Category: UPnP AV / DLNA

Yamaha’s network-capable stereo receivers can play legacy sources through MusicCast network speakers

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Yamaha R-N402 Natural Sound Network Stereo Receiver press picture courtesy of Yamaha Australia

Yamaha R-N402 Network Stereo Receiver – can even stream audio from sources connected to it into Yamaha MusicCast speakers

Yamaha

R-N602 Natural Sound Network Receiver (Product Page)

80W / channel 8 ohms 0.04% THD 20Hz-20kHz

(Analogue Inputs: 1 phono, 2 line-level, 2 tape loops; PCM Digital Inputs: 2 Coaxial, 2 Optical)

R-N402 Natural Sound Network Receiver (Product Page)

100W / channel 8 ohms 0.2% THD 40Hz-20kHz

(Analogue Inputs: 3 line-level, 1 tape loop; PCM Digital Inputs: 1 Coaxial, 1 Optical)

R-N303D Natural Sound Network Receiver (Product Page)

100W / channel 8 ohms 0.2% THD 40Hz-20kHz

Analogue Inputs: 3 line-level, 1 tape loop; PCM Digital Inputs: 1 Coaxial, 1 Optical

DAB+ tuner

My Comments

Previously, I had touched on the issue of availability of “full-width” network-capable stereo receivers that have the same expectations as the traditional hi-fi receiver that has been seen as the heart of many hi-fi systems. This was when I had called out the Onkyo TX-8050 network stereo receiver and the Yamaha R-N301 network stereo receiver.

Here I was focusing on people who value the idea of creating a hi-fi system that is about playing music rather than a home-theatre setup that is about showing what Hollywood has to offer. Situations that I think of include creating a formal lounge area where you want to focus your activity on entertaining guests, reading and playing or listening to music; or simply maintaining a separate home-entertainment system optimised for playing music.

Yamaha are still pushing through with stereo receivers that can connect to your home network. The latest examples are underscored with the R-N602, R-N402 and R-N303D Natural Sound Network Receivers which integrate the concept of the stereo receiver with the home network and multiroom audio thanks to the latest iteration of the Yamaha MusicCast network audio technology.

This technology that Yamaha implements in these receivers isn’t interlinked with any overarching multiroom network-audio standard adopted by many manufacturers. But they can also work with network audio sources like DLNA-capable media servers including NAS units, or online sources like Spotify or Pandora. Those of you who use an Apple device running iOS or a recent iteration of MacOS can also use these Yamaha receivers for your device’s audio output.

One of the features I am calling out is the ability to stream audio from a source device connected to these receivers to other Yamaha MusicCast devices. For example, in the case of the R-N602, you could start a record playing on the turntable connected to this receiver in the formal lounge room. Then you use the Yamaha MusicCast Controller app on your iOS or Android smartphone to hear that record through the Yamaha PLUS (WX-030) speaker in the kitchen.

Similarly, these receivers are implementing Bluetooth not just as a source but as an alternate output. For example, one could hear a local radio broadcast on the receiver’s integrated tuner through their Bluetooth headphones without the need to worry about the length of their headphone cord thanks to this functionality.

The Yamaha R-N602 does cater very well for legacy media by providing an integrated phono stage for a turntable equipped with a moving-magnet cartridge, as well as two tape loops which can come in handy if you still record to tapes or other media, including using a computer to archive old recordings. But the Yamaha R-N402 and R-N303D has its analogue inputs being line-level only with one tape loop.

At least Yamaha haven’t forgotten about the network-capable stereo receiver as a product class for devices that serve as a hi-fi system’s hub. Instead, they have made sure that there is a range of equipment that suits different needs and budgets, allowing us to consider how to build out that music system as we want.

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Setting up a mobile NAS to work with your home network

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS

The WD MyPassport Wireless mobile network-attached storage – can offer data to the host Wi-Fi network when set up in hotspot mode

Increasingly, data-storage device manufacturers are adding to their mobile network-attached storage devices the same kind of network-based data storage and access features typically offered with a standard desktop NAS device. This is rather than these devices just being a lightweight file server for smartphones and tablets connected to the device’s own Wi-Fi access point.

I had previously reviewed one of these devices in the form of the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS which demonstrated this kind of functionality. In the review, I had called out the DLNA-compliant media server that was part of that mobile NAS’s feature set, where you had the ability to show your photos and videos on one of the latest Smart TVs via the home network the TV is connected to.

Mobile NAS with hotspot mode set for “secure” or “private” mode

As well, some of the increasingly-sophisticated devices like the WD MyPassport Wireless Pro also are offering the same kind of Samba-based (SMB / CIFS) file transfer method that you can do with other NAS devices so you can transfer resources to these devices using your regular computer’s operating-system’s file manager and its network file transfer protocols. Similarly, the devices may implement FTP, WebDAV or other common network-file-transfer protocols primarily to allow you to upload photos and footage from your Wi-Fi-capable digital camera or camcorder to the mobile NAS if the camera honours these standard protocols.

How to have this work properly?

Here your mobile NAS unit needs to be set up for connection to an existing small Wi-Fi network as a client device of that network. It also needs to be set up to share its resources to that client network in addition to the network it creates using its own wireless access point.  Most of this configuration that I would be talking about here would be something you would do using the vendor-provided native mobile-platform app or, perhaps, a Web page that the mobile NAS creates as its management page.

