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Roku’s rockin IP-radio runs embedded Linux

Jun 23, 2008 — by Rick Lehrbaum — 355 views

Having recently been bit by the Netflix streaming set-top-box bug, I couldn’t resist checking out Roku’s latest SoundBridge “network music player.” In less than 10 minutes of fooling around with the device after its arrival, I was ensnared!

First impressions

I have to confess, I’ve always lacked the patience to read new gadgets’ instructions until I run into a stumbling block or want to go a layer deeper into their capabilities. In the case of Roku’s M1001 SoundBridge, the first of those just didn’t happen in my initial perusal of it: I plugged it into my home LAN and immediately began enjoying Internet radio stations from all over the world.

Roku’s SoundBridge M1001: sleek, stylish, easy-to-use
(Click for larger view)

The device’s user interface (pictured above) — consisting of a 2-line vacuum fluorescent display and 18-button IR-remote — is highly intuitive, and its configuration and operating procedures are self-explanatory and straightforward. The unit’s rear I/O and power connections (shown below) are equally simple to deal with.

Rear panel connections
(Click for larger view)

Device features

My primary interest in the SoundBridge was for listening to Internet Radio. I don’t like being limited to the one classical and two jazz stations that come in on my FM receiver here in Palo Alto, so gaining access to thousands of stations scattered around the world, including dozens upon dozens of classical and jazz broadcasters, was enticing.

Of course, I already could listen to all those stations on my PC using Amarok, iTunes, or another media player program. But, what attracted me to Roku’s SoundBridge was the ability to tune in all those stations directly from my home entertainment area, and without needing to turn on a power-sucking PC. The thing is, I’d recently been contemplating the construction of a home-theater PC for purposes such as this, and for what I now have via the Roku-manufactured Netflix STB, but became disenchanted with the idea when I began to think about all the power it would need to consume.

In addition to its ability to serve as an Internet radio tuner, the SoundBridge also promised easy entertainment-center access to my extensive music library — provided, however, that the PC on which the library resides is powered up and is running the requisite media server software (more on this later). In light of my attitude regarding gratuitous power consumption, however, it’s more likely that I’ll simply integrate my 80GB iPod into my under-construction 21st Century Multimedia Entertainment Center.

Technical overview

Roku’s M1001 SoundBridge is based on an Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) BF531 “Blackfin” DSP (digital signal processor) clocked at 400 MHz and equipped with 4.5MB of flash and 16MB of SDRAM memory. Although Roku used a custom version of Linux to control its recently-introduced Netflix set-top box, this device runs on ADI’s proprietary VisualDisplay Kernel (PDF download) operating system.

Other technical specs of the SoundBridge M1001 include:

  • Display — 280×16 pixel vacuum fluorescent display
  • IR-remote – 18 buttons
  • Music formats supported — WMA, AAC, ALAC, WAV, MP3, and AIFF
  • UI is configurable for multiple non-Asian languages
  • Built-in networking interfaces:
    • Wired — 10/100 Ethernet (RJ-45)
    • Wireless — 802.11b WiFi
  • Audio specs:
    • 20-bit digital-to-analog converter
    • Maximum line output — 2.83V peak-to-peak
    • THD — -90dB typical
    • Signal-to-noise ratio — >96dB
    • Dynamic range — 90dB typical
    • Frequency response — <20Hz to >20KHz
    • Sample rates supported (KHz) — 8.0, 11.025, 12.0, 16.0, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48.0
    • Bit depth supported — 8 bit, 16 bit; stereo or mono
    • Audio outputs — digital; analog
  • Media servers supported — iTunes, Windows Media Player, and media server programs such as Rhapsody, Music Match Jukebox, and FireFly
  • Remote media server and control protocols supported:
    • Roku Control Protocol

    • Bonjour
    • UPnP AV and Windows Media DRM 10
    • Rhapsody DRM
  • Power supply — 5V at 1.5A max (via external power adapter)
  • Size — 10 long x 2.37 diameter
  • Weight — 1.5 lbs

