Category: Feature Article

How to effectively establish that Wi-Fi-based mobile network

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wi-Fi mobile printer – one of the mobile peripheral devices pitched to smartphone and tablet users

A major trend that has become strong over the last few years is the arrival of mobile network devices that connect to each other and to client computer devices via Wi-Fi wireless networking technology.

These are represented in the form of:

  • mobile network-attached-storage devices
  • mobile printers
  • wireless speakers, and
  • mobile broadcast-LAN tuners that work with terrestrial or satellite broadcast systems,
Network setup for mobile NAS and smartphone

Network setup for Wi-Fi-based mobile peripheral devices

What is common about all of these devices, and is treated as a key marketing feature by their vendors, is that they can be set up to be their own access point with their own DHCP server as well as being client devices to existing wireless networks. Some of these devices like most mobile NAS devices are able to work effectively as bridges or routers between an existing wireless network and the network that they create.

This may work well if you are just using the one mobile peripheral device with your mobile client devices but may not work well when you intend to run two or more mobile peripheral devices. Here, you will end up switching between different wireless networks just to benefit from the different mobile peripheral devices.

Mobile NAS as bridge setup

Wireless NAS as a bridge between mobile client devices and another Internet-providing network

But you may want to run one or more of these wireless mobile devices together to serve multiple laptops, tablets or smartphones. Situations that may come about that will call for these setups would be where you are using a mobile NAS and, perhaps, a camera that has Wi-Fi functionality or one of the new Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers. This will call for you to create a proper mobile wireless network for all of these devices.

Use a router-class device as the main device

Here, you would have to run one wireless network device as a DHCP server and “master” access point and this function can be best served by a router-class device.

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

A typical “Mi-Fi” portable wireless router for a mobile-broadband service

The most common examples of devices of this class that apply to “on-the-road” use are the “Mi-Fi” mobile routers that work with a mobile broadband service or one of the travel routers pitched to work with a hotel’s wired Internet service. Some mobile NAS devices may also do this wireless-bridging functionality in an adept manner and could be the hub of your “travel network”. Similarly, one of the mobile-broadband wireless routers being integrated in to some new cars by the likes of BMW and Chrysler may also answer these needs.

You may think of using your smartphone’s Wi-Fi mobile-broadband-router functionality but this may encumber your smartphone for what you want to really use it for.

Some highly-sophisticated “Mi-Fi” and travel-router devices may also expose an Ethernet connection for LAN use, perhaps through an optional extended-functionality dock. This can come in handy if you want to increase your coverage area with another wireless access point or want to use devices like games consoles with your mobile network.

You may find that you don’t need to run the Internet connection on the Mi-Fi or travel router if you are simply establishing a link between multiple mobile peripheral devices and client devices and aren’t reliant on Internet functionality for their operation. Similarly, by having your mobile devices working this way, you avoid the need to authenticate with a Wi-Fi hotspot that implements Web-based authentication to do something like gain access to your mobile NAS’s data from your iPad.

Set up known wireless network parameters

Mobile network wiht "Mi-Fi" router and 2 Wi-Fi-capable mobile peripheral devices

Mobile wireless network for two or more mobile devices and mobile client devices – uses a router-class device like a “Mi-Fi” router

When you set up your “Mi-Fi” or travel router, you make this device the hub of your mobile network and have every device “point” to this device’s local-network by associating with its SSID (wireless network name) and security parameters.

Most of the mobile network devices that work on an “open-frame” approach can be quickly associated to this “mobile hub” thanks to WPS-based push-button setup. For devices that don’t support this quick setup mode like most Apple devices, you will need to note down the “mobile hub’s” SSID and security passphrase. Some “Mi-Fi” devices that have a display may be able to show these details on their display, perhaps at the request of the user.

For that matter, a good practice would be to assign a unique SSID for your “mobile hub” device i.e. your Mi-Fi or travel router. This is important when you use these setups in campgrounds, caravan parks or hotels where many of these devices will be used at once.

All wireless devices to link with router-class device

It will also mean that the mobile NAS, mobile printer or other similar device has to work as a client device rather than as its own access point. This also applies to your computing devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones which also associate with the “mobile hub” device.

When positioning your mobile-network devices, make sure that they are in the range of your “mobile network hub” device i.e. the Mi-Fi or the travel router. All the wireless traffic that goes between these devices will pass through the “mobile network hub” device rather than between the devices themselves.

You may find that if you want to avoid draining your “Mi-Fi” router’s battery too quickly, it may be a good idea to have it run from a USB charger that runs from house current or your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket. Similarly, a high-capacity USB power-pack can also earn its keep with these devices if you are away from power.

What I stand for when reviewing or researching mobile devices

When I review any device for this Website that is capable of being its own wireless network such as a mobile NAS or mobile printer, I test the device with my home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment as if it is a client device. This is so I am sure they can work in this kind of setup as well as the highly-promoted “own access point” setup. As well, as part of researching a mobile device that uses Wi-Fi wireless technology as part of its link with client computer devices, I verify that it can work as part of an existing wireless-network segment as well as being its own segment.

Similarly, when I research a mobile router-class device like a Mi-Fi or travel router, I would expect the device to support WPS single-push connectivity along with other essential Wi-Fi connectivity and security standards. Similarly, such a device would have to be easy to configure including setting up the SSID and passphrase. As well, the Mi-FI device can’t be very thirsty with its battery if the goal is to have it as a “hub” device.

Conclusion

Once you are able to set up a mobile multi-device network, you can then be able to use it to store or print data while you are “on the road” without needing to constantly switch networks for each different task.

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Web page on a big screen–How?

Facebook and Dropbox desktop

You may want to use the large screen to show people how to use social media to promote their business

Do you want to show that Web-based resource to a large group of people?

You may want to do this as part of training for concepts like social media, Web analytics and the like. Perhaps, you may want to show a particular blog post to a group or even show pictures and video from a Website or video platform but the device doesn’t have native support for that.

There are two different methods of going about this:

  • Mirroring – you see the same display on both the device’s screen and the large screen
  • Extended or Dedicated View – you can see what you want to show on the large screen but have a minimal control view on your

I will be listing the options available to you by the different equipment combinations.

Using your home or other small network

This involves using devices that connect to your computer via your home or other small network.

The common requirement for these setups is that the set-top device connected to your display and your host computer must be on the same logical network. It doesn’t matter what medium (Wi-Fi wireless, Ethernet or HomePlug powerline) is used to connect the host computer or the set-top device to your network.

This setup may not work properly if you are attempting to use a public-access network to connect your set-top device or host computer and this network implements Web-based authentication.

iOS + Apple TV

Equipment Requirements:

  • Relatively recent iOS devices (iPad 2 onwards, iPhone 4 onwards, iPod Touch 5th generation onwards) running iOS 6 or newer
  • Apple TV (3rd generation onwards)

    AirPlay devices discovered by iPad

    AirPlay devices discovered by iPad – when you tap AirPlay icon

Mirror your iPad’s display

  1. Go to Shortcut menu (tap Home button twice, slide to right)
  2. Click AirPlay button and select Apple TV
  3. Select Mirroring
  4. Bring up Web page using Safari

Dedicated Display

This requires you to use one of two apps that you buy from the iTunes App Store: AirWeb ($1.99) or AirBrowser ($6.49). These are Web browsers which present the page on to the display that is connected to the Apple TV device and use your device as a tool to navigate the Web page.

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

Set up iPad for mirroring to Apple TV

AirWeb simply has your iOS device work as a mouse with the external display serving as a screen while the more expensive AirBrowser offers a more polished response and has more capabilities.

Apple Macintosh + Apple TV

Equipment Requirements

  • Apple Macintosh to run MacOS X Mountain Lion (10.8) or newer
  • Apple TV 3rd generation onwards

To connect your Apple Macintosh to your Apple TV

  1. Click AirPlay icon on the Menu Bar at the top of your screen
  2. Click the “Connect To AirPlay Display” option and select the Apple TV device you want to use
    This procedure makes the AirPlay-connected Apple TV device work as an extra monitor similar to if you had connected another monitor or projector to your Mac.

Mirrored Display

  1. Select the Mirroring option to show your system’s Desktop display on the big screen
  2. Open the Web page using your preferred browser

Extended or Dedicated Display

  1. Select the Extended Desktop option
  2. Open the Web page using your preferred browser and drag it to the new screen

Google Chromecast + Google Chrome on Windows or MacOS

Equipment Requirements:

The computer you are using to bring up the Web pages with has to run the latest version of Google Chrome browser and have the Google Cast extension installed.

Mirrored Display

  1. Click the Cast square at top right corner on Chrome in Windows
  2. Using the drop-down menu, select the “Cast this screen / window” option

Dedicated Display

  1. Start Chrome and browse to the Webpage you want to show on your large display
  2. Click the Cast icon on the tab and choose the Chromecast you want to show it to

Google Chromecast + Chromecast App on Android

Equipment Requirements

Your Android smartphone or tablet has to run the latest version of the Chromecast app, which you can download from the Google Play store.

Mirrored Display

  1. Run Chromecast app on Android device
  2. Click on the Navigation drawer (hamburger icon) on the Chromecast app’s user interface
  3. Select the Cast Screen option
  4. Select the Chromecast that you want to use, The Android device’s screen will appear on your larger screen
  5. Use Google Chrome or your favourite Android Web browser to load your site

Dedicated Display

Like the iOS platform, you will have to install a browser that shows its output on the external screen. Here, your Android device will be the control surface while you see the Webpage on your large screen.

