A Win For The Raspberry Pi Compute Module

News comes from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, of something of a coup for their Compute Module product. Support for it is to be integrated into NEC’s line of commercial displays, and the electronics giant has lined up a list of software partners to provide integrated signage solutions for the platform.

It is interesting to note how NEC have done this, while it’s being spun by the Foundation as a coup for them the compute module sits on a daughter board in a slot on the back of the display rather than on the display PCB itself. They are likely hedging their bets with this move, future daughter boards could be created to provide support for other platforms should the Compute Module board fail to gain traction.

Given that this relates to a high-end commercial product from just one manufacturer, what’s in it for us in the hardware community? After all, it’s not as if you’ll be seeing Compute Module slots in the back of domestic TVs or monitors from NEC or any other manufacturer in the near future. The answer is that such a high-profile customer lends the module platform a commercial credibility that it may not yet have achieved.  Until now, it has found a home mainly in more niche or boutique products, this appearance in something from a global manufacturer takes it to a new level. And as the module finds its way into more devices the chances of them coming within the reach of our community and providing us with opportunities for adapting them for our purposes through the Pi platform become ever greater.

The use of the Compute Module in displays made for public signage is oddly a continuation of an unseen tradition for ARM-based machines from Cambridge. Aside from British schools a significant market for the Acorn Archimedes platform that spawned ARM was the embedded signage market, and even today there are still plenty of signs concealing RiscOS machines out there in the wild.

We covered the launch of the Compute Module in 2014, but it’s fair to say it’s not appeared much since in the world of Raspberry Pi projects from hardware hackers. This is not because it’s not a good platform; more likely that the Raspberry Pi models A, B, and particularly the Zero are so much cheaper when you consider the significant cost of the Compute Module development board. At the Raspberry Pi 4th birthday party earlier this year, while covering the event as your Hackaday scribe but also wearing my metaphorical Pi kit supplier and Pi Jam organizer hats I stood up in the Q&A session and asked the Foundation CEO Phil Colligan to consider a hardware developer program for the platform. Perhaps a cut-down Compute Module developer board would be an asset to such a program, as well as driving more adoption of that particular board.

40 thoughts on “A Win For The Raspberry Pi Compute Module

  1. I have always wanted display-only TVs.
    Have an external box with 4x HDMI and maybe analog jacks, done.
    No smart-part that is obsolete in 12 months but will eat power for the rest of the TV’s life.
    No fiddling with HDMI-cables on the back of your TV.
    Putting the Rasp inside is cute, but it could very well just sit outside in a slim box and held by the HDMI…

    1. Indeed. A wall mounted TV should need two or one cable going in – power and a video signal to a break-out box near the rest of your AV components. It’s horrible having umpteen video cables going into the TV, all hanging around.

      The other request is that said AV components should be made a lot less deep. C’mon, the TV is 5cm deep now, so having your components stick out 30cm these days is just a PITA.

      1. if the rest of your AV system is located so close to the display that a 30cm depth is a hardship, you’re doing it wrong. Put the hardware into a nice cabinet somewhere more suitable.

    2. Last time I was in Costco, Vizio had a whole line of “no tuner” TVs. My current home theater layout has one more cable than you list: audio back from the TV to the receiver (because it’s an older unit that doesn’t support return audio on the HDMI cable), that’s actually redundant because of the four-tuner TiVo I recently added, so I could take that out of the loop.

      1. They advertise those as ‘SmartCast’ tv’s and they have a built-in chromecast basically. It’s a huge step down from the ones with built in Netflix/Amazon/Hulu in my opinion. My mom has no idea how to use smartcast, but she can figure out how to hit the netflix button and just have it work.

        1. While it might seem nice (and is!) in the short term, the lifespan of the “smart” functionality will almost certainly be shorter than the rest of the display itself. After a few years, the vendor will probably EOL it, and then there won’t be any more software updates, and then Netflix/Hulu/Amazon will stop supporting that software version, and suddenly the whole TV will stop working, until you buy an external box or some sort of Chromecast-style plugin. That’s the endgame for all “Smart TV” systems: either they become dumb displays or they become garbage. Personally, I’d rather just get the dumb display and go through the setup hassle now, rather than at some indeterminate date in the future when one company or another in the stack decides to pull the proverbial plug.