SoundBridge in operation

As I’ve stated, the SoundBridge is extremely easy to setup and use as a standalone Internet radio tuner. Below are photos showing various of its configuration and operating modes. Click each for a larger view:

Choosing wireless or wired networking
(Click to enlarge)

Ethernet LAN connection status
(Click to enlarge)

Selecting an Internet radio genre
(Click to enlarge)

Browsing my music library over the home LAN
(Click to enlarge)

Playing an Internet radio station
(Click to enlarge)

Controlling the SoundBridge remotely

One especially nice touch of the SoundBridge is the ability to control it remotely from a PC via its built-in webserver. This interface is accessed using the device’s assigned IP address as the URL. For example, on my home network the device is located at, so I point my web browser to and this is what I see:

The SoundBridge’s web interface home page
(Click to enlarge)

From the above web page, you can remotely control many functions of the SoundBridge (pause, play, volume, etc.) from any PC on your LAN. Other web pages assessable from the device’s built-in website let you modify Internet radio presets, alter device configuration settings, and view software version and network status. From the presets page you can also select a desired preset to play.

As this this wasn’t enough, you can also control the SoundBridge from your PC via Roku’s “Radio Roku” Internet website (pictured below).

Controlling the SoundBridge using “Radio Roku”
(Click to enlarge)

Using the “My Soundbridge” portion of Radio Roku, you can select an Internet radio station from your device’s presets, and control the device’s audio output level. Radio Roku is also a great place to search for Internet radio stations and add them directly to the device’s internal preset list. In contrast to pointing your PC’s browser to the SoundBridge’s built-in webserver interface, however, Radio Roku doesn’t provide a way to re-order or delete Internet radio presets.

As if all this wasn’t enough, I located yet another interesting tool for remote control of the device. SoundBridge Commander is a free, open-source program that enables the control of a SoundBridge across a LAN or WLAN from Windows, Macintosh, or Linux PCs. The program combines the SoundBridge’s display and IR-remote buttons within a single, convenient interface. Two examples of the program’s screens appear below:

Using SoundBridge Commander on Linux

To install SoundBridge Commander on my Kubuntu 8.04 Linux system, I downloaded it as a zip file from SourceForge, unzipped it, and created an icon for running it on my KDE desktop. Cute program!

Playing my music library on the SoundBridge

Although my main use for the SoundBridge was to add the diversity of Internet radio to my audio entertainment center’s capabilities, I couldn’t help exploring its ability to remotely play files from the music library on my PC. Doing this required setting up a suitable media server on the PC.

Although Roku offers a handful of alternatives for doing this, I opted to experiment with two free ones: Apple’s free iTunes media player, and the free, open-source Firefly project sponsored by Roku. Since my PC has both Kubuntu 8.04 and Windows Vista installed on it, I decided to test these two approaches under both OSes.


On the Linux system I can run iTunes under CrossOver Linux, an inexpensive add-on that enables running various Windows programs on most Linux distributions. First, I upgraded to CrossOver to version 7.0, which was released about a week ago. Next, I downloaded iTunes version 7 and installed it from CrossOver’s software configuration utility.

Initially, with iTunes running on my Linux system I was unable to access my remote music library from the SoundBridge. Then I realized that my Linux system was located behind a firewall/router that isolated it from the SoundBridge. After reconnecting my PC to an Ethernet port located outside of this firewall, I had no trouble accessing my music library from the SoundBridge.

Doing this on Windows required me to install an additional install another free program on Vista: Apple’s Bonjour sharing software. Bonjour is described as “zero-configuration networking” software that “enables automatic discovery of computers, devices, and services on IP networks” … “without the need to enter IP addresses or configure DNS servers.” All went smoothly, and I was soon browsing and playing music files on the SoundBridge using iTunes on Vista as the media server.


Firefly was also easy to install and use.

