Category: UPnP AV / DLNA media-server hardware

Australian Audio And AV Show 2014

Introduction

IMG_2138In October I had visited the Australian Audio And AV Show which was hosted at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel and this was about observing the way hi-fi and home AV were progressing especially on the Australian market.

Video Technology

Regular readers may have seen some coverage about the new 4K ultra-high-resolution TV technology and I had a chance to see this technology in full flight for myself at this show, courtesy of Sony. But the Sony representatives have remarked that this technology’s appearance in the broadcast-TV context is still a long way off especially in Australia. Here, they remarked that 4K UHDTV content will have to be delivered in a packaged form i.e. Blu-Ray Discs, file-based video delivered via USB hard disks or via the home network.

Sony 4K UHDTV

Sony 4K UHDTV

BenQ and Epson presented Full-HD video projectors that were more or less targeted at home-theatre setups and were demonstrated in that context.

Audio Technology

The two main distribution trends that are hanging on for quality hi-fi sound reproduction at the moment are the classic vinyl record or file-based audio content delivered via the home network.

The classic vinyl record

A turntable equipped with an optical cartridge that uses light to follow the stylus vibrations

A turntable equipped with an optical cartridge that uses light to follow the stylus vibrations

The classic vinyl record is still focused on new-cut records that have been mastered using newer techniques that permit increased dynamic range. These are played on turntables that are equipped for improved stability and the sound path implements high-grade components from stylus to speaker.  The equipment that I have seen in operation at this and previous Australian Audio And AV Shows is more for those who value the vinyl format as a hi-fi content source rather than to be part of the image.

VinylPlay - an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

VinylPlay – an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

One manufacturer even implemented an “optical cartridge’ that uses reflected light rather than friction to follow the stylus’s vibrations in that groove. Here, this cartridge can be fitted to most tonearms associated with high-quality turntables and is connected to a special preamplifier which exposes this cartridge’s output as a line-level signal. Here, it was about using light as a tool to “follow” a source of acoustic vibrations before it is converted to an amplifiable electrical signal as well as being able to use this cartridge with most turntables.

One turntable that was exhibited here that is considered a proper specimen for bridging the classic medium with today’s Sonos speakers or the computer is the VinylPlay “integrated phono stage” turntable. This has a similar build to most of the recent Rega, Pro-Ject or similar turntables that properly welcomed back vinyl and has what is expected for stability, but has a built-in phono preamplifier with digital and USB outputs as well as line-level and “cartridge-direct” analogue outputs. Another feature that increases its useability, especially for a manual turntable, is a distinct arrow on the cartridge’s front that indicates where the stylus is, so you can be sure the needle is where you want it i.e. on that record. What I see of this USB-equipped record player is that it isn’t about a gimmicky flimsy unit but one that can properly bridge the classic records to a lot of equipment.

Digital audio

On the other hand, the quality of digital audio, both in the recordings that are distributed and the “file-to-speaker” playback chain has improved. For example, the “high-resolution” file-based audio content has been represented here as being above the 44.1kHz 16-bit CD-Audio or the 48kHz 16-bit standard-play DAT specifications that was “cemented” for digital audio recording and playback in the late 1980s. Typically, audio that is made to this specification will resolve towards 24-bit 96kHz or 24-bit 192kHz digital-audio streams and this will either be in the form of FLAC or similar audio files and it yields what could be perceived a clearer sound. It is also augmented through the use of digital-analogue converters or digital-amplifiers that are designed to “pull more out” of a digital-audio stream with very little in the way of unwanted sound artifacts.

Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver

Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver

Equipment that was designed to cope with the “master-grade” high-resolution digital audio sound could also bring out the best from classic digital audio content as I had seen for myself with the Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver. This unit was set up completely as a system with a pair of the Sony SSH-W1 3-way bookshelf speaker and I had let it perform with my Whispers “Love Is Where You Find It / Love For Love” CD. Here, it came through clearly with the soul music, yielding that desirable “punch” to the sound yet coming across clearly.

The home network as part of digital audio

Auralic Aries network-to-digital media bridge which serves an external DAC

Auralic Aries network-to-digital media bridge which serves an external DAC

Again, the home network is still considered as part of enjoying digital audio. This is typically with a network-attached-storage device or music-focused media server holding all the music and network media receivers playing the music that is held on the NAS or from one or more online sources. It has been brought about with the larger size of music files that are prepared according to high-resolution “master-grade” standards and these files being offered on a “download-to-own” basis.

There were a few of the network audio receiver devices which were built to work with an external digital amplifier or digital-analogue converter rather than doing the digital-analogue conversion themselves. These were pitched for use with the top-notch digital-analogue converters and digital amplifiers the were becoming part of a high-grade digital-audio setup.

.. which serves this Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter and Auralic Taurus control amplifier

.. which serves this Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter and Auralic Taurus control amplifier

One of these was Auralic Aries network audio bridge connects between home network or online content and DAC,  DLNA support and works as Media Renderer. Connects to DAC via USB, AES/EBU (Digital XLR), SPDIF Coaxial or SPDIF Optical, network via 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi or Ethernet. As well, it works with Linn’s Songcast “network sound card” software so it and the DAC work as a computer sound card. This device is controlled using Auralic’s Lightning DS mobile-platform app but has the ability to work with an Auralic remote control for ad-hoc program selection and transport control.

The QNAP NAS works as a music server

The QNAP NAS works as a music server

This small network-media bridge  was fed by a QNAP NAS full of music and passed its digital signals via USB to an Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter. It in turn passed the analogue signals to the Auralic Taurus Pre control amplifier feeding a pair of Merak monobloc power amps to drive a pair of floor-standing speakers.

Another was the latest iteration of the NAD Masters Series of premium digital hi-fi components with the M12 digital control amplifier and M22 stereo power amplifier being driven by the <model number> digital media player. This unit appeared at previous Australian Audio And AV Shows and was an example of an optical-disc transport and network audio bridge device.