Mobile NAS with hotspot functionality set up for file sharing mode

Typically, you may set this up as part of enabling a “Share Wi-Fi Connection”, “Wi-Fi Hotspot” or similar function that effectively shares a logical network connection between multiple devices that connect to the portable NAS’s access point. This function is similar to what most travel routers offer as a way to share the one logical (and usually permitted) connection to a hotel’s guest-access Wi-Fi service amongst the personal computing devices you and your travelling companions own. Similarly, this same function creates a “trust circle” between multiple devices connected to the mobile NAS’s access point allowing them to be discovered by each other even if the public-access Wi-Fi network that the NAS is connected to is configured properly with client isolation enabled.

When you enable the “hotspot” function on a sophisticated mobile NAS like the WD MyPassport Wireless / Wireless Plus series or the Seagate Wireless Plus, you will have an option to set this function to work in a “private” or “secure” mode or a “sharing” mode.  In the “private” mode, the data held on the NAS becomes available only to devices on the Wi-Fi network created by the mobile NAS’s access point. Conversely, the “sharing” mode will make the data available to devices on the network which has the Wi-Fi segment you connected the mobile NAS to as part of the “hotspot” mode.

Availability of data held on mobile NAS Sharing mode Secure / Private mode
Host wireless network Yes No
Wireless network created by mobile NAS’s access point Yes Yes

To allow the mobile NAS to share its resources on your home network, you need to enable the “sharing” mode or disable the “secure” or “private” mode while setting up the “hotspot” functionality. It is a wise practice not to use the “sharing” mode on a Wi-Fi network used as a public-access network and this function wouldn’t work with these networks that are properly set up with client isolation enabled.

What can the manufacturers do to improve the Wi-Fi bridging functionality on these devices?

The “Wi-Fi hotspot” or “Shared Wi-Fi” functionality could be improved upon by allowing users to create preset operating modes for particular Wi-Fi networks. This would work in a similar way to the way Windows allows the user to classify each network they connect to as being a “home”, “work” or “public” network, causing it to adopt an exposed persona suitable for your home or office network or a private person for that public-access Wi-Fi network. Such parameters could be to determine whether to share resources with the host network or to always clone the client device’s MAC address when connecting along with remembered Wi-Fi network passwords.

Here, as a user connects the mobile NAS to a Wi-Fi network for “Shared Wi-Fi” operation, they are invited to save the configurations they have established for that network. Then, when they reconnect to that network, the mobile NAS assumes the operating modes that the user previously defined. These details can be referenced by the host network’s ESSID or a user-defined name for that network.

Conclusion

Once you know how to set up that highly-capable mobile NAS device and exploit the “private” or “shared” operating modes that these devices offer with setting up the “Shared Wi-Fi” or “hotspot” mode, you can then use them to make resources held therein available to other small networks you connect them to.

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Photos not the right way up on your TV?

Media contents in Dropbox folder available on DLNA-capable Samsung smart TV

Pictures that are copied in using Windows Explorer may not always appear the right way up

A problem that can surface with some photos that you view using your Smart TV, set-top device or similar equipment is that they don’t appear the right way up.

It happens more so with those pictures that come in from an email whether as attachments or downloadable links, or from a cloud-storage service. Similarly it also happens if you transfer the pictures from your device to your computer using the operating-system’s file manager i.e. Windows / File Explorer or MacOS Finder by using the file-copy procedure. This latter process is something most of us do when we want to make digital pictures that we took at someone’s location available on their computer.

These cameras record information about the photo orientation as part of the picture file when you click the shutter

The main problem is that today’s cameras and mobile devices record the orientation of the photo in the file that represents the image as part of machine-readable EXIF metadata. Most of the file managers recognise this metadata and use it for creating the thumbnail that is seen for each file. Similarly, when you upload photos to an image-sharing or social-media site, you will find that these pictures will be shown the right way up thanks to this metadata. It is also true of image management software which even creates copies of the imported files that are the “right way up” as part of the image-import process.

Windows 10 File Explorer

Copying photos from your camera using Windows / File Explorer or other file managers may not guarantee the best results with photo-rotation metadata

But a lot of hardware media players like smart TVs, set-top devices and electronic picture frames don’t recognise this EXIF picture-orientation flag and show the picture with the incorrect orientation. It can be exacerbated with DLNA media-streaming setups where the DLNA media server doesn’t use this flag to rotate the picture to the correct orientation when it is being served to the client device. The same problem also extends to some photo-viewer and presentation software that doesn’t understand the EXIF photo-orientation tag properly.

Another situation that always surfaces with photo orientation is if you are photographing something on a table, floor or similar horizontal surface. Here, the camera or smartphone doesn’t properly register the orientation due to the orientation sensor being driven by gravity. In this situation you would still have to manually rotate the image even if you were importing it with software that understood this EXIF orientation metadata.

How can you work around these problem when you want to show images that are drawn in from email or copied over from that digital camera?

Cast To Device option to show picture on DLNA video player – may not always work properly with the EXIF photo-orientation metadata

One way would be to open each portrait image using a photo editor or bitmap image editor that understands the EXIF photo-orientation tag like Windows Paint or Adobe Photoshop, then save the image as a JPEG file using the software’s Save As command. This will typically rotate the image the right way up and strip off confusing EXIF tags. It would appeal to situations where you are preparing a folder of photos to be shown, perhaps on a USB stick or using “Cast To Device / Play To Device” on your Windows computer and a DLNA-capable video device.

