Author: simonmackay

SlotMusic – the Musicassette of the 21st Century

SlotMusic web site

Those of us who lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s, will remember the pre-recorded cassettes being another way to sell recorded music. These tapes were typically marketed as “Musicassettes” and were able to be played in any old cassette player or recorder that existed, whether in (or under) the dashboard of a car, a portable unit or a cassette deck attached to the hi-fi system. They were typically considered second-rate to the LP record and people who were serious about music quality typically recorded the LP onto one side of a blank C-90 cassette for in-car or portable use rather than buying these tapes.

This was until the 1980s where there were many high-quality cassette players and recorders being used by the public. This was exemplified by the Walkman personal cassette player and the large “boom boxes” of that era and vehicle builders equipping their premium vehicles with high-quality cassette players. It led to the music industry improving the quality of these tapes by using improved tape stock for the cassettes, implementing an improved signal path and using stringent quality control during the tape replication process. This led to the cassette being respected more as an analogue recorded-music medium alongside the LP record. Some people then ended up not using the turntable function of a music centre or built up a music system with a cassette deck as the system’s only packaged-music source.

Now, SanDisk has implemeted the MicroSD card as a recorded-music distribution medium for use with mobile phones or MP3 players. The medium, market as “SlotMusic”, is sold with an accompanying USB card reader for use with PCs or media players equipped with USB ports, but can be played on equipment that has a MiniSD or standard SD card slot through the use of a MiniSD or standard SD adaptor card. These cards will contain 320kbps MP3 files of all the music that is on the album.

I have read many criticisms to this format, primarily by CD enthusiasts who see it as another poor-quality format for portable use. This is going to be very much the same sentiment that was held regarding the pre-recorded Musicassettes where they were only suitable for playing on a low-quality portable cassette recorder and weren’t fit for use on a hi-fi system.

As far as the home network is concerned, music files on a SlotMusic card can be copied to a DLNA media server which can provide them out to other DLNA music clients. This could be done either by copying the files in to a directory named after the album using the network file-transfer techniques or by “inducting” the SlotMusic card’s contents in to the music collection using the PC jukebox software’s content-import procedures and, if necessary, synchroniing that data to the music server.

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802.11r – the new wireless-networking standard

In August-September 2008, there has been a fair bit of talk in the IT press about the new IEEE 802.11r standard for wireless networks. It isn’t a new waveband or transmission standard for these networks.

Instead it is an improved method of handling the “handover” procedure when a wireless-network client moves between two access points in a multi-access-point network. The idea behind this is to make the handover process hard to notice if you are using a multimedia service which works with streamed audio or video like VoIP or audio / video streaming. The same feature will also benefit multi-machine multi-player gaming such as Internet-hosted online gaming because everything that is part of the game is kept in sync, thus making sure that you can “frag” the opponent there and then. With current technology, if you move between different access points while using a multimedia service, you will notice an obvious “glitch” because of the requirement to re-associate with the network when in the new access point’s area.

The improvement is based on a “work-ahead” procedure where the client will log in with access points of the same “extended service set” while utilising the current access point. Then it will “switch over” to whichever access point has the best signal, thus avoiding unnecessary glitches.

The main issue with this technology, like any new standard being introduced, is how it can work with existing networks and equipment. As well, there is the issue of an upgrade path for existing equipment. In the first situation, would 802.11r-based clients be able to achieve the fast handover with wireless networks that work with current technology and would 802.11r-based access points work with existing WiFi clients. This also includes wireless networks where some access points may be 802.11r-enabled and some may be on existing technology. This would typify operating environments where a gradual roll-out is implemented because there will be an initial price premium for newer equipment being equipped with 802.11r and it would still wouldn’t be cost-effective to replace all access points at the same time. This brings me to what will be discussed in the next paragraph regarding existing equipment.

The second situation would determine what is needed to be done to an existing network to roll out the new technology. Could this be achieved through a firmware or software upgrade on existing equipment or would it require totally-new equipment to be deployed? This issue would be very pertinent when it comes to small wireless networks where one of the access points is built in to a wireless router that is on the network-Internet edge. It also would encompass most outdoor access points and, of course, those HomePlug-based wireless access points like the Netcomm NP-290W / Solwise PL-85PEW which I have mentioned about in this blog.

This issue may not be exposed in the small-network space because the typical small wireless network is based around only one access point — the one built in to the router at the network’s “edge”. But as I have mentioned in this blog about setting up multi-access-point wireless networks which have an Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbone as a way of extending the wireless network or conquering wireless-network reception difficulties, the issue of the 802.11r “fast-handover” technology will have to be exposed to this class of network. This is important if the network is being used for VoIP, streamed IP-based multimedia or online-gaming “frag-fests”.