For Android users, you will need to purchase and install the Web2Cast app which costs $1.99.

Directly-connected screen

These setups require you to connect your host computer directly to the display device, preferably via HDMI. It is a task you can perform easily with the regular-computer platforms i.e. Windows, Macintosh or Linux because this practice is performed more commonly in offices for multi-screen displays or to show presentations using a projector.

Therefore the procedure to use a directly-connected external display to show that Web page comes across as being simple.

The setup procedures are very consistent across the different major versions of these operating systems.

If you are using some “all-in-one” desktop computers, you may find that an HDMI port may be used as an input port or output port. This functionality is typically to allow one to use the computer’s display and speakers with another video peripheral like a games console or set-top box. Here, make sure that this port is set up to become an “output” port for use with external displays when you are showing a Web page on a larger screen that is connected to this HDMI port.

Windows computer

Equipment preparation

Display setup for a secondary display as a dedicated screen - Windows 7

Display setup for a secondary display as a dedicated screen – Windows 7

Connect the external display to Windows computer and make sure that Windows detects the presence of the display. Here, you may have to use Display Settings to verify that this display is properly detected. You may also have to make sure the external display is switched on and the correct input is selected.

Mirroring

  1. Right click on the Desktop and select “Display Settings
  2. Select Duplicate These Displays to see same screen
    Most laptops may allow you to invoke this setup by pressing Windows+P together
  3. Load the Webpage on your preferred Web browser and browse it as normal

Extended Display

  1. Right click on the Desktop and select Display Settings
  2. Select Extend These Displays
  3. Drag the screen which represents the external display, which should be marked as 2, to the top or right of your main screen. This is a way to help you remember that you are setting up a “big screen”.
  4. Load page on your preferred Web browser, and drag to “big screen” before you browse it.
    Windows 10 makes this process easier by allowing you to click the square “All tasks” button where there will be icons representing both the screens. Then you just drag the Web browser to the “other” screen

MacOS X

Equipment Preparation

Like with Windows, connect the external display to your Mac and make sure that MacOS X detects the presence of this display. As well, make sure that the correct source is selected on your display.

Mirrored Display

  1. Click the System Preferences menu in the Apple menu
  2. Select the Displays menu in the View menu
  3. Check Mirror Displays to show the Desktop on big screen
  4. Open the Web page in your preferred browser

Dedicated Display

  1. Click the System Preferences menu in the Apple menu
  2. Select the Displays menu in the View menu
  3. Uncheck Mirror Displays for extended desktops
  4. Drag the newly-created screen to the top of your existing screen and make sure that your existing screen is kept as the primary screen. This is a way to help you remember you are setting up and using a “big screen”.
  5. Open the Web page in your preferred browser and drag it to the external display.
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Achieving the goal of a competitive Internet service

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

A competitive Internet service market is lively and for the end user

The common problem

A market with one Internet-service player, described as a monopoly, is at risk of poor customer service and prices that don’t represent real value.  A similar situation can occur where there are two or three players colluding together and this can be described as a cartel or oligopoly.

In some situations, the Internet service providers can engage in activities that are hostile to the customer such as bandwidth limiting, contracts with onerous terms and conditions or simply refusing to invest in the Internet service they provide.

How is the Internet service constructed?

The Internet service that we buy consists of various components, namely the wired or wireless infrastructure that brings the service to the customer’s door, the off-ramps from various national and global Internet backbones and the Internet services which are provided on a retail basis to the customers.

Ownership approaches

The North American approach

Infrastructure for the exclusive use of the communications company

In the USA and Canada, the retail Internet service is provided by companies who own the infrastructure, the off-ramps from the backbones along with the “to-the-customer” functions. Sadly this has led to a situation where few companies exist to provide this service – one for each wired or wireless broadband medium. This is represented by a cable-TV firm providing cable-modem service, a “Baby Bell” telephone company offering ADSL or fibre-optic service along with one or two wireless (cellular) telephone providers offering mobile broadband.

The European model

An established telephony infrastructure owned by the incumbent telephony company but leased to other ISPs.

But in Europe, Asia and Oceania, there is a different approach. This is where multiple companies, including the incumbent telephony companies provided wholesale Internet service which was sold by different retail ISPs that used the same physical infrastructure which was the copper telephone cabling.

These countries typically had an incumbent telecommunications company that was initially part of the national government’s post-telephone-telegraph ministry and was typically split from the post office, ran as a government entity then fully privatised. Such companies were often charged with providing the universal telephone service including the public payphones installed in the streets and managing the national emergency telephone service i.e. 999, 000 or 112 and they owned the abovementioned established telephone infrastructure.

But there was still the ability for other companies like cable-TV companies to use other wired and wireless infrastructure for their Internet offerings.

The problem here was that the incumbent telephony provider “taxed” the other providers for using the established telephone infrastructure to provide an ADSL service in an unfair manner, such as by requiring the rental of their equipment and requiring customers to subscribe to a local “dial-tone” telephony service through these providers even if they just want Internet service.

Key issues

Access to established infrastructure by competitors

One issue that is always raised is allowing competing telecommunications providers to have access to established telecommunications infrastructure, especially wireline infrastructure. There were issues where the incumbent telecommunications company would frustrate this access through onerous costs or service requirements levied on competing providers and their customers who wanted to use this infrastructure.

Unbundling the connection between the customer’s premises and the exchange

Instead, this has lead to the arrival of “local loop unbundling” or “dégroupage” where the wires between the customer’s door and the telephone exchange were effectively handed over to the competing operator. Typically this is facilitated through the incumbent telco renting rack-space in their exchanges out to competing operators and connecting the subscriber to the competing ISP’s equipment in that rack-space. A variant of this technique is “sub-loop unbundling” where the competitor connects to the subscriber at the local telecommunications distribution point in the street or the telecommunications wiring closet in a multiple-tenancy building.

ADSL service that is independent of dial-tone telephony service

Another tactic is to allow the sale of a “naked” or “dry-loop” DSL service which doesn’t require the customer to rent a local “dial-tone” telephony service from the incumbent telco. This meant that the wires were just to be used just to provide Internet access and a voice telephony service was either provided as a VoIP service or the customer had to subscribe to a mobile telephone service. This has been practices in Australia, France and a few other countries but not in the UK.

This service appeals also to customers who used to maintain a separate telephone line for a fax machine or dial-up Internet but want to use those wires for a dedicated ADSL data path with all the benefits of better throughput.  They can maintain their main telephone line for their classic voice telephone service with a traditional telephone as a “lifeline” independent of local power conditions or a “catch-all” phone number for the household.

Removal of infrastructure control from the incumbent telco

But this elephant of monopolistic practices didn’t go away while the incumbent telco had control of the wires to the customer’s door. Instead, some countries used various procedures to remove the infrastructure from the incumbent telco’s control and either require these assets to be divested to a separate company or to be nationalised where they owned by the nation’s government.

If this was a separate legal company that was owned by the telco, the situation was called “functional separation”. This would require the telco to sell retail service through its own entity while access is sold via that separate legal entity.An example of this is BT Openreach who maintains the infrastructure for the UK’s telephony and Internet service while BT supplies retail telephony and Internet service to customers but competitors use Openreach to provide telephony and Internet service.

On the other hand. “full separation” would require the infrastructure to be nationalised or owned by another entirely different business entity and the incumbent telco would be required to rent the infrastructure and use the infrastructure to sell their telecommunications services. This is while competitors can rent this same infrastructure to sell their telecommunications services.

Competing infrastructure providers

There has been the creation of competitive infrastructure, typically in the form of coaxial cable by cable-TV providers and cellular radio setups for mobile-telephony services. These were then set up for Internet service through the gradual evolution of technology. Similarly, some towns had their own copper and fibre infrastructure that was owned by a separate entity to provide a telecommunications service for that area or leased back to the incumbent telco.

But this idea was taken up in a strong manner in some markets where competing infrastructure companies who just owned the wires and leased these wires to other providers and/or offered a retail Internet service to these markets. The UK have moved along this path with some fibre-optic deployments in rural areas, more as a way to seek independence from British Telecom. It is a similar path in France where multiple retail ISPs established partnerships who owned particular fibre-optic infrastructure.

An issue that is being examined by regulators is the ability for competing interests to build infrastructure of the same technology in the same area for the same purpose, commonly described as “build-over”. This could allow a retail ISP to choose a particular infrastructure for the best package or allow them to provide the same service across multiple infrastructures.

Similarly, in North America, the established telcos and cable-TV companies were paying US state governments to prohibit the deployment of infrastructure for competing Internet service. It was perceived as a way to stop local government and other public-minded organisations from spending public money on providing free wireless Internet as a community service in competition to the established operators. This allowed for comfortable oligopolies to exist between these established players and, among other things, had ruined the quality of service and value for money Internet users experienced.

Google and a few other private operators set up Gigabit fibre Internet service at prices that most could afford in a few neighbourhoods using their own infrastructure and this opened up the floodgates of competition. This along with various laws and regulations put up by Uncle Sam had improved access to Internet service which was about better value for money.

Pay-TV and multiple-play services

Foxtel IQ2 pay-TV PVR

Access to desirable content by all Pay-TV providers including telcos and ISPs helps with competitive Internet service

Another issue that is creeping up in some markets is the provision of subscription multiple-channel TV. This was typically provided by a cable-TV provider or a satellite-TV provider who owned the infrastructure on an “end-to-end” model.