For Windows users, especially those who regularly copy photos to their computer using Windows Explorer / File Explorer, there is a free program that can batch-rotate photos in a folder correctly. The program is called JPEG Autorotate and is freely available from its author’s site. Once installed, it appears as a secondary-menu (right-click) option to allow you to rotate a single image or all the photos in a folder including the subfolders without quality loss.

If you are using a computer as the primary storage or “staging post” for your digital image collection, the best path is to use the photo import functionality that is part of the image management software installed on it. Typically this will be Windows Photos, Windows Photo Gallery or Photos for MacOS (formerly iPhoto) that will be with your operating system. As well, make sure that the “rotate photos on import” option is selected in your software’s import settings.

This information will help you with making sure that digital pictures appear the right way up no matter the device you are using.

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Keeping the download-to-own music market alive

A lot of Millenials are preferring to use Spotify or similar “online jukeboxes” as their main music source, having the music play out of a wireless speaker or a network-capable audio system that supports these services.

What are these online jukeboxes?

Spotify

Spotify – the preferred only music source for many Millenials but can be used as a music discovery tool

These “online-jukebox” music services all work work primarily on a subscription basis where you don’t effectively own your music library, rather you stream down the music from these services after you pay a nominal amount per month or year to use these services. Some of them offer a free ad-supported variant of their music service, usually as an on-ramp to the main subscription-funded service.

But some of us, like myself, use the above-mentioned “online jukeboxes” more as a music-discovery tool so we can identify musical content that can fit in to our library. Examples of this include playing playlists that convey particular musical styles or moods, or discovering and “trying out” artists, albums and tracks that pique our interests.It includes situations where a company may offer a branded playlist with songs that represent what they are about.

In my case, I showed some interest in one of the “yacht-rock” playlists on Spotify and there had been a few songs that piqued my interest, some of which would be hard to find on CD in Australia. What I had done was to visit one of the transactional download-to-own music stores that is run as part of a platform’s app store and subsequently bought these songs as audio files that I could download. This meant I could add them as part of a personal playlist that existed on a microSD card as well as on a NAS that is available on the home network.

How can the “download-to-own” music services fit in

iTunes Store

iTunes – still going strong as a download-to-own music store

The way some of us add this content to our libraries is through a transaction-based “download-to-own” service like iTunes or Amazon Music. Increasingly most of the app stores associated with particular regular-computing or mobile platforms like the Windows Store and the Google Play Store are adding “download-to-own” music as part of their offerings.

Such services allow us to buy songs or albums as common media files to download to our computers or NAS drives, with a similar experience to buying the physical media where we effectively own it, but in a digital form. There used to be many of these services before the subscription-based music-streaming services took over the online music marketplace.

Microsoft Store - Muisc

Microsoft Store -Microsoft’s latest entry in to the “download-to-own” scene, providing music as MP3 files

What used to be an advantage was for these services to sell most of the songs as single tracks rather than require the user to buy a complete album. This was very similar to the era of the 7” 45rpm single where people could buy these records for cheap if they are after a particular song. This appealed to people who were buying to build up playlists of particular songs typically to set a particular mood.

There is also the value that you are not dependent on whether the content you like is still available at the online streaming music service or whether you have burnt up your mobile download allowance by streaming your music while on the road. Some of the online music services provide for offline listening but the files that are stored are kept in a proprietary form that can’t be readily played with anything other than the software provided by the online service.

Viable niches that these services can answer

Some of these services still exist but could be taken further to support a range of viable niches whether in the form of content types or audio-reproduction standards.

Answering new and upcoming talent

The typical answer to this issue is to offer these services as an “on-ramp” for upcoming talent like new musicians, basement bands and DJs. Here, these artists who typically have a handful of content but aren’t discovered could be able to sell their content through these services. They offer a simplified “on-ramp” for this kind of talent and may even provide the promotion that it needs to be exposed.

You may find that some of these “download-to-own” music stores will have their “artist and repertoire” teams who “suss out” local gigs, buskers and community radio to hunt down the new talent whose material they can sell.

Supplying particular kinds of content

To the same extent, there are some suppliers who sell particular kinds of “download-to-own” music that suit particular tastes.

Beatport

Beatport – the dance-music download-to-own store

One of these is Beatport who sell electronic dance music to DJs and those of us who like that kind of music. This is similar to how some dance-music record stores like Central Station Records in Australia existed, catering to this user class and were pulling out the stops to hunt down the latest beats.

Sometimes some record labels that specialise in particular kinds of content may run their own shopfront instead of or alongside the traditional distribution channels. It may be seen as a way to bypass import controls that some distributors and retailers value highly for controlling what is available in certain markets. As well, this approach effectively provides direct access to the talent the labels represent.

High-quality file-based audio

Another way would be that file types that represent high-quality audio could be available either as a standard or premium option. This can appeal for those of us who value high-quality audio or regularly use a top-notch hi-fi system. As well, there could be the ability to obtain high-quality masterings of the recordings that are available, including the ability to obtain a version prepared with or without high dynamic range.

