Network Media Devices Archive

Smart TV Alliance–the goal of a level playing field for connected TV

Articles

Will Smart TV Alliance challenge cable operators? | FierceCable

LG launches “universal” smart TV platform | CNET

Leading TV Makers Launch Smart TV Alliance, Provide Infrastructure For Effective Collaboration Among Smart TV Makers And App Developers | FierceCable

From the horse’s mouth

Smart TV Alliance – Website

My Comments

At the moment, there are many different connected-TV platforms out there offered by different hardware-manufacturers for use with their “smart-TV” sets and video peripherals.

This provides key challenges for both content creators and video-hardware companies alike. Content creators would be required to work towards creating their interactive content and service-to-TV front ends for each smart-TV platform and, in some cases, this would require negotiation with the platform owner ie the video-hardware manufacturer for them to develop for that platform.

Similarly, there is a higher cost of entry for companies who haven’t established a “smart-TV” platform of their own. This especially applies to those who make TVs, Blu-Ray players and video peripherals for multiple brands on an “OEM” or “ODM” basis or who focus on certain aspects of their device’s design like a European TV maker offering premium TVs that excel in picture and sound quality or a computer-technology name offering network media players.

What has now just happened with LG and TP-Vision; who are represented by the Philips TV nameplate, is that they have started a “Smart TV Alliance”. This is an industry association open to broadcasters, pay-TV providers, video-hardware manufactures and software developers who want to create a level playing field for the connected-video marketplace.

They even targeted the pay-TV industry so that this industry doesn’t have to focus its activity around set-top-box infrastructure which has a high capital-expenditure cost.

Issues that have to be raised include a standard SDK and codebase for applications, encouraging the support for standard network-connected and local-connected peripheral-device classes as well as support for industry-standard broadcast-broadband TV arrangements. This, along with home-network integration, could be worked out using one or more reference implementations for these sets.

Similarly, the Smart TV Alliance could work out issues concerning “multi-box” setups like home-theatre setups and Blu-Ray players as well as network setups like network DVRs and smartphone / TV viewing arrangements.

Such an association can open the path to a critical mass for connected-TV applications such as IPTV channel directories, multi-screen synchronous viewing and video-on-demand services.

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Product Review–Kingston Wi-Drive mobile NAS

Introduction

I am reviewing the Kingston Wi-Drive mobile network-attached storage unit which works in a similar manner to the Seagate GoFlex Satellite. This is where the mobile NAS works as an access point and storage device for a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet based on the iOS or Android platforms. The mobile clients require the use of an app available from their platform’s app store to be able to function properly.

16Gb 32Gb 64Gb
Recommended Retail Price AUD$69 AUD$139 AUD$223

 

Kingston Wi-Drive mobile network-attached storage

Class Mobile Network-Attached Storage
Storage 16Gb solid-state drive
Extra-cost variants
32Gb or 64Gb solid-state drive
Host Interface USB 2.0
Network Interface 802.11g/n WPA2 WPS-PIN wireless – access point
Supports routing to another 802.11g/n wireless network
Network File transfer protocols HTTP, use of Android or iOS app

 

The unit iteself

Kingston Wi-Drive and Android smartphone

The Kingston Wi-Drive is just about the same size as one of the smartphones it serves

The Kingston Wi-Drive is a small glossy box about the size of a smartphone and runs from its own rechargeable battery when it is functioning as a wireless NAS. This is charged through the USB port, which is also used to connect the Wi-Drive to a computer for transferring files in and out.

When this unit is connected to a computer, it is presented to the host as two logical drives. One is a CD-ROM drive for the unit’s firmware and other essential files while the other is the user storage space. The file transfer speed is typical for a USB 2.0 device which I noticed when I transferred a batch of music files to it to assess multimedia reliability and USB transfer behaviour.

Kingston Wi-Drive USB data and power port

USB socket for connecting to desktop computers or charging the Wi-Drive

On the other hand, the way the Wi-Drive uses the two logical volumes is a limitation if you want to do something like connect it to a media player that has a USB socket. Some of these devices expect a USB memory key which presents itself as one logical volume to be connected.

Network use

The Kingston Wi-Drive NAS presents itself as an access-point for the mobile device, but has the ability to work as a wireless router between an existing Wi-Fi network segment and the network segment it creates. It uses a weird routing setup which is dissimilar to the typical wireless router where you don’t have the ability to pass through ports between client devices and the NAS.

As far as discovering files via the network, it presents a mobile Web page or uses a client app available for the iOS platform or the Android platform to view the files in an interface-native way. The current iteration of the iOS app works in a read-only manner where you can just view files rather than offloading your iPhone’s files to it.

The Wi-Fi functionality works properly with multimedia in the way that it can stream without any jittering or similar problems, which would be important when it comes to playing music or video files. I have observed this with the Wi-Drive loaded with a bunch of MP3s and it streaming to my Samsung Galaxy S Android smartphone via the Wi-Fi link.