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Network-Attached Storage Should Feature File Allocation, Searching, and Media Sharing in Addition to Increased Capacity | eHomeUpgrade

Network-Attached Storage Should Feature File Allocation, Searching, and Media Sharing in Addition to Increased Capacity | eHomeUpgrade

My comments on this topic

We are increasingly using our computers to build digital media libraries, whether through taking digital pictures and movies with our digital cameras and digital handycams, copying media that exists in packaged form to the hard disks of our computers or downloading material from various Web sites.
This is definitely leading to us running out of hard-disk space on our computers. The typical home network will end up with an aggregate collection media files in the many gigabytes or even terabytes across all of the machines.
The network-attached storage systems that are on the market are being sold primarily on capacity, the disk arrangement being used and, in the case of multi-disk units, what RAID level they support.
When I check out any NAS box, even units that are for small-business use, I look for units that use UPnP AV MediaServer / DLNA functionality. This function allows them to be effective in searching media files and presenting them to digital media playback devices that conform to UPnP AV / DLNA specifications.  An improvement that I would like to see for NAS-based UPnP media front-ends would be to support all “in-file” metadata systems like ID3, and EXIF (including Windwos Live Photo Gallery’s tags).
If you have a network with many Apple-controlled front-ends, the Apple-controlled front-ends will be primarily running iTunes and an iTunes / “daap”-compatible media front end can provide access to the media files from iTunes.
Software manufacturers could work on ways to differentiate media-handling abilities amongst the network-attached storage devices that they offer for home and small-business use.
A feature that could definitely be an improvement on this could be software that can aggregate media libraries from different storage locations and present it as a “premises-wide” media directory. This can also include automatic synchronisation of new media between computers and network-attached storage units so that media commonly used is always available at all times.
Other features could include Web-based directories so one can see what is on the NAS using a Web browser for example. This could be a useful implementation of Web 2.0 techniques like AJAX for example.

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Feature Article: Extending your wireless network's coverage

 Many of you who have viewed this blog have been looking for information about extending the wireless segment of your home network. Typically it may be to cover a large house or to gain wireless coverage past a radio obstacle like thick brick / stone walls, foil-lined insulation or double-glazing which uses metal-based heat reflection techniques. Previously, I have mentioned about using this technique to mitigate microwave-oven interference on the 2.4GHz band which 802.11g works on.

 

Most wireless-network equipment manufacturers have released repeater devices that catch the existing wireless-network signal and expose it in to the new area. Some of these setups work on a vendor-specific manner or may work according to standard WDS bridging techniques. But they all require the use of equipment compatible with each other, usually equipment supplied by the same vendor.

The “extended service set”

The method that I am going to talk about here is the establishment of an “extended service set” comprising of multiple access points serving the same network and using the same SSID and security parameters. All the access points have to be connected to a common wired-network backbone which is part of the same logical network; and the access points must be working on the same technology – the same 802.11 variation and operating mode (G-only, N-only, mixed mode, etc)

This method can be performed with access points or wireless routers supplied by different vendors, thus permitting the use of equipment which is suited for the job at hand. It can allow for use of surplus routers simply as access points as long as they are configured correctly.

The diagram below shows what a small network should be like when running an extended service set.

Home Network with extended wireless segment

The network backbone

The wired-network backbone can work on any wired-network media such as a Cat5 Ethernet, HomePlug power-line, fibre-optic LAN, MoCA TV-aerial coax, HomePNA phone-line or a mix of these technologies bridged to each other. It can even work with a dedicated inter-building wireless backbone that may be used for larger properties or to join shops separated by a street.

The network backbone can handle other network traffic from wired-network devices like servers, desktop computers and games consoles; and become the network’s local data path to the Internet. This is while it works as the backbone for the wireless “extended service set”.

You may have be lucky to have an Ethernet cable in your house if you had it “wired for data”. But most houses typically wouldn’t have this facility everywhere.  The other technology that I have found to do this job equally well is HomePlug powerline networking which works over the cable infrastructure used to provide AC power to your lights and appliances. It can reach further than the existing building, which is a boon if you need to extend coverage to garages, sheds, cabins or other outbuildings or have Internet access in a caravan or campervan used as a “sleepout” or mobile office.

Access Points

These devices are the transmitters that bring the data from the wired network backbone to the wireless client devices and make up the extended service set.