But there is interest amongst telecommunications and Internet providers in the concept of providing a pay-TV service as part of a “multiple-play” offering, something which the traditional cable-TV providers could do with their infrastructure. These “multiple-play” packages typically include landline telephony, pay-TV and/or broadband Internet with some packages offering mobile telephony and mobile broadband Internet.

Such services appeal to most of us because of the ability to have “all the eggs in one basket” with only one account to think of and pay to obtain telephony, pay-TV and Internet.

Previously, a telco or ISP would deliver these services if they had a contractural arrangement with a cable-TV or satellite-TV provider and this involved installation of extra infrastructure at the customer’s premises. Now this involves a “single-pipe triple-play” setup based on IPTV technology which makes it feasible for an ADSL-based or fibre-based provider to offer multichannel pay-TV as part of their service offerings without needing to support new infrastructure.

These providers may run their own pay-TV service such as what Telstra, BT and most of the French ISPs do and solicit the content to show on these services themselves. On the other hand, they would sign up to an IPTV franchise which solicits the content itself and provides it to multiple telcos and ISPs. An example of this is the Australian Fetch TV franchise who offers pay TV to independent ISPs. In some cases, a traditional pay-TV provider could offer their services as an IPTV service as well as through their own end-to-end infrastructure and franchise it to ISPs and telcos.

Access to desirable TV content

A problem that is showing up in the UK and could show up in Australia and other markets where there is a dominant pay-TV provider like Sky or Foxtel is the availability of desirable TV content, whether as particular channels or shows, only through that dominant TV provider rather than through other pay-TV services like IPTV services.

Typically a content provider like Viacom or the BBC would offer channels of particular content like MTV, Comedy Central or BBC First for people to subscribe to. A dominant pay-TV provider would obtain the content on an exclusive basis so that a competing pay-TV provider like a telco or IPTV franchise can’t make these channels available to their customers for the duration of the contract.

This is augmented if the local outpost of a particular channel which is supplied via the dominant pay-TV provider obtains exclusive TV rights to a popular sports event or movie. The UK example would be for Sky Sports owned by Sky TV obtaining exclusive rights to the  Premier League soccer (association football) matches while the Australian example is for one of Foxtel’s premium channels to obtain exclusive rights to “Game Of Thrones”. Here, they can play a rough hand with these shows by: running them on premium channels only available to “platinum-package” subscribers, even making it hard for commercial (hotel/restaurant/bar) subscribers to play these shows; not completing their screening obligations in order to inhibit access to the show by free-to-air TV, “over-the-top” video-on-demand services or home video; or even trying to frustrate access to radio-broadcast or online-service rights for the hot games so you can’t get play-by-play commentary unless you subscribe to their sports channel.

Such situations lead to customers taking out multiple pay-TV subscriptions and dealing with multiple set-top boxes in order to get the video content that they want. That is if the dominant pay-TV provider will only deliver their service in an “end-to-end” fashion requiring the customer to install their infrastructure and set-top box.

Personally, I would like to see limitations placed on exclusive-access contracts for pay-TV channels so that a particular MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor – a Pay-TV provider) cannot tie up channels for their own exclusive access. It could be facilitated through an open “wholesale-retail” market for each content provider and pay-TV provider where content packages and channels are sold to pay-TV providers as though the content provider is a wholesaler and the pay-TV provider is a retailer.

In the USA, the FCC have achieved this goal with satellite TV by making it hard for cable-TV companies to tie up content so that DirecTV and DISH can’t screen that content or have to pay too much. They are working towards extending the rules about that situation to encompass telcos and others using IPTV methods.

There will be other issues that need to be looked at such as differentiating between “first-run” and repertory screening when determining the conditions of a contract affecting a show’s broadcast in order to prohibit tying up of shows so it takes too long for them to appear on home video or other screening platforms.

Net Neutrality

Another key issue that is raised in the context of Internet services is Net Neutrality. This is where everyone has equal access to the Internet as a highway.

It is compared to practices by various telcos and ISPs who would make it hard for customers to gain access to Internet services unless the company providing these services paid the ISP for a high-throughput path. This was feared because it would make it harder for small-time publishers and new startups to be seen by their customers.

It has been the subject of debate and is something I mention in the same breath as competitive Internet service. A competitive Internet market would provide proper benefit to customers in the form of value for money and if a customer couldn’t benefit from a particular Internet resource like, say, Wikipedia; they would want to “jump ship” to someone who provided the proper throughput.

Conclusion

To maintain a healthy Internet-service market that allows us to make the best use of this technology, there needs to be a strong effort to assure sustainable competition. This includes government departments that oversee telecommunications and competitive-market issues maintaining that level of competition by removing encumbrances and protections for established operators along with limiting market consolidation.

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Telephone Interview–UPnP Forum (Wouter van der Beek)

Introduction

UPnP Forum logo courtesy of UPnP ForumI have had the chance to interview Wouter van der Beek who is the Vice President of the UPnP Forum which defines the standards and specifications associated with UPnP technology. This interview is primarily about the direction that the UPnP Forum and this technology is heading in the face of current personal-computing trends like cloud computing and the Internet Of Things.

What is UPnP

This is a collection of standard for interlinking network-connected devices at an application level. It is to facilitate discovery of the devices by other devices on that network along with the ability to benefit from what the device has. The idea had been seeded 15 years ago when the home network was becoming commonplace thanks to affordable but powerful computers along with affordable broadband Internet services, but there needed to be foolproof ways to allow most people to set up, manage and benefit from these networks without requiring extensive computer skills.

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

Freebox Révolution – an example of equipment designed with UPnP in mind

This has been facilitated initially with the Internet Gateway Device which has simplified management of Internet access for devices on a home network. If you use a UPnP-capable router and have its UPnP IGD function enabled, you don’t have to meddle around with different settings to get an online game or Skype to work via the Internet.

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

It has also been facilitated with DLNA-capable media devices which use the UPnP AV MediaServer or MediaRenderer device control protocols. This is where you could use a smart TV or a Blu-Ray player to discover photos or vides kept on your computer or network-attached storage device or “push” music from a Windows computer, NAS or Android smartphone to a Wi-Fi-enabled wireless speaker. Here, it has become to that point where UPnP and DLNA have become so synonymous as an expectation for anything that uses the home network to provide or play / show multimedia content in a similar way that Dolby noise reduction was an expected feature for good-quality cassette players.

The foolproof way of setting up and using UPnP-capable network equipment has, for that matter, had me look for devices that support these specifications when I am involved in buying or specifying network equipment.

New Directions for UPnP

UPnP’s New Zones of Relevance

Previously, the Universal Plug And Play technology was confined to the home network which encompassed computers and related devices that existed in one’s home and connected to a router which served as the network’s Internet “edge”.

Thanks to trends like the highly-mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops; the online services and cloud computing, and the increasing role of social media in our lives;  the UPnP technology and, to some extent, the home network has changed its zone of relevance. This encompasses the following zones of relevance:

  • Personal, which would encompass the devices we take with us or have on ourselves like smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and fitness bands
  • Home, which would encompass what we have at home such as computers, routers, NAS units, home AV, appliances and the like, even encompassing devices associated with comfort, energy management and security
  • Car, which encompasses the technology associated or integrated in our vehicles like infotainment systems or powertrain-management systems
  • Workplace / Business which encompasses the computing and communications technologies used in the office and would also encompass devices associated with comfort, energy management and security
  • Industry which would encompass systems that provide the backbone for the modern life.

It also encompasses the Internet Of Things where devices can be required to be sensors or actuators for other devices and services in a universal manner.

An example of this was to establish some Device Control Protocols like the Telephony DCPs with a view to look towards the many zones of relevance and increase the UPnP ecosystem’s relevance to more users.

Cloud and Remote Access now part of UPnP

One major change is to integrate cloud computing, remote access and online services in to the UPnP ecosystem. Previously, a UPnP ecosystem was encompassing just one network, typically your home network and required each endpoint to be on the same network.

Different zones of relevance

UPnP is now about online services and remote access

Now situations have risen such as the desire to gain access to your content held at your home from your friend’s home or a hotel, or exhibit pictures held on Facebook or Dropbox on our smart TVs at home. Similarly, even in the same home, not all devices are connected to the same home network such as portable devices drifting in to Wi-Fi “dark spots” where there is very little reception or devices that are connected to a “guest network” on our routers.

Now cloud and remote access were written on as an annex to the UPnP Device Architecture but support for this is a requirement for UPnP+ certification. This is to factor in the ability for a UPnP “realm” to transcend across multiple logical networks.

One of the key additions was to integrate XMPP in to UPnP as part of the Cloud initiative in order to provide a level open playing field for cloud-driven applications. This also will provide for secure transport of the necessary data. It is more centred around the concept of creating virtual rooms which UPnP devices and services are invited in to as needed with these rooms being part of different logical networks or IP subnets.

Making UPnP “safe for business”

Empire State Building picture courtesy of <a href="http://ny-pictures.com/nyc/photo/photographer/604482/araswami">araswami</a> and <a href="http://ny-pictures.com/nyc/photo/">New York Pictures</a

UPnP – to be safe for business

You may also wonder whether there are steps to make UPnP technologies “safe for business”? There are some steps that have taken place to assure this goal because the different zones of relevance like workplace / business and industry place a key emphasis on security.

One of these is the DeviceProtection DCP which allows the creation of a “network of trust” amongst UPnP Devices and Control Points. This will be mandatory as part of UPnP+ certification whereas it was simply an optional feature for UPnP networks. Other DCPs that will become mandatory for UPnP+ certification include the “management” DCPs: DeviceManagement, ConfigurationManagement and SoftwareManagement which look after how a device is set up and updated.

