Product Review – TwonkyMedia Manager 1.0

Originally published 23 February 2009 on my original homenetworking01.wordpress.com blog
Updated 20 September 2009 with experience from newer versions of TwonkyMedia Manager

This review of TwonkyMedia Manager is the first review of any hardware or software product that I have done for this blog.

TwonkyMedia Manager is a follow-on program from the classic TwonkyVision UPnP AV / DLNA media server that had been released since 2003/ The server, which has been ported to the major operating systems, has been deployed in many of the respected network-attached storage devices. As well, some consumer-electronics manufacturers include this program with their network media players as a “get-you-going” media server so you can start establishing a DLNA media network with your computer and their product. This program now has a management screen and a built-in media player so it can act as a media “jukebox” program in a similar vein to the likes of iTunes, WinAmp or Windows Media Player.

The TwonkyMedia Manager supports and adheres to the UPnP AV / DLNA “3-box” model of a “media server”, “media controller” and “media renderer”. Even a single-computer setup can work in this manner because the “3-box” model is represented by TwonkyMedia Server being the “media server” and TMMPlayer, which is a separate music-player program started by TwonkyMedia Manager, being the “media player” and the program’s user interface being the “media controller”. The software can discover other UPnP AV (DLNA) media servers and (externally-manageable) UPnP AV media renderers on the same network and allow them to be controlled from the user interface.

This is useful for demonstrating the UPnP AV / DLNA media-control concept or testing out UPnP AV hardware and software, as well as being the media jukebox based on the UPnP AV / DLNA model.

The main limitation about this media-management program is that it doesn’t have integrated facilities for adding media to the media library such as a CD-ripping function. This is because you are meant to use it alongside an existing media management program like Apple iTunes or Windows Media Player which does this job very well.

Instead, you would use the other media management program to add your media to the server. Then you would have to set the media management program(s) to load the media to one or more nominated folders. Then you have TwonkyMedia Server, which is the server function in the TwonkyMedia Manager, serve the media files to the DLNA / UPnP AV Media Network, which are all of the network media client devices on your network that work to these standards, from those nominated directories.

This program would end up being of benefit to those people who use Apple iTunes or other programs that don’t have UPnP AV server functionality as their media “jukebox” program, because they just point the TwonkyMedia Server to the program’s media folder such as the iTunes Music folder as explained further.

Use Experience

I am testing the program on a Windows Vista computer running the Windows Media Player 11 with its Windows Media Server function enabled for DLNA server comparison. The Windows Media Server is a UPnP AV MediaServer program which has been integrated in Windows Media Player 10 and 11 for Windows XP / Vista. The server program was initially available as Windows Media Connect which was a separate free download from Microsoft for Windows XP computers running Windows Media Player 9. Both programs are serving content from the same music and picture folders. so I can make a true comparison between the programs.

The program was slow at the start to know what was in the libraries for the TwonkyMedia Server and the Windows Media Server, but this can be typical in the first run of the program, and I had built up a large music and photo library that was made available to the servers.

I have done a test to find the iTunes library, even though I have iTunes in place but am running Windows Media Player as my media jukebox. Like most UPnP MediaServer programs, you have to find the iTunes Music folder and add that particular folder to the list of folders available to TwonkyMedia Server. This information will be located in the “Advanced” tab in the “Preferences” dialog box in iTunes.

The integrated playlist management is only available if you are using the TwonkyMedia Server as your media server. If you use other UPnP MediaServer programs, you will have to make sure they see the playlists as a hierarchy with each playlist as a collection that is a member of the “Playlists” tree. This is exactly what Windows Media Player 11 does with the playlists.

I have noticed that if the computer isn’t busy, especially with disk-intensive tasks, the program is likely to work properly.

When you add songs, albums or other audio content to the playlist for a UPnP AV MediaRenderer device, including the program’s own TMMPlayer software player, all the songs are added to a “now-playing” list for that device with the currently-playing song emphasised in bold white text and with an arrow at the beginning of the title. The full “album, artist, title” metadata appears in a panel at the top of the list.  To delete a song from the playlist so it doesn’t play, you just press the DEL key. When you want to move a song for earlier or later playback, you just drag the song to the desired position.

When you buy the program for US$39.95 or €29.95, you are licensed to use the program on 3 computers concurrently. This appeals to setups like my review setup which is a desktop computer being a media server and a laptop being a media controller. Similarly, you could run a laptop as a controller for an HTPC serving the content and playing through a home theatre setup, running TwonkyMedia Manager.