You typically will have one such device in the form of your wireless router which is at your network’s Internet-network “edge”. The wired-network backbone used as part of this “extended service set” would be connected to one of the LAN ports on this device. If you use a wireless router with one Ethernet port for the LAN and that port is used for a desktop computer or similar wired-network device, you will need to expand the number of sockets by using an Ethernet switch. These will typically be a “dime a dozen” for a five-port or eight-port unit. There are also some HomePlug-Ethernet bridges that have a built-in four-port switch that are worth considering if you are setting up a HomePlug backbone.

Repurposing the old wireless router

If you upgraded your wireless router to a newer model, you will still have your existing router gathering dust. This can work as an access point but will need to be configured appropriately. You will need to disable the following functions:

* DHCP server

* UPnP Internet Gateway Device functionality (typically referred to as UPnP)

* Dynamic DNS functionality (if used)

As well, you will need to set the LAN IP address to something that is within your network’s IP address range but preferably out of the address pool used by the current router. The reason you have to take care of this setup is because there needs to be only one device performing “network-Internet edge” functions such as DHCP in a network and this device should be the one at the logical network-Internet border.

When you connect this router to the wired backbone, you use any of the LAN ports to connect the backbone. Never use the WAN port on this router for the wired backbone.

“3-in-1” HomePlug wireless access points

There is an increasing number of wireless access points that work with a HomePlug or Ethernet backbone. These devices, such as the Netcomm NP290W / Solwise PL-85PEW and the Devolo dLAN Wireless Extender, are as big as a compact “wall-wart” power adaptor used to power most electronic devices from the mains and plug directly in to the power outlet. They bridge between an 802.11g wireless segment (as an access point or wireless client bridge), a HomePlug powerline segment and a Cat5 Ethernet segment.

These units come in handy if you need to extend a wireless network on a temporary basis or simply if a compact device can do the job better than a large access point. They would come in to their own when you are using the extension access point to mitigate microwave-oven interference in the kitchen or if you want to extend the home network to a static caravan.

Configuring the access points

You will need to know the SSID and the WEP or WPA wireless security parameters that are operational for your network. These are the only factors that need to be common amongst all of the access points of the network. The reason that the SSID and security parameters are set to the same details is so that wireless client devices can roam between the different access points without any user intervention.

The radio channels for each of the access points have to be set differently to each other. It is a good idea to set the access point closest to the kitchen to Channel 1 if you have a microwave oven in that kitchen. This is because, from my research, most of the domestic-market microwave ovens work at 2450 MHz which is between Channels 8 and 9 on the 802.11g channel list. I had tried an experiment to see whether a microwave can upset a wireless-network “cell” that is tuned away from its operating frequency.

The wireless client devices

There is no need to reconfigure any of the wireless client devices such as laptop computers once you have set up the network according to the above instructions.

You will see an improvement in network performance when you operate your wireless client devices in areas where you barely could operate them. The signal-strength bar-graph that is part of your wireless client device’s network management software will register a stronger signal as the client device comes in to vicinity of the access points.

Conclusion

Once you have followed the steps in this article, you will be able to extend the effective coverage of your wireless home network or make your wireless network cover everywhere in your house even if it uses metal-based energy-efficiency measures or has thick brick or stone walls.

 

 

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Feature Article: Making Sure Your Home Wireless Network Is Secure

This Christmas, you may have received a new wireless Internet router as a Christmas present and are eager to dabble in the joys of wireless “hot and cold running Internet”. You will need to make sure that this network is operating in a secure manner in order to stop unknown and unaccounted use of your bandwidth allowance and to stop others from raiding your household’s private data. This is as essential as making sure that your home is physically secure through your use of deadlocks and intruder alarm systems.

Most likely, you will have implemented computer security measures like installing and using a desktop firewall and desktop virus-control and spyware-control utilities. You will also have deployed a spam-control utility on your e-mail inbox or signed up to a spam-filter service provided by your ISP.

Getting started on making your wireless network secure

Use the “Getting Started” leaflet for your router to identify how to configure it. You may have to run the CD that was supplied with your router and will need to connect your computer to it using the Ethernet cable that should have been supplied with it.

Windows Vista

Those of you with Windows Vista who have routers marked with a “Certified for Windows Vista” logo may find this job easier because the operating system will discover the router and put up a prompt at the right hand side of your screen upon power-up. You may have to click on “Control Panel”, then “Network and Internet”, then click on “Connect to a network”.