Of course, these are considered “retrofit” solutions which assure secure links and setups and any security concept is primarily about “buying time” from hackers.

As well, DLNA had integrated various content-protection measures in to the VIDIPATH specification which encompasses UPnP AV standards to assure secure content delivery for premium content like Hollywood films and big-league sports.

The Internet Of Things

Rethinking Device Control Protocols

Previously the UPnP Forum placed emphasis on the Device Control Protocol as being the way to describe a UPnP device and what it can do. This ended up with each of these protocols taking a long time to develop, whether at the initial stages or as they were being revised.

Examples of these were the UPnP Internet Gateway Device which described what a modem or router was about and this was shaped by telcos and network-equipment vendors; and the AV Device which described media storage, playback and control with this being shaped by most of the main consumer-electronics names.

As well as the long time it took to develop a Device Control Protocol, there was the risk of focusing these protocols on an application-specific vertical plane with functionality being duplicated amongst multiple protocols.

The new direction was enshrined in the “Internet Of Things Management And Control” DCP which is focused around the particular tasks a sensor or actuator device can do. This also enshrines language and data models that can be used to define applications. But it allows a sensor or actuator which does the same thing to be described the same way.

There were two examples we talked of: – a temperature sensor, and a lamp used as part a home automation or building automation setup. A temperature sensor measures temperature but it could be part of a room thermostat, a weather station or a fridge, but it does the same job by measuring and reporting the current temperature. A lamp is turned on and off or has its brightness increased or decreased but this could work as part of a “smart home” setup or as part of a building automation setup for an office building or an apartment block.

As well, the data models can be evolved for particular applications and there is a short turnaround time required to set a data model in stone. This could allow one to define an application-level device class based on a collection of sensors and the kind of measurements to be used.

Network Bridges

Another reality that UPnP would face is devices based on other standards. This encompasses sensor and similar devices that work on networks like Zigbee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth that don’t work on an IP/Ethernet-based structure or Ethernet-based technology that doesn’t implement IP as a way to liaise with devices at higher levels. In a lot of cases, these networks have come about due to an expectation that battery-operated sensor and similar devices are expected to run for six months or more on a single set of commodity “dry-cell” batteries like AA-size Duracells or CR2035 “button-size” batteries.

The UPnP Internet Of Things effort also includes Device Control Protocols to address Network Bridges so they can work in a UPnP or UPnP+ ecosystem. This should solve a very common problem with “smart-home” devices typically smart locks and central-heating controls, where Internet-connectivity bridges for these devices are supplied by the manufacturer and are designed to work only with that manufacturer’s devices.

Achieving vendor universality

The UPnP Forum has made big strides in achieving vendor universality but it still relied on the use of logo programs like DLNA or Designed For Windows or potential buyers pouring through specifications to achieve this goal when buying or specifying devices. But some competing ecosystems typically required one physical device such as a wireless speaker to have physical and logical support for each of them, thus the row of logos that adorn the top edge of a device.

But they would like to use concepts like Network Bridges to provide support across different logical ecosystems and have UPnP as a “glue” between the ecosystems.

Conclusion

By stripping the UPnP platform to functions that are on an elementary level, it means that the ecosystem can be evolved to newer requirements that work across any computing zone-of-relevance independent of where the data source or destination is.

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What are the multiple drive layouts available in your NAS

WD MyCloud EX2 dual-disk NAS

WD MyCloud EX2 2-disk NAS – has a 2-disk RAID setup

All network-attached-storage units that have two or more drive bays in them offer different ways to make use of the hard disks installed in these drive bays. These are primarily about creating one logical disk volume out of the many disk drives.

You may also find multiple-disk arrays being implemented in so-called “Direct Attached Storage” devices which connect to your computer as if they are a peripheral or are integrated in the computer. These are typically used for computer setups where read-write performance for secondary storage is considered important like video editing or for computers that work as servers.

WD MyCloud EX4, WD MyCloud EX2, WD Red 6Tb hard disk

WD MyCloud EX4 NAS – can be set up as a 4-disk RAID array

The most common setups are described as “RAID” or “Redundant Array Of Independent Disks”. These setups gang multiple hard disks (or solid-state drives) to improve data throughput, effective disk capacity or system fault-tolerance.

Multi-Drive Disk setups

RAID setups

It is important to remember that a RAID setup that is about fault tolerance doesn’t obviate the need to back up the contents of a NAS. This is something you can do with a USB hard disk connected to the NAS, another NAS on the same network or connected via the Internet or an online storage or backup service.

RAID 0

RAID 0 Data striping data layout

RAID 0 Data Striping across disks

Here, this creates one logical volume with the data spread across the disks, a method known as “striping”. Each block of data is sequentially stored across each physical disk rather than a disk being filled with data then another disk being subsequently filled with data.

This allows for increased capacity and read / write data throughput, but loses on fault tolerance because the disk array is no good and the data is lost if one of the drives fails.

Volume Capacity: Number of Disks x Size of smallest disk

RAID 1

RAID 1 disk mirroring data layout

RAID 1 – Disk Mirroring

This setup creates a logical volume with the data duplicated on each physical drive. a method known as “mirroring”.

The main advantage here is increased fault-tolerance because if a disk dies, you still have access to the the data on the other disk. There is also another advantage of increased read throughput because both physical disks can be read at the same time.

The only limitations here are the volume capacity which is the size of the smallest disk in the array along with the write speed because the disk controller has to write the same data to multiple disks. It is infact a preferred RAID array setup for a 2-bay NAS due to the fault-tolerance.

Volume Capacity= Size of smallest disk in the bunch

RAID 5

RAID 5 Data Striping with parity Data layout

RAID 5 Data Striping with a parity block

This setup works between data capacity and fault tolerance in a very interesting way. It is because the RAID 5 setup creates “parity” data. This is used in computing as a fault-tolerance measure because an algorithm can use this data along with the “known-to-be-good” data to reconstitute data lost in transmission.

Here, a RAID 5 array stripes data across the physical disk collection but inserts a block of parity data at regular intervals as part of this “striping” so as to create some form of fault-tolerance. Then the RAID 5 disk controller reconstitutes data from parity and available “known-to-be-good” data if things start to go wrong with a disk.

The advantages in these setups are the disk capacity, the read throughput and the fault tolerance but there is a performance reduction for those systems that do a lot of data writing.

Volume Capacity: (Number of disks – 1) x smallest disk size

RAID 6

RAID 6 Data striping and two-block parity data layout

RAID 6 Data striping with two-block parity

RAID 6 works in a similar manner to RAID 5 in that it stripes data across multiple physical disks and creates a parity block for fault-tolerance. But a RAID 6 array creates another parity block to increase the amount of fault tolerance in the setup.

Volume capacity: (Number of disks-2) x smallest disk size

RAID 10 (1+0)

RAID 10 data layout

RAID 10 A combination of data striping and disk mirroring

A setup that is used with 4-disk RAID arrays is the RAID 10 array also known as the RAID 1+0 array which is a combination of both the RAID 1 setup and the RAID 0 setup.

Here, there are two collections of disks with one collection keeping copies of the data held on the other collection. Each collection has its data “striped” across the disks for capacity and performance.

The core benefit with a RAID 10 setup is that there is increased write throughput which can come in handy with write-intensive setups like databases. This is in addition to the fault tolerance provided by mirroring along with the read performance provided by striping.

Volume Capacity: Combined size of two of the smallest disks

Non-RAID setups

JBOD data layout

JBOD – Disks as separate volumes

JBOD

This setup, known as “Just a Bunch Of Disks” is simply about each physical disk being treated by the NAS as a separate logical volume. It can be useful if you want to maintain separate data on each disk under a separate volume name.

Spanning

Disk Spanning data layout

Disk Spanning, sometimes known as JBOD by some manufacturers

The “spanning” setup simply is based on data filling up one disk then filling up another disk in that same volume.

Array Type Disks Capacity Performance Fault
Tolerance
RAID 0 Min: 2 Yes Yes
RAID 1 Min: 2 Yes
improved read
Yes
Copied disks
RAID 5 Min: 3 Yes Yes
improved read
Yes
Parity
RAID 6 Min: 4 Yes Yes
improved read
Yes
dual parity
RAID 10 Min: 4
Even number of disks
Yes
improved write
Yes
Copied disk arrays
JBOD Logical volume / disk Yes
Spanning Min: 2 Yes

Different options available

Automatic RAID setups

Netgear ReadyNAS

The NETGEAR ReadyNAS on the right can implement X-RAID automatic RAID setup

An increasing number of manufacturers use an “automatic RAID” setup like Synology’s Hybrid RAID or NETGEAR’s X-RAID. These are RAID setups that are optimised to mix different-sized hard disks so that these arrays work to maximise useable capacity, disk performance and fault-tolerance.

Manufacturers pitch these RAID setups for people new to NAS or disk-array management who are thinking about how much redundant storage is needed to balance capacity and fault tolerance. They also encourage the customers to “build out” a RAID array as and when they can afford the extra disks.

Hot-spare disks

Thecus N5810PRO Small Business NAS press photo courtesy of Thecus

Thecus N5810PRO small business NAS is able to implement a hot-spare disk for high RAID availability

Another feature offered mainly with small-business NAS units is the addition of a hot-spare disk. Such RAID arrays will have a separate hard disk that isn’t used unless one of the disks in that array fails.  These setups are preferred for environments where there is emphasis on a multi-disk array that is to be highly available at peak performance.