I have done a playback test using a laptop with a desktop, each running these programs and the desktop computer being the media server. The tests are being done this way to determine how TwonkyMedia Manager performs in all of the roles and with other UPnP AV MediaServers. Another reason is because I don’t have ready access to a hardware network media player that works to the UPnP AV or DLNA standards.

The first test involved the laptop being used as a remote controller according to UPnP AV Control Point / DLNA Media Controller standards. It went according to plan, with the metadata about the currently-playing song being displayed on the media-controller laptop, but not on the desktop which was playing the song. This would be similar to using PlugPlayer or iMediaSuite on your iPhone or iPod Touch; or your Nokia N-Series phone to control the music playing out on your computer via the wireless network.

I have set the laptop up as a remote digital media renderer and it goes to plan, but TMMPlayer doesn’t show the metadata of what it is currently playing when it is under remote control. I had tried a “track skip” at the laptop (which is the media renderer) and it didn’t move to the next track in the media queue immediately.

This version of the program has gateway support for Internet radio, YouTube video and Flickr photo support. But there are some limitations on how this is run. For YouTube, there isn’t an option to monitor your channel subscriptions, which can be of benefit if you make use of YouTube channels. The Internet radio option can be of benefit if your UPnP digital media hardware doesn’t have native support for Internet-radio functionality.

Advantages

This program has the ability to work as a “push and play” console if any UPnP AV MediaRenderer device can support being a network-controlled MediaRenderer device. This definitely can come in handy with network media adaptors that are controllable only by you viewing the attached TV screen and working a remote control or with devices like electronic picture frames that have a flimsy remote control.

This same ability can put TwonkyMedia Manager in a better league than Apple iTunes, Windows Media Player, WinAmp and other computer-based music players. Here, one could have the computer like a laptop or netbook be simply a music selector while a NAS box and a network media adaptor like the Roku SoundBridge can do the work of playing out the music.

Another key advantage is the software’s light footprint on the system’s resources. This may be of benefit if you are putting an older computer to use as a media server and you don’t have much in the way of memory or CPU power available on that computer. Similarly, this may appeal to those of us who want to install the program on a netbook or low-end ex-business laptop simply for use as a network media controller. Watch out there, Sonos!

Limitations

TwonkyMedia Server doesn’t support “browse by keyword” for photographs, but can support “search by keyword”. This function can be useful where the tags that are part of Windows (Live) Photo Gallery are used as another “folder tree” for indexing photos. Examples of this would include indexing car pictures by marque and model, even if you go to many car shows; or indexing travel pictures by town and landmark even if you travel a lot at different times.

The inbuilt TMMPlayer MediaRenderer program has a tendency to “give up” early if it doesn’t get the music file in time. The problem is more common if TwonkyMedia Manager is being operated on a busy computer and could be rectified by the use of a user-variable maximum timeout control that is similar to what is provided in most e-mail programs for their server connections.

Another common limitation with this program is that the highly-publicised “album-art” function runs very slowly and doesn’t respond with all UPnP AV MediaServers. This same functionality only works with the art being part of an MP3 file, rather than what Windows Media or other codecs do in handling album art. In the TwonkyForum websites, this functionality was not looked upon in a favourable light because of not being able to find content quickly.

Nice to have

The TwonkyMedia Manager could support a “jukebox” mode where it can be feasible to add songs to a playlist from a server’s content list but not delete or move them, especially from remote control points. The same mode can support dual-tiered playlists so that there could be a “background music” playlist that is played sequentially or randomly but when someone selects a song, this song is added to the “primary” playlist which is then immediately played. These modes, which would be useful during parties, could be achieved through a “master control point” which can manage the media-renderer device(s) and remote control points working through the “master control point”.

Another “nice to have” function would be to allow one to view the contents of one server while another server is already streaming content. This would be more important on networks where there are multiple MediaServers.

It would also be worth providing a component-based installation routine where one can just install the “manager” software so they can prepare a laptop or netbook as a media control point. This would avoid memory or hard disk space being used for media-server functionality on a computer that wouldn’t necessarily be doing that job.

The online services could support “push off a link” functionality where if you select a YouTube, Flickr photostream or audio-stream link on the Web, you could “push” the YouTube video, photostream or audio-stream to a UPnP digital media renderer.