Next click “Set up a wireless router or access point” and click “Next” twice. Windows will interrogate your router and if it can’t be configured through Windows Vista, you will see a window which offers two options – “Configure the device manually” and “Create wireless network settings and save to USB drive”. Click on the first option to open the wireless router’s configuration page. If you just unwrapped it, you will need to use the default password printed in the router’s documentation.

Also, click on the second option to prepare a configuration set for your router. With this wizard, you will need to create an SSID and WPA network security key. Work through the wizard and choose a network name (SSID) that is peculiar to your premises and transcribe this SSID. Then click “Next” and accurately transcribe the passphrase written in the wizard.

Put a USB memory key in the computer then click Next. When the screen darkens, click “Allow”. Choose the situation appropriate to your network. If your network is already established, select the “Custom settings” option and click “Next”. Then click “Close”. You have created a master configuration set for your wireless network and that is now stored on your USB key.

Go back to the wireless router configuration page that you opened before in the second paragraph and go to the Wireless Network option. Copy the SSID into the “SSID” or “Wireless Network Name” box. Then go to the Wireless Security box and set your router to WPA-Personal and copy the WPA network security key into the passphrase box. At this point, go to the administrator password option and change the administrator password to something that you remember but is secure.

Windows XP SP2

If you don’t have the “Getting Started” leaflet on hand, connect to the router as described before and type “cmd.exe” in to the Run prompt. This is accessible by pressing [Windows| and R together on the keyboard. Then type “ipconfig” in to the command prompt. Look for the “gateway address” and note it down. Then use your Web browser to log in to the router.

Opan Control Panel and click on Wireless Network Setup option. Enter an SSID (wireless network name) that is peculiar to your premises and select “Automatically assign a network key”. Tick Use WPA encryption instead of WEP and click “Next”. Select “Use a USB flash drive” and click Next to copy the details to a USB memory key which you have inserted in your computer. Select the drive letter that corresponds to the USB memory key. Click “Next” to copy the details to your USB memory key.

Windows Vista, Windows XP SP2

“Dip” the USB memory key into the USB port on any Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista computer with a wireless network ability that is part of your network and select the Wireless Network Setup Wizard option on the AutoPlay dialog box.

Apple MacOS X, UNIX (Linux)

Put the USB memory key in to the computer and open the SMRTNTKY folder. Open the WSETTING.TXT file and copy the SSID and WPA network key in to your wireless network configuration utility. In the case of the MacOS X, make sure that it is part of your “keyring”. Then dismount and remove the USB memory key.

All operating systems

Then put the USB memory key in to a computer attached to a printer and click on the “Open Folder to view files” option  Open the SMRTNTKY folder and click on WSETTING text document (WSETTING.TXT) . Print this document out and keep it in your files. This is of importance for when you connect up newer wireless network devices.

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Feature Article – DLNA Media Network Series: Getting Started with DLNA Media Sharing

UPDATED 26 January 2010

Most of us will end up with a large collection of picture, music or video files on our computers, especially if we use our computers as a large media library. It would be nice to have access to this content without having to copy it out to thumbdrives, SD cards or iPods before we can enjoy it.

Why share your music, pictures and video the DLNA way?

An increasing number of dedicated network media client devices are on the market and nearly all of these devices work according to the UPnP AV / DLNA media-client standards. The ubiquitous Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 games consoles that every teenage boy dreams of having both work according to these standards. Most manufacturers who are selling premium table radios are supplying at least one which can pick up Internet radio broadcasts through a home network and these sets are also capable of picking up media made available to them from a UPnP AV media server. I have reviewed a few of these units in this blog lately, such as the Pure Evoke Flow and the Revo iBlik RadioStation. This same function is increasing becoming a product differentiation feature for most consumer electronics equipment like home-theatre receivers and flat-screen televisions.
 

004 - Denon S-52 network audio receiver playing Pink Floyd over the network

  
Denon S-52 Wireless Network CD Music Systm (DLNA enabled)
  
005 - Tivoli Networks Radio
Tivoli NetWorks Internet Radio (DLNA enabled)
 
By using a DLNA-based setup, you don’t need to install different media-server programs for each network-media client that you happen to buy. In some situations, you may only need to run whatever is supplied with the computer’s operating system.

Setting up your network for DLNA media

Most home, small-business and some branch-office networks don’t require any revision because they typically are one logical network that spans the premises with the router that exists at the network-Internet “edge” being the device that handles basic network housekeeping. This doesn’t matter whether the network has one or more media segments like WiFi wireless, Cat5 Ethernet or HomePlug powerline cabling.
 