Hot-swap setups

An increasing number of prosumer and small-business NAS units come with a “hot-swap” functionality where you can swap out the hard disk while the NAS is in operation. This is more so for replacing faulty disks that are degrading a RAID array’s performance and is more relevant with RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10 and “automatic RAID” setups.

Upsizing a NAS’s RAID array

QNAP 2-disk NAS

QNAP 2-disk NAS – capable of setting up a highly-available high-performance RAID1 array

Upsizing a RAID array is something you could be tempted to do, especially as hard-disk prices gradually become cheaper and the time when one hard disk in a RAID array fails may be the time to upsize it.

But this can be difficult. Here, you would need to copy out all of the data to storage with the same volume capacity as your NAS’s current RAID array. Then you would have to simultaneously replace the disks in that array with units of the same but higher capacity before copying back the data. This may be easy to achieve with a 2-bay NAS.

Or you could migrate a 2-disk RAID 1 array in a 4-bay NAS to a RAID 5 array while adding a higher-capacity disk to that array. Here, you get increased capacity on the new disk due to the smaller disks being combined for real data use while space on the larger disk is allocated for parity data. Then you would need to swap out the small disks in that array with the larger disks as a way to gradually increase the volume’s useful size.

The automatic RAID setups make it easier to upsize your NAS as you can afford it and manage the right amount of redundant storage needed for your data.

The best RAID array setup for your needs and your NAS

The RAID array that you set your NAS up with depends on the number of drive bays the device has along with the number of disks you have. But these suggests are based on setups that are cost-effective yet yield high availability . They would also yield high read performance especially for multimedia applications. It is also a good idea to populate your multiple-bay NAS with drives of the same capacity when you are setting a new unit up.

A 2-bay NAS would be best set up as a RAID-1 array in order to implement the mirroring ability for high availability and increased read throughput which is necessary for video files streamed using DLNA.

A 4-bay NAS would be best set up as a RAID-5 array of at least three disks of the same size. There is the ability to make use of the capacity yet use the parity blocks to keep the data available should one of the disks keel over.

Conclusion

Once you understand how the various RAID and other multi-disk arrays work, you can choose the most cost-effective way to have your data stored for capacity, performance and high availability with your NAS.

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Setting up a “his-and-hers” computing environment

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

A large laptop that is commonly used in a “his-and-hers” computing environment

A common situation that I face when providing IT support for couples, families and similar households is providing a level of individual operation for each user who uses shared computer equipment. A typical situation is a couple who have desktop, laptop or tablet computers that they share with each other or a family who maintains the “family” computer that is used also by the children.

On the other hand, you may make sure each of you have your own computing devices that are set up with your own operating environments. This is more so with tablets or other ultra-portable computer equipment where you want to effectively “take it with you”.

But there is a goal where each person may want to “keep their space their space”. That is to have their preferred operating environment with their preferred user-interface customisations (wallpaper, button styling, etc), preferred email client, preferred Web bookmarks and other parameters maintained while they operate the equipment. As well, they may want to keep their communications with their social community private or prevent confusion with your communications. This is even though both or all of you will have the same relatives and friends that you maintain regular contact with.

Most of you may operate on a trust-based environment where you will want to know the passwords to each other’s accounts simply as a symbol of “our love for each other has nothing to hide”. This may not be applicable for those of you who are running or working in a business where confidentiality concerning business data is so important.

How do computer operating environments handle this?

Regular computers

Create multiple Microsoft.com accounts on your Windows 8 computer to achieve a unique user experience across all of your Windows 8 computers

Create multiple Microsoft.com accounts on your Windows 8 computer to achieve a unique user experience across all of your Windows 8 computers

Most “regular-computer” operating environments such as Windows, MacOS X and Linux allow multiple individual accounts to be created. These accounts support their own username and password and allow the computer to open up to a desktop environment that is personalised for each of the users. You even have concepts like separate user folders, desktop wallpapers and themes, or, in some cases, email clients that are peculiar to each user.

This functionality has been baked in to the “regular-computer” operating environment due to the fact that these machines are used by different employees in the workplace or are used to work with data that is confidential to a particular user.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Copy your Windows 8 user experience to that secondary convertible Ultrabook

Windows 8 and newer versions of the Windows operating system even takes this further by allowing you to create a Microsoft.com login account that you can take between different computers. Here, this allows you to use the same user credentials which will lead you to your same user environment on the different computers. For example, you could share use of different computer types such as a 15” mainstream laptop or an all-in-one desktop that lives at home and an Ultrabook or detachable tablet that you use while travelling or maintain as an “around the house” computer for example.

Last but not least Google implemented multiple-account operation on the ChromeOS platform which then adds most of the cheap Chromebooks to the list of devices that can support “his and hers” computing. This is through a blind update (version 37.0.2062.119) that should be in your Chromebook by 6 September 2014.

Mobile computing devices (tablets)

The tablet, typically the 10” tablet like the Apple iPad, is very much the only device that runs any mobile operating environment which ends up being shared by a couple or family.

Recent iterations of Android installed on tablets can support this kind of operation. This has been introduced to support “privileged operation environments” in the workplace. The same also holds true for tablets that are powered with the Windows 8 operating system.

The only tablet device that doesn’t support a true “his-and-hers” environment is the Apple iPad. This is bound to one Apple ID account, which affects use of the iTunes Store, the App Store and other Apple-provided apps and services. The passcode on these devices doesn’t even provide separate or unique login environments on these devices.

Email, Social Networks and Instant Messaging

Windows Live Mail client-based email interface

Windows Live Mail – an example of a client-based email interface

If these services are operated via a Web-based user interface, they can support “his-and-hers” operation as long as each user logs out of their account at the end of each session. This is more critical if both of you use the same provider.

Some client-side environments like email clients may allow you to have different sets of account credentials tied to particular system user accounts. But some other clients like a few mobile-platform or entry-level desktop clients or most social-network clients won’t allow you to keep service login parameters peculiar to a system user account. Here, you may have to log out of your account at the end of each session. As well, some client-side email programs may maintain only one address book or contact list that is available to all users.

Log out properly of Facebook by clicking "Log Out" in Settings

Log out properly of Facebook by clicking “Log Out” in Settings

On the other hand, you may be able to preserve separate email or social-network accounts by using a separate client-side program for each login. This may limit your ability to use application-driven functionality like “share this via email”. On the other hand, you could always have a practice of each user logging in to the client with their credentials for the duration of their session.

Cloud-based online storage

Most “cloud-based” online storage services like Dropbox can support different logins for each user and you can tie these different logins to a particular device-based login for most regular-computing platforms like Windows. But you can’t have two different service logins associated with one computer login unless you use premium or “business” variants of their services.

But you can create a “household” folder in these services which is shared by all of you, simply by having one account-holder create a folder and invite the other account-holders to have full access rights to that folder. The only limitation with this is that if a friend or relative outside the household wants to share resources with all of the household, they have to invite each Dropbox account to the folder they want to share.

App Stores and gaming league tables

Some operating environments like the Apple MacOS and iOS environments implement a “family-share” option for software bought through their app stores so that you can share the same content that you have purchased across multiple accounts. These features place a limit on the number of accounts you can share with, typically a number you can count on one hand.

Otherwise each user has to purchase their own content through the storefronts and only be able to use it themselves.

Operating environments that have their own gaming-league or similar functionality will typically bind your identity in that league to your user ID that is part of that operating environment.

NAS units

WD MyCloud EX2 dual-disk NAS

NAS units like the WD MyCloud EX2 can work well in a “his-and-hers” computing environment

You can create individual storage accounts on your network-attached storage to allow each member of your household to store their data on their own space in the network-attached-storage unit. Here, you also use the “public” spaces on the NAS to store and share data that is of common interest but doesn’t have a perceived disclosure risk like your file-based AV collection or, if the data is confidential to you both, you could create a private share that you grant the other accounts access to.

The multiple account feature would tie in well with the remote-access or “cloud” features that an increasing number of NAS units like the WD MyCloud EX2 are equipped with. This will maintain the “private data pools” and allow the remote access to these resources.

Some of you may want to use two or three different NAS units connected to the network so you can keep individual units as personal data stores, which may be of importance if each of you run your own enterprise or you want to set up a NAS for the teenager or young adult about to leave the “family nest”.

What can you do to achieve “his-and-hers” computing

Some of you may decide to have a one or more smaller devices that you personally use, like iPads or work-home computers but you may then have to identify devices that you want to operate on a shared basis like larger tablets, laptops or desktops. Here, you can set these up with separate accounts so you can have a unique operation experience for each of you.

If you have equipment that runs Windows 8 or newer variants of that operating system, you could then set up personal Microsoft.com accounts for each of you and use these to log in to your equipment, personalising the operating environment as you see fit. As well, if you are using programs that don’t “switch users” as you change accounts or can’t “switch users” with a program, get in to the habit of logging out when you have finished.

When managing your contacts, you may have to copy your “common” contacts between each others’ contact lists on your email and other messaging clients and keep these up-to-date as each contact changes their details.

Conclusion

Once you know how to set up a “his-and-hers” computing environment, you can be sure that you have the ability to share devices yet know how to keep your working environments “as you like it”.

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Should I buy a soundbar rather than a surround sound system to improve my TV’s sound?

This article is about considering the idea of purchasing a soundbar or TV base speaker as an alternative to a multiple-speaker surround-sound system as a way of improving your flat-screen TV’s sound quality.