Latest iteration of the NAD Masters digital-driven hi-fi system

Latest iteration of the NAD Masters digital-driven hi-fi system

There is an increased number of dedicated music servers or “ripping NAS” units being presented at this year’s show with some of them working as the music servers for their distributors’ rooms. Two examples included the RipNAS Solid v3 and the Naim HDX. The Cocktail Audio music servers still appeared but were on static display, not serving an active system. As always, Naim pushed their music servers in to service as content libraries for two music systems, this time it was the NDS which was serving the Statement ultra-premium hi-fi system and the mu-so wireless speaker.

RipNAS Solid v3 ripping NAS

RipNAS Solid v3 ripping NAS

Lifestyle and multiroom audio

Lifestyle audio still had its strong presence at the Australian Audio And AV Show. This was mainly dominated with single-piece wireless speakers and soundbars with some of the soundbars being used to play music. Some of these systems implemented subwoofers to “lift” the bass response, whether they were packaged with the soundbars or simply as to be set up to work with one of the wireless speakers just to add that bit of “bite” to the sound.

These were part of the multiroom trend where you can have music systems located in different rooms  There was even a seminar on the multiroom audio trend and this highlighted the arrival of the home network and online media as key drivers of this technology.

Naim mu-so wireless speaker

Naim mu-so wireless speaker

But they highlighted the fact that different companies, including chipset and technology vendors, are working on their own solution to permit audio content to be delivered to many speakers via a packet-based network like the typical Wi-FI or Bluetooth network in sync without jittering or packet loss. This was to open up paths for situations like 2 wireless speakers being set up to work as a true stereo pair with proper separation or “party-streaming” setups with multiple speakers and sound systems. At the moment, most of these systems can only work with equipment that implements the same technology and I am not sure whether these systems can work properly on a multiple-access-point setup such as with a wireless range extender or traditional setup with access points connected via an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backbone.

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Denon had exhibited their HEOS Multiroom setup consisting of three different single-piece wireless speakers while Definitive Technologies used Room 320 for showing a highly-complete wireless audio system. This one consisted of a few different single-piece speakers, a soundbar, a wireless amplifier and an “on-ramp / off-ramp” audio adaptor module for their PlayFi-based system which uses a small Wi-Fi network as its carrier. Polk also made us aware of their wireless multiroom system which was based on one of the existing synchronisation technologies.

Definitive Technologies W-Series soundbar - as part of their multiroom setu[p

Definitive Technologies W-Series soundbar – as part of their multiroom setu[p

Ruark Audio had surfaced this year with a collection of table radios and music systems. This was headed by the R7 Radiogram which has a CD player, FM/DAB/Internet radio, Bluetooth playback, DLNA MediaRenderer functionality and access to online services. Here, it is styled in a form similar to the archetypal “radiogram” or “console stereo” that served as the main household music system for most people through the 1950s and 1960s and is something that is pitched at the “baby-boomer” generation.

Definitive Technologies Adapt "on-ramp / off-ramp" for the W-Series multiroom setup

Definitive Technologies Adapt “on-ramp / off-ramp” for the W-Series multiroom setup

Naim also came to the fore with a single-piece wireless speaker called the mu-so. This could pull up content from a DLNA server or online content services (think Spotify or Internet radio), AirPlay, Bluetooth A2DP with aptX amongst other sources. It is primarily controlled through Naim’s mobile app and works tightly with their multiroom streaming setup. But this uses a 3-way speaker arrangement for each channel with each driver having its own amplifier and it also implements DSP technology which Naim implemented in the sound system used in the newer Bentley cars.

Ruark R7 Radiogram - the up-to-date take on an old classic form factor

Ruark R7 Radiogram – the up-to-date take on an old classic form factor

The Headzone still appeared, representing the increased role that headphones and earphones played in the personal AV life. The theme here still was to listen to music or video content through the headphones rather than have them available to hear the other party of a phone conversation or hear the sound effects associated with computer games played on our mobile devices. But I would see these still play a strong role with VoIP or mobile communications services that implement “HD Voice” or newer telephony-audio technologies which sound as good as AM radio, if not better.

They still are important for the connected life as we use them to be able to listen to music, video and games effects from our computing devices privately. Most of the premium sets were demoed with dedicated headphone amplifiers but some of the headphones were either connected to regular integrated amplifiers or the headphone outputs on some CD players, or simply available for us to plug our mobile devices in to.

It is also worth being aware of the efficiency that particular headphones show up, especially if you are targeting them for portable use with battery-operated equipment. Here, I had discovered this for myself with the Sony MDR-10RC headphones I previously reviewed and a pair of newer portable-focused headphones I am using as my regular set and tried both of them on the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth adaptor associated with my Samsung smartphone. I ran the Bluetooth adaptor at the same volume setting on both headphones and the portable-focused headphones sounded louder but not as clear compared to the MDR-10RC set. The fact that one pair may sound louder at the same volume level compared to another, thus being more efficient, may be of benefit with that battery-operated device because you are not “running the device hard” for the same volume level, thus not drawing on the batteries more.

Speaker technology

An example of one of the many systems that were demonstrated with bookshelf speakers yet yield the bass

An example of one of the many systems that were demonstrated with bookshelf speakers yet yield the bass

A lot of the hi-fi systems were demonstrated with the conventional-architecture speakers, some of which were the traditional floor-standing types or most of which were the bookshelf speakers that were set up on speaker stands. These still yielded strong unassisted bass response with the amplifiers at “ideal listening volume”.

On the other hand, another firm were exhibiting a surround-sound setup which used flat-panel speakers in a traditional quadraphonic layout but these required the use of a subwoofer to convey the bass response.

Conclusion

What the last few iterations of the Australian Audio And AV Show have underscored was the fact that recorded-music reproduction has taken many methods and has improved on the methods. The signal path from the content source, being a vinyl record, optical disc or a file held on a computer or network-attached storage, to the speakers will under a continual path of innovation and even the medium itself will under a path of innovation.

I have provided a Spotify playlist of some of the songs that have heen played here.

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Synology now premieres their NAS with hardware transcoding

Article

Synology announces DiskStation DS415play, shipping August | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Synology

DiskStation DS415play NAS

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Synology DiskStation DS415play NAS with media transcoding - Press image courtesy of SynologyI have previously covered Synology’s direction with including hardware media transcoding in consuner-grade network-attached-storage units on this Website when they were mooting this feature as part of their product lineup for this device class. This will take the pressure off the device’s CPU when it comes to optimising multimedia content for the destination device’s capabilities, thus opening up the reality of enjoying high-resolution video files or high-grade audio files in a “best-case” manner on your home network.