You will need to know the ESSID and the WEP or WPA security key for your wireless network. This may be obtained through the router’s Web administration page or through your client PC’s wireless-network-setup parameters such as in Windows Connect Now. If you are connecting your DLNA media client to the network via wireless, you will need to make sure that the wireless access point or router is broadcasting the ESSID so you can pick it from a list using the device’s user interface and be sure you are “in reach” of the network. This practice would be important when you run a multi-access-point wireless network or simply to help with making sure that neighbouring wireless networks are set up properly. As well, you will need to be ready to enter the WEP or WPA security passphrase by “picking out” characters from a list using buttons on the device or its remote control.
Home Network with DLNA equipment
 

Network layout

 

Setting up your PC jukebox software for DLNA

If you are running Windows XP, Vista or 7, you can use Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Player 12 (in the case of Windows 7) as your media server. Before you start “ripping” CDs to the hard disk, make sure the program is set to rip without DRM (Copy Protect Music checkbox in the Rip Music options tab is cleared) and that it is set to rip CDs at 192kbps WMA or 320kbps MP3. The reason I would rip at these settings is to be assured of sound reproduction that is as close to the CD album as possible. You may use the MP3 codec for maximum compatibility or WMA for efficient storage if your DLNA media clients can handle WMA.
.Windows Media - CD ripping settings
 
As well, you will have to set Windows Media Player 11 to automatically permit devices to benefit from its media library. This is done by going to “Library”, then selecting “Media Sharing” and clicking on “Settings”. The “Media Sharing – Default Settings” dialog box will open whereupon you make sure that the “Allow new devices and computers automatically” checkbox is selected.
If you don’t use any sort of ratings in your media as far as sharing is concerned, you may have to select “All ratings” in both the “Star Ratings” and “Parental Ratings” options. This will make sure all media is available for all of the devices.
Windows Media - Media Sharing settings
For your pictuers, you will have to add the folder that contains your photos to Windows Media Player’s media library. Similarly, you will have to do this for your video folders.
 
 
Linux users have access to a large plethora of media-server software such as TwonkyVision and TVersity as well as a large collection of open-source media-server software. You will still have to use a CD jukebox program set up to rip CDs at 320kbps MP3.
 
Apple and Windows users who use iTunes as their CD jukebox but will need to use either TwonkyVision, Elgato EyeConnect or Allegro Media Server. They will need to make sure that the iTunes directory is the one to be provided by the media server. Again, iTunes will need to be set up to rip at 320kbps MP3 for best compatibility and quality. The program may support transcoding to lower bandwidth settings for use whenever music is being transferred out to an iPod.
 
Infact, I have written up some more detailed information about setting up an Apple Macintosh computer to work as part of a DLNA-based home media network because of the increasing popularity of these computers. The article, “UPnP AV (DLNA) for the Apple Macintosh platform”, covers other media server programs that exist for that platform.
 
 The media server would need to be set up to work with the folders that are being used as the primary folders for music, photo and video storage.  I have explained how to go about this for your music, especially if you use iTunes or Windows Media Player. For your photos and videos, you simply add the folders used by your photo management and video management software to store your images.
 
 
 The DLNA media-server programs typically index music files according to artist, album, track, genre, and some may support separate identification of composers, contributing artists (important for soundtracks and compilation albums) and other metadata for pictures and videos. Some, like TwonkyVision, allow for alphabetical clustering and other efficient sorting arrangements. This is typically because UPnP AV / DLNA allows for the server to determine how it presents the library to the client devices.
 
As far as playlists are concerned, they will typically be listed in a “Playlists” collection with each playlist being its own collection in that tree. By having a playlist as a collection of tracks rather than a reference to a playlist file, it means that the media clients don’t have to be compatible with the playlist file format that the jukebox program works with.
 
Some of the media servers like Windows Media Player 11 or TwonkyVision support transcoding to common file formats for situations where a DLNA media client cannot handle a particular media type. This can come in handy for file types like WMA which aren’t handled by all UPnP AV media players.
 

Setting up the DLNA clients

Enrolling the DLNA clients in to your network

You will need to make your DLNA media client become part of the network. This can be a simple task of plugging it in to your Ethernet network segment or into your HomePlug powerline network segment using a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge.

Integrating wireless-enabled DLNA clients to the wireless network

If you are connecting your wireless-enabled DLNA media client to the WiFi network, you will need to configure it for this network. This will require you to enter the device’s setup menu and select the option pertaining to wireless network setup. Then you get the device to search for your network’s ESSID which is commonly referred to as the SSID, Network Name or something similar. Once your device has detected your wireless network, you will be prompted to enter the WEP or WPA security passphrase. At this point, enter the passphrase in to the device. These procedures will have to be done as mentioned in the “Setting up your network for DLNA media” section.
 