Summary

Although I am reviewing a 1.0 version of the software, it certainly is capable of fulfilling all the UPnP AV functionality it is meant to do and is a must-have for any Windows XP or Vista user who wants to have all of this functionality on their computer.

Update – 20 September 2009

There have been some improvements and new features added to TwonkyMedia Manager since this version was reviewed. Some of the features include “follow-me” play where you can push content that is already playing on one UPnP AV device to another UPnP AV device from the point that you left off at; and a text chat function for use between multiple TwonkyMedia Manager installations. As well, one can set up a subset of an already-playing playlist and have that playing on another UPnP AV device or TwonkyMedia Manager installation.

The newer versions have allowed for “browse by keyword” including keyword trees but this function isn’t fully polished yet. The main limitation is that it doesn’t handle comma-punctuated keywords such as “explained names” like “Jon, Joan’s brother” or “place addresses” as keywords like “Dudley Street, Melbourne”. Here, the comma is seen as a delimiter between two keywords and separate keyword buckets are created for each side of the comma.

As far as online services go, YouTube and Flickr photostream functionality has been added to TwonkyMedia Manager. In the case of YouTube, you can play your favourite videos or videos from selected “new-video” and “top-video” lists. I have tested this functionality by pulling up the viral “JK wedding entrance dance” video through TwonkyMedia Manager after marking the video and another video showing an enactment of the same dance by Channel 7 Australia’s “Dancing With The Stars”.  There isn’t support for access to user-subscribed YouTube channels at the moment.

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thinkbroadband :: European Commission introduces broadband funding guidelines

 thinkbroadband :: European Commission introduces broadband funding guidelines

European Commission Broadband Funding Guidelines – PDF document (English) (Français) (Deutsch)

My comments and summary of this document

The European Commission’s goal in this document is to provide 100% high-speed broadband service to every European citizen – broadband to he just like regular telephone or electricity service. They are to put EUR 1.02bn to European Agricultural Fund For Rural Development with part of this money for equipping rural areas with high-speed broadband “hot and cold running Internet”. As well, member countries are pitching money towards deploying very high speed Internet services (fibre-optic Internet) into populated areas.

The activities covered in the guidelines may typically be equipment and backhaul “pipeline” to provide broadband Internet to remote population centres in the case of basic broadband provision or equipment and works to provide next-generation broadband to areas that aren’t worth it due to sparse population or poorer neighbourhoods that are less likely to pay for the service.

What to be done to qualify for State aid

New basic-broadband services

  • Proper geographical analysis of Internet service in all areas to identify white and grey areas
  • Open tender process for providing the State-underpinned services or infrastructure
  • Most economically advantageous offer (best value for money) to be preferred for providing the service
  • Technology-neutral service so that a provider can use their choice of wireline, terrestrial wireless, satellite wireless or mobile wireless technologies or provide a mix of the technologies
  • Use of existing infrastructure (ducts, poles, black fibre, etc) preferred without favouring existing incumbent operators.
  • Wholesale access to be preferred so that fair and equitable retail Internet access can be provided to customers from multiple providers
  • Prices to be benchmarked to assess real competitiveness
  • Support for a claw-back mechanism if there is over-compensation

New next-generation broadband services

Preference to pure competition such as access to ducts, black fibre or bitstream by competing operators; or support for differing topologies like point-to-point or point-to-multipoint

This could include providing for the use of trenches caused by renovation works for existing services like electricity, gas or water.

What hasn’t been covered

One major gap that exists in these guidelines, especially as far as unbundled services or next-generation broadband services is concerned is privately-owned multi-tenancy developments like shopping centres or blocks of flats.

In these places, a property owner or management committee could permit only a particular operator to lay infrastructure in their building and prohibit competing providers from laying their infrastructure in the same building. There isn’t provision for measures that preclude this kind of behaviour that denies tenants or unit owners access to infrastructurally-competitive Internet service.

Conclusion

This document should be looked at and considered by governments and telecommunications regulators when they prepare frameworks for next-generation telecommunications and Internet services.