This feature has come forth in the form of the DiskStation DS415Play 4-bay multimedia NAS which also has Intel Atom dual-core horsepower and 1Gb RAM. The hardware transcoding can, for example work “best case” to 1080p on-the-fly, while the NAS can work as a network DVR for TV broadcasts once you use a USB digital-TV tuner module with it. Even the DLNA-certified media server software supports the ability to use the hardware transcoding for use with high-grade video and audio files. The only question about this is how well does the DLNA media server handle already-created playlists or the metadata associated with the audio, photo or video files.

The 4-bay design supports up to the RAID-5 disk arrangement and includes the ability to upsize these RAID-5 disk arrangements whether through adding extra hard disks to the unit or upsizing already-installed hard disks. This may be a chance for this unit to attain a long usage life by allowing you to increase its capacity to suit new needs.

Synology is laying down the gauntlet for what can be part of a high-end multimedia storage device for your home network, and who knows who will answer them when it comes to the same feature set for these devices.

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Buffalo raises the bar for wireless NAS devices with the MiniStation Air 2

Article

La MiniStation Air 2 sans fil de Buffalo | Ere Numerique (France – French language / Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

Buffalo Europe

Product Page (MiniStation Air 2 – HDW-PDU3)

My Comments

Buffalo is raising the bar when it comes to the wireless network-attached storage device. These devices typically have a capacity of up to 128 Gigabytes due to their implementation of a solid-state drive and observed limitations such as working either as direct-attached storage for a regular computer or their own Wi-Fi network for mobile devices that ran an app supplied by their manufacturer.

How are Buffalo raising the bar here? They are offering two variants of this NAS – one with a 500Gb hard disk and another with a 1 Terabyte hard disk. It works to the Wi-Fi 802.11g/n standards including support for dual-stream (theoretical) 300Mbps bandwidth. Like most devices in its class, it can stand between another Wi-Fi segment like your home network or hotel-supplied Wi-Fi Internet service and effectively bridge the other network’s services to the network it provides.

On the other hand, it can be connected to a regular computer as an external hard disk using the USB 3.0 connection which most newer computers have at least one of. When you use it wirelessly, you will need to use Buffalo-supplied apps to shift files between the MiniStation AIr 2 and your mobile devices, and I am not sure whether this implements SMB/CIFS to transfer files between a regular computer running Windows, Mac OS X or Linux and this device via its Wi-Fi network. But, from what I have read, it does use DLNA to stream multimedia files to client devices like Internet radios.

Let’s not forget that it can house half a day’s worth of power on its own battery and Buffalo reckoned that it could charge two smartphones.

Personally, I see this raising the stakes with storage capacity, wireless bandwidth and battery runtime along with the ability to implement DLNA media serving. If Buffalo could take steps to have devices of the MiniStation Air 2 able to work with a “master” network like your home network for “picking up” content and other files without having to be tethered to a regular computer, it could become a useful device to take network-hosted content on the road. The capacity that this unit offers is also a sign of things to come for mobile computing.

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SiliconDust now has a DLNA-capable broadcast-LAN tuner for European DVB-C cable-TV setups

Article – From the horse’s mouth

SiliconDust

HDHomeRun 4DC Product Page

My Comments

Those of us who are in Europe and who watch cable TV through an unencrypted DVB-C setup can benefit from a DLNA-capable broadcast-LAN tuner that works with these setups. The SiliconDust HDHomeRun 4DC implements 4 RF front-ends to allow tuning in to 4 cable multiplexes at once. But this may mean that more the four programmes from different cable channels can be seen at once.

Of course, it will present the channels as part of its role as a DLNA media server which means that Smart TVs, PS3s, XBox 360s and DLNA-capable Blu-Ray players like the Sony BDP-S390 can pick up these channels without a cable outlet near them. But of course, there is the ability to work with other TV-broadcast software that works with most broadcast-LAN tuners.

That fact that it supports unencrypted channels only would work OK with European cable-TV setups where the free-to-air channels and, in some cases, basic cable channels are delivered “in the clear” to customers in a manner where they don’t need to use a set-top box to receive these channels. It would also encompass those SMATV (satellite master antenna TV) setups in multiple-tenancy buildings where the satellite signals as well as over-the-air TV signals are redistributed in the building using DVB-C technologies.

At least I see the latest iteration of the HDHomeRun broadcast-LAN boxes with DLNA MediaServer and compatible with digital TV standards implemented in UK, Europe, Asia and Oceania being rolled out, this putting these standards on the DLNA Home Media Network.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 2 (Your computer, smartphone, tablet and network)

The second part of this series is about computing devices both for desktop use and for mobile use in all of the form factors along with the new equipment that you can use to buid out our home or other small network.

Computers and Mobile Devices

Previously, I used to see mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones as their own device class but the situation is changing for this class of device.

This has been brought on with use of Windows 8.1 in smaller tablets that have lightweight and low-energy processors that implement the orthodox Intel microarchitecture used in regular-computers along with these regular computer products running the Android mobile operating system as a standalone operating system or in a dual-boot configuration.

This has caused us to blur the lines between the orthodox “regular” desktop or laptop computer that uses IA-32 or IA-64 microarchitecture rather than ARM RISC microarchitecture and running a desktop operating system like Windows or desktop Linux; and the primarily-battery-operated mobile computers like the smartphones and tablets that use ARM RISC microarchitecture and  use a mobile operating system like Android.

Computer devices that boot between Windows 8.1 and Android

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

This class of computer may be either running Windows or Android very soon

Intel and AMD have established computer reference designs that allow for switching between Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4 operating systems even when they are fully operational. This is to capitalise on the 7”-10” tablets appearing on the market that are running Windows 8.1 along with the desire for us to run Android programs on our regular laptops and Ultrabooks.

A clear example of this is ASUS’s Transformer Book Duet detachable tablet which has a hardware switch that allows you to switch between Windows 8.1 and Android. Think of this – on a long journey, switch to Windows to make some headway on a document you are creating with Microsoft Word, then, to while the time away on that journey after that, switch to Android to play Plants Versus Zombies, Candy Crush Saga or whatever is the latest mobile time-waster game.

