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Firefox OS to fuel Panasonic TVs, Chromecast-like devices

Jan 7, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 2,371 views

Panasonic will embed Firefox OS in its 2015 smart TVs, and Matchstick announced a Chromecast-like Firefox OS platform, to be used by Philips/AOC and TCL.

Aside from some modest success for Mozilla’s Firefox OS, Mobile Linux operating systems not called Android haven’t gotten very far on smartphones. Yet an assortment of Linux-based OSes — of which Android is but one — increasingly dominate the smart TV market.

The latest player to jump into the Linux-based TV fray is Panasonic. This week at CES 2015, Panasonic followed up on its CES 2014 announcement that it was collaborating with Mozilla on a Firefox OS based smart TV with new plans to do just that with four new Life+Screen Smart TVs to be released this Spring.

Also at CES, Matchstick, which recently introduced a Chromecast-like, Firefox OS based Matchstick dongle for only $25, announced an open source “Flint” hardware video-streaming platform, based on the Matchstick design. Philips/AOC and TCL will be early Flint OEMs (see farther below).

Diverging Linux-based TV stacks

Before we get to the Firefox OS news, here are a few other recent Linux-based smart TV news tidbits:

    Tizen TV UI
  • Tizen-based TV — Samsung announced last week that it will use Tizen Linux in all of its 2015 Smart TVs, which will feature WiDi and BLE for content sharing and mirroring from mobile devices. The Linux-based Tizen OS project has long had a smart TV profile under development, and it seemed only a matter of time before Samsung would put Tizen to work in its popular smart TVs.

    WebOS 2.0 TV UI
  • WebOS 2.0-based TV — Prior to CES, LG announced it would double down on last year’s launch of WebOS-based smart TVs with new 4K models running WebOS 2.0. LG’s first-generation WebOS based Smart TV was one of the hits of CES 2014, and subsequently garnered rave reviews. Now, at CES 2015, the company is previewing a new line of 4K ULTRA HD TVs that run an updated 2.0 version of the Linux-based OS.

    Android TV UI
  • Android TV — Google announced in a blog post that Sony, Sharp, and TP Vision (Philips) will ship Android TV devices this year. Google offered no details, but in a separate post the company informed Google TV developers that only an unnamed “small subset” of Google TV devices will be upgraded to the Android 5.0 based Android TV. Google also noted Razer’s announcement of an Android TV based game console called Razer Forge TV. This joins Google’s Intel Atom-based Nexus Player set-top running Android TV, built by Asus.

    Roku TV UI
  • Roku TV — Also at CES this week, Roku said TCL will ship the first 4K TV with Roku’s Linux-based media player technology inside. The company also announced that standard HD Roku smart TVs will soon ship from Haier and the Best Buy brand, Insignia. At last year’s CES show, Roku announced plans to have its media player technology baked into smart TVs, starting with TCL and Hisense models, both of which began shipping this fall.

Many if not most so-called smart TVs in recent years have run on embedded Linux operating systems, but the platforms have been very limited. Clearly, TV vendors are seeing the need for more advanced Linux or Android platforms to enable apps, as well as more interaction with mobile devices. Several vendors, including Samsung, also appear to be positioning smart TVs as a potential smart hub for home automation, although this may be more of a story for next year’s CES.

Matchstick spins an open hardware platform

Matchstick, a company launched by Mozilla developers, quickly achieved its Kickstarter funding goal for a Firefox OS-based media player dongle in October, and ended up with $470,310. This open-spec HDMI stick, for which some backers paid as little as $18, will ship to backers in February, at which point it goes on sale for $25.

Matchstick (left) compared to Chromecast
(click images to enlarge)

At CES, Matchstick announced an open source hardware and software developer platform based on Matchstick technology 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, says the company.

Matchstick’s “Powered by Flint” platform promo
(click image to enlarge)

Like the Matchstick, Flint offers Google Chromecast-like content casting — in this case called “flinging” — using the same DIAL (DIscovery And Launch) media-casting protocol as the Chromecast. You can similarly fling content to the device from Android, iOS, and Firefox OS phones, as well as from any device running Chrome or Firefox browsers.

