|Just before E3 we received an email from a new
company, Indrema, that is bringing a Linux-based console to the market next winter. With a
tentative release date of December 2000, the Indrema L600 should launch with 30 titles,
including Quake III: Arena, Unreal Tournament, Heavy Gear II, and Sim City 2000. The
system is expected to retail for $299 and features an upgradeable graphics processor by
NVidia, and there will be two versions to support both broadband and 56K users right out
of the box. In addition, the package will include MP3 player software and a Mozilla-based
web browser. The hardware specifications for the system are impressive, and the fact that
the graphics processor is upgradeable will at least give the system some real longevity.
Upgrades are expected to cost between $50 and $100, and may potentially be produced by
companies other than NVidia, giving Indrema good mobility in the ever-changing GPU world.
We got a chance to sit down with John Gildred, Founder and CEO of Indrema, at E3 to get the skinny on the new system. By the time we were done, it had become obvious that Indrema has a real chance of success in the console industry. With an eye toward consumer electronics (yes, the Indrema will play DVDs, and, yes, it will offer Internet Television Channels and the like) and a commitment to the games and the open source ethos of Linux, Indrema does expose an ever-growing impulse in gaming. If we compare the games industry to the film industry of the 20th Century, the big guys, Sony, Sega, and Nintendo, can be seen as the Hollywood Studios, and Indrema could be the video game equivalent of the Independent Film Channel. Developers who don't have access to scads of investment capital and scarce harware tools cannot make games for the other console systems, but Indrema offers a solution, enabling virtually anyone with a PC to become an Indrema game developer. It's an exciting time for the company, and console gaming is sure to change forever over the next year or so.
GF!: To start off, what exactly is Indrema going to bring us that we don't have already?
John Gildred: Well Indrema is announcing the first ever Linux-based game console. The unit will eventually offer more than just gaming, in fact, the first product will offer MP3 Personal Music System, web browsing, and a high-speed Internet port. So there are several features that it has that break out of games. But we don't see software products outside of games growing as much this year as in the future. Eventually there will be a tremendous amount of titles that don't necessarily fall into the gaming category that will include video and audio applications.
But the L600, which is our first product offering, and we are very aggressively targeting a release toward the end of the year, will focus on gaming. That system will feature an NVidia graphics chip. It is not the GeForce 2; it's a subsequent chip, and it is also not the chip that will be in the X-Box. It's a different chip, but it will be an extremely fast GPU; it will be integrated into our subsystem, and it will be available with our first product. So it's going to be the fastest thing on the planet when it comes out. It will also offer what is called the GPU Slide Bay Technology. The console is a closed unit, like every console, so when you code games to it, you're coding to a fixed target, not a moving target like on a PC. But the GPU section of the hardware interface can be removed and you can slide it out and pop in the next generation GPU. This is pretty unprecedented, and it will allow for the next generation of gaming. We expect, in 2001, to see some pretty amazing processors coming forth, and towards the end of 2001 there will be some upgrades to our initial offering that will blow people away. Our initial offering is going to be the fastest thing, as I said, but we want to make sure it stays the fastest.
But in addition to that, we will be offering several products that will offer video time-shifting capability so you can pause live TV, create Personal TV channels, and record your Personal TV, and it will also augment the Personal TV system with what we are calling Internet Video Channels. So if you enable the broadband capability of the unit, you will be able to use the Internet Video Channels, which will not only allow the Personal TV to record over your Cable, or whatever you have for normal TV, but will scan specific content sites that have DVD quality video, and it will download that into your Personal TV channels. So imagine the unlimited potential for content that can be downloaded. You could look for "Jerry Seinfeld" and get every interview ever, and every episode syndicated, so the potential for that type of thing is tremendous. It goes way beyond what Tivo or Replay are doing.
We're really excited about the capabilities of broadband, but really that's a future technology that will be available, and the box can handle that, but we won't see a lot of the services being offered or matured until later on. The Internet Video Channels are something we want to offer early on, but it is something where you'll see a lot more content down the road. Gaming is really what we're offering today, and gaming is obviously the most interesting application of the L600, and it's one that we're very serious about. We're very serious about getting the best titles out there, and we estimate about 30 titles available at launch. A lot of those are already available. You see, from Loki Entertainment, they have Linux games which you can run on standard Linux desktops, but when we certify them through Indrema certification, they'll be available on an extremely fast console. The potential for games to grow on our platform is going to be phenomenal. We're seeing a lot of new developers that are coming forth and want to develop on our platform because they can afford to, and they can't afford to do it on PlayStation.
GF!: So you have licensing agreements with developers?
JG: Yes, we do. We're also offering a not-for-profit certification program, so if somebody wants to create a game that will pass the Indrema certification, and they want to let people have it for free, in other words they don't want to market it or sell it at a profit, then we do not charge a royalty fee. And then when they want to charge, when they want to begin to sell it, then obviously it transitions to the standard sort of certification program where there is a royalty attached. But it offers game developers, financially, the ability to get out there into the console market at a very, very low price point. All they really need to do is pass certification and develop a really interesting title. So the next John Carmack could come from who knows where, but they will likely code it onto our system before anything else.
GF!: What kind of tools are required to develop for Indrema? Will standard Linux programming tools work?
JG: Ninety percent of the development kit is standard tools, but we will be releasing a development kit that includes some components specific to our platform. Ours is a console platform, this is nothing that actually translates into the PC space. It is something that, even though you can write it on any PC, and you can use standard APIs, and you can see the actual source code of 80 percent of the underlying archetecture, which while it offers you tremendous control, it doesn't offer you the ability of releasing the same title that will run on the PC. So if you target it for Indrema, you also can target it for Linux, but there is about a 10 percent overhead between the two. It is extremely economical to do that, but there is a difference.
GF!: You mentioned Loki, are there any other developers on board so far?
JG: Yes. We're not announcing the developers outside of the software that comes from Loki. We will be announcing a lot of titles that are going to be on our system that you haven't seen for Linux yet, titles that are coming out on Linux and certified for Indrema, and titles you probably wouldn't expect.
GF!: Any idea when you'll be making those announcements?
JG: Probably within the next three months.
GF!: Excellent. So, there is broadband capability right out of the box. What about narrow band?
JG: Yes, there will be a model that ships with a 56K modem, so you'll be able to do dial-up if you wanted. But gaming over dial-up is a tough sell, because if you've actually tried it you know it's not necessarily a reliable way to do online gaming. We feel that broadband will probably explode that market, but it is just percolating into the marketplace, and it's not going that fast, so we have to be able to go both ways to be prepared for either explosion. If 56K turns out to grow really fast, we're there. If broadband goes faster than everyone expects it for gaming, we're there.
GF!: Will there be a hard drive?
JG: There is a hard drive in the system. You will have an option as to what size to get.
GF!: Do you have any idea of how much Indrema will cost when it comes out?
JG: Yes, we do. We're targeting our entry-level gaming console unit, the L600, at $299. We're targeting $299, but we aren't making a final announcement.
GF!: Any idea of when we'll be able to see screens or demos, get to check it out?
JG: We're going to have a preview event at the end of summer, where we will be actually demonstrating the system. People will be able to touch and feel and play with it. Of course, that's if we're in-line with our launch at the end of the year. If all that scheduling turns out just fine, then you'll see a demonstration at the end of the summer. We're very aggressive at hitting those targets, so we're not commiting to a date, but we're really trying to make it. Additionally, we'll probably have a box shot and screen shots available before the end of summer, so you'll be able to see better what you can expect.