The Wi-Drive can work in its network capacity if it isn’t connected to a computer as a USB storage device. This means that it can be connected to a USB battery charger, self-powered USB hub, high-capacity external battery pack or similar device to charge its battery or avoid compromising its battery runtime. It is something I have done with this Wi-Drive where I connected it to a high-capacity external battery pack that I use for my phone so it can run for a longer time.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Kingston Wi-Drive could benefit from some improvements as far as network functionality goes.

The network setup routine could work well with a proper WPS push-button method when used with Windows 7 laptops or Android mobile devices. It can then create a secure wireless segment out of the box with these devices without the user falling to the default open-network setup which makes the device’s content vulnerable.

Then , it could be able to work as a Wi-Fi client so that it can share its file resources to an existing Wi-Fi network rather than the network it creates. This can be useful if you are using a “MiFi” router as an existing edge for a mobile WiFi network and you want to simply make files available to that network segment, or simply load this device with files from computers on your home network.

It could subsequently benefit from SMB/CIFS network-file-transfer support using Samba. This means that computers running most desktop operating systems like Windows, MacOS X or Linux can discover the NAS and transfer files to and from it like you can with a regular NAS. This could then make the Wi-Drive a useful wireless file-transfer point for a small mobile network.

Similarly, the Wi-Drive could have native support for UPnP Discovery and DLNA Network Media Server functionality. The former function can allow a Windows XP, Vista or 7 computer to discover it and have quick access to the user interface. The latter function can then allow it to be a mobile media server for WiFi enabled media devices like Internet radios that support this functionality and are used “in the field”.

This is important if we move towards Wi-Fi-enabled car-audio equipment and you want to use this as the equivalent of that old glovebox full of tapes or CDs.

Conclusion

Primarily, I would see the Kingston Wi-Drive as a USB flash-drive storage for use with a regular computer. But it also works well as a network-based “file-pickup” for laptops and mobile devices.

If the software was worked further, the Wi-Drive, like other mobile NAS devices, could serve a greater purpose. As well, I would like to see Kingston innovate rather than imitate Seagate.

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Product Review–Western Digital WDTV Live (2011 version)

Introduction

Previously, I reviewed the 2008 version of the Western Digital WDTV Live network media player and found that there are some areas where it could be improved on. Now I have been offered the latest iteration of this network media player for review and this review will be an interesting exercise to compare it to the previous model.

Western Digital WDTV Live network media player - 2011 version

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$149

Functions

Online functions will change as the device’s platform evolves and will vary by country.

Internet Radio TuneIn Radio (RadioTime), Spotify
Internet Photo Picasa
Internet TV YouTube, Vimeo
Interactive Services Facebook
Network Media UPnP AV / DLNA, SMB
Stored Memory USB Mass-Storage

 

Western Digital WDTV Live network media player connections - 2011 model

Connections

Output
Audio Line output 3.5mm AV jack
Digital Audio output PCM / Bitstream via Toslink optical or HDMI
Video Line output 3.5mm AV jack
Video HDMI output Yes
Network
Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Yes

 

The media player itself

Western Digital WDTV Live network media players - comparison between generations

WDTV Live network media players - earlier version below 2011 version

The current edition of the Western Digital WDTV network media player is the similar size to the previous-generations of this network media device but is finished in a newer style with an obvious infrared-remote receiver and an upfront USB socket for memory keys and hard disks. It doesn’t have the “book-style” shape as the previous model and is pitched as a unit to go with a cluster of consumer-electronics equipment.

Connectivity

The WDTV Live’s audio-video connections are similar to the previous model except that there isn’t the component video output jack. This is meant to assume that this device will work with the flat-screen TVs that have the HDMI connection or the legacy CRT TVs and video projectors that use the composite video connection for their external video devices. You still get a breakout cable with 3 RCA plugs on the end so you can connect this device to most of these TVs, in a similar way as you would with most smartphones and some digital cameras.The previous version of this device was a “Wi-Fi ready” device in that it required the user to purchase an additional USB Wi-Fi network adaptor dongle and plug it in to the unit. This time, the WDTV Live comes with the Wi-Fi network adaptor integrated in to the unit and is how I tested the unit.Front view of current model and earlier model

The Wi-Fi connectivity is set up for 802.11g/n wireless networks and supports wireless routers that implement consumer and small-business security methods i.e. WEP and WPA(2)-PSK, including WPS quick-setup routines. The latter can be started from the TV screen through the WDTV Live’s setup menu.It is still sensitive enough for most interactive-TV applications and standard-definition viewing but I would recommend using the Ethernet connection with a HomePlug AV adaptor (if necessary) for better and more reliable throughput.

User Interface

Western Digital WDTV Live remote control - 2011 model

Remote control

The menu structure and user interface was more like an XBox 360 with recent firmware than the previous model’s interface which reminded me of the XrossBar interface used in Sony’s connected consumer electronics. Here, this interface was able to still work well even with legacy CRT TVs because of having the selected option in the centre and brought up.

It also used the “coloured function buttons” on the remote control which is the trend for consumer video equipment. Here this was used for applying filters or changing list orders for content and other lists. This is compared to the user using a D-pad to do all the control on this device which was the case with the previous model.

Applications

I have tried some of the services that come with the system and have noticed that YouTube comes with two user interfaces. One feature that I liked with this YouTube application was that it was able to cater for multiple users. This meant that it held the Google usernames of previous users in memory so different users can log in to their personal user profile and is a step in the right direction.