Some DLNA network media clients may use a “quick set-up” method like Windows Connect Now or WPS. This will typically involve either transferring a USB memory key between a Windows XP or Vista wireless-equipped notebook computer and the device; or registering the device with the wireless router. This procedure may be as simple as pressing a “register” button on the router and the device or copying the device’s PIN number (which would be on the device itself or in a WPS setup option in the device’s setup menu) in to the wireless router’s setup menu.
 
If you use MAC-address filtering on your wireless router, you will need to register the DLNA media device as an “accepted” network device. This will require you to copy the device’s wireless MAC address, which will be on a sticker attached to the device itself, in to the router’s trusted MAC-address list.

Making sure the DLNA clients detect the media server

You will need to make sure that the media server program is running on the PC that has the media that you are sharing. Most such programs may run a media server component as a background task while the computer is fully on but some may require the jukebox program to be running all the time.
Another thing to check is the desktop firewall software. This should be set to allow the media server software outbound and inbound access to the network as a server. The Windows Firewall software that is part of all Microsoft desktop operating systems since Windows XP Service Pack 2 makes this easy by allowing immediate access to Windows Media Player or asking you if you want to allow the application to have network access. Other third-party firewalls may require the server application to be allowed Internet access by you adding the software to their application “white lists”.
You may have to select “Network Music”, “PC Music” or something similar on most network-enabled music devices like Internet radios in order to gain access to the music library that you have made available.  Then you select the “hostname” of the PC, which may be commensurate to its standard computer name or its primary owner’s name. The DLNA client will then show the media type that it can work with. You then select that type and use the controls to select the media you are interested in.

Summary

Once you have your network and media-server computer set up properly, you can work with providing music and other media to network media receiver devices without much hassle.
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Mainstream-priced Internet radio from Sanyo

Sanyo R227 Internet Radio review in Wi-Fi Planet

EhomeUpgrade announcement of the Sanyo R227 appearing on the US market

My comments:

This Internet radio, which will be appearing in the US market in 2009, is the first Internet radio / UPnP-AV (DLNA) compatible media player to be available from a mass-market brand at a price that appeals to the mass market. Most such sets are typically priced at a level that causes most consumers to think twice about buyint one and may not be available at retailers visited by most people.
 
I have also noticed that, especially in the Australian market, mauufacturers tend to place a steep premium on network or Internet functionality as far as consumer electronics is concerned. For example, I had noticed the Kodak EasyShare EX1011 WiFi-enabled digital picture frame (which can work with UPnP-AV media libraries) being sold for nearly AUD$400 where others that work from memory cards or thumbdrives only come in for under AUD$200. Then there isn’t much public awareness in the mass-market consumer-electronics retail channel about the idea of “pulling-up” media like audio files or digital images that are held on a home computer using devices that are connected to the same network used for gaining access to the Internet. 
 
What needs to happen is that more of the manufacturers that are well known to the mass-market need to sell network-enabled equipment at prices that appeal to most customers, especially by placing such equipment in the value-priced segment for the equipment type. They should also stick to having the equipment use UPnP AV / DLNA as the preferred network media-provisioning protocol so that customers don’t need to clutter their computers with many poorly-written network-media-provisioning programs that are awkward to run. This also takes the responsibility of writing a media-server program away from the equipment vendor thus allowing for cost-effective network-capable hardware.
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Feature Article: Multi-Building Home Networks

What is a multi-building home network

A multi-building home network is a home or other small network where network devices are used in at least two buildings on the one property. The idea is for the whole logical network to be pervasive in all or some of the buildings that are on that same property.

The network will end up comprising of multiple segments (physical network connections) that cover each building where network presence is desired. Then there are segments that exist to create a bridge for data to move between buildings.

What properties and situations is this kind of network relevant to

The situation where this network comes in to its own is where it is desirable to have the home office in another building such as a detached garage or barn, but also the same Internet bandwidth needs to be available in the home and the detached building. This is more prevalent with farms where the “office” is the barn and none of the farm business is transacted in the homestead.

The same situation can exist with properties where there is at least one cabin, bungalow or static caravan that is used for extra guests or older children. Here, it may be desirable to provide the same Internet access as what exists in the main house to these locations. This is important with older children who use these buildings as their private space for activities including playing online games. In a similar vein, the same situation may extend to the use of a cabana that is located by the pool or in the garden as a place to benefit from Internet access through the use of a portable computer.

