Indrema's L600: The Little Product That Could|
By James Waters
(November 19, 2000)
Fifty miles beyond Silicon Valley, in an old Naval Base, is a little known company named Indrema. If you don't follow the device market or aren't a Linux geek, odds are you've never heard of them. Even so, there is within Indrema, the makings of a product that could not only have a huge impact upon the device market but the gaming console market as well. The products name is the L600.
The L600, due out in Spring 2001 for $299, is being marketed as a gaming console. Conventional wisdom might lead one to think Indrema insane for even considering such a prospect. Industry leaders Sony, Nintendo, and Sega have dominated the gaming industry for years, leaving a trail of also-rans in their wakes. With Microsoft entering the gaming console market with the X-Box, one has to question the viability of a fifth console in an arena that has only supported three consoles in the past.
Initial reaction aside, one needs only to look to Indrema's bold step into the open source/support movement, unique development strategy, and powerful hardware design to see that this product is less a mark of insanity and more a stroke of genius.
More Than A Game Machine:
Although the L600 is being marketed as a video game console, it should be thought of as an entertainment hub for ones living room. Aside from its DVD gaming capabilities, the L600 will also provide for DVD movie playback, the playing of audio and video CDs, Internet access, and the ability to download to the built-in hard drive.
The L600 will also feature Indrema's Personal TV application and Personal Music system. The PTV application will empower users to make the most of their television experience while the Personal Music system allows users the ability to create an MP3 jukebox using the L600's hard drive. Both of these applications will require functionality and ease of use in order to manage it all.
If that weren't enough the L600 will also provide support for open ISP, as well as support for dial-up and broadband connectivity through cable modem or DSL. Users will also be able to record antenna, cable, and satellite feeds to the hard drive, much like TiVo and ReplayTV units. (Of course recording the satellite signal will require a satellite receiver, a dish, and a subscription to the service.) HDTV support is also provided.
All of this is made possible due to an innovative design and hardware architecture. While Indrema has not stated whether the unit will include an AMD or Pentium processor, we do know that the unit will include a 600+ MHz processor. Additionally the unit will have 64 MB of RAM. For a complete list of hardware specifications please click here.
The Games and Developers
While there is a lot about this product that can be questioned, the areas of games and developer support are the two areas in which the company is most purposefully vague.
Indrema states that they plan on providing about 30 games at the time the system is launched, with one game bundled with the unit itself. At the same time Indrema has declined to provide the names of any of the possible launch titles. As with the games, any questions in regards as to who might be developing games for the L600 go unanswered.
Indrema CEO, John Gildred, pointed out during a recent press conference for the Indrema Developer Network, that he does not want to make any announcements as to the launch titles until they can be absolutely sure that they will be available at launch. He also stated that we could expect to hear more about who is developing for the system in the near future.
All of this raises some concerns. One of the best ways to attract attention in the gaming industry is to provide a large list a games with killer titles. Secondary to that would be the providing of a list of game developers. If people see big name developers designing games for a particular system, it substantiates the system in many peoples' minds.
While delayed games may cause consumer and the gaming industry angst, not providing a list of games and game developers is a huge mistake. Hopefully Indrema will be more forthcoming with answers in the months to come.
Making It Happen:
Aside from the title of this article, if any analogy could be made to sum up Indrema's position in the market it would be that of the story of David and Goliath. Indrema is positioning themselves in a cutthroat industry against much bigger players. So how can the underdog prevail? The answers lie in the making of partnerships, the providing of tools, and the attracting of developers.
To those ends, Indrema is making moves to position itself for a successful product launch. Indrema has made partnerships with companies such as Metro Link, Metrowerks, and CollabNet. These companies will provide open source applications, tools, and a forum in which to promote game design, as well as attract new developer support.
The term "open source" refers to software that is made available by the programmer with an invitation to improve it. Under the open source software development movement, programmers collaborate and peer-review each others' work. Each programmer's improvements can be included in the open source code release. The goal is a computer program that is smaller, faster, more reliable, and has more features. Linux is probably one of the best-known open source efforts. [For more information on the open source movement, please visit The Open Source Initiative.]