Android and Chrome OS gain a foothold on the regular computer

Previously, we thought of Windows as the only open-frame operating system that runs on a “regular computer” i.e. a desktop or laptop. Now Google have pushed forward Chrome OS which is a cloud-based operating system along with Android with these kind of computers.

Nearly every laptop vendor, save for Sony, Panasonic and a few others are putting forward at least one “Chromebook” which are notebooks that run the Chrome OS environment. LG even premiered a “Chromebase” which is an all-in-one desktop computer that runs the Google Chrome OS. This implements Intel Celeron horsepower along with the Chrome OS specification for RAM and secondary storage (2Gb RAM, 16Gb SSD). These may have limited appeal due to software only available through Google and an always-online operation and may just work as Web terminals.

For Android, HP put up the Slate 21 Pro 21” tablet that runs on this operating system thus bringing the adaptive all-in-one to this operating system especially in the workplace. Similarly, Lenovo had launched a 19” all-in-one PC that runs Android and has an appealing price of US$450 along with the ThinkVision 28 which is a 28” 4K monitor that is an Android all-in-one PC. This is alongside HP also running with a Slate Pro all-in-one that runs Android and appeals to the business. Some of these computers are being pitched as inexpensive kiosk computers or communications terminals that go hand in glove with Viber, Skype, Facebook and the like.

Business-grade computing appears at CES 2014

Not often have I seen any of the Consumer Electronics Shows or similar consumer-electronics trade fairs become a platform to launch computer hardware pitched at business users. This year, HP, Lenovo and a few others are launching smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops pitch at this user class with the expected features like security, management abilities and system durability.

Could this be a sign that “business-targeted” computing trade fairs like CEBit and Interop start to focus on a narrower class of “big-business” computing equipment like large-scale servers and networking equipment while small-business office and computing equipment ends up being exhibited at consumer-focused computing and electronics trade fairs? Or could this be answering a reality where business computing equipment are working also as home computing equipment as in the typical “work-home” laptop that is used for personal and business computing tasks? As well, could this be in response to the so-called “BYOD” trend where employees are buying their own devices, perhaps with their employer subsidising the purchase and running costs of these devices, and using them at work?

This is augmented with Samsung, Lenovo and HP launching business-grade tablets and smartphones and operating environments that cater to the business’s operating needs.

HP even used this show to launch the 300 series 14” and 15” laptops that have hardware credentials for a business laptop like spill-resistant keyboards, anti-glare displays and fingerprint readers but don’t come with business-tier manageability software. These machines start from US$399 upwards. This is more about offering appropriate computer hardware for small businesses and community organisations at a price they can afford without the hard-to-understand “big-business” security and manageability software that can daunt operators who are effectively their organisation’s “chief cook and bottle-washer”.

They also released the Pro One 400 and HP205 all-in-one desktops and issued the second generation of the Z1 all-in-one desktop workstation which can he shoehorned as you see fit.

Newer hardware technologies

One key hardware technology that is being put forward is the arrival of highly-powerful ARM-based chips that are pitched for mobile computing. One trend has been the arrival of the 64-bit ARM mobile processor which was augmented by Samsung with their Exynos range. The other was NVIDIA who were putting up the Tegra K1 processor family that had 192 cores and the VCM variant being targeted at vehicle applications. The graphics capacity is about achieving smooth realistic rendering which comes in thandy for games and similar graphics-intensive applications that will be expected of the Android platform. This is an example of a high-power ARM processor that is being pitched across the board not just for the tablets but for the Android-driven computers, the smart TVs as well as the cars.

Similarly, Intel premiered the Edison microcomputer which is the same size as the standard SD memory card. This has a two-core microprocessor with a 400MHz primary core and a 50-200MHz secondary core along with 500Mb RAM and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces. Here, they are pitching it at wearable application such as smartwatches but I would see a greater potential for this application.

As for memory, the magnetoresistive RAM and resistive RAM technologies have been premiered at this show. It s a non-volatile RAM technology that can lead to the creation of memory that isn’t just for primary on-hand storage or secondary long-term storage. The obvious applications that are being called include quick-start portable computers that don’t need to store their current state to secondary storage. But I see this likely to appear in devices like printers and faxes for power-safe job-queue handling.

As well, the IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless-network technology is appearing in a lot more as a client interface in this newly-released equipment. There has to be work on making sure that there are options for reduced-battery-load for smartphones and small tablets that are primarily battery-operated and these may stay on N technology at the moment.

Smartphones and Tablets

One major trend for smartphones and tablets is for the market to be full of affordable Android devices especially those that are positioned at the “value” segment where you gain best bang for your buck. Similarly, a lot more of these devices are being pitched at the business user with the necessary manageability features appearing.

Samsung have launched the Galaxy Note Pro range of Android tablets with some of these at 12”. Similarly, we are seeing Lenovo run a range of smartphones like the Vibe Z phablet along with a smartphone that has an 802.11ac wireless-network interface. They are even running an 8” business-grade tablet known as the ThinkPad 8 which runs Windows 8.1 and has Intel Bay Trail small-device horsepower.

Asus have previously run their Padfone range of smartphones which dock in to an accompanying tablet and are furthering this with the Padfone Mini 7 “coat-pocket” tablet / smartphone combo. They are also running the Zenfone range of standalone Android smartphones.They also premiered the VivoTAB Note 8 which is an 8” coat-pocket tablet with stylus that runs Win8.1 and uses Intel Atom horsepower.

Acer are even launching some more of the Iconia Windows and Android tablet range along with a budget-range phablet smartphone. At the same time, Polaroid have put their name to an affordable 8” Android tablet in the form of the Q8.

Panasonic is not left lying down when it comes to tablets with a ToughPad 7” tablet being premiered at this show.

Laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers

This year has seen a great influx of detachable and convertible Ultrabooks with, for example HP bolstering their x2 family.This is brought in to affordable territory with the Pavilion x2 range being a “foot-in-the-door” and running on cheaper AMD or Intel Bay Trail horsepower. This is augmented with the Pro x2 which is pitched at business users and is powered by Intel Core i3 or i5 processors.