Now that various manufacturers are making network appliances like Internet CCTV cameras or Internet-enabled games consoles that benefit from being part of a network, this concept of multi-building home networks is becoming a lot more relevant. Imagine being able to keep an eye on the valuables in the garage or livestock in the barn from a PC in the house; or the older son playing an on-line game on the Xbox 360 using XboxLive in the bungalow.

How does this kind of network operate

This kind of network consists of many different segments that exist to cover the areas being served as well as segments that exist to transfer data out to the area-specific segments. All the segments are joined using media-specific bridge devices like wireless access points, Ethernet switches, HomePlug-Ethernet bridges or simply the local-network connections of the typical wireless router.

This means that all network devices that are part of this network setup are on the same logical network or subnet. This means that if they ask for IP addresses,  they will get their IP addresses from the same DHCP server that is in the network-Internet “edge” router. They will also benefit from that router’s Internet gateway functionality and from resources made available to them by other network devices.

Techniques And Methods

Dedicated wire run 

The buildings may be linked by a direct wire, usually Category 5 / 6 twisted-pair copper Ethernet cable or fibre-optic cable. The fibre-optic cable is more expensive than copper-wire cabling, especially for smaller runs, but would suit installations where the buildings are a very long distance (3 kilometres) apart or there could be excessive electrical noise. On the other hand, copper-cable twisted-pair Ethernet can suit inter-building runs of up to 100 metres.

Both cables will need a dedicated run, which will typically require a trench to be dug between the buildings and the cable to be run in a conduit for best results. This work can be affordably done if you are running low-voltage communications cable like a telephone line between the buildings.

Each end of the cable run would need to have an Ethernet switch in the case of a copper-cable run or media converters in the case of a fibre-optic run. The Ethernet switches are just about a “dime a dozen” for a five-port or eight-port unmanaged 10/100Mbps unit suitable for small networks and a bit extra for Gigabit units. An existing switch that is part of your home network, such as the one built in to your router or used as a “hub” in your Ethernet-based home network can do the job equally as well as a dedicated switch. 

Wireless

This method uses a radio link as the means for data-transfer between the buildings. It is based on the use of 802.11a/g/n equipment, commonly known as WiFi equipment, which works at a theoretical raw data speed of 54Mbps for 802.11a/g and 248Mbps for 802.11n. The range where the speed will be maintained will depend on the wireless equipment used and the antennas (aerials) used with the equipment. Typically the bandwidth will taper off as the distance between the equipment increases.

Inter-building applications have typically used equipment that is capable of working with higher-gain directional antennas than what is typically supplied with the equipment and such equipment is typically installed outdoors with an Ethernet cable used for bringing data in to the buildings.

It can involve the use of “shared WiFi” where remote buildings are equipped with wireless client bridges that are pointed towards the wireless access point installed in the main building. This same method permits WiFi use by portable devices used in or near the main access point, but requires different SSIDs for access points used in remote buildings.

Another method is to use a dedicated wireless link for building-building data flow. This can be achieved through the use of multi-function access points that are set up as “wireless bridges”. This wireless link wouldn’t be able to be used by portable devices for wireless network access.

Yet another method that works with some wireless access points and wireless routers is to use Wireless Distribution System. It allows the member devices to become wireless-segment repeaters, thus expanding wireless segment coverage and becoming an Ethernet bridge for the data. Portable devices can roam amongst the stations as if they are moving around an “extended service set” collection of access points with a wired backbone.  At the moment, the setup doesn’t permit true fault-tolerant signal meshing without bandwidth starvation, but can do a fair “hands-off” job of extending the “extended service set”.  

Non-dedicated wire run 

This method uses wires that are used to provide an existing service to the building rather than a dedicated wire run. It avoids the need to spend money on costs associated with running that dedicated wire, such as trenching and conduit runs, while avoiding the need to dig up established landscape.

There used to be two methods based around this concept but the most common one would be the HomePlug system which uses the infrastructure that is used to provide AC power to appliances that are used on the property. It is often marketed as a “no-new-wires” backbone for establishing new networks but can be used as a supplementary segment for existing networks. This is typically promoted through the small “infill” access points like the Netcomm NP290W which plug in to the wall and provide extra coverage for an existing wireless network.

It can work effectively in most residential, small-office and rural properties because they are often wired to the one general-purpose electricity service from the head transformer. This is typically exemplified with the property having one “common-tariff” electricity meter accounting for all the “common-tariff” electricity used on the property. It may not work if any building, like a bungalow, has been metered separately because, in most situations, the different services may have been derived from different phases.