As far as the Facebook app is concerned, it is totally broken in that it can’t show the photos that are part of the social-media service. You don’t even see the profile pictures for your Facebook Friends, which makes for a disappointing experience with this device. You could see the text on the various Walls or Feeds that you subscribe to and post text-based comments but that’s all.

Most other photo and video applications work as required and the streamed videos and audio content come through smoothly. This is even though I was using it on an older “classic” TV set.

UPnP AV / DLNA

The UPnP AV / DLNA experience that the WDTV Live provides  is still the same as the previous models in that when it comes to photo and video content, it’s slow to load off the network. You can still “pull” content down from your MediaServer device like your NAS using the remote control and the on-screen user interface but the WDTV Live doesn’t work well when pictures or video content is “pushed” to it under the control of a control point.

This could be improved with read-ahead caching and proper handling of queue lists which would be important for this class of device. Once this is ironed out, it could make the WDTV Live media player become a cost-effective tool for network-based content playback including digital signage for the small business.

Limitations and Points of improvement

One main limitation with the WDTV Live family is that it doesn’t support any of the catch-up TV / video-on-demand services that are currently available for the Australian and New Zealand markets like ABC’s iView or the Plus7 service. I have seen other devices including Sony’s BDP-S380 offer this kind of functionality which would bring these services to how they should be enjoyed – relaxing on the couch and watching on the big screen TV.

But personally I would like to see the device’s software and hardware re-engineered for better network and Internet performance. This was also confirmed to me by a close friend who bought the same device and found it didn’t perform as well as it should.

As well, Western Digital could make the next or subsequent generation of this device part of a DLNA-driven multi-room PVR setup for broadcast TV. Here, they could use a box with a hard disk for recording TV shows from a cluster of ATSC / DVB-T front-end tuners using an electronic programme guide. As well, this box is managed by any device compliant with UPnP AV version 4 such as next-generation WDTV Live boxes, allowing for scheduling of TV programmes and bookmarking (shift between viewing locations) amongst other functions.

Conclusion

At the moment, I wouldn’t really recommend the WDTV Live in its present incarnation and would like to see the arrival of cost-effective video-based network media players that have access to the full plethora of network media services and work responsively and properly for the DLNA Home Media Network whether under “pushed” or “pulled” conditions.

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Buyer’s Guide–Component Network Media Adaptors

Introduction

Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor

Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor

There was a trickle of component network media adaptors which provide media playback from the Internet or home network to an existing audio-video system but this trickle has now become a flood over the past few years with equipment being offered at varying functionality and cost points.

For video content, most of these devices including some of the current-model Blu-Ray players may offer “over-the-top” TV services to existing TV equipment and this may avoid the need to buy a “smart TV” for this kind of content. This would appeal to those of us who would rather spend money on equipping our home theatres with a video projector or top-notch high-performing LCD TV rather than buying a “smart TV” to keep up with the Joneses. Similarly, these devices can expose a secondary TV like the one located in the secondary lounge area or master bedroom to the plethora of online content.

Similarly, you may want to invest in an audio-based network media player so you can enjoy Internet radio or music held on the network-attached storage through the hi-fi system. This is becoming more so as high-grade audio files of classic and contemporary albums are being made available for sale and file-based audio content has now achieved hi-fi credentials.

What are these devices

A component network media adaptor like the Western Digital WDTV Live is designed to connect to existing audio and video equipment and show network-derived content on such equipment. Of course, they will work as a gateway to some Internet-hosted media services like IPTV / video-on-demand or Internet-radio services; and a few may work as a terminal for popular interactive Internet services like the Social Web.

If the manufacturer keeps investing in the device’s platform, there may be the ability for newer content services to be added to an existing device. This typically is being achieved through a continual firmware update or an app store that works in a similar vein to a mobile platform’s app store.

 

Sony BDP-S380 Network-enabled Blu-Ray player

Sony BDP-S380 Network-enabled Blu-Ray player

Some of these adaptor devices also have functionality for access to legacy media like a radio or TV broadcast tuner and/or an optical disk player. An example of this is the Sony BDP-S380 Blu-Ray player which I had reviewed. But these devices also have a USB port, iPod dock and / or memory card slot so that content held on any of these locations can be played through the device. Similarly, the Microsoft XBox 360 and the Sony PS3 games consoles are able to serve as component network media adaptors as well as satisfying marathon TV games sessions.

A selection of these devices have an integrated hard disk and are able to work also as a media server. Some of them may allow you to add the media files by “ripping” from supported optical discs or recording broadcast material from an integrated tuner as well as accepting the content from the network or USB memory keys in a similar vein to the typical network-attached storage device.

Two main classes

NAD C446 Media Tuner

NAD c446 Network Media Tuner

There are two main classes of these component devices and the class they fall in to is based on the content they are designed to reproduce.

Video-optimised

A video-optimised network media adaptor is designed primarily to reproduce video or still-image content on an attached TV or projector.

Key identifiers for this class of device include the presence of video connectors for a display device. These are typically HDMI, component or composite sockets alongside the audio sockets.

