Feature Article – DLNA Network Media Series: Integrating classical music in to your digital-music collection

Beethoven ….. Mozart ……. Schubert ……. Wagner ……… Handel …….. Vivaldi ……. How can you have them in your online music collection?

You may already have established a music collection centred around classical music and / or opera; with at least a few of those Deutsche Grammophon recordings or are just cottoning on to the Great Classics as a break from the regular popular music. Yet you want to add the music in to your digital collection for use on your iPod / portable MP3 player or to play through your DLNA-based home media network. The main problem you will end up with is how to locate a specific work or movement / aria / chorus in your collection; or material by a specific composer.

It may not appeal to those of you who prefer to listen to classical music from an LP or CD through very fine equipment, especially from audiophile-quality recordings or boutique labels; but those of you who are used to and don’t mind listening to classical music from the radio or cassettes or or play classical LPs and CDs through commonly-available equipment may be accepting of this practice.

Most music-management software pitched at classical-music enthusiasts works on a presumption that the music collection is exclusively focused to this genre. But the reality for most music collections is that there is a mixture of the classical-music genre as well as jazz and popular music existing in the collections. It also includes situations where there are recordings that feature a performer performing a collection of classical and other pieces, recordings featuring highlighted works by a particular composer or “themed” classical-music albums with pieces based on a common theme like a “Most Favourite Selection”; music mood or composition era.

How will you be integrating classical music in to your digital music collection

You may buy the music as MP3 files from an online music download service like what is currently being offered by Deutsche Grammophon or may simply buy classical-music CDs and “rip” them to your computer’s hard disk. In some cases, you may copy music you have on legacy analogue media like LPs to your hard disk.

What standards to implement

Unlike most contemporary popular music, this kind of music demands high quality recording and playback and is more so if you take this genre more seriously. The preferred order for storing the music in your master collection when you “rip” from CD or record from analogue media would be:

  1. FLAC or similar lossless codec at best bitrate available
    This may have compatibility problems with most of the portable media players on the market, because they don’t have native support for this codec. Some DLNA-based media-player components, usually those hifi components made by companies who make equipment for discerning listeners may support this codec natively. If you wish to work with this codec, make sure that the media server or “jukebox” program that you use can transcode from this format to LPCM for DLNA applications or MP3 at 320kbps, AAC at 200kbps or WMA at 192kbps for portable media player applications. Most such programs that rip to these codecs can support these transcoding requirements
  2. AAC at 200kbps or WMA at 192kbps
    These offer a tradeoff between good quality sound and storage efficiency and most devices on the market do support either of these codecs natively. It may still be worth it to check if the media server or “jukebox” program can transcode as mentioned above.
  3. MP3 at 320kbps
    This is the codec that is often used for digital media but the only problem with it is that it is not efficient. It is also the preferred codec that is used when you download music via an online store.

The metadata issue

How does a person refer to a particular piece of classical music?

Instrumental and vocal works Opera, Ballet, Oratorios, Musical Theatre
Composer Composer
Work Work
Movement (for multi-movement works such as symphonies, concerti, etc) Act or Part (works performed over multiple acts or parts)
Some works, most notably Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, are primarily a group of multi-movement works that are intended to be thought of as a group, but each work or each movement can be considered as an item. Scene, Aria, Chorus, etc

The works can be further differentiated by the performers who had a part in performing the work, such as a solo performer, orchestra (with a particular conductor), opera company or theatre.

Organising the Metadata

This is made more difficult because most music metadata is organised based on most popular music where the concept of an album is a collection of songs by one or more artists.

You will have to organise the metadata manually whenever you add a recording of a complete work to the music collection. This is more so where you buy a recording with multiple multi-movement works like nearly all concerto and sonata CDs and an increasing number of symphony CDs. Some of these recordings may have a multi-movement work plus a few single-movement works rather than two or more multi-movement works. This may not be of issue when you have recordings which are a selection of single pieces and/or key movements, arias and choruses from larger works.