On Linux, I was pleased to discover that an Firefly installation package was readily available from the Ubuntu repositories. To install it, I opened up a KDE console shell and entered the command:

sudo apt-get update;sudo apt-get install mt-daapd

This installed Firefly (aka “mt-daapd”) in /usr/share/mt-daapd/.

I had a little trouble figuring out how to use Firefly. At first I typed the command “mt-daapd” at a shell prompt; but nothing interesting seemed to happen on my PC, and nothing seemed to be detected on the SoundBridge. After some further investigation, I located a configuration file at /etc/mt-daapd.conf. After editing a few parameters in the mt-daapd.conf (including one that defines the location of my media library) and restarting mt-daapd.conf, I noticed that my PC’s music library began was being detected by the SoundBridge. I could now browse and play music files — served via Firefly on my PC — on the SoundBridge.

I eventually discovered that mt-daapd implements an html-based configuration and control interface that can be accessed at port 3689 from a web browser on the PC. Since my PC’s name in Linux is “blacktower,” I pointed my web browser (Firefox) to http://blacktower:3689/index.html.

Here’s what I saw in Firefox:

Firefly Media Server’s status page
(Click for larger view)

Installing Firefly on Windows is more straightforward; here’s the procedure: Download the installation setup file from its Roku’s website and run the install on your PC. I think you may also need to install Apple’s Bonjour (as discussed above for iTunes on Windows) in order to use Firefly on Windows. (In my case, I had already installed Bonjour on Vista as part of getting iTunes to work, so I don’t know if I would have needed to install to make Firefly work.)

Further details on installing and using Firefly as a media server for the SoundBridge are available on Roku’s website, here.

Compliments and complaints

All in all, from my week of poking, prodding, and using the SoundBridge, I have to say that Roku did a splendid job of conceiving, designing, and implementing the device.


  • It features an innovative, sleek, cylindrical enclosure design that should blend unobtrusively into nearly all decors.
  • It’s very easy to use, for both Internet Radio and music collection access.
  • I also like the device’s web interface (implemented via the unit’s built-in webserver); it’s both handy and intuitive.
  • I’m impressed by the unit’s low power consumption, particularly in standby mode; I didn’t actually measure power consumption, but after sitting in standby mode overnight the device doesn’t feel any warmer than room temperature.
  • Firefly — a free, open-source music server — was easy to setup on Windows and worked quite well as a way to remotely play music files from my PC (running both Linux and Windows); ditto for iTunes.
  • Roku Radio, sponsored by Roku adds value to the SoundBridge by providing a powerful Internet radio search tool and streaming media URL finder.
  • All this for less than $200! Who can resist it?


  • Though not a major flaw, I wish the SoundBridge could remember its WiFi security settings when I switch between wired and wireless operational modes; it’s annoying to have to enter 128-bit security keys multiple times.
  • One potentially catastrophic downside of the device’s clever cylindrical design is the possibility that it a nudge could roll it off its stand and then it might crash to the floor; or it could be pulled off by one of the power or interface wires. Or, am I the only clumsy geek around?
  • It would be nice to be able to enable/disable/reorder the SoundBridge UI’s menu options according to personal preferences. For example, some users might only want Internet Radio presets to be available.
  • Why not have more Internet Radio presets? (I realize you can also use “Favorites,” but that complicates things.
  • Although the device’s IR-remote and built-in display make it easy to initialize all of the device’s configuration settings, it would also be nice to be able to alter these settings — not just the limited set currently provided — remotely on a PC using the unit’s built-in webserver.
  • Last but not least: get with the program, guys! We need Linux running on the next version of this wonderful little device, just as it runs on the Netflix STB and other Roku devices 😉

Frankly, after playing with the SoundBridge for a week, I can’t imagine not having one. I’m excited about being able to tune in dozens upon dozens of classical, jazz, news, and alternative music stations — many commercial free — right from my home entertainment center. I also get a kick out of the occasional announcements in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and other languages, which make me feel like I’m truly a citizen of the global village.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend this device to anyone with a broadband Internet connection — it’s more than worth the minimal investment!

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