Another identifier is that there is a very small display on the unit itself which only shows content running time, or no display at all. The user is expected to operate the device using the remote control and looking at the attached video display device for visual feedback. This is common with very-low-end DVD players that don’t have a track/time display and I once saw one of these players in operation at a party and the hosts had the TV on so they know which tracks to play on a CD.

Of course, if they have a legacy media source, it will typically be something like a DVD/ Blu-Ray player or a digital-TV tuner. The online services available to this device would typically be the IPTV / video-on-demand / advanced-TV services and it may also work as a terminal for video-conferencing (with an add-on camera), interactive TV or the Social Web.

Audio-optimised

Linn Majik DS network preamplifier

Linn Majik DS network preamplifier

An audio-optimised network media device is designed primarily to reproduce audio content, especially music.

These devices have no video connections at all or they may use any such connections for a secondary purpose. It is augmented by the device having a display and controls on its front panel for selecting and playing content or a remote control with an LCD or OLED screen as its primary control surface. This means that the device won’t be dependent on the use of an external video display for its operation.

If the device supports legacy content, the will use either a radio broadcast tuner and / or a CD / SACD player. They will also have access to audio-based Internet content sources like one of the Internet-radio directories like vTuner, Pandora or Last.FM.

What to look for

Ethernet connectivity

A component network media adaptor should have an Ethernet connection in order to provide for reliable playback of high-quality network and online content via Ethernet or HomePlug AV. You may get away with Wi-Fi wireless for Internet radio, CD-quality audio content, still images or standard-definition video content.

UPnP AV / DLNA

As well, the device should support UPnP AV / DLNA functionality. The basic level of support for this functionality is to find and play media held on DLNA media servers using the device’s control surface. On the other hand, a better-equipped device is able to play content that you push to it from another UPnP AV / DLNA control point like a lot of smartphone media-control software such as TwonkyMobile.

It also allows your device to be future-proof and is of importance whenever you look towards running specialist media-server equipment such as network PVRs on your home network.

Internet-media services

Most low-end video-optimised equipment will support fewer Internet-video services but the mainstream-priced equipment from the big brands will offer access to the popular TV services in your territory like the catch-up-TV services and the big-time video-on-demand services like Netflix.

If a device has access to online interactive services like Facebook or Picasa, only one person will be able to operate their online service on the device at a time. This functionality may just be useful for showing pictures held on the user’s online-service account but activities like updating the status comment on the service or simply logging in may be very difficult. This is due to the limited user interface that these devices offer as I have previously talked about.

Devices complementing each other

Some of these network-media adaptor devices can complement each other. For example, you may use a newer adaptor that provides access to newer content services while you have an older adaptor that the manufacturers have given up on still able to provide some of the online and network-sourced media that you are after.

Similarly, you could use an audio-optimised network media adaptor for playing radio and music sources while you have an Internet-enabled TV or video-optimised network media player coming in handy for image and video content.

Conclusion

The component network-media adaptor, whether in the form of a Blu-Ray player, set-top box or network-enabled tuner, can expose existing audio-video equipment to the world of online or network-hosted entertainment content.

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Buyers’ Guide–Network-Attached Storage

Introduction

Netgear ReadyNAS

Netgear ReadyNAS as a music server

A new class of hardware has been brought about by the networked home and small office environment. This is in the form of the network-attached storage device which works simply as a hard disk that is attached to the small network, sharing its resources using common network protocols.

Description

A network-attached storage device or NAS is an appliance that connects to your home or small business network via Ethernet to serve as a communal storage device for that network. This is instead of purposing an older computer for this role of a common storage device.

One main advantage of these devices is that these devices don’t demand as much power as a regular desktop computer running as a server and they make less noise than the typical ATX desktop tower computer. Therefore they need less power to run and don’t need to have a constantly-running fan. This also leads to a device that is quiet and energy-efficient, values that are being asked of in this era.

The devices are typically very small, often ranging in size from a pair of cassette tapes through a small book to the size of a kitchen toaster for the small-business units.This means that they don’t take up much desk space and can even be hidden behind other computing devices, which also puts them in the good books with those who value aesthetics. This small size also wins favour with those of us who want a data storage to serve multiple devices but that can be quickly shifted to a location at a moment’s notice; as I have seen for myself at the Australian Audio and AV Show with a few of these devices working as DLNA-compliant media servers for demonstration hi-fi equipment. Infact the pictures of the Netgear ReadyNAS and the Seagate GoFlex Home NAS units are images of fully-operational units serving this aforementioned role, with the Seagate single-disk unit being photographed on the floor and it being slightly higher than the skirting board.

Disk Storage

Single-Disk NAS

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS as music server

Seagate GoFlex Home single-disk NAS

Cheaper consumer-focused NAS units are typically equipped with one hard disk with a few of these units like the Seagate GoFlex Home being a network bridge for a removeable hard-disk module that is part of the manufacturer’s modular-hard-disk system.

This also includes the portable NAS units like the Seagate GoFlex Satellite that are their own Wi-Fi network and are intended to work as a data offloading device for tablet computers.