Lenovo have premiered their MIIX 2 detachable tablets which run Windows 8.1 with the 10” variant running an Intel Atom processor and the 11.6” variant running an Intel Core i5 processor. They also launched the latest iteration of the X1 Carbon Ultrabook which is finished in a carbon-fibre material.

LG has answered the slider convertible trend started with the Sony VAIO Duo 11 and released the Tab Book 2 slider convertible. Sony are still keeping on with their convertible notebooks with the new VAIO Fit 11a and Flip PC 13, 14 and 15 convertible notebooks and the latest iteration of the VAIO Duo 13 slider convertible along with the VAIO Tap 11 detachable tablet. Sony has also taken the time to refresh the VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one and sell it as the VAIO Tap 21.

Samsung have released the ATIV Book 9 which is a 15” Ultrabook that owes its small size to a very narrow screen bezel, making it look less like a regular 15” laptop. Toshiba has broken through the mould by offering the first laptop with a 4K resolution screen as well as a shape-shifting concept for a convertible portable computer.

The home or other small network

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become a time to show that 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking has matured ant to premiere the HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit powerline network technology. It also has been a chance for network hardware vendors to showcase some of the small business / contractor network hardware alongside consumer network hardware so as to expose this kind of hardware to the small-business and startup users.

802.11ac wireless network hardware

One major trend that is affecting equipment for the small network is the increased availability of 802.11ac Wi-Fi network connectivity equipment, especially now that the standard has been officially ratified and published by the IEEE. Here we are dealing with Wi-Fi wireless-network segments established in the 5GHz band and capable of operating at Gigabit speeds. Broadcom have come up with newer 802.11ac chipsets that improve wireless-network experience including one that has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and improved radio amplification in the same packaging.

The main class of devices offered here are routers or range extenders where some of the range extenders can work as client bridges for these networks. Examples of these include TrendNet’s newer AC1900 router and the ASUS RT-AC87U broadband router that has 1.7Gbps on 5GHz and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz using 4 x 4 MIMO and support for multiuser MIMO functionality. The old Linksys WRT54G with its distinctive style and user-evolvable open-source firmware has been released as a new iteration but equipped with 802.11ac wireless and Gigabit Ethernet network abilities and USB connectivity.

Even Engenius offered the ESR-2300 which is a 4 x 4 AC2300 wireless broadband router that is the first device of its type to offer “box-to-box” VPN endpoint functionality. NETGEAR also offered DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem routers with one of these having an 802.11ac 1700 wireless network segment.

Netgear’s latest 802.11ac wireless routers also have a firmware option for small businesses to turn their premises in to Wi-Fi hotspots using the Facebook Wi-Fi service. This is where clients who have Facebook presence can “check in” using Facebook to gain free Wi-Fi access but there is also an option to skip this requirement and use password-protected sign-up.

There are also the range extenders that perform their range-extending trick on an 802.11ac network and are available as wall-plugged or standalone units.

TrendNet amongst a few others are premiering business / contractor-grade wireless-networking hardware, especially access points for integrated installation. Some of these units also work with management software to allow you to have control over your Wi-Fi segment. TP-Link even offer the EAP-320 dual-band AC1750 Wi-Fi access point (enterprise grade) which has Power-Over-Ethernet, hotspot-style captive portal authentication and rogue access-point detection.

TrendNet also used this show to premiere a USB-connected high-gain 802.11ac wireless network adaptor so you can bridge existing computer equipment to a new 802.11ac wireless-network segment.

HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit power-line network hardware launched

This show also has seen TP-Link and TrendNet launch HomePlug adaptors that embody the latest iteration of the HomePlug AV2 specification. Initially there were plenty of the HomePlug AV2 devices that didn’t exploit the MIMO abilities of the specification allowing for Gigabit data-transfer speeds but the two latest devices do implement these speeds using all three AC wires.

As far as this standard is concerned, there haven’t been any other HomePlug AV2 devices in other form factors launched or premiered at this show. Of course, TrendNet and TP-Link have been able to premiere HomePlug AV500 Wi-Fi N300 access points as an alternative to using range extenders to build out 802.11n wireless-network segments.

IP-based video surveillance

Most of these manufacturers are offering IP-based video-surveillance cameras with some that even work on 802.11ac Wi-Fi. D-Link even issues one of these as a “baby monitor camera” which measures room temperature and plays soothing lullabies while TP-Link offers an N300 Wi-Fi cloud camera that also doubles as a range extender and can shoot at 720p.

D-Link and Buffalo both offer network video recorder devices that interlink with certain IP cameras and record on a stand-alone basis with these cameras.

NAS units

QNAP and Synology have used the Consumer Electronics Shows to premiere their small-business network-attached storage devices and Synology has used this year’s show to launch the DiskStation Manager 5 operating system which is their latest iteration of the Linux-based operating system. This one has both home and business capabilities like the ability to link with online storage and social-network services along with centralised management and scaled-out storage for evolving businesses. Now Thecus are using this year’s show to premiere their small-business NAS devices.

Lenovo also made this show the chance to offer their first consumer network-attached storage device which can also serve as a USB external hard disk or show multimedia on TV using its HDMI output. This is although they have taken over Iomega and rebranded it as Lenovo EMC to cover this product class and focus on small-business NAS units.

Buffalo even offers a wireless mobile NAS which has the DLNA media-server functionality which can come in handy with Internet radios or other DLNA-capable media players. This is alongside some increasingly-capable DiskStation single-disk and duel-disk NAS units.

Conclusion

Next I will be looking at a major trend that is captivating the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in the form of the “wearables”, brought on by the arrival of Bluetooth 4.0

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HDHomeRun DUAL broadcast-LAN box to be refreshed for DLNA

Article – From the horse’s mouth

SiliconDust (HDHomeRun)

HDHomeRun DUAL | Welcome to SiliconDust (Product Page)

My Comments

After SiliconDust have enabled the HDHomeRun Prime 3-tuner and 6-tuner cable-TV broadcast-LAN tuners with DLNA digital-media-server functionality for both standard and premium content, they have taken steps to bring this concept out to more of their range broadcast-LAN boxes.

