Ouya games console

Teardown: Ouya games console

The designers of the Ouya open-source games console actually want you to tear it down. 

The Ouya games console is one of the few products actually encouraging technically-minded gamers to tear it down. Each unit is also a developer kit. The project's backers want people to wrestle with Ouya's innards and come up with new titles and hacks.

Beyond that, the project is interesting as it is one of the first hardware ventures to get a high-profile consumer release after gaining support via Kickstarter, the online crowd-funding site. There has since been some venture-capital backing, but Ouya is still an attempt to see how far you can take gaming development on a budget.

Ouya has raised just $23.6m ($8.6m via Kickstarter and $15m from professional investors) - that is less than 5 per cent of what Sony or Microsoft are likely to be investing in their next-generation hardware.

Equally, the HD 1080p-capable Ouya arrives with a very low price. In the US, it will cost $99 ('65). Tediously but predictably, the UK price is '99.95.

A number of key decisions have kept costs down. Firstly, Ouya runs its own flavour of the Jelly Bean 4.1/4.2 open-source Android operating system. As well as having helped the design, that will entice developers to a broadly familiar environment.

Secondly, Ouya has highly focused off-the-shelf hardware specifications. The main engine is a 1.7Ghz nVidia's Tegra 3 processor, a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 design. Alongside it are standard parts making up 1GB of DRAM, power management, the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module, the USB/Ethernet controller and the NAND flash/controller.

The controller tells a similar story, running off a single standard Broadcom part that integrates both the Bluetooth transceiver and an ARM Cortex-M3-based processor.

One of the first teardown groups to take a pass at the Ouya, publicly at any rate, is iFixit. Its experience bears out the claims that this is a hacker-friendly box.

Get past a few standard hexagonal and Philips screws and you are inside either the main unit or the controller. Getting at the motherboard requires a couple of fingers and some jiggling, and out it pops.

The iFixit team says that the one challenging element - though 'challenging' is relative here - is removing the heatsink that covers the main processors. This has been soldered rather than clipped into place, so you need a little grace with the soldering wick.

The decision to solder rather than clip points to some design decisions made because of the Ouya's size: the main unit just about fits in your palm. Given that such a small box is likely to get knocked about a bit, solder was found to be more robust when the box was bashed around a bit.

Similarly, where we have been increasingly used to small (typically mobile) products that look to reduce size and weight, the Ouya actually has five 11g weights in its base.

These do not just make the box feel more substantial, it acts as counters to keep it upright when some or all of its ports are used (there are five: DC, mUSB, Ethernet, HDMI and USB 2.0).

Overall, iFixit gives the Ouya 9/10 as a fixable - and here, by reasonable extension, hackable - device. So what happens now?

Already, the Ouya's open-source pitch means that it has been doing a fair bit of growing up in public. Units have already been sent out to Kickstarter supporters and some reviewers. The early feedback was mixed.

Some criticised elements of the physical design - sticky controller keys was one recurring criticism. Others noted too much latency in response between the controller and the games on screen.

However, as further tweaks appear to have been made in the run-up to its official public debut, some of the charges have receded. That is how open source is supposed to work. You invite a community to refine the core technology as well as add to it.

The extra factor here, though, is whether the Ouya team has sufficiently tested its hardware before shipping it to more casual users. Joe Public is less forgiving than those who frequent open-source message boards.

Ouya has succeeded in getting some major games companies to provide content for its launch. But its future really lies in its apps/Xbox-inspired sales model: each piece of software will have a try-before-you-buy demo version, intended to allow both established and new players to tug your coat.

The point with Ouya is that the box is not the end of the story. In that respect, it has a business model closer to, say, a Kindle than any of the established players.

Recent articles

Info Message

Our sites use cookies to support some functionality, and to collect anonymous user data.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them