But on the other hand, there are some single-disk NAS units like the QNAP range that can excel as highly-capable network storage hubs. In the case of the QNAP, these units are able work as full-flight Web servers suitable for serving intranets or “proving” Web-site prototypes; or pull off other advanced network-storage tricks.

Multi-Disk NAS

On the other hand, the better units will support two or more hard disks which work the installed hard disks as a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) that facilitate either extra capacity, higher data throughput or increased fault tolerance.These multi-disk units can be set up to have two hard disks of equal capacity “mirroring” each other as a safeguard if one disk fails or to facilitate high-throughput low-latency data transfer. On the other hand,the disks can be seen simply as a large volume of data. Units which support three or more disk drives can support disk setups that combine failsafe data storage and increased data capacity.

Some multi-disk units like the Netgear ReadyNAS units have the ability to support in-place volume expansion. This is where you can add extra hard drives to the NAS while it is running in order to build up redundant failover storage or increase system capacity. But other systems will require the NAS to be taken out of service if you intend to evolve the multi-disk RAID volume.

User-installed disks and upgrade options

Most of these NAS units have the hard disk integrated, which is at a known capacity whereas others, commonly known as BYOD enclosures, come simply as an enclosure where you buy the hard disk separately and install it yourself. A variety of multi-disk units do come with a single hard disk but you upgrade them to the RAID resilience or extra capacity by installing a hard disk in an empty disk bay. This kind of installation typically can be done without the need for tools in all of the recent implementations.

Of course, the cheapest single-disk NAS units don’t allow you to upgrade or replace the hard disk yourself, so you have to replace the unit if that hard disk fails or you outgrow the hard disk capacity. On the other hand, the better units permit the user to upgrade or replace the hard disk, thus providing for a long device lifespan.

External connection ports

A lot of NAS units have one or more USB ports so you can copy content off a thumbdrive or external hard disk, use an external hard disk as extra storage or a backup device for the NAS or use other peripherals. Some of them may use an eSATA port for the same purpose, especially to add storage or maintain a backup device.

It is also worth knowing that these ports may be used as a way of extending the functionality of the NAS devices through the use of various device classes; especially if subsequent firmware upgrades take place. Example applications include working as a print server for a USB-only printer to a camera server for a Webcam.

Functions

Network-central backup location

Most network-attached storage devices typically provide the ability to be a network-central backup device for all of the computers in that network. This is typically facilitated through manufacturer-supplied software or backup utilities that are part of a regular-computing operating system such as Windows Backup or Apple Time Machine.

Network-central file storage and drop-off point

They also work as a data-drop-off point where users can “park” redundant data or data being moved between computers and hard drives. This is facilitated using standard SMB/CIFS, FTP or HTTP machine-to-machine data transfer protocols which these operating systems can support natively. The computer may run a manufacturer-supplied “assistance” shell to help with locating the device or linking it to the computer.

In the same extent, the NAS may work as a shared data library for software and data that is needed across the network. This would include utility software, device drivers, updates and patches as well as documents of common interest.

It is being extended to mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets through the use of manufacturer-supplied or third-party network-file-transfer apps for the common mobile-computing platforms like iOS or Android. I have covered this topic in an article about moving data between your NAS and your smartphone.

Media server

This now covers the ability to share media files like digital images, music and video files to every computer and DLNA-compliant media device across the network.  This is facilitated through an integrated DLNA media server for standards-compliant devices and an iTunes-compatible server for iTunes media managers including Apple iOS devices.

But some manufacturers are targeting some of their consumer-focused NAS units at the distribution of media files across the network. These will typically have software that provides for low-latency transfer of audio and video content as well as an improved DLNA media server. Some of these DLNA media servers may support content-metadata aggregation where they index all media held on every DLNA server in the network and become the single point of reference for that media.

Some of the NAS units like RipNAS, ZoneRipper or Naim UnitiServe may even have an integrated optical drive to allow you to “rip” CDs to the hard disk or allow you to connect an optical drive to their USB port so you don’t have to power up a computer to “rip” new CDs to your media collection.

Remote access and the personal cloud

A new capability that is being promoted by NAS vendors such as Western Digital and Iomega is remote access, commonly marketed as a “private cloud” or “personal cloud”. This requires the NAS to have server software that exposes its location to a cloud service on the Internet and manage access to the data from Internet-based users. It works alongside client software available for regular or mobile operating systems to enable users to transfer the data outside their home network.

Variants of this software, such as what Iomega offer, may support peer-to-peer data transfer between multiple NAS units installed at different locations. This could cater for multi-site content replication or simple offsite data backup requirements.

Platform NAS systems

An increasing number of high-end NAS units have the equivalent of an app store, where the manufacturer can provide free or paid file-handling programs that load on to these devices. These can include a simple photo-viewing intranet app, a DVR for video-surveillance apps, an email server or a download / Bittorrent manager amongst other things.

Some systems like the QNAP units deliver every function in one “hit” when the user purchases the NAS devices whereas others just maintain the “app-store” or “download-point” for users to add the functions on at a later time.

