This is a read-only archive. Find the latest Linux articles, documentation, and answers at the new Linux.com!

Linux.com

Feature: Handheld Devices

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

By Dan Sawyer on March 18, 2008 (3:00:00 PM)

Share    Print    Comments   

In order to carry samples of my audio and video work to tradeshows, I need to be able to play a wider variety of audio and video formats than is available on any of the pocket devices out there. Fortunately, the open source Rockbox operating system doesn't require sacrificing nifty features like FM tuning and recording or voice recording and playback. And format compatibility is not the only reason one might want to install Rockbox. In fact, Rockbox was developed primarily with another purpose in mind: improving sound quality.

Rockbox works on a variety of portable music players (PMP) from Apple, Archos, Cowon, iAudio, iriver, and SanDisk. It supports FLAC, Ogg, MP3, and WAV audio streams, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video streams, JPEG, and text. The interface is skinnable, and there are a couple of hundred nicely done skins available on the Rockbox Web site.

I installed Rockbox on a Sandisk Sansa e260. It has a powerful enough processor to handle properly scaled video, a microSD card port for expanding memory, a built-in microphone so I can record interviews for articles, and a large enough and clear enough video screen for me to show off my video reel and photo portfolio.

As convenient as small MP3 players are, they leave a lot to be desired in terms of quality. They offer limited options in terms of EQ curves, some are prone to skip on VBR MP3s or fail to play LAME-encoded MP3s (a bummer for podcast listeners), and some don't even offer gapless playback or crossfade between tracks. Rockbox solves all of these problems, delivering a listening experience that's a cut above what you get out of the box.

PMPs also create a safety concern when you're driving and want to select your music. Not even iPods offer the option to have the player tell you audibly what you're selecting; you have to keep your eyes on the screen while navigating the interfaces. Not so with Rockbox. If you so desire, Rockbox will read out every menu option as you scroll through to change your playlist or tracks, or navigate the filesystem.

Once you put a screen on a PMP, you have a pocket computer with considerably more power than Palm handhelds had just a couple of years back. Few PMPs actually take advantage of this processing power, but with Rockbox, you can. Included with the operating system are a text viewer, stop watch, calculator, clock, dozens of games (including Doom), metronome, and some filesystem maintenance tools.

Installation

Rockbox is not a firmware hack -- it doesn't touch the native firmware, nor does it use the native firmware in any way. It is an independent, open source operating system that sits alongside the manufacturer's firmware and diverts the player to itself using its bootloader. This makes installing it much lower risk than a firmware hack, which could permanently disable your player.

As each company's players run on their own proprietary firmware platforms, Rockbox's installation routines vary from player to player. However, in all cases it's a non-destructive process, and the Rockbox upgrade is easily removed if you don't like it once you've got it up and running. In the case of the e260, installation is a two stage process -- installing the bootloader first, and then the operating system.

To install it on the e260, you'll first want to download the bootloader and the Rockbox package compiled for the Sansa e200 series from the Rockbox home page. You'll also need the Sansa Patcher utility, which writes the bootloader to the device.

Once they're downloaded, plug in your Sansa, mount it as you would a normal USB flash drive, and unzip rockbox.zip to the root directory of the Sansa. That's all you have to do to load the operating system.

To load the bootloader, bring up a terminal window and run sansapatcher. It will ask if you want to write or remove the bootloader -- select write. One caution: If you're running a 64-bit system, this won't work unless you run sansapatcher through the 32-bit emulator: linux32 sansapatcher.

Once you've done that, you're done. Rockbox is ready to use. Just unmount your player, unplug it, and reboot it.

Skinning and augmenting

Of course, once it's back up you may find the default interface more than a little spartan and inhospitable, but this is easily fixed with a visit to the Rockbox Themes site. Select a theme, download it, and unzip it to the root directory of your player, and it's installed.