Here, such recordings can be seen as a premium option for those of us who want something that is more special than what the online streaming services offer. An example of this has been the PonoMusic store that Neil Young started out with but is undergoing some renovation.

How can they complement Spotify and co?

But to continue making sure that these services maintain popular appeal, “download-to-own” music stores that want to cover a large market base have to have access to the current and back catalogue offered by most, if not all, of the major labels across the world. This includes being able to sell these recordings in to other countries, which may raise concern with music labels who don’t like the concept of parallel-importing of content in to other markets.

Similarly, they could partner with the likes of Spotify to offer the recordings that these subscription-based “online jukeboxes” provide for playback as a premium download-to-own option. For example, a media-management program that works with a “download-to-own” store and one of the “online jukeboxes” could offer a “buy this playlist offline” function where you can effectively buy your own copy of a playlist. Here, it would check which of the songs are downloaded or “ripped” from your CDs, then allow you to buy the remainder of the playlist from the “download-to-own” stores.

Conclusion

What has to happen is that, like the way radio and packaged pre-recorded music complemented each other, the download-to-own music services and the “online jukeboxes” of the Spotify kind need to be positioned in a manner to complement each other in the file-based music world.

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LG puts downward pressure on OLED TV prices

Article

OLED TV from LG drops to lowest price of the year | CNET

CNET video about the LG OLED TVs – Click / Tap to play

My Comments

LG is pulling out the stops to make the OLED-based 4K flat-screen TVs become in reach for most consumers. These sets use the same display technology as a lot of the high-end Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S and Note series, with this technology allowing for improved contrast and black levels as far as the picture goes. It is because the pixels light up under their own power and turn off when it is black, rather than using white LEDs as a backlight for a colour liquid-crystal display with the corresponding light leakage that can occur wherever it is black.

But another advantage that OLED has allowed for when it comes to product design is that the manufacturer can work towards a very thin product

For example, in the USA, they are offering the B6 series of 55” and 65” 4K HDR-capable sets at the price of US$2000 for the 55” variant (OLED55B6P) and US$3000 for the 65” variant (OLED65B6P). This is effectively a price reduction of US$500 for the 55” model and US$1000 for the 65” model.

Even Australian viewers haven’t missed out on the promotion effort with LG and Harvey Norman promoting the OLED smart-TV range through a TV-advertising campaign ran over the last few weeks, as a run up to the Christmas shopping season.

Personally, I could see this as a sign that OLED for large displays could be coming cheaper and more as a viable competitor to the LCD technology. This is more so for those of us who value the high contrast in the pictures that we see, especially if we work with high-quality photos and videos.

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Arcam follows up the Solo Neo with some network Blu-Ray receivers

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Arcam

Product Page – Solo Music and Movie range

My Comments

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

At the Australian Audio and AV Show 2013, I had a look at Arcam’s Solo Neo network CD receiver which is their entry to the high-quality network CD receiver marketplace. But I subsequently had a look for information on the Web about whether the Solo Neo still existed or was superseded by a better unit.

The Arcam Solo Neo was, at that time, the latest in their Solo range of CD receivers and DVD receivers that this British hi-fi name had designed. Then, it was on a par with the likes of the Cyrus Lyric and the Naim Uniti 2 which were systems of this calibre that were being offered by hi-fi’s “names-of-respect” to answer the needs associated with compact high-quality music systems that are simple to operate.

Arcam Solo Music network CD receiver - press picture courtesy of Arcam and Robert Follis Associates Global

Arcam Solo Music – latest iteration of the Solo network CD receiver lineup

But I had found that they replaced the Solo Neo with a range of network-capable receivers that also had an integral optical-disc player. Here, they offer the Solo Music which has a stereo output and an SACD player which plays ordinary CDs as well which is to be seen as a follow-on to the Solo Neo. But Arcam also offers the Solo Movie 2.1 which has a Blu-Ray player along with support for a subwoofer for deeper bass along with the Solo Movie 5.1 which has the Blu-Ray player and supports a full surround-sound output through its own amplifier.

What are these Solo Music and the Solo Movie network-capable AV systems about?

Arcam Solo Movie network Blu-Ray receiver press picture courtesy of Arcam and Robert Follis Associates Global - www.robfollis.com

Arcam of Cambridge: Solo Movie system incorporate the latest technology and components from Arcam’s 2016 AVR & Hi-Fi ranges, including the acclaimed Class G amplification, High-End Blu-ray and DVD Replay and full App Controlled music networking / streaming. Either available as a 5.1 full-surround variant or as a 2.1 two-speaker variant

All three of these units require you to supply your own speakers rather than being supplied with a pair of speakers as is common for this breed of equipment. Here, the Solo Music and Solo Movie 2.1 could put up 80 watts per channel RMS across a standard 8-ohm speaker load with 0.2% total harmonic distortion while the Solo Movie 5.1 could handle 60 watts per channel RMS with all channels driven into standard 8-ohm speakers, again with 0.2% total harmonic distortion. Here, these systems could handle most modestly-sized speakers that are in existence, thanks to Arcam’s “Class G” amplification technology which combines the sound quality associated with the Class A linear amplification method and the efficiency of the Class AB linear amplification method, serving as another way to achieve high-quality sound from compact equipment designs.