Here, they are in the throes of issuing the HDHomeRun Dual broadcast-LAN box which has two tuners and is capable of picking over-the-air and unencrypted basic cable TV content and serving it over a home network. This is not just to their software or software that runs particular programming interfaces but to network video equipment that supports DLNA like the PS3 or an increasing number of Blu-Ray players and Smart TVs.

At the moment, as the retransmission fights take place between TV networks and cable companies about how much the cable operators pay the TV networks to package their content, we are starting to see the need for a regular TV antenna in most US homes to pick up the full complement of local TV content. This is even though it would have been available via the cable TV services. Similarly, the trend towards cord-cutting has brought American households back to traditional over-the-air TV alongside Netfilx and Hulu.

This device is intending to either complement the HDHomeRun Prime to bring in the over-the-air content  (including local channels lost to cable in-fighting) to the computers, smartphones, tablets and DLNA devices using the home network. Similarly, it would be an economy solution that could please the most persistent cord-cutter who occasionally dabbles in over-the-air for news and sport.

But what I see of this device is that it could be the start of action to port the DLNA capability to DVB-based HDHomeRun broadcast-LAN boxes that will end up in most of the rest of the world.

There will also have to be a time where SiliconDust and others who make DLNA-capable broadcast-LAN devices will need to factor in installations where multiple devices of this type are serving the same network at any time in the network’s life. This may be to increase concurrent viewing/recording capacity or to add coverage for particular broadcast bands and modes to an existing setup. Here, it may require the ability to have one logical tuner device representing multiple physical devices when it comes to broadcast-LAN content sources.

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Heads up: The HDHomeRun Prime DLNA-capable broadcast-LAN adaptor is running for US$100

Article

Get an HDHomeRun Prime CableCard tuner for $99.99 | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Woot

Offer Page

Previous Coverage

HDHomeRun Prime is the first CableCARD tuner to deliver live TV to DLNA Devices

My Comments

Those of you who follow HomeNetworking01.info from the USA may have seen me make mention about the HDHomeRun Prime broadcast-LAN adaptor which streams cable-TV content from its tuners over a small network.

The reason I have drawn attention to this unit on HomeNetworking01.info and am highlighting this deal is that it works as a DLNA-capable network media server. Here, it could stream the cable-TV (or antenna-supplied) content to your XBox 360, PS3, smart TV or other DLNA / UPnP-AV compliant video device so you can use this device to watch the cable-TV shows on.

It has support for the cableCARD authorisation module which you rent from your cable-TV provider i.e. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, etc for less than the cost of the set-top box that they provide, but you have access to HBO, Showtime and the other premium channels as your subscription allows through the DLNA-capable devices as well as your smartphones, tablets and laptop computers.

The variant of this device being offered at the US$100 price is the 3-tuner variant which would serve content to up to three devices and could either work as a “get-you-going” device or augment an existing broadcast-LAN device.

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Australian Audio & AV Show 2013

IMG_1174This past weekend I had visited the Australian Audio & AV Show which was hosted at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel in Collins Street, Melbourne. This is one of the hotel-based hi-fi shows where, in addition to most if not all the banquet rooms at the hotel being used, at least two, if not three floors of guest-rooms are block-booked with the beds removed out of most, if not all of the rooms. Here, these rooms serve as demonstration rooms with the aesthetics and sound qualities comparable to most living rooms, music rooms or home theatres.

This show underscored particular audio and AV trends, especially the use of network-based digital audio setups. This is more so as the file-based “download-to-own” audio services and the subscription-driven “cyber jukeboxes” like Spotify mature and gain real traction. Of course, it wasn’t feasible to demonstrate the online services from the equipment involved due to the common situation where public-access wireless networks such as what exists at this hotel implement that browser-based authentication routine which doesn’t work with consumer electronics.

One concept that was underscored through this show is that all the good quality recording and playback equipment in the world can show up the poor recording or remastering techniques that can occur in the studio. It doesn’t matter whether the recording had been worked up to a 24 bit 192 kbz master file or turned out as a “new-cut” vinyl record or digital-remaster CD.

Preservation of Media and Technology Comfort Zones

Linn Sondek LP12

Linn Sondek LP12 – the 40-year-old turntable keeps on as a legend

There was an effort to preserve media and technology comfort zones with a few demonstration systems playing from vinyl or regular CDs and some of the systems in “full flight” were based on valve (tube) amplification. An example of this was McIntosh, an American hi-fi legend, showing one of their valve power amplifiers while some other companies even ran with amplifiers that implemented valve/solid-state hybrid construction.

One company even played a “new-cut” vinyl pressing of “Blood Sweat And Tears” which sounded so clear on their demonstration equipment. As well, the distributer for Harman and JBL had a setup which was based on a regular CD player playing through JBL floor-standing speakers and I had played Genesis’s “Many Too Many” off my CD copy of “And Then There Were Three” through this setup.

Yamaha and a few others even ran demonstration systems where a turntable, CD player and network audio player were connected to the system’s amplifier to show that these sources had an equal chance of yielding high-quality sound when fed good recordings no matter the medium. Similarly, Linn demonstrated their legendary Sondek LP12 turntable which was celebrating the 40th anniversary of this classic’s design and presented a record which was a compilation of choice cuts from their record library while they put the way forward with file-based digital audio with their DSM network media players.

Wirelessly-networked audio setups

I had watched a presentation by Cambridge Audio about the direction for wirelessly-networked audio setups and they mentioned that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi were on a level footing.

Arcam rBlink Bluetooth DAC adaptor

Arcam rBlink does a very good job of linking your Bluetooth phone to your stereo

There has been a message that, even though vinyl has been making its steady return, convenience-based AV technologies aren’t undermining the sound quality. This is similar to how I saw the cassette format “earn its stripes” and become respected through the late 70s and the early 80s, what with Dolby noise reduction, better tape formulations like chrome dioxide, Dolby HX recording-improvement technology along with those high-grade musicassettes issued through the mid 80s.

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker playing from my phone

Here, the aptX codec was introduced in to Bluetooth A2DP setups to provide high-grade audio quality when you use Bluetooth headsets or speakers as I had noticed when I played “You And I” by Delegation from my Samsung Galaxy Note II through a pair of Aktimate Blue Bluetooth speakers and they yielded that punchy bass and clear treble.