You could give each work its own “album” name and make sure each movement in the work is given a track number that is consecutive to how the movements are meant to be performed. Another good practice would be to change the movement’s or part’s  “title” field to <<movement number>>-<<movement’s full name within work>>. There are some works that have a highlighted part within one of the movements, such as the 4th movement in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Here, the “Ode To Joy” chorus will typically be its own track and may be numbered “5” in the album track order, even though it is part of the 4th movement. You may still have to have this part being numbered as “5” in the album track order and the title’s movement number being “4a” so as to properly place it as part of its parent movement.

Also, if you are dealing with a suite of multi-movement works like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, you may have to have each work, such as the “Spring” concerto as its own album. Similarly, long-form musical-theatre works like operas and ballets that are performed over multiple acts may need to have each act as its own album.

As well, you will need access to the “Composer” field for modifying and searching so you can integrate the composer as a key domain. This should be kept consistent in respect to the name of the composer. Try to avoid using name variations across different works by the same composer; and especially avoid referring to a composer by surname only. This can be more of an issue with works by Johann Sebastian Bach who was a very prolific composer; as well as the works composed by his sons such as that popular “Musette” piano piece. As for genres, the music should be listed under the “Classical” genre or similar genres.

Searching for the music

You may have to search amongst the “Album” metadata in the “Classical” genre to find works. As well, you should have access to the “Composer” metadata field – Windows Media Connect, Twonkymedia, Asset UPnP and other good servers provide for this. Musical theatre works like opera could have each act as its own work e.g. “La Traviata Act 1”, “La Traviata Act 2”.

You may need to search based on composer then work methodology if you are after a particular work. If you want to run a sequence of works, you will need to add the works to a “now playing” queue in your DLNA media player or controller. A good idea is to use playlists for keeping suites of multi-movement works like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, or particular musical-theatre works together for sequential playback.

What needs to be done for music metadata management to cater for classical music

Data structures and fields in the databases need to exist to encompass the structure of classical music; primarily works, parts of long-form works (acts, etc) and suites of works. There also need to be data views that work commensurately with classical music’s structure i.e. to support “composer, works group, work, movement, performer(s)”. As well, music-management programs, including portable-media-player firmware and music metadata reference sites like Gracenote need to apply the different data structures and views when they are handling classical music. This can be made easier by detecting if a recording is identified as being part of the “classical music” super-genre; as well as providing a view structure for all classical-music recordings based on the “composer, works group, work, movement”; as well as the conventional “album-based” view for classical-music recordings so as to cater for “collection” recordings.

Summary

Once you can get your hands on the music metadata by editing it manually, you can safely integrate your classical music into your online music library while being sure you can locate that favourite work or movement.

Please feel free to leave any comments on how you had gone about integrating your classical music in to your online music library.

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Apple Snow Leopard – Is it worth it for your existing Mac

There is all the recent talk about Apple releasing the Snow Leopard variant of the MacOS X operating system this Friday (August 28 2009) and you may be interested in upgrading your Macintosh computer to it. If you do upgrade your Mac to this operating system, especially if the computer is relatively recent – made after early 2006, you may notice that most of the improvements will be invisible on the user interface.

Intel-only deployment

The main issue with this operating system update is that it is engineered for Macintosh systems that have Intel-based internal architecture. This typical will apply to Macs that have been bought over the last few years, such as the MacBook laptops and the new iMacs. It won’t work with Macintosh computers that were based on the PowerPC architecture, which may apply to older computers.

What do you get for most Mac users

Under-the-hood improvements

The improvements are mainly that the operating system has been rewritten and profiled for the new Intel architectures such as the 64-bit processors and multi-core processor architectures. This also includes the applications that are part of the operating system like the Safari Web browser or QuickTime. There has been logic installed so that all of the cores in the Intel multi-core processors can he used.

Another feature that is worth its salt is that the eject procedure for removeable media is improved. If the eject process is stopped because an application has the removeable medium, you are offered the ability to quit the application that has the removeable medium so it releases possession of the files on that medium.