They all have four HDMI inputs for video peripherals along with an HDMI output for your TV with the ability to feed your TV’s sound through these systems courtesy of HDMI-ARC functionality. There are also SP/DIF digital inputs, one as an optical form and another as a coaxial form for other digital-audio devices like MiniDisc decks. Then there are two line-level inputs, one in the form of RCA connections and the other in the form of a 3.5mm stereo phone jack for connecting up other line-level audio devices.

As well as the aforementioned optical disc drives (SACD in the case of the Solo Music and Blu-Ray in the case of the Solo Movie models), there is a radio capable of receiving FM or DAB+ broadcasts along with the ability to play audio and visual media held on your NAS or other network media resource thanks to DLNA technology. It can also play file-based content that exists on a USB storage device like a memory key as well as being able to stream audio content from your Bluetooth-capable smartphone but using aptX for improved sound quality.

You can connect these Solo music and AV systems to your home network using Wi-Fi or Ethernet (including via a HomePlug powerline network segment). But I would prefer that this kind of equipment is connected to your home network using Ethernet or a HomePlug AV connection to allow for reliable home-network operation.

Why am I giving space to the Arcam Solo Music and Solo Movie systems?

The Arcam Solo Music matches its network-CD-receiver peers in so much that it can be the heart of a high-quality three-piece music system for your apartment, dorm or other similarly-compact living space. Here, you can choose to run it with a pair of high-quality speakers, with the fact that these could be a pair of brand-new bookshelf speakers, the traded-in floor/shelf speakers that the hi-fi store you bought the Solo Music from are clearing out or the pair of good-quality speakers you ended up with at the estate sale.

But the Solo Movie network Blu-Ray receivers take this further by integrating the concept of a network CD receiver with that of those DVD and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems that a lot of people in the suburbs are enamoured with. Unlike the typical “home-theatre” system offered at Best Buy, Harvey Norman and the like which are only supplied with small speakers for the front and surround channels and are engineered so that the subwoofer does all of the work in handling the bass, the Solo Movie units can be connected to bookshelf or floorstanding speakers that can reproduce the bass notes very adequately.

The Solo Movie 2.1 even impressed me more for people who want something with just two speakers but able to do video playback rather than being the full-bore surround system. Examples of this include a system used in a secondary lounge area, office or bedroom; or by those of us who are just satisfied enough with the two speakers for reproducing our video content’s soundtracks. You could even connect your computer through the Solo Movie 2.1’s HDMI connections so that the sound from YouTube and other online audio sources could be piped through the better speakers connected to that unit rather than your laptop’s or monitor’s tinny speakers.

Hotels and the like would even value this system as something to be installed in a guestroom, suite or apartment to provide the ability to play optical discs, network-hosted sources, the radio or smartphones and similar devices that a guest brings along; along with the TV’s sound through better speakers.

Arcam could provide inherent support for online audio sources like vTuner Internet radio, Spotify and Pandora and this can easily be provided using a firmware upgrade that effectively adds these sources.

But what they are doing is to use the Solo product lineup as their way of providing integrated audio and video systems that are about high-quality sound and vision in a manner that appeals to those of us who are more comfortable with this kind of product. They can also encourage others who offer the network-enabled CD receiver in their product lineup to look towards offering similar simplified products that can fulfil video-playback needs.

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Creating your own electronic signage for your organisation

Any of the flat-screen TVs on the market including the 4K models can serve as electronic signage

Any of the flat-screen TVs on the market including the 4K models can serve as electronic signage

One use you can put flat-panel displays (including TVs) and projectors to is as an electronic signboard for your business or organisation. This can be alongside a computer that you set aside for that task or a having the display itself or a video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player do the task of showing the signage.

Here, you can use common computer software to create the signage that you can keep revised and updated as your needs change and either show them using this software or create JPEG files of the signage to show using your display or video peripheral.

Create the signage material

Microsoft PowerPoint - useful for creating electronic signage

Microsoft PowerPoint – useful for creating electronic signage

Use a presentation program like Microsoft PowerPoint, OpenOffice Impress or Apple Keynote to create your slides. Here, make sure you have the page layout set up for a 4:3, 16:9 or 16:10 screen when you set up your presentation with the aspect ration dependent on what most of your equipment can work with natively.

Sometimes, you may find that the DL paper size may be able to provide that “wide expansive look” for your signage on a 4:3 or 16:9 display. Other layout sizes that can also work include the “business-card” size or the classic 3:2 layout associated with still images taken on 35mm film.

Some of you may base your signage on other printable collateral that you have created like handbills, flyers or business cards. The best formats for the collateral that you want to use would be most of the common paper sizes with the document set in landscape format. In this case, you simply make a high-resolution JPEG or PNG bitmap from the PDF master file for the printed collateral.

You may decide to implement animation in your signage using the presentation program if it supports that feature but the program must be able to export these signs as a video file that most devices can understand. Here, you may want a particular sign to have an animated effect for the duration of that message, including an effect that happens when it appears and another when it disappears.

If you are using an electronic picture frame or a tablet purposed as one and you have this set up in a vertical (portrait) manner, you may find that you could use a vertical page layout here.

How should it look

You may find that your electronic signage may work really well if you use bright features like text or graphics set against a darker background. This will effectively make the text and graphics “pop” against the background and is also more flexible for use with video projectors.