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802.11n – now ratified as a standard

IEEE finally approves 802.11n | The Register (UK)

802.11n: Ratified at last | Wi-Fi Planet

IEEE Ratifies 802.11n | WiFi Networking News

The Fine Points of Optional Wi-Fi 802.11n Certification | Wi-Fi Networking News

My Comments On This Evolution Of The Standard

Ever since 802.11n came about as a wireless standard, the equipment that was working to the standard was working to a draft version of the standard. This may have been acceptable for networks which weren’t critical to a business’s operations, because of the doubt associated with last-minute changes that could affect hardware compatibility. In some cases, this could also mean that an 802.11n segment may not work properly unless the equipment was based on the same chipset.

Now that the standard is final, enterprises can become confident about deploying 802.11n wireless network segments with cost-effective heterogenous equipment setups. As well, the cost of establishing an 802.11n wireless-network segment will reduce now that manufacturers can confidently sell more equipment at varying price ranges.

Existing 802.11n draft-standard segments

But what does this mean for networks based around existing 802.11n draft-standard hardware? Could they work properly with final-standard hardware with as much as draft-standard hardware being “flashed” to final-standard specifications. The compatibility issue raised in this question has been through the new revisions being declared optional rather than mandatory.

Support for single-stream 802.11n devices

The most popular benefit of the new standard would be the ability to support single-stream 802.11n station devices. This concept allows a device to have one transceiver rather than the two or three that is part of the standard. It is mainly brought about because of a need to have battery-operated devices like smartphones and VoIP WiFi handsets as part of the 802.11n wireless network and the single-stream 802.11n network adaptors can fulfil this need without draining the device’s battery too quickly.

The access points can provide full bandwidth to these single-stream devices without forfeiting bandwidth to other devices simply through the use of one dedicated stream for each of the devices. It then may be like providing the wireless equivalent of a “switched” Ethernet connection or ADSL-based broadband connection to this class of devices.

This factor has been improved with the ability for access points to be tested for three streams. This may allow for access points and routers to be differentiated on wireless-network performance levels as well as functionality levels.

Conclusion

The goal has been achieved for 802.11n to be a real wireless-network standard that complements the high-throughput Internet services and the multimedia networks of today.

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IFA Internationaler Funkaustellung 2009 Comments

The Internationaler Funkaustellung series of trade shows held in Berlin are considered in the industry to be the biggest consumer-electronics trade show. This is even though the show used to be a two-yearly event. In my opinion, the shows are mainly used for launching equipment destined for the European and Asian markets such as PAL-system video equipment or equipment that works on 240V 50Hz AC current; whereas the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January is typically for launching equipment destined for North America.

Second year with appliances as part of the show

This year has been the second year that the Internationaler Funkaustellung has exhibited kitchen and laundry appliances. There is more show space dedicated to these products and an increasing amount of space has been allocated to companies selling “smallgoods” – benchtop appliances, floor care, personal care and the like. One of the main focal representative classes of device have been the so-called lifestyle appliances led by the espresso machines.

The main trend has been for the market to be driven by people replacing worn-out inefficient appliances with better, more energy-efficient appliances that suit their needs. It is mainly working on the industry’s premise of users gaining approximately 10 years of service out of the typical home appliance.

This issue also includes interest in the built-in appliances as an alternative to freestanding appliances. This may be a personal comment but It might be worth noting that the European market aren’t in to “pushing down” older appliances to secondary service such as “beer fridges”. This may be due to such things as proactive take-back and recycle programs existing in those countries as well as higher energy costs. Other interesting facts to know about this class of goods is that more appliance makers are relying on electronic circuitry rather than electromechanical means like bimetallic-strip thermostats / timers or motor-driven timers to control the appliances.

Building Automation (HVAC, security systems, “smart home”, “smart grid”)

The home-automation sector which encompasses HVAC (heating and air-conditioning) and building security hasn’t gained strength in the IFA even though there is the energy-efficient “smart-grid” impetus lurking around the corner. The main problem with this is that there ISN’T A COMMON PLATFORM for this application.

Dominance of large-screen HDTV sets

The key product of this year’s IFA was the flat-panel large-screen high-definition TV set. These have been made more cost-effective due to an oversupply of LCD screen modules because business doesn’t want to spend on LCD panels and notebooks because of the financial downturn.

More customers wore interested in large-screen lounge-room sets because of the increased activity towards digital HDTV in Europe. This was encompassing countries that were switching off analogue TV service and going “all-digital” and / or new high-definition channels “lighting up” as well as an increasing amount of HD content being produced. This has also led to a strong replacement-set market, but are older sets still being connected to set-top boxes and “pushed down” to secondary roles?