Indrema, through its version 0.3 development kit, provides current and prospective developers with the necessary tools and application programming interfaces (APIs) to best design games for the L600. In addition, Indrema is doing the unheard of by providing the development kit at no cost to developers. Companies such as Nintendo and Sony charge in the tens of thousands of dollars for their development kits. The company will also provide an industry-standard programming tool, Code Warrior from Metrowerks, at little or no cost.
Indrema is also blazing a new path in developer certification. Prospective developers must become certified in order to create games for the L600. A one-time fee for certification, as well as royalties on each game sold, will be charged. Developers creating free games for the system will not be charged royalties. Only certified games will run on Indrema's L600.
Other companies within the industry are notorious for their excessive charges and royalty fees upon developers. Indrema hopes to undercut them, and in turn, attract more developers to their platform.
The last key in Indrema's plan to attract developer support is in their developer support network. In this network, developers can download the most recent developer kits, utilize tools to create their games, and take advantage of a developer forum to share and exchange ideas and information with other developers. This is a unique idea that will hopefully pay dividends to the game developers and consumers alike.
What Needs To Happen:
Indrema has made some bold moves and has received the attention of both the gaming industry and consumers. That, believe it or not, is the easy part. The hard part will be in living up to the L600's potential.
It is my hope that Indrema, in focusing upon the gaming aspect of this product, will not ignore all of the product's other capabilities. More than anything else I hope that Indrema is learning from the mistakes of others in the device market.
Indrema needs to make sure the L600 is "productized" at release and not a "work in progress." Indrema needs to ensure that it is easy to use and fully functional. They will need an attractive and intuitive graphic user interface as well as good driver support for plenty of peripherals.
Indrema has made announcements to address some of these concerns. They have stated that the unit will have a wired controller as well as an audio controller, and an optional keyboard and mouse. Indrema has even enlisted a Hollywood special effects studio to design the user interface.
What Indrema has not truly addressed is the Internet capabilities of the L600. With all of the capabilities of the unit I sincerely hope that the unit's Internet access is not considered in an afterthought. I hope to see a complete browser with a good interface and peripherals to compliment the power and functionality of the system.
While there are many devices slated for release in the coming months, none has caught my attention as has the Indrema L600. The unit's blend of raw power and dedication to open source software are a breath of fresh air in a market dominated by proprietary software and 800-pound gorillas. Keep an eye on this company and its product as the next few months should prove to be very interesting.
Indrema L600 Technical Specifications as of November, 2000
- 600 MHz Processor (Intel, AMD or other clone)
- 64 MB Fast Memory
- Upgradable GPU (graphics processing unit) Slide Bay
- 8/30/50 Gigabyte Hard Drive Option
- 100 Megabits per Second Ethernet Port (for cable modem or DSL broadband Internet access)
- 1 S-Video In, 1 Out
- 1 Component HD Out
- 1 Stereo In, 1 Out (Left and Right RCA)
- 1 Digital Audio Out (Optical)
- 4 USB (Universal Serial Bus) Ports for printers, joy-sticks, or other controllers and peripherals)
- Integrated DVD Player
- Wireless Keyboard/Mouse Option
- Special "DV Linux" Distribution
- Supports Mesa 3D, OpenAL and OpenStream (3-D graphics rendering software)
- Next Generation nVidia GPU (graphics processing unit)
- MPEG2 (video compression and playback)
- Dual Stream Hardware Acceleration
- HDTV Output Supports 480p, 720p, 1080i
- 3D Audio Converts to Optical Out
- Integrated Gecko Browser and E-mail (Gecko is Netscape's open source browser engine and is used at the heart of Netscape 6. Gecko supports HTML 4.0, XML, CSS, and DOM.)
- MP3 Storage and Playback System (audio)
- Enhanced Personal TV System (encodes video as MPEG 2 and stores it on the hard drive)
- Bundled Game to be Announced at Launch