As well the text is best set up using sans-serif fonts like the Helvetica or Comic Sans font families rather than serif fonts like the Times Roman or Courier font families. This is more so where you are using a projector or a large display that is likely to be viewed at a distance. Here, such text becomes easier to read from a distance. But you can make use of mixed-case lettering to make best use of the space as well as allowing for improved legibility.

Learn from example

Presentation shown on retractable screen

These presentations can be a good example of what you can do for electronic signage

If you are looking for good examples to work from, pay attention to some of the work others have done in this field, especially if this is your first effort at visual merchandising.

For example, look at the slides that are shown before the main film when you are watching a movie at the cinema, or the slides shown at business presentations during any conference or expo you attend. Similarly, when you are loafing on that couch watching TV, look at the announcement or advisory slides that are shown before or after the TV shows or any of the menus and warning notices shown before DVD or Blu-Ray video content.

Here, you observe things like text pitch and layout along with how the text and other highlights look against the background. Similarly, it may be worth noticing different colour combinations that are used in this material.

Export your slides to high-resolution picture or video files

PDF2PNG or PDF2JPG can come in handy for creating bitmap images of your electronic-signage PDFs

PDF2PNG or PDF2JPG can come in handy for creating bitmap images of your electronic-signage PDFs

Once you have finished with creating your masterpiece slides and you are satisfied with them, export a PDF copy of the presentation. Then you use a PDF-to-JPEG export site to export your PDF-based presentation to high-resolution JPEG files that work with most TV screens. I have highlighted this process in my article and SlideShare presentation about how you can create better high-resolution JPEG output form PowerPoint.

This process is important if you aren’t using the same or compatible presentation tool to show the electronic signage or are using consumer-electronics devices as the display tools.

If you create a highly-animated screenshow using your presentation tool, export it as an MP4 (H.264) or other common video file which your displays will support. Here, you don’t have to add any sound to the file because this will come alive with just the vision. If you have to convert the animation file, you may find that most video-editing or video-conversion utilities can do this job very adequately. Here, you may find that you could make video files for each slide rather than for the whole presentation so as to allow for devices to randomly show the slides or to allow a mix of animated and still signage.

Showing them on the screen

Using your network and UPnP AV / DLNA technologies

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

If you have a NAS or file server that is running DLNA media server software, (most of these would be), you can use UPnP AV / DLNA as a way to show the electronic signage. Here, you use a TV that has DLNA functionality integrated in it like most, if not all, of the smart TVs; or have a TV, monitor or projector connected to a DLNA-capable video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player, network media player or games console.

Here, you use the remote control on the TV or video peripheral to “pull up” the images that are in a folder shared by the server device’s media-server software. Or an increasing number of devices can respond to DLNA-standard media-controller software like the “Play To”/ “Cast To Device” function offered in Microsoft Windows operating systems since Windows 7, allowing you to “throw” the pictures up on the screen using your regular computer or mobile device.

Pioneer BDP-160 Blu-Ray Player (Pioneer Europe press image)

Pioneer BDP-160 DLNA-capable Blu-Ray player – can enable a cheap flat-screen TV, monitor or projector to be used for electronic signage

But you have to have all of the “signage” slides in a folder that is accessible to and shared by the DLNA media server software. On some NAS units, you may be able to add an option for a shared-folder tree anywhere on the NAS to be indexed and shared by the DLNA media server; or you may be required to keep your media content under a certain shared-folder tree. Then you maintain sub-folders that relate to particular occasions or campaigns and put the relevant electronic-signage JPEG files there.

Removable Media

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Just about all flat-screen TVs could work with USB memory keys to show electronic-signage images

Most of the large-screen TVs, Blu-Ray or DVD players, network media players or similar devices are providing the ability to show still images held on a USB memory key or SD card. Similarly, you could burn a CD or DVD full of digital images and show these on most, if not all, recent-issue DVD and Blu-Ray players  As well, an increasing number of the portable video projectors are even offering as a differentiating feature the ability to allow you to show pictures or videos from a USB memory key or SD card.

Here, you can upload a campaign’s worth of images to a USB memory key and plug it directly in to your display device or video peripheral. To the same extent, you could put these images on an optical disc and show them using most recent DVD and Blu-Ray players.

Using removable media works best if you are working with one or two display devices to show your signage material. Similarly, it can work very well if you are not likely to change the material very frequently.

You may also find that some of these display devices or video peripherals will run the images at the sharpest resolution that the display can support. Here, the playout hardware integrated in the display is working directly with the display rather than at an “agreed” resolution.

A computer connected to a large display

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Desktop or laptop computers when used with external displays can earn their keep for electronic signage

Some of you may customarily hook up a computer to a large display like a projector and will want to use it for showing the electronic signage. It would be of importance for churches and other houses of worship where a computer is used to show worship material; or cinemas and theatres where a computer is used to show the program material.

Here, you could use a presentation program to do the job especially if you used the same presentation program or a compatible piece of software to create those slides; or just get by with a photo-viewing or media-playout tool like even Windows Photo Viewer to do this job without installing extra software. I have written up some instructions on how to press this program in to service with a larger display when you have a dual-display setup like a laptop connected to a large screen or a desktop with a monitor and a projector for showing to the audience.