    3. Uh? Even if part of a TV is obsolete in 12 months (doubtful), you still have some plaethora of HDMI, VGA, etc, inputs. So simply stop using the obsolete components. I bought a 50″ 4k (should really be called 2k) “smart tv” (i.e., has amazon video, netflix, etc.). Was cheaper than anything else ($400). It still has 4 HDMI ports, one of which goes to a computer. So what is the problem? (BTW: I do use the amazon video and netflix app, they are not fantastic but they work and they work at 2k).

    4. This is fine for its target market. With signage, they might not want external boxes.

      I think what you’re looking for is called a monitor. In many markets, to market it as a TV, it’s required to have speakers and a tuner.

      I don’t care for smart features but it seems that’s the the way things are. It might even cost more to get less nowadays. I’ve turned off my smart TV’s functions, even when new it was pretty clunky compared to external devices.

      1. Yup, a monitor. In years to come, the cheapest TVs will come with just a couple of HDMI ports. Certainly monitors will be HDMI-only.

        A tuner for terrestrial broadcast TV is probably going to stick around too, since it’s something everyone has available to them. I would guess the digital side of TV tuning, turning the transport stream into pixels on the screen, is integrated enough into the other digital stuff, that it costs almost nothing extra. Now that MPEG decoding can be done entirely in software, now that even the cheapest CPUs can run at 1GHz, and often have multiple cores.

        The analogue tuner side I suppose costs a little, but that’s largely the same technology all TVs have had, since the start.

        With electronics so highly integrated, and so much processing power, all the extra “smart” stuff probably pays for itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if people like Netflix pay manufacturers to include their software.

        Personally I don’t want a “smart” TV, I’ll wire it up to the PC if I want to run programs on it. A PC that I still more or less control.

  2. “…the Raspberry Pi models A, B, and particularly the Zero are so much cheaper when you consider the significant cost of the Compute Module development board.”

    Actually, they’re cheaper even if you *don’t* consider the cost of the development board. Single units of the Compute Module are $40 (at least in the US), compared with $5 for the equivalent spec Zero, or $35 for the much more powerful Pi3.

    While I know the CM has more capability than the Zero, it seems like offering the Zero with an edge connector would actually be more useful to more people.

    1. It’s legitimate that a non-profit can generate revenue from a commercial spin-off of its work. Universities do this all the time. The money gets ploughed back into the nonprofit and helps make it independent of grants and donations.

      Non-profits can generate revenue. Just not a profit. :-)

    1. We don’t want tv’s with kodi built in. That would most certainly lead to the downfall of all those wonderful repositories. Too much popularity will draw more attention to the fact that premium content is being given away. What *NEEDS* to happen is tv’s coming with android as the default OS. There’s already an android TV flavor just waiting to be exploited commercially.

  3. I want a new TV with this kind of connection in it. As well as computer monitors. And other things. I’d love to buy some IP security cameras with good optics and maybe pan-tilt-zoom mechanics and then shove a pi in the bottom of it for the computer board. Then maybe I could put some not-terrible software on those. Damn Foscams with their built-in websites that require IE for some options. Also, motion or python right on the camera.

    1. People cluster Pis, as practice for setting up and programming a supercomputer. For practical purposes though you’d get much better results with an 8-core Intel than a bunch of Pis networked up. Pis are for low-end low-power computing, the limits, like no high-speed interconnect between modules, and overall lack of MIPS, make them useless for number crunching.

      I don’t think the Broadcom chip has any fast interconnect stuff on board, so even with a different board, it’d be impossible. Horses for courses.

  4. Wow, that’s almost exactly like…the “Cell Computer” circa 1994 (pentium SBC on a so-dimm, touted as the end-all for adding a little computing power to everything and anything. Remember them? No? Wonder why…

    Still, best of luck to both (all) partners in this venture, anytime RPi is used is good I suppose. And, I can’t wait for them to turn up in a few years on the surplus market for pennies on the dollar.

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