Accessibility improvements

The accessibility improvements mainly benefit those who have vision difficulties. It mainly is in the form of the VoiceOver Integraded screen-reader that works tightly with the operating system and applications. It allows for MacBook computers with multi-touch trackpads to have the trackpad seen as an alternate screen map and allows for use of the trackpad as a “rotary control”. There is also support for more of the Braille user-interface devices for those who cannot see at all.

WiFi networking improvements

The home network hasn’t been forgotten about with Snow Leopard. The Apple AirPort menu, which is the control point for Apple’s AirPort WiFi implementations, can provide detailed information about the wireless networks that the WiFi-equipped Macintosh computer can receive. This is achieved by the user holding down the [Option] key while clicking on the Apple Airport icon at the top right of the screen. Then you see detailed information like the channel and band in use by the access point, the network’s operating mode and security mode; and the access point’s BSSID under the network’s SSID.

There is an automatic time-zone setup feature for WiFi-equipped Macs; which is linked to a Skyhook Wireless database of access points and localities. This can allow the MacBook to show local time when it is taken overseas or interstate without user intervention. This is due to Apple using this data as part of their iPhone software.

An “all-Apple” network which use Bonjour discovery will have “Wake On WiFi” behaviour with newer Apple Macs and provide improved native file sharing due to this Apple-developed protocol. I am not sure whether the “Wake On WiFi” behaviour and improved file sharing behaviour will be made to work with networks that use other brands of network peripherals.

Is it worth it for the existing Mac user

For most Macintosh users with recently-built equipment running OS X Leopard, the cost is typically around $A39 / $US30 per computer, but people who just bought a Macintosh but didnt have it delivered with Snow Leopard can upgrade the operating system through Apple for $A14.95. It would then be worth it to have the computer running quickly and smoothly.

As far as whether it is worth going ahead, some Mac users may pass this upgrade up because there is no visible improvement in the user interface or no brand-new keynote functionality. But for most, if not all, Mac users who are running relatively-new setups, the performance boost that this operating system upgrade provides would make it worth it to take the plunge. This is more so because of the fact that most Mac users are typically working “hands-on” with graphics-based applications like CAD or image editing.

Invitation to comment

If any Mac user who is reading this article about Snow Leopard, they can leave a comment about how their computer has performed under the upgrade compared to before.

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Videos – Setting up your games console to become part of your home network

Today, I had seen some excellent YouTube videos posted by Netgear on how to integrate your games console in to your home network. They make references to the networks being based on their own hardware, but these instructions apply to any and all home networks no matter what router is at the edge.

Also, when they discussed how to connect the XBox360, PlayStation 3 and Wii to the home network, they mentioned that you can use a HomePlug-based power-line network setup using their PowerLine AV network kit to build the HomePlug segment. The main theme was to connect the HomePlug adaptor to the console via its Ethernet port and select the “wired” connection option as appropriate.

The reason I have liked the videos was because they gave a visual walkthrough of the setup user interaction needed to be performed at each console. They also pointed out if a console needed extra hardware to be part of the home network depending on the connection type. They are also worth having as a reference if you are likely to move your console(s) between locations such as for video-games parties.

If you are viewing this in an RSS Web feed, whether through your RSS software or as syndicated content on a Website like Facebook, you will need to visit this blog to view the videos. You can do this by clicking on the View Original Post option in the software or Web site. 

TV-connected consoles

Microsoft XBox360

Connections Benefits
WiFi – optional USB adaptor Online Gaming via XBox Live, Games and extras available for download through XBox Live, Windows Live Messenger (MSN Messenger) chat, Web browsing
Ethernet – Integrated Windows Media Center Extender, DLNA-compatible media player

 

Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) – includes “PS3 Thin”

Connections Benefits
WiFi – Integrated Online Gaming via PLAYSTATION Network, Games and extras available for download through PLAYSTATION Store, YouTube terminal
Ethernet – Integrated DLNA-compatible media player
 

Nintendo Wii

Connections Benefits
WiFi – Integrated Online Gaming, Wii Channels, Web browsing, Games and extras available for download to Wii and DSi from Wii Shop online store
Ethernet – optional USB adaptor  
 

Handhelds

All of these handheld have integrated WiFi as their sole connection means due to their portable nature.