What should you get

A single-disk NAS can serve a typical household well as a data drop-off point and media server. It can also augment a small-business’s server by fulfilling low-risk tasks such as DLNA media-server functionality thus keeping the server for business-critical needs. The high-end varieties of these single-disk NAS units like what QNAP sells would work well for those of us who want more functionality such as a Web-development workbench or a DVR for an IP-based video-surveillance system.

If you end up with more devices in your home and you want to be sure of continuity or expandability, a multi-drive system would fit your bill. You may go for a multi-disk system that has one hard disk installed so you can upgrade to resiliency or extra capacity at a later time.

Small businesses should consider a good multi-disk MAS that has what it takes to support increased resiliency. In some cases, a small business may operate the multi-disk NAS as a backup or file-archive device for their site’s main operational server; as well as a media server or similar application.

It is also essential to look at an offsite backup option for these units, such as the ability to connect a USB external hard drive for the duration of a backup job or the ability to backup to another NAS or cloud service via the Internet.

Mandatory features

For basic functionality, the NAS should support the SMB/CIFS and NFS network file protocols and have an integrated DLNA and iTunes media server. The computer-NAS backup options can be hosted with manufacturer-supplied software bout should work with Windows Backup or Apple Time Machine options.

I would also prefer that the NAS supports a continual software upgrade path for its functions. This is where the manufacturer keeps the firmware up to date as new standards come about, thus opening up the door to newer functionality and better performance.

The connection to the networks should be at least one Gigabit Ethernet port in order to support higher data throughput. You may not get this throughput with your existing router but if you upgrade to a newer router that has Gigabit Ethernet ports, you will end up with significantly higher throughput which would benefit applications like movies or high-quality music files.

Conclusion

Once you have a network-attached storage device in place, you will never know what capabilities these devices will open up to the connected home and small business. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a backup location for your computers or a media server or just simply a “file parking lot” for your home network.

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What is this private cloud functionality being touted with NAS devices?

Netgear ReadyNAS - the heart of the personal cloud

The NAS as the heart of the personal cloud

I am seeing increasing reference to the “cloud” concept in marketing literature for consumer and small-business network-attached storage devices by their vendors. It is typically talked of in the concept of a “personal cloud” surrounding the NAS device and is used across the product range.

Examples of this include Western Digital’s My Book Live NAS, PogoPlug USB file servers and Iomega’s “Cloud Edition” NAS range.

What it is about

This feature is primarily about an easy-to-establish remote-access system for the NAS device so you can gain access to the files on this device from the Internet. The manufacturers tout this as an alternative to storing data on public-cloud file-storage services like Dropbox, iCloud, Windows SkyDrive or setting up private FTP or HTTP access to the data-storage facility your ISP or Web host may provide.

It is based on the NAS having vendor-supplied software to link with a cloud-based service that makes it easy to locate on the Internet even if you use a regular dynamic-IP Internet service. The vendor may supply desktop and mobile software to facilitate this discovery and / or establish a user-subdomain or directory name that is part of their “remote-access” service domain.

Of course, your data still resides on the NAS with the vendor’s service cloud being the Internet-side discovery link for the device. As well, all of these personal clouds use encryption of a similar standard to what is used to secure your Internet-banking session.

This idea has been existing for over the last few years with vendors providing their simplified remote-access solutions for their NAS products but they are using the current emphasis on cloud-computing technology as a marketing tool for this functionality. This is in a similar vein to how online services have been marketed using the cloud term even though they use this concept.

How can it be taken further

Currently this cloud concept is being exploited further with smartphones and tablets by the NAS vendors providing free data-access apps on their platforms’ app stores. Here the apps allow the users to use the mobile device’s user interface to transfer the desired data between the NAS and the device’s local storage. Some of us would see it as a way to offload picture data from the smartphone to the DLNA-enabled NAS or pull down important data to the smartphone or tablet.

Netgear is even working with Skifta to provide remote access to media content on its ReadyNAS units and allow a PC or Android phone to share the content from the remote ReadyMAS device with DLNA-compliant AV equipment.

The Iomega solution is implementing the Personal Cloud concept as a backup and peer-to-peer replication setup; as well as a remote-access method. But as more manufacturers get on the bandwagon, there may be the issue of providing a vendor-independent “personal cloud” in order to encourage competition and innovation.

What should my network have

The network has to have a router that is set up for UPnP IGD functionality at its network-Internet “edge” for the cloud-based remote access to run properly. This will apply to most retail and ISP-supplied routers, but you may have to make sure this function is properly enabled.

You don’t need to have a fixed IP address or a “DynDNS” program running on your equipment to have this personal cloud operate because the vendor-supplied software on the NAS takes care of the location and access function. But it should have a reliable Internet connection and you may want to put the NAS and network-Internet “edge” equipment on a uninterruptable power supply to assure high availability even with rough power supply conditions. It may be worth reading this article that I wrote about keeping “sanity” on your home network during periods of power unreliability if you want to keep that personal cloud alive.

But avoid the temptation to use a Wi-Fi wireless connection to connect a NAS to your router, even if the NAS does have Wi-Fi connectivity. Instead, connect it to your router with an Ethernet cable, so you have reliable operation.

Conclusion

In the context of the consumer or small-business network-attached storage system, the “cloud” feature is simply being used as a way to describe a simplified remote-access environment for these devices.

