The Uzebox: An open source hardware games console

Open source hardware is still more niche than its software counterpart, but projects like the Uzebox show that freedom in the IT world is not just about your Web browser or your phone's OS



Is there a software framework for developers to use when writing games for the Uzebox?

Absolutely. The development framework revolves around the open source GNU C compiler tool chain. On top of that sits the Uzebox API that provides developers with a library of functions to display text, handle graphics and music, access the SD card, etc. To edit programs you can use Atmel's own AVR Studio, the popular Eclipse platform or even a plain text editor.

To run and debug your programs, there's Uzem, a cycle-perfect Uzebox emulator that emulates not just the AVR core, but also the video, audio, SNES controllers, etc. Many games we're exclusively developed on the emulator. Finally there are many tools, to convert graphics, music, etc. All of them are not only open source, but also multi-platform (Windows, Linux, Mac). All this is documented in the project's wiki, a wealth of information on just about everything, from the API to video modes, games and how to compile the tools.

How big is the development community around the Uzebox (both hardware and software)? There also seem to be a few different vendors selling non-assembled and fully assembled kits...

Hard to say exactly. A couple of hundred people have joined the forums, but I regularly see games and derived project from peoples that have never made contact. Having commercially available kits has greatly expanded the community. There's the Uzebox AVCore, a fully assembled unit sold through Sparkfun Electronics, and there's Adafruit Industry's Fuzebox, a kit to assemble yourself. A third maker will shortly introduce a new DIY kit, named the EUzebox, specifically made for the European TV's SCART interface. I also just recently announced my very own "official" kits just made available though the Uzebox store.

Do open source and hardware seem like a natural fit? Is it only a good match for smaller, hobbyist-style projects, or do you think there are broader applications for open source hardware?

As you know, open source software as come a long way in the past years. Today it far exceed hobbyist realm with some being used at the heart of many businesses like Linux, the Eclipse development framework or Zen Cart, a popular web commerce platform. Open hardware has also started gaining momentum in the past few years. A poster child is without a doubt the Arduino, an open source development platform for AVR microcontrollers. Released about five years ago, its elegant design and open source nature spawned several knock-off that contributed to increasing its popularity. The original creators are cashing in today, as they have now sold well over 100,000 units. There are currently hundreds of open hardware project, ranging from 3D printers to musical instruments, radios, computers and so on. So yes, I think that eventually open hardware will become as pervasive as open software.

What does the future hold for the Uzebox? More features down the line or is it pretty much complete at this stage? Complementary designs maybe (peripherals, for example)?

The current version is pretty much done. The things is, although it's relatively powerful the ATmega644 just doesn't have enough resources to do much more things, like handling an Ethernet interface for instance. That would have to be done by the "next generation" console.

What's your background as a developer? Do you have any other projects you're working on at the moment?

Currently, I'm working as a software architect for a Fortune 500 company. Even though I studied electronics at college, I really got interested in programming and electronics when I was just a kid. I'd be fervently programming BASIC games for days on my VIC-20 and building simple circuits with a Radio-Shack 200-in-1 science fair kit. Really seems like I've been hacking stuff forever!

I don't have any particular projects going on at the moment apart tinkering about a Uzebox successor. That said, I'm still looking for that great project idea that will justify spending so much time all over again!

[Uzebox kits can be purchased from the online Uzebox store.]

Image credits: (Creative Commons)

Follow Rohan Pearce on Twitter: @rohan_p

Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @techworld_au

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