Sony Playstation Portable (PSP)

Benefits: Online Gaming, Web Browsing, RSS Feeds and Podcasts

 

Nintendo DSi

Benefits: Online Gaming,Game download via DSi Store, Web browsing

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Facebook Tip: Sending a private message or “does the message need to be on your Wall or your Facebook Friend’s Wall for all to see”

Through my use of Facebook, I have seen some other users post messages intended for a particular recipient on that recipient’s Wall. Some of the messages are meant to be particularly confidential between the sender and the recipient. There is a way of sending a 1-to-1 message privately between Facebook Friends. What you do is either to go the the Friend’s profile and click on the “Send <Friend’s name> a message” option under their picture; or click on the “Inbox” option and select “Compose New Message”. In the “To” box, type in the Friend’s name or e-mail address – this is made quicker through the use of “auto-complete” data entry based on your Friend list.

When you send your message, the recipient will get a notification of a “new message” with a number beside the Inbox header. As well, if the recipient has it so configured, the recipient’s Facebook account will send the message to their e-mail address.

I have written a short note about this in my Status Update on Facebook so all my Facebook Friends are reminded of this issue, but have updated my Status Update with another Facebook topic. I am sorry that this will appear again on Facebook because I have set up this blog to be simulcast on my Wall and this kind if information may be of use for those who follow this blog through other channels.

The same issue will appear with other social-networking Websites like Twitter or MySpace and you will have to know how to send a 1-to-1 message to a particular member of the site.

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Quick “extended service set” setup routines for WiFi access points

Why a quick setup routine for WiFi access points (or client devices capable of operating as access points)?

It makes it simple for one to extend or improve wireless coverage by adding access points to an existing “extended service set” with a wired backbone. This includes mitigating microwave-oven interference to computer equipment being used in the kitchen by using an access point tuned to Channel 1 installed there. Increasingly this functionality will become more relevant with WiFi-based VoIP cordless phones and come in to its own with location-based WiFi security and home-automation applications. It will also allow a device with built-in Ethernet or HomePlug network connectivity as well as a WiFi client functionality (which typically covers most WiFi-enabled devices) to become a low-power WiFi access point thus making it easy to expand the wireless network by providing infill coverage.

This is achieved by enrolling the device as a client device of the wireless network, then if the device is connected to the same Internet gateway that is visited by the wireless network via the wired network, it sets itself up as an access point with the same SSID and security data as the master access point. It then avoids users having to re-enter network data and make mistakes in setting up multiple-access-point wireless networks.

Methods

Semi-automatic operation – without WPS on master AP

  1. User: Connect to new AP via Ethernet or HomePlug
  2. User: At Web UI for new access point:
    1. Select AP – quick setup
  3. New Access Point: AP becomes wireless client bridge, direct link to host
  4. New Access Point: AP presents list of SSIDs that it can receive and their security status (open or secure)
  5. User: Clicks on SSID matching their home network’s SSID or enters home network’s SSID (for hidden SSID networks), then enters WEP/WPA-PSK key as applicable when the new AP locks on to the desired AP
  6. New Access Point: Perform DHCP test to see if it can find the gateway
    1. If successful, offer to set up as AP, gain MAC of gateway & BSSID of master (& other) APs on SSID,set WEP/WPA-PSK parameter
  7. New Access Point: If user OKs with setting up as AP for network, then switch to AP mode, self-tune to vacant frequency, remain dormant
  8. New Access Point: Once gateway is discovered through Ethernet / HomePlug interface (backbone detect), activate AP mode.