There is a desire to improve the sound quality for most flat-screen TVs because a lot of these sets use a very shallow housing and smaller speakers for their internal sound-reproduction needs. This is compared with CRT-based TVs which implemented a deep housing that wasn’t constrained thus allowing for a better sound flow from the speakers. As well, a lot of recent flat-screen TVs have the speakers behind the screen rather than behind a separate speaker grille and if they are mounted on the wall, they may sound more constrained.

Similarly, there is a desire amongst most TV viewers to hear a sound mix that is authentic to the nature of the content and is more so with people who watch good-quality drama content. For that matter, full-length feature content, especially movies that have been destined for the cinema, benefit from a lot of effort being put in to the sound mix with many highly-trained sound-engineers working the mixing desks in the dubbing stages during the post-production phase.

What are these soundbars and TV base speakers

These are a class of active external speakers made available to improve the sound of an existing flat-screen TV set.

They provide a focused stereo or virtual surround-sound “sound image” for the TV’s position, catering to a wide variety of TV-viewing setups. For example, they cater effectively to the traditional “TV in the corner” position where the TV is positioned in the corner of the living room so as not to contest with the view offered by a fireplace or feature window.

One fact to remember is that most of these soundbars or TV base speakers are not suited for use as a stereo system that is intended to reproduce music, but are intended to reproduce TV and video content that carries a lot of emphasis on dialogue and sound effects.

The two different form-factors

TV base speaker

Denon DHT-T100 TV pedestal speaker in use

Denon DHT-T100 TV base speaker

The TV base speaker, like the Denon DHT-T100, is a single-piece solution that is capable of reproducing its own bass. It is housed in a flat box that serves as a plinth for the TV set. Most of these speakers are best for resting a 32”-42” TV on them and can yield a decent sound with some bass depending on the unit.

Soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

The soundbar, like the Denon DHT-S514, is a two-piece solution that comes as a long “tube” that houses the device’s electronics along with the main stereo speakers alongside a separate subwoofer that reproduces the bass sounds. These are intended to be placed in front of the TV or can be mounted on the wall underneath a wall-mounted TV. If the TV is mounted on an adjustable bracket, it could be feasible to mount the soundbar on that bracket using a single-piece plate.

Where do these stand in relation to the traditional 5.1 surround-sound systems?

A traditional surround sound system has a receiver or centre unit that is capable of working as a music system alongside five speakers and a subwoofer. Two of these speakers have to be positioned behind the viewing area such as behind the couch or armchairs in order to provide the surround-sound effects.

These excel in the channel separation that is required for optimum stereo and surround-sound enjoyment but can be awkward to set up in certain situations. For example, for them to work well with maximum separation, the TV has to be poisitioned in the middle of the room’s wall with the front speakers flanking it. This makes it awkward for those of us who value the traditional “TV in the corner” setup because you may have to place the speakers closer, which may not appeal for music or, if you place them well apart, you will find the stereo balance biased towards where the set is. As well, the multiple speakers can be very aesthetically daunting especially when it comes to positioning them in an open-plan living area where you don’t use a room-divider to separate the living area from the dining area.

Music enthusiasts don’t find that a surround-sound system, especially those sold at a popular price point or from popular outlets, perform well for music reproduction. Typically, they would prefer to listen to music through a separate stereo music system, preferably bought from a boutique hi-fi store, optimised to the task for playing their music. This is underscored with the “back to basics, back to vinyl” movement where it is preferable to listen to music from the traditional vinyl record using a manually-operated turntable that is connected to a dedicated amplifier and speakers.

You would expect the traditional surround-sound systems to work well if you need a single setup to serve the role of all TV/video and music sound reproduction needs.

Where do I see the soundbars or TV base speakers fit in?

I would see these soundbars or TV base speakers fit in to environments where the multiple speakers associated with a traditional surround-sound system and surrounding the living area look out of place like open-plan living areas. Similarly, these devices would earn their keep with people who value the traditional “TV in the corner” layout for their living space, usually to preserve the role of an attraction like a fireplace / woodstove or picture window providing the space’s main focus.

Those of us who value good music and would rather have a hi-fi system optimised for the task of reproducing stereo music while placing less emphasis on movie and TV content would find the soundbar or TV base speaker as an appropriate method to “lift up” that flat-screen TV’s sound.

On the other hand, the traditional surround-sound system would fit in well with people who have the space to locate the many speakers around their living area and can allow the system to serve for both music and video content.

What features do I consider important in these devices

There are certain features that I consider important for a soundbar or TV base speaker setup from my experience with the Denon products I had reviewed. These lead to the most important requirement – a high-quality sound from the soundbar that is easy to operate on a day-to-day basis.

Digital signal path from the TV set to the soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbarSPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

SPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections on a soundbar

The provision of a digital audio-signal path from the TV to the soundbar is important especially as good-quality soundbars can offer a better digital-analogue converter along with integrated surround-sound decoding to fulfill their job. This can be offered by an HDMI ARC connection or an SPDIF optical or coaxial connection.

An increasing number of these devices will implement a digital-to-the-speaker path where the sound is kept in a digital form with the speakers in the devices connected to digital amplifiers which convert the digital signal to an analogue waveform representing the sound while amplifying it for the speakers. They may implement a digital-crossover setup where separate digital amplifiers serve each speaker driver in the system with digital circuitry passing the appropriate frequencies to the appropriate drivers.

Denon DHT-S514 HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

HDMI (input and output) connections

This is liked due to efficiencies that are valued because of smaller amplifier designs that run cool while reducing the number of analogue-digital circuits needed in a product’s design.

Wireless subwoofer connections to be worth their salt

A soundbar that comes with a subwoofer could benefit from a wireless link to that subwoofer in order to allow these setups to be installed in a flexible and aesthetically-pleasing manner without dealing with unsightly wires draping down from the soundbar.

Separately-adjustable subwoofer level

Denon DHT-S514 subwoofer volume setting

An ideal position to have the subwoofer set so it doesn’t dominate too easily

A problem that can easily affect subwoofer setups is that the subwoofer can dominate the sound, not allowing it to be come “authentic” but be so “boomy” that it sounds like the old pub jukebox. When I was setting up the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar, I had to adjust the subwoofer to avoid it sounding too boomy. I wanted to have the sound come across with male voices and some sound-effects like gunshots as carrying some authenticity.

Equipping a soundbar’s subwoofer with a separately-adjustable level control is important to avoid the subwoofer sounding too boomy. Preferably, this could be adjusted at the soundbar or with its remote or the system could also implement a bass-optimisation feature to keep enough bass in the sound mix without letting it dominate no matter the program material or volume level. This is because some content, mainly recent movies that were targeted for the cinema or some American TV series, does have a bass-heavy soundmix where most other TV content doesn’t come across with a bass-heavy soundmix.

Ability to adjust the volume or mute the sound with the TV’s remote

A soundbar or TV base speaker should have the ability for you to adjust the volume or mute the sound  during the ads using the TV’s remote control so you don’t have to mess around with another remote control for this purpose. It is important if you connect all your video peripherals to your TV rather than via a soundbar, use a Smart TV or simply use the TV’s integrated tuner to watch broadcast TV,

This could be achieved through the use of HDMI-CEC functionality or the soundbar learning your TV’s remote-control commands for the volume and mute commands while preserving the digital audio link. It could also avoid the need for you to purchase a universal remote control to focus on “one-remote” operation.

HDMI-equipped soundbars to work smoothly with HDMI ARC TVs and cable boxes connected to the soundbar

A problem that can surface with HDMI-ARC setups is to handle a mix of HDMI-CEC sources and baseline HDMI sources like cable boxes or PVRs. In some situations, the HDMI-ARC connection may not work, thus not allowing you to hear the TV’s integrated sources if you connect a soundbar between your cable box and the TV or you may hear the cable box’s sound through the soundbar when you have the TV off.

The HDMI functionality could allow the source functions associated with the TV to be enumerated as part of the TV’s source list and use the HDMI-ARC path only for sound that emanates from sources integrated in or directly connected to the TV set.

Distinct indication between “midnight theatre” and “regular” mode

Since most soundbars and TV base speakers implement a “midnight theatre” mode with increased audio compression so you can easily operate them at low levels yet hear the programme content, there could be a distinct visual way to determine whether they are in this mode or not. This is to avoid you turning up the device while watching TV but lose the dynamics that you want/

Implementation of sound-management algorithms

Increasing a lot of home-theatre receivers are implementing sound-management algorithms like Audyssey or Dolby Volume which optimise the system’s volume or bass level as you watch different programmes or sources. They can, for example, level the volume between the programme material and promotional or advertising material or tame savage-sounding bass to avoid it “creeping” next door in to your neighbour’s apartment or someone’s bedroom while preserving that authenticity in the TV sound.

Conclusion

Personally, I would consider the use of a soundbar or TV base speaker as an option for improving the sound quality that most flat-screen TVs put up. The main circumstances that would have me prefer these devices would be people who value a separate hi-fi for stereo music reproduction or want to position the TV in a more flexible manner like the traditional “TV-in-the-corner” location.

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Feature Article–DLNA Media Network Series: The three-box DLNA network model

Updated 16 October 2013

3-box DLNA setup with control point deviceThis is an advanced way of setting up a DLNA Home Media Network and requires a network media player to be able to be controlled by other devices on the same network.

It is a function integral to DLNA 1.5 compatible devices and is part of TwonkyMedia Manager (which I have reviewed here) since it started. Now it will be an integral part of Windows 7 where you can select “Play To” to have music playing on another device that you have specified. There will be many handheld terminals that have this functionality, either as part of the operating system or as add-on software and is considered an essential function for mobile devices and the new crop of Wi-Fi-based wireless network speakers, some of which have been reviewed on HomeNetworking01.info.