One main trend being observed was the design of LED-backlit LCD screens leading to energy efficiency and high contrast ratio compared to cold-cathode-fluorescent backlit LCD screens. There has been a fair bit of activity concerning 3D HDTV which was being promoted by the major Japanese firms, especially Sony and Panasonic. Most of the equipment was primarily prototypes showing “known-quantity” content.

As for online connectivity, the main driver for this was access to online-supplied information and entertainment in the lounge room. This has usually manifested in TVs having Ethernet sockets and software that is part of a “widget platform” and / or DLNA-compliant media playback ability. It is also being extended to BluRay players that work with BD-Live interactive content. In this case, Samsung integrated a YouTube front-end in to their BluRay player while Sony ran with two WiFi-enabled BluRay players that can be part of the DLNA Home Media Network. The fact that BD-Live compatible BluRay players are being equipped with DLNA or other network applications is to permit people who own flatscreen HDTVs that don’t have network connectivity to connect these sets to the home network and the Internet.

Mobile Internet Devices

There has been some activity on the Mobile Internet Device front even though the smartphone industry is competing with this class of device. Toshiba had released the JournE touchscreen MID while SMIT released the MID-560 Android-driven unit which works in a similar manner to Clarion’s ClarionMIND portable navigation device / MID. A Chinese outfit called Optima had introduced the Maemo MID which was driven by a Chinese-built Linux distribution. This one raised the stakes by providing integrated 3G WWAN abilities, which could appeal to carriers who want these as a way of reducing subscriber “churn”.

Conclusion

There may not be much in the way of home-network and IT hardware appearing at the Internationaler Funkaustellung this year but most of the endpoint devices are actually appearing in the consumer electronics devices like the flatscreen TVs.

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

This is an advanced way of setting up a DLNA Home Media Network and requires a network media player to be able to be controlled by other devices on the same network.

It is a function integral to DLNA 1.5 compatible devices and is part of TwonkyMedia Manager (which I have reviewed here) since it started. Now it will be an integral part of Windows 7 where you can select “Play To” to have music playing on another device that you have specified. There will be many handheld terminals that have this functionality, either as part of the operating system or as add-on software.

The three boxes in this DLNA media network

Three are three logical units in this equation

Media Server

This holds media files or references to media streams and is typically represented by Windows Media Player 11 or TwonkyMedia Server which is part of TwonkyMedia Manager which I have reviewed in this blog. Also, in a PC-less solution, it can be a network-attached storage or music server device.

Media Control Point

This is primarily a software program or hardware device that can find material on any Media Servers on the home network and allow the user to “push” the content to any Media Render device on the network.

Media Renderer

The Media Renderer is similar to a UPnP-capable Media Player except that it can accept instructions via the home network to play particular media files or streams.

Typically this setup is represented by three boxes but a device can have two or three of the functions built in to its housing. An example of this is the TwonkyMedia Manager program or the PlugPlayer DLNA controller for the iPhone or any of the recent Nokia N-Series mobile phones. Here, the program has a built-in software media renderer function as well as a software media server function and control point.

UPnP AV 3-box model

What can you do

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

An idea that would appeal to many geeks and media enthusiasts is to load a program like TwonkyMedia Manager 1.2 on to a netbook or subnotebook computer and use this computer as a remote media controller for the DLNA Home Media Network. This could mean that you could bring up pictures and video on a DLNA-capable TV or electronic picture frame using this terminal. This would end up being much easier than finding the remote control for the TV and working through an unwieldy user interface.

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

Similarly, you could use your office PC to show merchandising videos / images on your DLNA-equipped TVs and picture frames in the shop’s public space rather than going around to each TV or picture frame to bring up the right merchandising material.

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

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

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

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

Similarly, there could be other playback techniques like exhibiting different pictures from the same cluster on different screens.

Portable devices being part of the DLNA digital media network

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

Similarly a mobile phone or MP3 player could “push” digital music held therein to better speakers via a digital media adaptor.

The main issues and hurdles

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

Not all DLNA-capable playback equipment is capable of supporting “3-box” push-mode operation at the moment. Typically, most DLNA equipment from the big names that was issued over the last two years, especially televisions and network media adaptors and home theatre receivers will support this functionality “out of the box” or through a firmware update that the customer does. Some existing equipment may support the functionality through a customer-performed firmware update or may do so out of the box. One of the best references for this capability is this list in the TwonkyForum discussion board run by TwonkyMedia, in relation to TwonkyMedia Manager.