Automatic operation – with WPS on master AP

  1. User: Select Access Point mode, then invoke WPS on new and master AP (PBC “push-push” method)
  2. New Access Point: new AP gains WiFi details through WPS as if it is a client
  3. New Access Point: become wireless client bridge on these details until connected to wired backbone
  4. New Access Point: detect wired backbone (via Ethernet, HomePlug), self-tune, become AP with WPS “peer” status

Limitations

Some details may not be able to be conveyed to the new access point, especially if the access point is of lesser capability than the master access point. This may be of concern when extending the coverage of a wireless hotspot and want to enforce client-computer isolation at the access point. The client-computer isolation functionality should be achieved at the link-layer level by the hotspot gateway router thus allowing for media-independent client isolation. It can then cater for hotspots that use wired media (Ethernet, HomePlug, MoCA TV-aerial cabling) to extend WiFi coverage or connect computers supplied by themselves or their guests to their Internet service.

Similarly there may be issues with setting up a multi-LAN wireless network where there is a VLAN set up on the wired network and multiple SSIDs that are radiated by the same access point. This kind of setup describes a “private” LAN segment and a “public” or “guest” LAN segment

Conclusion

Once the WiFi equipment vendors look at using “quick-setup” methods for WiFi access points, this can allow home and small-business users, especially those with limited computer skills, to set up their wireless networks to suit their needs more easily.

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avast! blog » Can you Trust Free Anti-Virus?

avast! blog » Can you Trust Free Anti-Virus? – Link to blog on Avast site

My comments on the issue concerning free anti-virus software

I always prefer that every computer has a reputable anti-virus software program running on it and, through this blog, I have always recommended AVG or avast free anti-virus solutions for home users and students. I would also consider the paid-for versions of these programs for users that don’t fit the mould provided for the free versions.

From my experience, these programs and their paid-for equivalents from the same suppliers, can do their job without placing too much stress on the computer. This is compared to the likes of the “big majors” (Trend Micro, Symantec, etc) who supply the computers sold in chain stores with trialware anti-virus solutions that can place a dent on the computer’s performance with their dominant graphics.

As well, the free programs and their paid-for equivalents work tightly with the operating system rather than take over the operating system. This is more so with the latest incarnations of Windows because of the designed-in security functionality that these operating systems have like Windows Firewall. Here, you can do most of your configuring through Windows and your default browser rather than through weird panels that take up a large part of the screen. The programs are as regularly updated as the majors and are even updated to include protection from newer infection vectors like instant messaging.

One thing that AVG, avast and the like could do is “offer” a trade-in deal where if a person who is subscribing to a “major” anti-virus solution like Norton or Trend Micro can switch over to the “professional” versions of these free anti-virus solutions for a cheaper price or for free. If the “professional” solution is sold on a subscription basis, they could offer a longer subscription deal like a “2 years for 1 year” package or a “first year is on us” deal.

This could allow the user to save money on their anti-virus solutions without forfeiting the security level that they are benefiting from..

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DLNA on multiple components in a home theatre setup?

As more manufacturers are supplying DLNA-equipped network hardware for the home-theatre setup, it may be worth wondering whether you should have just one DLNA-capable component in your home AV setup and stay at that, or install more DLNA-capable components in your setup as you upgrade equipment.

Here, I am talking about DLNA-capable media-player or media-renderer equipment, rather than media-server or media-controller equipment. This is to cater for setups where a dedicated media server device like a personal-TV service or hard-disk-based media jukebox device is part of the equation due to its role as providing media for the network.

One DLNA-equipped unit in the same rack

It may be more efficient and cost-effective to have just one DLNA Media Player unit such as a DLNA-capable flatscreen TV, network media adaptor or video-games console, in the rack. This may be cost-effective when you are getting your feet wet with network-based audio and video or the setup comprises of a TV and a video peripheral that doesn’t have its own speakers. It may also be easier to manage in relation to integrating with the home network or gaining access to the media on the DLNA-capable media server(s).

Two or more DLNA units in the same rack

This situation will appeal to people who are taking advantage of the fact that, over time, DLNA media playback will appear in more pieces of home AV equipment at price points affordable for most people. It will also appeal to people who upgrade their home-entertainment setup to newer technology on a “piece by piece” basis as and when they can afford it. It involves the same AV rack having two or more DLNA media playback devices like a TV and a home-theatre receiver.