Sometimes you may find that the one presentation tool doesn’t answer all of your needs with your computer or some of these tasks may be difficult to perform with that tool. For example, you, as a church AV manager, may find that a worship-lyrics program of the EasiSlides ilk can cut it just fine for the song lyrics that are part of your worship service while a program like Windows Photo Viewer can cut it for showing many JPEG images. On the other hand, you may come across that presentation tool that can satisfy main-program applications as well as the electronic signage applications.

An iPad or similar tablet

One of these tablets could work as counter-top electronic signage

One of these tablets could work as counter-top electronic signage

Most tablets have a screenshow application but you would have to upload the signage in to the tablet whether via Dropbox or similar cloud storage; connecting the tablet to your computer to transfer the files; or plugging in a microSD card or USB thumbdrive in to an Android tablet that supports USB OTG or removable media. You may also find that a DLNA media client running on your tablet can also fulfil this task effectively if your tablet and NAS are part of the same network.

It can be taken further with an Apple TV or Google Chromecast device that purposes your TV screen as the external screen for your tablet. Similarly, running a DLNA media-controller client on that tablet to “throw” the signage to DLNA MediaRender-capable devices like Smart TVs could answer your needs. But these situations may not allow you to use the tablet’s screen and the external screen simultaneously.

These would work well when you want to have this signage on a bar or reception desk for your visitors to see up close.

Conclusion

Once you know how to use your favourite presentation program to create electronic signage and that you can use cost-effective equipment to display it, you can then have a digital display that you can always have updated regularly with new information.

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Why do I represent the Naim NDX network media player as the poster child for top-notch home-network-based audio?

Naim NDS network audio player

The Naim NDX and NDS network media players are an example of what high-end network-based audio is about

There are pieces of equipment out there that I have seen in action doing their job effectively and even demonstrating what their application is all about. In some of these cases, I may highlight the device and use them as a “poster child” for that application where I would use a photograph that I have taken of it to represent a piece of equipment that fulfils the application I am talking about. The device I am talking about in this example is the Naim NDX which is a high-end audiophile network media player made by one of the British names-of-respect when it comes to high-grade hi-fi sound.

I have heard the Naim NDX network media player and its subsequent model, the NDS Reference Network Media Player in action whenever I have attended the Chester Group’s Australian Audio & AV Shows and this unit was one of the first devices that showed that music content delivered via a home network can be about high-quality top-notch sound.

The first time I had heard this unit in action was at the 2011 show hosted at the Marriott Hotel in Melbourne. Here, this unit was connected to a demonstration network and playing Alan Parsons Project “Eye In The Sky” which was held on a Seagate GoFlex Home NAS and totally underscored for me the fact that you can use a standards-based NAS and top-notch equipment for file-based music.

Previous to that show, I wrote “Serious About Music With DLNA” which underscored how the premium hi-fi names were implementing UPnP AV / DLNA technology to play out music held on your home network and the Naim NDX illustrated what this was about. This was a class of hi-fi equipment manufacturer who wouldn’t be ready to touch online or network-based audio setups unless they were totally sure that these setups were about top-notch crystal-clear sound.

Subsequently, I attended the 2013 show held at Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel and had heard this same unit in action but working from a Naim UnitiServe music server which could be described as a “ripping NAS”. The photograph that represents this unit was taken during this occasion while it was playing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” recording from that media server.

But what is the Naim NDX network media player about that draws my attention?

This British-designed unit is totally designed by Naim to their ultimate hi-fi design standards with an emphasis on hardware upgradeability. For example, it is designed to obtain its power from Naim’s highly-strung specially-designed power-supply systems that are optimised to provide strong clean power to their components, but has its own power supply built to the same standard. The NDS “reference” model is even designed that it is only powered from one of these power supplies. The signal path that transitions between the digital form and the line-level analogue form is built around circuitry that would be equivalent to what would be in one of Naim’s standalone digital-analogue converter units.

Personally, this same device ticks my requirements for a piece of network-based audio equipment. One of these is that it can work on an Ethernet network segment including a HomePlug AV segment thanks to an Ethernet connection on the back, as well as a Wi-Fi wireless network segment. This is to have it work with FLAC, WAV or similar audio files representing 24-bit 96kHz “master-grade” recordings that exist on your home network. As well, the Naim NDX can discover music content on any UPnP AV / DLNA media server on your home network, something I have seen this unit do very well when I saw it in action at the Australian Audio and AV Shows. This unit satisfies the need for gapless playback for most codecs especially the lossless codecs so can handle most classical-music, live-concert or concept-album tasks. It also underscores the fact that the unit does handle the FLAC files very well and I have illustrated it as a “poster child” for the FLAC digital audio format. This is about placing importance on standards-based “open-frame” setup for network-based audio distribution.

The NDX also can “pull in” Internet radio content from your home network thanks to support for the vTuner Internet-radio directory. It can also support Spotify Connect and the new Tidal online music service that is pitched for hi-fi listening.

It is worth knowing that the Naim NDX network media player can work as a digital-analogue converter for CD transports, TV set-top boxes, MiniDisc decks and the like thanks to three SP/DIF connections – one in the form of an RCA coaxial connection, another in the form of a BNC coaxial connection and the third in the form of an optical connection. There is also a front-mounted “walk-up” USB socket so you can play a USB hard disk or memory key, or an iOS device full of music through the NDX. This also has the ability to accept content streamed from a Bluetooth-capable smartphone with support for the aptX Bluetooth-streaming codec.