The open-frame alternative to Apple AirPlay which can handle pictures and video content as well as music

The three boxes in this DLNA media network

Three are three logical units in this equation

Media Server

This holds media files or references to media streams and is typically represented by Windows Media Player 11 or TwonkyMedia Server which is part of TwonkyMedia Manager which I have reviewed in this blog.

Also, in a PC-less solution, it can be a network-attached storage or music server device, which is become a very important trend as we move towards a highly-portable home network with a book-sized NAS holding our music, photos and video.

Media Control Point

This is primarily a software program or hardware device that can find material on any Media Servers on the home network and allow the user to “push” the content to any Media Render device on the network. Some of these programs such as most of the smartphone Media Control Point apps also have the ability to “push” device-local content to the Media Render device.

Examples of these include Twonky Manager, Windows Media Player with its “Play To” function, and Linn Kinsky for Windows; Twonky Mobile, PlugPlayer and Gizmoot for the iPhone or iPad; and Twonky Mobile and BubbleUPnP for Android devices. For that matter, this feature is also being considered as a desired for any highly-capable music player or similar application for the Android platform.

Media Renderer

Boston Acoustics MC-200Air wireless speaker whcih can be controlled by a DLNA control app

Boston Acoustics MC-200Air wireless speaker whcih can be controlled by a DLNA control app

The Media Renderer is similar to a UPnP-capable Media Player except that it can accept instructions via the home network to play particular media files or streams. Typically this setup is represented by three boxes but a device can have two or three of the functions built in to its housing.

An example of this is the TwonkyMedia Manager program or the PlugPlayer DLNA controller for the iPhone or any of the recent Nokia N-Series mobile phones. Here, the program has a built-in software media renderer function as well as a software media server function and control point.

Or you have most recent DLNA-capable AV equipment like the Denon CEOL Piccolo that allow you to choose the content to play using their control panel or remote control; or let you “push” content to them using a DLNA Media Control Point.

What can you do

Put the netbook, tablet or another computer to good use as a media controller

An idea that would appeal to many geeks and media enthusiasts is to load a program like TwonkyMedia Manager 1.2 or Linn Kinsky on to a netbook or subnotebook computer and use this computer as a remote media controller for the DLNA Home Media Network.

This could mean that you could bring up pictures and video on a DLNA-capable TV or electronic picture frame using this terminal. This would end up being much easier than finding the remote control for the TV and working through an unwieldy user interface.

As well, handheld devices like smartphones, mobile Internet devices or PDAs that are equipped with WiFi functionality can work as a remote control, whether natively (in the case of phones like most of the Nokia N-Series phones) or through one of many software programs available through their standard app stores Web channels.

Similarly, you could use your office PC to show merchandising videos / images on your DLNA-equipped TVs and picture frames in the shop’s public space rather than going around to each TV or picture frame to bring up the right merchandising material. Again, you could use the “Play To” function in Windows 7 or 8, or “Cast To Device” in Windows 10 for this purpose.

Use of AV network media adaptors for music or other audio content

Typically, an AV network media adaptor like the D-Link DSM-320 or the Zyxel DMA-1100P typically doesn’t have any form of display on it. Instead it requires the user to control it using the remote control while using the attached TV as its display. This wouldn’t equate very well if you intend to play music rather than show pictures or videos using the device. Here, these devices can be managed by having the music playlists pushed to them without need for the attached television to be on.

“Follow Me”, “Party Mode” and other advanced playback techniques

Some of the DLNA media controllers allow for advanced playback techniques where program material can be “pushed” to other Media Renderer devices from a particular point in the track. This can allow for “follow-me” playback where the content which was already playing on one device is played on another user-specified device with the content stopping at the previous device; or “party mode” where content is broadcast to a group of devices. The last mode may have problems due to the data-oriented network protocols not being able to work well in supporting synchronous playback from one source. Similarly, there could be other playback techniques like exhibiting different pictures from the same cluster on different screens.

Portable devices being part of the DLNA digital media network

Smartphone-based DLNA setupAnother application for this kind of operation is for a digital camera or mobile phone to “push” digital images held on that device to DLNA-compliant TV screens or picture frames. This would typically work well for “there-and-then” showing of pictures and videos taken with the device rather than downloading of pictures to a network-attached storage device.

Similarly a mobile phone or MP3 player could “push” digital music held therein to better speakers via a digital media adaptor. To the same extent, these devices are also being used as a key interaction terminal for the Social Web with the likes of Facebook being replete with albums of photos created by everyone on these networks. What would be a good idea to show that album that your Facebook Friend filled from their holiday on your large TV screen and page through each of those pictures using your smartphone as the control surface.

The main issues and hurdles

Is the playback device able to be controlled by the home network

Not all DLNA-capable playback equipment is capable of supporting “3-box” push-mode operation at the moment. Typically, most DLNA equipment from the big names that was issued over the last two years, especially televisions and network media adaptors and home theatre receivers will support this functionality “out of the box” or through a firmware update that the customer does. Some existing equipment may support the functionality through a customer-performed firmware update or may do so out of the box.

One of the best references for this capability is this list in the TwonkyForum discussion board run by TwonkyMedia, in relation to TwonkyMedia Manager.

Is the playback device set up to be controlled by the home network

Another thing to look for with playback devices is whether the function is enabled even though the device has the function. This may be looked at in the form of a Settings menu option in the Network Settings Menu or similar menu which may be labeled “Digital Media Renderer Mode”, “DLNA Remote Control”, “Network Media Control” or something similar. Some devices may put up a prompt that asks if you want this function to happen the first time content is pushed to that device using the DLNA method. This includes a few wireless speakers that support AirPlay and DLNA having them as selectable operating modes.

If this mode is set to on, the device can respond to DLNA requests. Some devices have the function disabled in the default factory setup while others may allow this kind of control by default.

Conclusion

Once you have this issue worked out, you can then use a handheld device, computer or dedicated remote controller to cause media to play on other home network devices.

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Feature Article-DLNA Media Network Series: Setting up a PC-Less Network AV setup

Updated: 15 October 2013

Why set up a PC-less networked AV setup

DLNA Media Network with NAS A PC-less networked AV setup doesn’t need a particular computer to be present and running to provide AV media to DLNA client devices.

The media is provisioned by a box that is designed for providing AV media to client devices 24/7. This avoids situations where the media is not available due to the PC crashing or being infested with malware; both events that can be very common occurrences with most home computers. There is no need to worry about a PC which is being used for playing games or doing other system-intensive activities limiting media availability. Similarly, these setups use less energy than a PC working as a media server.

This setup also suits today’s mobile computing environment where laptop computers, smartpbones and tablets are more likely to be moved from place to place. It also suits environments like holiday houses where there is no real use in keeping a desktop computer on the premises but there is the desire to have occasional Internet access at such locations.

As well, this kind of setup appeals to computer-shy people who may want to benefit from digitally-hosted media. This is because there is no need to have a noisy ugly computer in the house for this kind of activity to occur.

Another bonus is that when you add more media client devices to the network, a dedicated media server can handle the increased demand more capably. Contrast this with an average desktop or laptop PC where the odds of failing when serving more devices can increase rapidly.

What kinds of PC-less media server exist?

Dedicated DLNA media server (Philips Streamium WACS-7000, Sony GigaJuke  NAS-S55HDE, etc)

This unit is typically in the form of a hi-fi system or component that is part of such a system. It has a single hard disk that is primarily for storing media, typically music files and have a network interface, either in the Ethernet or 802.11g wireless form.

Such units will have a built-in CD drive and can “rip” audio tracks from CDs loaded in that drive. They will have access to a metadata service like Gracenote so that the tracks are properly indexed by song title, artist (both album and contributing), genre and album title. As well, they could record audio to the hard drive from a device connected to the server’s line-level input or, where applicable, from a built-in radio tuner. This is in a similar manner to recording music to tapes from the radio using that good old cassette deck.

A lot of these systems expose features and functions that only work best with selected client equipment sold by the server’s manufacturer. They may have limitations concerning transferring audio files to and from the unit’s hard disk, which may limit backup or secondary-storage opportunities. Usually they require a computer to run a special utility in order to transfer music files to or from the unit.

Similarly, it is becoming a trend for some PVR-capable set-top boxes to work as a dedicated DLNA media server for the TV shows that are recorded by these devices. This is a trend being pushed forth by the FCC in America to allow consumers to use their smart TVs to pull up live or recorded video content offered by their pay-TV providers.

Standalone NAS (network-attached storage) box

WD MyCloud consumer network-attached storage

WD’s latest Personal Cloud NAS which works as a DLNA server

These devices are simply a dedicated file-storage device that is connected to the home network and handles files according to standard network-based file-handling protocols. They often provide backup file storage and secondary file storage for computers on the network as well as media-server functionality.  Some users may use the hard disks in these units as a “holding bay” for their computer’s hard-disk contents while they are upsizing that computer’s hard disk.

These boxes will typically come either as a single-disk unit which is the size of a book or as a multi-disk unit that is typically the size of a toaster or breadmaker. These units  either uses the hard disks as a huge storage volume or sets aside some of the disks as a “shadow store” for the data should any of the disks fail. This latter technique, which also provides higher data throughput is known as RAID which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

They are available as a unit fitted out with the necessary hard disks to the capacity you pay for or as an enclosure where you install hard disks that you buy separately. Earlier versions of these enclosures required the user to mess around with a screwdriver and end up losing screws in the assembly process, but the newer units just require the user to slide in or “clip in” the hard disks.