One main benefit of this setup would be to perform network-media tasks with one piece of equipment. This is more so with a network-ready home-theatre receiver that has a good onboard display or is capable of working as a network-controllable “media renderer” because you don’t need to turn on the TV if you just want to listen to music. Similarly, you could have a DLNA-equipped TV show a collection of pictures related to a party you are hosting while your DLNA-equipped home-theatre receiver plays music during the party.

It also allows for the use of components that excel at playing particular types of content like, for example, a network-capable receiver that is highly-tuned for audio content or a DLNA-compliant TV that works with the latest codecs. Similarly, you may have a games console that may run games that make use of media held on secondary storage integrated with or attached to the console or available on the network. A possible example of this could be a “street racing” game of the ilk of “Need For Speed Underground” where the driver chooses the style of musical accompaniment for their drag-racing and drifting challenges.

What should I go for

This depends on your setup. If your setup is primarily a video setup with just a TV and one or two video peripherals, you could just add one DLNA-capable playback device to the setup.

But if your setup has a separate amplifier or you intend to add a home-theatre sound system with its own amplifier and speakers, it may be worth running a separate DLNA media player capable of playing sound independently of the television. Similarly, if your home theatre has a DLNA-equipped plasma or LCD TV that is used for “regular viewing” and a projector-screen that is used for “special viewing” like Hollywood blockbusters or major sports events, you could use a separate DLNA media player like a DLNA-enabled Blu-Ray player with the projector.

Things to remember about such installations

If you intend to install multiple network-ready devices in a home-theatre setup, you will need to make sure these devices connect reliably to your home network. If your network runs WiFi wireless, you might be tempted to connect the devices to the WiFi wireless segment, either through integrated WiFi connectivity that the device has, by purchasing the optional USB WiFi kit that the device’s manufacturer offers or by purchasing an Ethernet-WiFi client bridge device from a computer store. The limitation with this is that WiFi wireless networks can be very flaky at the best and the problem can be made worse with metal shelving or a metal frame; or installations that are close to a brick or stone chimney.

It may then be preferable to use wired networking such as Ethernet or HomePlug powerline to the entertainment rack with the components connected via an Ethernet switch to the Ethernet or HomePlug backbone. This kind of setup will lead to the networked components in the home AV rack operating reliable when it comes to network and Internet activities. There are some HomePlug-Ethernet bridges, available in either HomePlug 1.0 Turbo or HomePlug AV, that have a switch with 3 or 4 Ethernet ports. These units can definitely do the job of bridging a rack of networked AV equipment to a HomePlug segment.

Conclusion

Once you know what direction to go for as far as far as DLNA-capable devices in a single AV rack is concerned, you can then know how to integrate your AV racks in your home’s or business’s DLNA media network.

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Feature Article – Repurposing that ex-business laptop computer for home use

Originally published at my previous Windows Live Spaces blog in May 2007
First published on this blog in November 2008. Updated 31 July 2009
 
If you are repurposing an ex-business laptop computer for home use, you need to make sure that it is safe as far as the computer’s former life is concerned and able to perform well in the home. Here, you would need to “detach” the computer from its former business life by removing line-of-business applications and data; and business-specific configurations like network, VPN and terminal-emulation setups used in the business. In some situations like ex-kiosk computers where the computer was heavily locked down, you may have to research the Internet to find out how to reset the BIOS settings so you can boot from the optical drive for example.
 