The DLNA / UPnP AV technology had been highlighted by Cambridge Audio as enabling high-quality open-frame audio distribution over Wi-Fi and Ethernet home networks. This technology allowed equipment that was able to play 24-bit audio content to discover and play this content off a NAS or similar media server.

USB speakers with a laptop

USB-driven hi-fi speakers rais the bar for laptop sound and bring through audiophile quality

The idea of one-source multiple-speaker wireless audio setups is not perfect due to the use of packet-based technologies implemented with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. This typically requires the implementation of a “master device” which keeps all the devices in sync when it comes to what they are playing and Pure implemented this with one of their Jongo devices being considered a “master devices”. This network was simply served by an ordinary wireless router that served as an access point and DHCP server to cover that room where the speakers were shown. Their solution allowed for “party-streaming” from multiple speakers and  a pair of the same-model speakers to operate as a stereo pair for wider separation.  Dynaudio demonstrated a wireless speaker setup that worked on their own wireless-distribution technology which was primarily circuit-based rather than packet-based.

Stronger foothold for file-based audio distribution

This leads me to the fact that there is a stronger foothold in file-based audio distribution in the hi-fi space. In this show, a lot of companies were demonstrating music that was played either through a room-wide DLNA Home Media Network or a laptop that was connected to a USB digital-analogue converter.

The USB digital-analogue converters that were used in this show typically presented themselves to Macintosh OS X or Windows as another “sound card” according to USB Audio specifications. Some of these devices were components that were connected to existing amplifiers or were part of a control amplifier, integrated amplifier or powered speakers.

Netgear ReadyNAS

A NAS like this ReadyNAS or the ripping NAS nearby is as much a hi-fi component

On the other hand, the more popular method for file-based audio distribution was the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network. A significant number of the rooms were running these networks that comprised of a NAS full of music and one or more components or systems capable of audio playback from a network, typically a Wi-Fi wireless network. A typical router served as the “glue” to hold each room’s network together.

With these setups, it was feasible to run content presented as 24-bit FLAC or similar files or regular PCM-format WAV files to allow the hi-fi equipment to perform at its best. Some of these networks used a heterogenous mix of devices with only the exhibitor’s brand being highly positioned.

Cocktail X30 music server

Cocktail X30 full-width music server and receiver

Cocktail X10 music server

Cocktail X10 music server which is a stereo system

I had also seen on show the Cocktail Audio X10 and X30 network media servers which are themselves capable of being the heart of a 3-piece music system or working with another sound system. I had previously covered the X10 on this site but the newly-previewed X30 full-width unit has more inputs, an FM radio tuner, and a highly-powerful amplifier with proper binding-post speaker connections. These units can be DLNA music servers for a home network or be capable of pulling up content on a network-attached storage this way,

Rise of Spotify and similar online services

There is the rise of the online service, especially Spotify which been perceived as the “online jukebox”. It still works on the three tiers with a free ad-based setup, an “unlimited” desktop-only setup as well as a premium setup with desktop and mobile ad-free listening. Some markets have a “mobile free” listening service but it will be rolled out to all of the markets. The mobile services provide content download to the local storage on the mobile device while the desktop service is primarily about streaming the content.

Naim NDS network audio player

Naim NDS network audio player

The Spotify Connect feature that was just launched is more about “passing” content playback directions to equipment that supports this service via the home network. This has been more about “freeing up” a smartphone or tablet that is the Spotify control surface to be able to be used for communications or game playing.

Denon DNP-F109 network audio player

Denon DNP-F109 network audio player

Similarly, Spotify is working with vehicle builders to provide an integrated experience for drivers. Ford’s AppSync variant is focused on the app in the mobile device doing the heavy lifting and the dashboard working as a remote control surface and AUX input.

High-quality lifestyle audio

A class of audio-playback equipment that tends to be forgotten about in the hi-fi sphere is “lifestyle audio” or “lifestyle-centric audio”, This represents the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speakers along with the CD receivers or network media receivers that are the hub of a three-piece music system. Traditional hi-fi enthusiasts find that if you don’t have the component-driven setup with individual pieces of equipment in separate boxes doing their job, you are not leading to good sound but the “lifestyle” equipment that was shown here was about equipment that can yield high-quality sound yet be in a compact enclosure that is still aesthetically pleasing.

As I said in my review of the Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver, I touched on the music centres and casseivers (receivers with integrated cassette deck) of the late 1970s where mid-priced and high-end variants had the expectations of a good component-based hi-fi system in one piece. Then Bang & Olufsen kept the flag going with their Beocenter and Beosound products like the legendary Beocenter 7000 series through the 80s until the likes of Bose and Proton drew back this class of system as a high-quality “lifestyle” product.

Naim UnitiQute 2 on dressing table

The Naim Uniti!Qute 2 – a high-quality network-connected music system for that small room

A system that demonstrated this concept very well was a Naim UnitiQute 2 network media receiver that was connected to a pair of Totem DreamCatcher bookshelf speakers and presented on a dressing table in one of the hotel’s Club Junior Suite rooms. This conveyed to me an image of something that would fit in well in an elegant master bedroom or the kitchen where you show off your gourmet cooking skills.

Cyrus's latest CD receiver

Cyrus’s latest CD receiver

There has been an increased number of full-width slimline CD receivers which have Wi-Fi DLNA home-network connectivity including an advance-sample preview of Cyrus’s first CD receiver. This unit was demonstrated through a pair of floorstanding speakers which show up how flexible these systems were. Here, it could play CDs, receive FM or DAB+ broadcast radio, stream from a Bluetooth smartphone or pull in network or Internet hosted content with an integrated Wi-Fi module. Other examples included Arcam’s Solo Neo and Naim’s Uniti 2.

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

One lifestyle system, the Elipson Planet series, which had speakers shaped like spheres and a centre unit shaped like a cylinder implements the Bang & Olufsen icePower power-amplification technology for its power amplifiers. This system’s industrial design along with the use of B&O icePower technology could be seen as “Clayton’s” B&O music system – a B&O when you don’t have a B&O.