This class of device includes “headless” small-scale server platforms like Windows Home Server and some Linux distributions which can be expanded by the user to perform different functions. They may include this kind of software being loaded on an otherwise-redundant PC that is being repurposed as a small-form file server.

Most NAS units on the market offer a “personal cloud” or “remote access” function which works with a server that provides private log-in and access to the data on the NAS from a mobile device used out in the field. Some implementations may also allow remote syncing of content data between two NAS units at different locations.

This device will be the way to go eventually because of its ability to provide a flexible media-sharing solution for most small networks. It is infact part of a personal “shortlist” of devices that I would consider essential for a home network to be equipped with.

“Ripping” NAS units

RipNAS "ripping" NAS with built-in optical drive - RipNAS press image

RipNAS “ripping” NAS with built-in optical drive

There are a class of NAS boxes that are just like a regular NAS box, having the same number of hard disks as these devices and having the same capacity and functionality as these boxes. But these units, such as the ZoneRipper Max, RipNAS and the Naim UnitiServe have a built-in optical disk drive and software which “rips” CDs loaded in to the unit’s optical drive, in a similar manner to a dedicated DLNA music server. They will use a music metadata service like Gracenote to index the tracks that are ripped from the CDs loaded in the unit’s optical drive. These units would be considered as a “bridge” between the dedicated DLNA music server and a general-purpose NAS box.

USB hard disk connected to a DLNA-compliant USB file server

Another common method is to use a USB network file server device that is connected to a USB external hard disk. The device can typically be part of another network device like a lot of the newer high-end routers including the Freebox Révolution and its peers offered in France, or just become a standalone box. These units, again, handle files according to the standard network-based file-transfer protocols.

They work best with one self-powered USB hard disk because most of these server devices usually run on a low-output power supply that typically powers the electronics within. Most of these units also don’t have the logic to properly handle a USB hub or multiple USB hard disks. If you are using a small hard disk that doesn’t have its own power supply, you may need to connect it via a self-powered USB hub. Similarly, you may find that using a self-powered USB hub can assure reliable service with any of the USB file servers that can support USB hubs,

These setups are useful for a temporary media-sharing arrangement where you are providing media to one or two devices or as an auxiliary media server for other media that isn’t always used.

Storing your media on these devices

If you use a dedicated NAS unit without a built-in optical drive, you will need to make sure that you have SMB (Windows, MacOS X, Linux) or NFS (Linux) read/write access to the media share on that NAS unit. As well, make sure that there is a desktop shortcut, mapped drive letter or other mount point to that share on your computer(s) that you are preparing the media on.

Prepare your media as you normally would, with it ending up in your computer’s media directories. This includes providing the appropriate metadata to describe the content being offered. Then copy the media directories to the NAS media share using the standard practices that you use for copying files and directories. You may need to set up a “sync” routine to automatically copy new media to the media share so you can be sure that the new media is available on the network.

For that matter, I am using the open-source “FreeFileSync” program for this purpose and have a sync routine set up to contribute additions and modifications to my media folders to my WD My Book World Edition NAS.

Avoid the temptation to “rip” a CD directly to the network share because there is the increased likelihood of errors and slow performance due to multiple points of failure existing between the CD and the NAS’s hard disk, being the optical drive, the ripping and encoding processes and the network transfer process. This is more so with cheaper and older NAS devices as well as USB file-server setups that may be unreliable.

If you use Dropbox, Box.com, SkyDrive or similar services to share media with others or transfer media between computers, it is a good practice to copy the media that is available through the “cloud” storage service to a folder on your NAS used by its DLNA media server. This then allows you to enjoy the media from that service on your DLNA-capable equipment.

Increasing and evolving the DLNA networked media system

One media Server, work towards a NAS unit

This is more analogous to a business’s file server where the IT department want to make sure that all company data is seen as one collection to back up and manage and is at one location. This may appeal to you if you want to have only one primary storage point for your media.

The only limitation about this is that if you need to “do anything” with the NAS unit like upsize it or replace a failed hard disk, you will have to have the media library out of action.

Two or more Media Servers serving different content

This is a situation that may come about as you start to outgrow your existing NAS’s capacity as I have written about when I received a new higher-capacity NAS due to the fact that my existing unit had nearly reached capacity. Here, I was talking about where you keep an existing NAS working as another server alongside your newly-acquired unit.

You may want to have the media on two or more media servers rather than one media server. This may appeal to a household which has young adults or adolescent children living in it. In this situation, they may want to keep their media on an NAS that they have responsibility for and can take with them when they move on. This avoids you having your media server being “clogged up” with their media which you will less likely want to touch whether they are with you or when they have left your place.

Similarly, you may have media to do with your personal activity as well as media to do with your business or community-engagement activity. Here, you can run a separate media server which houses your business media and this one can be managed under business standards and be financially underwritten by your business. This includes Web developers who run a NAS box as a “Web-page workbench” and want to view primary pictures for their Web page on a DLNA media client attached to the big-screen TV.

Here, you create the different media servers but you make sure they have different names so that your DLNA client devices can differentiate between the server devices. You may use different types of server such as a USB hard disk connected to a DLNA-capable USB file server for a small project or a business-class NAS unit for your business data.

An increasing number of NAS devices pitched at the domestic market are starting to support the ability to aggregate multiple DLNA media libraries in to one large media library. This allows the user to point their media client device at one reference point for all the media that exists on the one home network.

Media Servers in different geographical locations

There may be the possibility of running another DLNA-based media network in another geographic location like a business premises or another house.

The main issue about this is keeping both locations in sync with the desired content. You may have to use an Internet-based sync utility which is supported by your media server to synchronise content between locations.

On the other hand, you could set up an IP-based NAS-NAS backup set for incremental or differential (only files that are new or have changed) backup, but the backup jobs could still be large if any metadata is changed. This must be a file-by-file backup where each file on the destination NAS is its own copy of the source file rather than a “file-of-files” that most backup software works with.

You would have to make sure that both NAS units are accessible from the Internet. This may involve establishment of a “dynamic DNS” setup through the use of “DynDNS” or similar utilities; or having each location have a fixed IP address. Then there is the issue of setting up a port-forwarding rule in your router, which may be easy if your NAS units implements UPnP-based port forwarding and you are using a UPnP-compliant router in each location. On the other hand, you may have to visit the router’s Web page to set up the port-forward rules.

This situation hasn’t been made easy because typically the concept of using multiple NAS boxes for applications like multi-location file storage hasn’t been defined as a key application. Similarly NAS manufacturers prefer users to set up ecosystems based around their devices especially certain device ranges.

Conclusion

Once you have moved towards the PC-less DLNA-based media network, you will thank yourself that you have headed down that path. You won’t need to keep a noisy computer on all the time just to enjoy your music over the network.

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

Updated: 13 October 2013

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radioMost 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.

As for music, this is more so as we buy music as digital-download files rather than buy physical media and copy it to our conputer’s hard disk. It will also become a trend if we visit video sites that offer video content on a download-to-own basis.

The instructions in this article are more focused with a person who is pressing a regular desktop or laptop computer running Windows, MacOS X or Linux as a media server and may be the way to go when you start out with DLNA especially if you are using a desktop comptuer.

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

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

Sony BDP-S390 Network Blu-Ray Player – a Blu-Ray player that adds DLNA to an existing TV

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.  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. We are also seeing an increasing number of wireless speakers that connect to your home network and receive music via Apple’s proprietary Airplay system or the common DLNA system. These units can be controlled by mobile devices equipped with controller apps.

Similarly, DLNA is becoming an important feature for any well-bred “smart TV” or similar video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player or home-theatre system that is connected to the Internet. The ubiquitous Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 games consoles that every teenage boy dreams of having both work according to these standards and this feature is becoming a requirement for up-and-coming TV-connected games consoles.

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

Basic DLNA Media Network

Basic DLNA Media Network

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.

Some networks such as the public-access networks provided by cafes and the like, including the headline “Wi-Fi Internet” that resort apartment developments provide won’t work well with DLNA. This is due to implementation of a Web-based login system as well as client isolation which doesn’t work with most DLNA-capable devices.

Setting up your PC jukebox or media server software for DLNA

Settings for ripping CDs in Windows Media Player

Settings for ripping CDs in Windows Media Player

If you are running any Microsoft Windows version since Windows XP, you can use Windows Media Player 11 or newer versions 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.

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 Player Sharing settings for DLNA

Windows Media Player Sharing settings for DLNA

For your pictures and videos, 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 TwonkyMedia 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 TwonkyMedia, PS3 Media Server or NullRiver MediaLink. 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.

As well, if you, a friend or associate uses SkyDrive, Dropbox or similar cloud-based storage services to share a media collection, you may need to copy the media that you received through the sharing to your media library to share them via DLNA. Similarly, images shared through the Social Web may need to be downloaded from the service to your media folder.

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 TwonkyMedia, 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 TwonkyMedia 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 or high-definition audio files 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.

Nearly all of the recent 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” or WPS 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

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

DLNA media directory shown on TV screen as provided by PC

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. Similarly, you may bave to stop your computer going to sleep or hibernate mode under automatic control for this to work properly.

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”.

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

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.  Some devices like the recent crop of Samsung Smart TVs list each DLNA server on the home network they are connected to either as a source alongside the integrated TV tuner or external connections on that device.

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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