1. Make sure that you have the original media and licence information for the operating system and any other software to be used in the home context.
2. Visit the computer manufacturer’s Website and obtain the complete driver set for the computer’s current configuration. Copy this driver set to a CD-R or USB memory key. You might find it better to work the computer directly with the operating system’s abilities like Windows Zero Configuration rather than use the software supplied by the system manufacturer.
3 Do any necessary repairs to the computer like replacing damaged keyboards. This could be a good time to track down replacement batteries, AC adaptors or AC cords for the computer. If the computer doesn’t have built-in wireless or isn’t able to have wireless networking retrofitted at a later date, track down a wireless-network PCMCIA card or ExpressCard to suit your home network.
4. Format the primary hard disk and install the operating system and other software from the original media. Activate XP / Vista / Windows 7 and Office as applicable and deploy the driver set from the CD-R or USB memory key that you prepared in Step 2.
5. Register the computer with network services that are part of the home network like the network printer. If the printer is hosted by a Windows box, you may be able to set it up using “Point and Print” where you load the printer drivers from the Windows box.
 
As far as software is concerned, you can use a basic “office” package like Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition as well as Screen Paver (the shareware photo screen-saver that I use) and the latest version of AVG AntiVirus Free Edition or Avast AntiVirus Home Edition for your additional software. Most functionality is catered for by the software that is part of the operating system.
 
If you are working with a Windows-based computer, it may be worth downloading Windws Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Photo Gallery from http://download.live.com . These programs provide the essentials for instant mesaging, desktop POP3 or IMAP mail, RSS-feed management and digital-image management.
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SFR Hubster mobile Internet device

Link to French language review in DegroupNews

My comments on this mobile Internet device after reading the review

This device, provided by SFR for their “triple-play” (Box SFR, NeufBox) subscribers in France, is primarily a mobile Internet device. Primarily it is the “Webby” terminal marketed under SFR’s banner. But it isn’t the typical mobile Internet device that is in the typical handheld form. Instead, it is designed as a tabletop “mini terminal” for use in the kitchen, bedroom or home office. The French-language article even described the unit as a “mini terminal familiale” (family mini terminal).

Hence it is in the form of a small free-standing device that has a footprint similar to a small radio,with a 3.5” touchscreen LCD display that is mounted on its cone-shaped base. It will connect to your home network via WiFi (with WPA2 security and WPS “two-push” setup) or Ethernet.

The unit has IPTV functionality which works in conjunction with SFR’s IPTV service as well as Internet radio and “widget-driven” information services. The widget-based services focus typically on the local weather, financial information (stock portfolio) and your horoscope for your star sign. You can also get it to monitor RSS feeds, including audio / video podcasts and photofeeds. It has an SD card slot and USB host port so you can load digital audio files or JPEG pictures from your digital camera. A subsequent firmware version will provide for video file support. Of course the unit can work as an alarm clock that is always set to the correct time and can wake you to an Internet radio stream, a digital audio file or a buzzer sound.

When you set up the Hubster device, you will need to visit the Hubster Web site (http://hubster.sfr.fr) as part of registering it. This is where you would customise the local weather, financial and horoscope information.

The reviewers reckon that this device needs more capabilities in order to be a full-on auxiliary Internet terminal. It would need to support general Web browsing, be capable of true cordless operation by working with a battery pack and use a screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. I would add to this list the support for common video-file formats; and at least UPnP AV / DLNA playback support so it can play media files held on PCs or NAS boxes that exist on the network. The latter functionality would be relevant to SFR “triple-play” subscribers who hook up an USB external hard drive to their “NeufBox 5” or “Box SFR” Internet gateway devices  and use the UPnP AV media server function integrated in these Internet gateway devices to stream out multimedia files held on the external hard drive.

What is this leading to?

The SFR Hubster’s main target was to compete in the nascent “connected information display” market created by WiFi-enabled electronic picture frames, Internet-enabled TVs and similar devices. Here, these devices pull up information of use to the public like news, weather and financial information from selected Web portals and present it on their displays, either as part of a continuously-changing display or on demand when a user selects a particular option on the device’s menu.

These “connected information displays” would thrive on a strong market relationship between companies involved in making or selling these display devices; and the owners of Web portal and information-streaming services as well as their content providers. This could then lead to these displays being considered the “fourth screen” of influence and companies involved in telecommunications and the Internet being considered as of influence as the classic media companies.

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