Elipson Planet music system

Elipson Planet music system – the B&O when you don’t have a B&O

These three-piece systems are being considered because of their relevance to the “downsized home”, which is becoming more real with baby-boomer couples moving to smaller homes as their children grow their feathers and fly the nest. Similarly, the look towards the minimalist interior design is underscoring the need for these systems as is the concept of some of these systems offering “primary-system” capability and quality in a package suited to a secondary music system.

At the same time, there has been an increased number of wireless speakers that work with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless networks with Pure launching a good range of the “Jongo” speakers which are able to exploit a Wi-Fi segment as a self-sustaining synchronised multi-speaker network. Cambridge Audio also used this to launch a range of Bluetooth / Wi-Fi speakers that work with Spotify Connect.

Speaker technology

JBL speakers

These classic speaker designs still hang on in the hi-fi conscience

There were some manufacturers and distributors showing the traditional floor-standing speakers with Harman and VAF showing some that would be considered “furniture pieces”. The ones that Harman showed were a pair of JBLs that would be considered par for the course with a 1970s receiver and had the large horns for the tweeters while VAF presented a speaker with wallpaper on the outside and 50s-style spindle legs, calling it “Maximising Spousal Acceptance Factor”.

But many manufacturers were demonstrating small traditional-arrangement bookshelf speakers that could put up a very punchy sound. With these speakers, it could be easy to doubt whether they are working by themselves or whether people who are demonstrating them are using a subwoofer as part of the setup.

Aktimate bookshelf active speakers

Aktimate bookshelf active speakers do punch out the music

As well, there has been an increased number of active speakers which have integrated amplifiers. This class of speaker was being given ore thought in the hi-fi world and not just thought of as computer speakers, lifestyle speakers (B&O, Bose) or as PA speakers. This is even though at the early stages of hi-fi, audiophiles used public-address amplifiers that they tuned to drive their custom-built speakers.

One company used another of the Club Junior Suites to demonstrate a set of floor-standing active speakers which used two power amplifiers per cabinet and line-level crossovers, thus proving that you can have a decent-sounding hi-fi in full flight based around this technology. Another regular-sized hotel room was used to demonstrate the Aktimate speakers which are bookshelf speakers that have an integrated stereo amplifier

I also see this as providing for high-grade right-sized sound-reinforcement setups where you can create an all-active-speaker sound system around JBL EON PA speakers for a large room full of people or an outdoor setting while these hi-fi active speakers could satisfy a smaller room where extra sound quality comes in to play,

To the same extent, Linn improved on what Philips started on in the early 1990s by refining a high-quality digital speaker system fit for the 24-bit studio master recording. This system, known as the Exakt is set around a digital sound path to just before the actual speaker driver with the Exakt speakers implementing a digital crossover and one digital amplifier for each driver. This implements a proprietary “Exakt Link” from the controller which is the Klimax Exakt DSM to these speakers.

Headphones

There was a special section of this show dedicated to headphone technology and you may think that this is to be taken up by exotic audiophile headphones. But these headphones also shared the HeadZone space with headphones that are capable of delivering high-quality sound from your smartphone, tablet or laptop while you are on the train for a reasonable price.  This increased show space underscored the reality that the role of “cans” as part of our AV equipment is increasingly important with out portable entertainment gadgets rather than just as accessories.

As well Denon and Sennheiser used space in their banquet rooms to show off their headphones that suited most user needs. Oh yeah, I had compared a pair of the higher-grade UrbanRaver AH-D400s against the Urban Raver AH-D320 “cans” that I had reviewed and the ‘D400s had the stronger punch in the sound. Yet I still consider the D320s as the value option that still does justice to rock and pop.

Conclusion

Here, the Australian Audio And AV Show 2013 had exemplified that the digital audio that is hosted via a home network or the Internet is the way forward. This includes using a smartphone or tablet with a Bluetooth link to play music either to a wireless speaker or to a high-quality Bluetooth adaptor plugged in to your favourite hi-fi system’s digital or line input.

In some ways, you could even create a music system around top-notch equipment and speakers that is ready to play vinyl, CD and/or network-hosted media.

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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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Western Digital’s latest NAS more as a personal cloud storage

WD MyCloud consumer network-attached storage - press image courtesy of Western DigitalArticles

WD Tightens Focus On Home Personal Clouds | SmallNetBuilder.com

WD Asks: Why Are You Paying Dropbox for Cloud Storage? | Mashable.com

WD announces My Cloud, an external drive that connects to your home network for $150 (video) | Engadget

WD embraces C word* and hews HDD handles from NAS kit | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Western Digital

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Western Digital have issued new iterations of their consumer network-attached-storage drives but have placed heavy focus on them being the heart of a “personal cloud”. Here, they branded this lineup of 2Gb, 3Gb and 4Gb book-sized NAS units as “MyCloud” and have supplied refreshed desktop and mobile companion apps as “MyCloud” apps.

They were pitching these drives more or less as part of a multi-tier storage system for personal or home data i.e. alongside your device’s built-in or directly-attached storage and any storage space you rent or have for free with a service like Dropbox. I had written about this concept in a previous article when WD were pitching storage management software that worked alongside a recent-issue NAS as well as online storage services.

The software will work alongside Google Drive, SkyDrive and Dropbox online storage services and work the NAS as an “overflow” for these services. As well there is a semblance of data aggregation functionality in the software. The problem with the iOS version for this software at the moment is that if you want to offload photos from your device’s Camera Roll to the MyCloud resources, you have to do this manually – there isn’t yet an automatic backup or file sync for these devices.

As for network-local functionality, this unit ticks the boxes for SMB/CIFs file transfer and DLNA and iTunes media serving. The DLNA function has even been improved with TwonkyServer 7 being supplied as standard. This includes the ability to use the DLNA specification to upload content like digital images to the NAS, which comes in handy with DLNA-capable Wi-Fi digital cameras and advanced smartphone apps.

An issue worth raising with these so-called “personal clouds” is the ability to maintain multiple MAS devices in a “personal cloud”. This encompasses situations where you purchase a new NAS because you outgrew the existing NAS and you move some data to the new NAS, or you have another consumer or small-business NAS in another location and want to have a copy of some or all of the files in the other location either as a safeguard or for quick access. There could be support in the WD MyCloud platform for these scenarios especially as those of us who make use of these devices end up filling them with data.

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