There is a BNC coaxial digital output to connect the Naim NDX to a digital amplifier, DAC or digital recorder but the line-level analogue connections are available as a pair of RCA sockets and a DIN socket.

I have done some further research on this piece of equipment and had found that it had been rated very well by Gramophone, the UK’s classical-music magazine, and “Enjoy The Music”, an American audiophile Website

It is also worth noting that the Naim NDX has been used as the “hase design” for all of that company’s network-capable audio equipment like the Uniti network CD receivers. These network CD receivers were one of many devices of this class that I called out as representatives of the high-quality network CD receiver that, when used with a pair of high-quality speakers, could represent a three-piece system of a high standard for that apartment, office

I have similarly called out the Naim DAC-V1 USB digital-analogue converter as an example of a top-notch hi-fi DAC that is expected to work with FLAC audio files when I mentioned that Windows 10 was to have native support for these files. This use case was again highlighted at one if the Australian Audio and AV shows with this device serving as the sound module for an HP Elitebook 2560P and it ready to play through a pair of top-notch bookshelf speakers via a power amplifier from the same stable.

It is another example where file-based audio content including “ripping” CDs or salvaging legacy media to network-based storage is considered a viable music content source that can be played using top-notch audio equipment.

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Plex moves towards PVR functionality

Article

Thecus N5810PRO Small Business NAS press photo courtesy of Thecus

Plex gets closer to turning a NAS in to a PVR once coupled with a HDHomeRun broadcast-LAN device

IFA 2016: Plex live TV recording comes to Australia | Sydney Morning Herald

From the horse’s mouth

Plex

Product Page

My Comments

Previously I had covered the idea of a NAS being a PVR that records your favourite TV shows. This is whether it works alongside a dedicated USB or broadcast-LAN tuner device or a fully-fledged set-top device.

Recently, Plex was pushed as a “polished” media server for computers or NAS devices. This meant that it could show supplementary information about the movies or music you have on your PC-based media server or NAS if you used client-side apps on your TV or video peripheral.

But this software’s functionality has been extended to include PVR where it can record TV shows off the air and on to your media server or NAS. At the moment, it only works with the HDHomeRun broadcast-LAN TV tuners as its signal source and uses Gracenote as its source for the electronic programme guide. This means that the functionality is offered as part of the PlexPASS subscription program.

It seems to me that this feature could be destined for the servers that run the desktop operating systems but a good question to raise is if the DVR functionality will come about for NAS units because these would appeal more to those of us who run them as a media server. But personally, I would prefer that all of the platforms that Plex Media Server is written for have the upgrade for DVR recording.

To the same extent, it could also be about using a NAS as a “gateway” for a broadcast-LAN device when it comes to viewing live TV content on a tablet, laptop or similar computing device.

At least it is a different approach towards using a NAS and a broadcast-LAN device to perform PVR duties using your home network.

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Yamaha supplements the CD-N500 network CD player with an affordable model

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Yamaha CD-N301 Network CD Player press image courtesy of Yamaha Music Australia

Yamaha CD-N301 – a more affordable network-capable CD player

Yamaha

CD-N301 Network CD Player

Product Page

My Comments

I have been keeping an eye on and given space on this site to the Yamaha CD-N500 which is a CD player that also doubles as a network audio adaptor and is a device I have called out for those of us who want to add CD playback and network media playback to our favourite hi-fi systems.

But Yamaha have also supplemented this player with the CD-N301 which is offered at a cheaper price than the CD-N500. It is also offered in a variant that has a black finish that would go along with hi-fi racks that had that same finish.

Both this player and its older brother, the CD-N500, connect to your amplifier or receiver via a line-level analogue input, occupying just one input on your amplifier’s source selector. But if you have a digital-analogue converter, home-theatre receiver or digital amplifier, these units also provide an SP/DIF PCM digital output via an optical or RCA coaxial connection. They connect to your home network using the tried and trusted Ethernet connection which also allows for you to use a HomePlug AV adaptor if your house isn’t wired for Ethernet or your router isn’t near your hi-fi system.

They also can pull in file-based audio content from a NAS according to DLNA 1.5 specifications or can stream Internet radio courtesy of the vTuner broadcast-stream directory. The file-based audio content can be handled all the way to “master-grade” quality (24-bit 96kHz WAV or FLAC files). If you run iTunes on your Mac or Windows computer or use an iOS device or recently-built Macintosh with recent version (Mountain Lion or newer) of the MacOS operating system, both these players support Apple’s AirPlay network-audio-streaming protocol.

The CD-N301 is based on newer construction but is what I would describe as being “Wi-Fi ready” where you can connect it to a Wi-Fi wireless-network segment of the home-network kind if you use an optional wireless-network adaptor module. There is also inherent software-level support for Spotify Connect and Pandora along with support for vTuner Internet radio and content held on your DLNA-capable NAS.

But it doesn’t have the USB connection for audio playback from USB storage devices or iOS devices. This may not be an issue if your network-based music exists mainly on a DLNA-capable NAS or an online service.

Yamaha shows again that a network-capable audio CD player does exist as a viable option for those wishing to upgrade or replace their existing CD player and add network-audio playback to their hi-fi system. Similarly they also see these players earning their keep for those of us wanting to add CD and network-audio playback to an existing hi-fi system at the same time.

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