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

Another thing to look for with playback devices is whether the function is enabled even though the device has the function. This may be looked at in the form of a Settings menu option in the Network Settings Menu or similar menu which may be labeled “Digital Media Renderer Mode”, “DLNA Remote Control”, “Network Media Control” or something similar. If this mode is set to on, the device can respond to DLNA requests.

Some devices have the function disabled in the default factory setup while others may allow this kind of control by default.

Conclusion

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

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Jetstar unveils thin client, BYO laptop vision | Australian IT

Jetstar unveils thin client, BYO laptop vision | Australian IT

CITE:

The Jetstar engineering group recently embarked on a BYO model with much success, he said, buying 60 Toshibas at $825 each rather than the corporate standard (Lenovo) Thinkpads.
"We gave each staff member a 16GB memory card with a complete PC virtual image — all the engineering manuals, software and drivers," Mr Tame told an Accenture media roundtable in Sydney.

END CITE

Why does this impress me?

Most companies, especially larger companies, as well as schools prefer to run a fleet of laptops that are the company’s property and work on an operating environment specific to the company’s needs and line of business. These rapidly-depreciating assets are often supported by the company’s IT staff or an outside IT-support company contracted by that company. Often there will be rules and constraints on how these units are operated. Once the machines have finished their tenure in the business, there is the problem of disposing of them. They may be sold off through auctions, given to charity groups or some businesses may permit employees to buy the machines from the company at a greatly-reduced price.

There are some problems with that setup. Typically these laptops are often taken between work and home or are taken around the country or world by business travellers and also end up being used to store personal and family data. They also end up being used as games machines either with online games or games bought through a computer store or video-game store. This is usually to while away the time during a long flight or placate restless children. As well, the hardware setup typically encountered in most homes is different from that which exists in the workplace. The network will have a consumer-grade router at the network-Internet edge and the printers that exist at home will be the typical consumer-grade all-in-one inkjet printers that may be connected directly or via the home network.

Women can take advantage of laptops that reflect their personality and style rather than the “same old same old” machine. This is more so because of manufacturers who are releasing models that are designed with aesthetics in mind, such as a choice of different colours or finishes. Similarly, some power users can look towards buying computers that are the equivalent of an American “muscle car”, with all the power and aggressive looks.

By providing the employee with a memory card with the virtual image, Jetstar had kept the operating environment separate from the laptop’s own storage, thus avoiding mixing company data with personal data. Similarly, the company workspace can be transferred between computers if a computer dies or is infested with malware; or the employee upgrades the computer.

This is certainly a break from the standard computer culture that has engulfed business computer life. As well, this concept could be looked at for computer setups at primary and secondary schools, especially where students may end up with “hand-me-down” equipment.

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Quatre ans de DegroupNews : et les FAI dans tout cela ? / Four Years of DegroupNews : and all the ISPs there – DegroupNews.com

 Quatre ans de DegroupNews : et les FAI dans tout cela ? – DegroupNews.com (French language article)

My Comments

Congratulations DegroupNews on 4 years of service as one of the better IT newsblogs that service France.

I have been a fan of this site and its companion DegroupTest site because of the good quality information that these sites give about the Internet-access scene in France. This includes information on the arrival of Fibre To The Home broadband service in various French cities as well as the service being used for a “people’s triple-play service” which provides receive-only VoIP telephony, basic-ADSL-tier Internet and IPTV service encompassing free-to-air digital TV for one euro a month.

For people who are considering moving to France or setting up or maintaining that dreamy farmhouse or apartment there as a holiday house, rental property or “bolt-hole"; this site offers good quality information on the triple-play “n-box” deals offered by the main operators as well as information about whether you can get a full triple-play Internet service at the location where your property is or will be. It has also made good-quality reviews of the hardware provided by the various Internet service providers as part of their deals so one can know what to expect when signing up.

Other issues that have been touched on in this site include the way the French have handled the perceived cancer demon associated with wireless services like mobile telephony and WiFi networks; as well as their handling of the file-sharing of copyrighted works. It is worth a read whether you have a good grip of the French language or can trust a machine-translation service like translate.google.com to translate the site in to your own.

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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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