If you're still not satisfied with the look, you can add a font variety pack. Again, installation is as simple as unzipping the contents to the fonts directory on the player. You can similarly change the icons on your player with one of the many available icon sets.

There are plenty of other extras available, such as WAD files for Doom, multiple languages and voices for the text-to-speech function, and FM Preset directories for the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Remote though it is, there's always the possibility that you won't like Rockbox -- or that a new operating system will come along with the feature that you just have to have -- and you have to uninstall it. The uninstall is, if anything, easier than the install. All you have to do is remove the .rockbox directory from the root of your Sansa and run sansapatcher again, this time selecting the remove option from the menu. Unmount and reboot your Sansa, and it will boot straight up to the original firmware as if nothing ever happened.

With Rockbox you can have a little media player reborn, handling more than it could before, sounding better, and looking like you want it to look.

Dan Sawyer is the founder of ArtisticWhispers Productions, a small audio/video studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been an enthusiastic advocate for free and open source software since the late 1990s, when he founded the Blenderwars Filmmaking Community. He is currently the host of The Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour and Sculpting God podcasts.

Share    Print    Comments   

Comments

on Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Note: Comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for their content.

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 151.204.110.2] on March 18, 2008 03:33 PM
This currently only works with version 1 of the Sansa mp3 players. Just a heads up because I wanted to do this, but my e280 v2 is not supported yet...

#

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 213.114.18.71] on March 18, 2008 03:58 PM

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.64.2.10] on March 18, 2008 08:50 PM
I just installed this on my iPod over the weekend and its working great.

#

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.136.250.80] on March 19, 2008 03:58 AM
Without a doubt, this is the worst POS OSS project ever. Ever.
This has so many bugs that getting past the basic setup is a major accomplishment.
I will never attempt to use this again. Ever.

#

Re: Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.237.80.119] on March 19, 2008 10:59 PM
User error is not considered a bug...

#

Re: Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.226.0.62] on March 23, 2008 10:40 AM
This comment is patently absurd -- unless there are some earth shattering differences between Rockbox on various platforms.

I've been running Rockbox on my iAudio X5 for over a year and its set of features is simply unmatched. I found setup instructions for dual booting my player's original firmware along with Rockbox. The directions were easy, assuming you can read English and comprehend a few basic technical terms. I've used it extensively and have yet to find any significant bugs. In fact, I can't imagine a better player (unless I could get more capacity) than my mp3 player + Rockbox!

#

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.173.241.207] on March 19, 2008 07:46 AM
Note that the link to the themes is incorrect and diverts you to a crap advert site.
http://www.rockboxthemes.org/ should be http://www.rockbox-themes.org/

#

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.118.233.100] on March 19, 2008 01:11 PM
Works like a charm

#

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.152.96.35] on March 19, 2008 08:26 PM
Hi all,

I have the Sansa 260 and have been using Roxbox for about 4 months now. It works like a charm and the sound quality is much better then the Sansa OS.

#

Re: Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.24.105.57] on March 21, 2008 07:21 PM
I cant install it i need help

#

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.103.15.146] on March 20, 2008 09:02 AM
realy super sound quality.
<a href="http://www.iddaamerkezi.com">iddaa</a>

#

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 128.143.183.196] on March 20, 2008 08:14 PM
Another benefit of Rockbox is that it allows you to read SDHC cards on a Sansa. Despite the fact that SanDisk is a major SD card manufacturer, their firmware for some Sansas, including the e260 which I also own, does not read newer 4gb and above microSDHC cards. Rockbox allows you to read those cards in the Sansa, although you still have to load songs onto the card by taking it out of the player and connecting it either directly into the PC or using a USB microSD adapter.

#

Enhance your music player with Rockbox

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.96.204.3] on March 25, 2008 02:16 PM
Articles and content in this section of the website are really amazing. From http://www.puneonnet.com, http://www.tamilnaduonnet.com

#

This story has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.



 
Tableless layout Validate XHTML 1.0 Strict Validate CSS Powered by Xaraya