Flint offers Chromecast-like content flinging
(click images to enlarge)

We did not see any hardware details on Flint, but according to this GigaOm story, the reference design uses the same dual-core Rockchip RK3066 SoC, which are already being used in Philips and TCL devices, making porting easier.

Firefox OS TV user interface
(click images to enlarge)

Presumably, Flint devices will also be able to run hundreds of apps available in the Mozilla Firefox OS store. The Matchstick will ship with Netflix, HBO Go, Pandora, ABC, ESPN, Vudu, YouTube, Spotify, and others. According to GigaOM, the TCL and Philips devices, which could ship as early as the second quarter, will also run their own native apps.

Firefox OS TV featured content

“The overwhelming response to Matchstick signified that the market was ready for an open source streaming solution,” stated Jack Chang, US General Manager of Matchstick. “Inspired by Mozilla’s Firefox OS, Flint leads the way to transform how Internet video can be organized, managed and consumed.”

Panasonic’s Life+Screen (described below) and Matchstick’s Flint aren’t the only pathways to Firefox OS TV. In October, Mozilla released an experimental PiFxOS build of Firefox OS optimized for the Raspberry Pi, with an early focus on robotics and media players.

Panasonic’s Life+Screen Smart TVs

Panasonic says it will offer open source, HTML5-oriented Firefox OS in four new Life+Screen Smart TVs, starting this Spring with the CX850, CX800, CX650 , and CX600 Series. Some earlier Panasonic Viera TVs had limited smart TV functionality, with access to the Internet, but these are Panasonic’s first TVs that truly deserve the “smart” label.

CX850 4K UHD TV with Firefox OS
(click image to enlarge)

Firefox OS will provide a simpler, faster, more customizable interface, as well as “Beyond Smart Features,” says Panasonic. The platform will enable viewers to “get to their favorite content, channels, devices, or applications as quickly as they can with as little hassle as possible,” says the company.

Pansonic’s customized Firefox OS TV user interface
(click images to enlarge)

Panasonic has collaborated with Mozilla on a customizable UI that lets users access preferred content, HTML5 applications, and content from connected devices, says Panasonic. Users can combine access to channels, devices, and applications into a single gateway for quick access, and use a “Pin” function to bookmark apps, web pages, and paired connected devices. You can send photos, videos or other content to the TV from any smartphone, tablet, or computer which has a Firefox browser, Firefox OS, “or other compatible applications,” as long as they devices are using the same WiFi network, says Panasonic.

Developers can use Firefox WebAPIs to enable more complex connected experiences across platforms. For the first time, Firefox OS will allow TV on-screen notifications from applications, and, in the future, from compatible connected appliances, says Panasonic.

The CX850 Series Life+Screen TV model will feature a Voice Assistant Pro function that performs voice commands spoken directly to the TV without using a remote, says Panasonic. Commands are said to include changing channels and searching for content.

All the models will offer a Xumo Guide service that enables content discovery from multiple sources. Xumo Guide can provide content recommendations based on user’s viewing history. Users can also search for specific titles across multiple apps or browse content by genre from various VOD services, says the company.

The YouTube video below shows some aspects and features of Firefox OS TV.

Firefox OS video, including TV user interface demo

“Firefox OS powering everything from smartphones to a new category of devices like TVs and streaming devices proves the flexibility and power of the Web as the platform,” stated Andreas Gal, Mozilla CTO. “We’re excited about the collaboration with Panasonic because it offers consumer and developers a customized and easy to use way to take their Firefox Web experience across devices.”

Further information

The Panasonic Life+Screen Smart TVs with Firefox OS will ship this Spring. More information can be found at the Panasonic CES website, and should eventually appear on the Panasonic USA website.

The Flint platform appears to be available now. More information can be found in the Matchstick Flint announcement, as well as a GitHub page which currently stands in for a more complete, upcoming developer site.

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