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Now DLNA is officially part of the WiFi Direct personal network

Article

WiFi Direct and DLNA get friendly, make streaming media a little bit easier — Engadget

My Comments

Just lately, the media-streaming use case has been brought to the WiFi Direct personal-area network as a competitor to the Bluetooth A2DP / AVRCP media-streaming applications.

There is an important fact that any WiFi-capable DLNA device could be a client device in this network setup as long as the host computer or smartphone is WiFi-Direct capable and running DLNA-compliant media management software. This could mean that your Intel WiDi laptop could be set to play video on that Samsung Smart TV or music on the Sony CMT-MX750Ni without needing to use an established WiFi router or access point.

What I see about WiFi Direct is that it is effectively being run as an alternative to Bluetooth for the personal-area network or standards-based peripheral link. But I am not sure whether it will succeed due to heavy emphasis by industry on the use of Bluetooth for this application and little consumer promotion of WiFi Direct capabilities.

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Freebox Révolution–the standard to measure a triple-play service by

Articles (French language – best resources)

Dossier -Test du Freebox Server | DegroupNews

Freebox Revolution – Test du Freebox Player | DegroupNews

From the horse’s mouth

Freebox Home Page – Free (France – French language)

My comments

Typically, the kind of equipment supplied to consumers by telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers for “triple-play”or similar Internet services has typically been drab in design and functionality. This is typically to work to the lowest-common denominator with both price, functionality and style.

The situation is very different in France where there is a lively competitive market for “triple-play”Internet service. Most urban or regional centres in this country are “dégroupée” for multiple competing ADSL-service operators. Here, these operators have access to the customers’ telephone lines as cable without paying France Télécom for a dial-tone service. There is also a steady rollout of fibre-optic service by the competing service providers for next-generation broadband Internet, with an overlaying requirement to provide competitive access to the ducts and poles for the fibre-optic service.

One of these major players is Free who have established a triple-play service for many years. Their latest iteration of the “Freebox” is now a benchmark for anyone offering a similar setup, whether in France or anywhere else.

I have previously covered the Freebox Révolution  in HomeNetworking01.info when a recent firmware update was released that integrated it with Apple’s ecosystem. As well, I have researched many French and English-language resources to learn more about this system.

The Freebox Révolution system

This system, like other triple-play setups offered in France, comprises of an Internet-gateway device, known as a “box”, and a set-top-box, known as a “décodeur”. These units have typically been interlinked by an Ethernet cable or user-supplied HomePlug kit, but is connected through a pair of “Freeplugs” which combine a power supply and a HomePlug-AV-Ethernet bridge in one box.

The units are a statement of industrial design in a similar way that Bang & Olufsen equipment are still a statement in this regard for consumer audio-video equipment. Both the Internet-gateway device and the set-top box have been designed by Phillippe Starck, known for extraordinary designs like the Parrot Zikmu network-enabled speakers or some of the LaCie external hard drives or network-attached storage systems.

Internet Gateway Device (Freebox Server)

This device consists of a broadband router, network-attached storage, VoIP ATA with DECT base station and audio player in one box.

It has a dual-WAN interface for either an ADSL2 service or an FTTH fibre-optic service. But the LAN functionality is one of the hallmarks of a cutting-edge device. It has 4 Gigabit Ethernet switched ports for Ethernet client devices as well as an access point for an 802,11n three-stream 450Mbps Wi-Fi segment. I mentioned previously that this unit also supports a HomePlug AV segment through the use of the supplied Freeplug adaptors. The Wi-Fi access point can also work as a separate “hotspot segment” for other Free subscribers.

The VoIP functionality works with an integrated analog-telephony adaptor and a DECT base station that you can associate 8 DECT cordless handsets with. These will provide full functionality with CAT-iQ DECT handsets.

The 250Gb NAS can work with the regular file-protocol suspects (CIFS, FTP, HTTP) but can work as a DLNA media server. It also works as a “staging post” for FTP, HTTP and BitTorrent downloads, the latter function being described as a “seedbox”. The recent firmware upgrades also implemented Apple TimeMachine support for incremental MacOS data backups. Of course, there is USB connectivity for 2 devices as well as eSATA connectivity for an external hard disk.

There are integrated speakers for playing media held on the hard disk, the Internet or an Apple AirPlay network but you can use it as an elementary amplified-speakers setup by connecting a Discman or iPod to its AUDIO IN jack. Of course you can play the music through better powered speakers or an amplifier using the AUDIO OUT jack.

This router is totally UPnP to the hilt with UPnP Internet-Gateway-Device for hands-free setup with Skype, games, MSN Messenger and the like; as well as being a UPnP AV / DLNA media server. Free could do better by integrating something like TwonkyMedia which can allow content discovery on metadata other than the file-system tree.

Let’s not forget that the Freebox Server is IPv6-ready as expected for a future-proof device. This is being augmented by the fact that ADSL Free subscribers in zone dégroupée aras or FTTH Free subscribers can have an IPv6 connection now.

