Sunday, January 9, 2011

Insignia Infocast 3.5"

Best Buy had the Insignia Infocast 3.5" on sale for $40 after Christmas, so I bought one online and finally tracked down a unit for pickup in Glendale last week. It's essentially a rebranded Chumby One, which is a device that nobody legitimately needs to have, but that has found a niche market with people who (among other things) want internet access on their alarm clock. It also runs Linux and is easily hackable by design, which is why I got it.

Insignia Infocast 3.5" from Best Buy
Specifications:
  • 454MHz Freescale i.MX233 ARM "applications processor"
  • 64MB RAM
  • 1GB MicroSD storage
  • 320x240x16 touchscreen
  • 802.11b/g wireless
  • 1x external USB 2.0 port
  • 3-axis accelerometer
  • Internal speaker and microphone
There's also a bunch of hidden features on the board, like a 3.3V serial port, composite video out, and digital I/O pins. The hardware developer has a post about this on his blog.

The first thing to do is to void your warranty and get at the SD card to make a backup copy. Almost all the software is on the card, making it very hard to "brick" the Infocast as long as you can restore the card to its original state. There's also a recovery mode activated by powering on while pressing the touchscreen that can save you from minor mishaps.

1. Carefully remove the volume knob.
2. Remove the back shell, held on by 4 recessed Phillips screws.
3. Separate the shell. It is still attached via the whip antenna.
4. Slide the metal cage to the right to remove the MicroSD card.
Once you get the card out, you can pop it into your card reader and make an image (Win32DiskImager on Windows or dd on Linux). Now if you screw up beyond repair, you can start fresh by reimaging a card. I actually didn't do this until after I'd futzed around a bit, so my image is not quite factory-fresh.

Someone else has done a much more detailed teardown of the Infocast 3.5" (here).

There's a lot that the stock Chumby software can do, including streaming internet radio and looking at pictures of cats, but that's not as interesting as using it as an embedded computer. Most of the related easter eggs are detailed on the Chumby Wiki, which is a good place to start. There's a great guide on how to strip down the Chumby One, which I used as a reference to create my own startup scripts.

My barebones boot screen
I assigned a static IP to the Infocast, put it on my router's DMZ, and registered a hostname with a free dynamic DNS service (dyndns.com), pointing to my cable modem's IP that changes every few days. The Infocast is running a dynamic DNS client (inadyn) that updates DynDNS whenever this happens. Note, if you do this, you should set passwords for the root and default users (or disable SSH access).

Next up I think I'll play with the accelerometer and drawing things on the screen. Eventually I'd like to get it interfaced to a UVC webcam.

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