Some sites may, because of inter-building wiring distance, require the HomePlug segment to be pushed out further. This situation is typical of buildings that are used as a “go-between” wire point for other buildings or static caravabs. This involves the creation of extra HomePlug segments for the remote buildings.

This is achieved by the use of 2 HomePlug-Ethernet bridges connected to each other by an Ethernet patch cord or Ethernet switch and installed close to the building’s AC switch board or fuse box.

One of the bridges is configured to use the Network Password (segment identification name for a HomePlug network, equivalent to an SSID for a WiFi wireless network segment) of main segment, while the other uses a new Network Password representative of the new segment. Remote HomePlug devices use new Network Password.

The appropriate method

Working From Scratch

You may be building the outbuilding from scratch or doing extensive renovations to an existing building, which involves work with the electrical circuits in the building. This includes running AC wiring to and establishing AC circuits in an existing building that has no AC power. In this case, you may want to “cover all your bases”, especially if you are dealing with a garage, barn, bungalow or cabin where the building is going to be a point of activity. This means running a dedicated wire run between the main building and the outbuilding. The materials that you use may depend on your budget that you allocate for the project.

This option can work very well in making maximum value from your tradesmen who are doing any cabling work on the project. If cost is an issue, you may have to use HomePlug as your inter-building link.

Existing Buildings

For existing buildings, especially on properties where there is established landscape, you will need to use either a wireless or HomePlug link.

If you prefer to run a wireless link, it may be preferable to use wireless infrastructure hardware which works with third-party antennas and is capable of working outdoors.

HomePlug can also and has been known to do a more reliable job as a building-building link in this context than wireless. This is more true of buildings that are made out of metal such as the “quick-assemble” garages and sheds because the metal frame and / or walls do block or limit the transmission of radio waves.

Static Caravans

Typically these vehicles are capable of being moved around the property at a moment’s notice. Most of the time, these vehicles are hooked up to the nearest power outlet on the property using a long high-current low-resistance extension cord. This is often to enable use of interior lights and appliances that are plugged into power outlets that are installed in the vehicle. Also, this practice allows one to use the gas-electric fridge that is built in to the vehicle with it running off AC power rather than gas or the vehicle’s 12 volt battery.

A highly-reliable method of bringing the home network to these vehicles would be the HomePlug power-line link. This technology would be suited to the job because of the metal-based construction of the typical post-1950s caravan or campervan which can interfere with wireless inter-building links. The HomePlug access points like the Netcomm NP290W can work effectively in this situation by providing a strong wireless signal within the metal walls of these vans while using the power link as the data run.

Conclusion

As governments and Internet service providers make an effort to provide less-dense communities like the country and outer-urban areas with broadband Internet access, the idea of extending the home network beyond the main house on a large property will be very real. This article has explained how this idea can be achieved with the existing technology.

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DLNA-compliant media software for the Apple iPod Touch and iPhone

http://cgimediasuite.sourceforge.net/ – Link to web site for the iPhone / iPod Touch UPnP AV / DLNA software

CyberGarage have released two programs that bring the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch into the UPnP AV / DLNA home media network environment. This is certainly in response to many Google searches for software that can pull off this function on these popular and trendy devices.

The first one, iNetFrame, is a network picture viewer that allows the user to view pictures in an online collection hosted on the Picasa or Flickr photo-sharing sites. But this one allows one to view pictures on any UPnP AV / DLNA server on the local network. This program makes use of these resources to turn the iPod Touch or iPhone into a network electronic picture frame with an optional clock display.

The other program, iMediaSuite, works as one of three functions:

· a media server for media files held within the iPod Touch or iPhone;

· a media viewer which allows one to view or listen to media files held on other DLNA media servers; or

· a control point for playing media collections held on any DLNA media server (including itself) through another UPnP / DLNA media client that supports external control.

There are some obvious limitations with this software, such as being able only to play the file types that the iPhone or iPod Touch support, and not being able to play Apple FairPlay DRM-protected files on any of the DLNA media devices out there. This doesn’t affect the program’s use as a control point if you are playing files on another DLNA device from another DLNA collection. At least this is the first step in bringing the Apple iPhone world towards the DLNA media network.

One application that I certainly would admire is the control-point function because it avoids the need to have the TV on if you are playing music on one of those many network media adaptors which don’t have any display on them. You can just “point to it to play it” on the iPod Touch or iPhone.

Apple iTunes App Store locations:

iMediaSuite : http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=293809842&mt=8

iNetFrame : http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=294937127&mt=8

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