play) applications can run on the non-Homebrew machines, and each of these consoles makes it very difficult for all but the most savvy to stream videos from their computers, preferring that consumers rent or purchase their videos (again, read: paid-to-play). Homebrew (access and information want to be free like speech) are decidedly NOT paid-to-play and represent a loss of control by the major distribution channels.

Now comes word from Slashdot that the venerable Wii has been hacked (without hardware mods) to include a Homebrew ‘channel.’ From Slashdot:

“The Homebrew Channel is a tool that can be installed on any Wii (no hardware mods required) that lets you run unsigned homebrew software from an SD card, or upload executables via WiFi or a USBGecko. We’ve tried to make it friendly for users with a simple GUI, and powerful for developers with direct upload features and reloading…”

While the Wii isn’t a multi-media experience per se, with its focus on interactive gaming, it is an IPTV play, and you’ll find weather, news, a Web browser (that can play back YouTube) social networking, and a game store on most every console. The Wii Homebrew Channel will provide the fuel to feed that fire, and with the recent port of the VLC player, it might even see some media applications make their way onto the system.

At the end of it all, this channel will be just another niche hobbyist’s playground, installed on a paltry minority of Wii consoles. If history is any guide however, this channel may provide Nintendo with the Next Big Thing for their product. I wonder if they’ll pay to play.

Slashdot | Unofficial Homebrew Channel For the Wii

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