Set-Top Box (Freebox Player)

This unit has an integrated Blu-Ray player with Blu-Ray 3D support (after new firmware added) as well as a digital-TV / IPTV set-top box / PVR. It connects to the TV via an HDMI connector or a SCART cable, both offering that “single-pipe” connectivity between the Freebox and the TV. Of course, there are connectivity options for other audio-video setups like SPDIF optical; and you can connect USB peripherals like SD card readers to this unit for direct viewing.

It is controlled via a gyroscopic remote control but has a supplied game controller as an alternate input device. Of course, you can connect a USB keyboard and mouse to it as extra input devices or control it from your iPad using the Freebox Connect app.

One drawcard in my opinion is that it is a fully-fledged Internet terminal with access to an app store, namely the FreeStore app store. This allows you to download games and similar “lean-back” apps; as well as view the Web or check email from your couch. Just of late, this set-top box has had YouTube support baked in to its latest firmware update.

You can now use the Freebox Player and its associated sound system or television’s speaker to play material from your iTunes software or iOS device using AirPlay. This at the moment applies to audio content only.As well, you can discover and play content held on DLNA-compliant media servers on your network including the Freebox Server’s hard disk.

Plans and Pricing

You can equip that French home or apartment with this device for € 29.90 per month. This gives you inclusive unlimited telephone telephone calls to standard phone services in most countries (Europe, Francophone countries, US, Australia, NZ, etc); and mobiles in France.

The Internet service would be up to 28Mbps while you have access to most basic TV service. Pay €1.99/month extra for 185 additional TV channels while you can service another room with Free’s TV service for €4.99/month extra with a simple set-top box or another of this Freebox Player for €9.99/month extra.

Existing Free subscribers can upgrade for €199.99 less €30 for each year they have been with Free.

The prices are obtained from Free’s latest tariff charts available on their site and would appear to be ridiculously low for people who live in a country that doesn’t have a lively competitive broadband-Internet market.

Conclusion

What I see of the Freebox Révolution is a system of equipment for a home network that is all about an Internet service provider offering a future-proof attractive cutting-edge piece of equipment rather than offering second-rate equipment to their customers.

This is primarily driven by a country who is behind a really competitive Internet service market for consumers and that the competition is driven on value rather than the cheapest price possible.

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DLNA–to become a more credible media-management standard than Apple AirPlay

Article

Apple May Lose To Android In Device-Based Media Management | Online Media Daily (MediaPost.com)

My comments

As you may already know, Apple has been promoting their AirPlay media-management ecosystem. This was initially known as AirTunes and worked with their AirPort Express plugin broadband router which can connect to speakers or a stereo amplifier for network music playback. Here, you had to use iTunes on your Macintosh (or PC) to play the audio files through this device. This function was gradually extended to iOS devices so you can then play this same media held on these devices in the same manner.

Apple have extended the concept to images and video through the use of Apple TV and licensed the AirPlay concept to other manufacturers that are approved by themselves. It has been recently demonstrated in the latest crop of iPhone TV commercials as a way of saying that “we know best”.

But there is another standard that is more “open-frame” than the Apple AirPlay system. This standard, called DLNA, has been adopted by a larger number of software and hardware manufacturers than AirPlay.

It is a standard that I have stood for because more of the industry is behind it with it working across equipment and software of different manufacture and has become a breeding ground for innovation. Here, I have seen the arrival of network-media playback equipment that works as part of the DLNA ecosystem appear at every market tier, including the premium-audio segment, with B&O offering a trendy stylish DLNA-capable network music system that puts the Sonos on notice for example. But my stance on this issue may be considered as being of concern to Apple or some of their fanbois who value the Apple-centric information-technology setup.

Equipment like the Sony CMT-MX750Ni music system or the Western Digital WDTV Live that I have previously reviewed can play media content that is “thrown to” it by software like TwonkyMobile on your tablet or smartphone. This is in a similar way that you would do with the AirPlay setup on an all-Apple system and is capable of being performed on an Android platform as well as the iOS platform.

An issue that is forgotten about in the Apple hype is that some third-party companies have written DLNA-compliant media-management software for the iOS devices and the Macintosh platform. Examples of this include PlugPlayer and recent iOS ports of TwonkyManager. As well, I known of a friend who is running NullRiver MediaLink on his iMac in order to use it as a media server for his Sony PS3 games console and he has had success with this setup.

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Product Review–Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system which is a small-form-factor CD/iPod stereo that can connect to the home network for Internet radio or DLNA-based music playback. It is equipped with a DAB+ digital-radio tuner but there is a version of this system known as the CMT-MX700Ni which doesn’t have this tuner and is available in areas that don’t have Eureka 147 DAB / DAB+  digital-radio services.

From henceforth, I am directing the comments in this review also at the Sony CMT-MX700Ni music system as well as this CMT-MX750Ni, except for any DAB digital-radio comments.

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$449.00

Functions

Analogue Radio FM radio with RDS
Digital Radio DAB+
Internet Radio vTuner Internet radio
Network Media UPnP AV / DLNA playback
UPnP AV / DLNA controlled device (network media)
CD CD player
Stored Memory USB Mass-Storage x 1
iPod / iPhone iPhone dock

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line input 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Network
Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n WPA2 WPS
Ethernet Yes

Speakers

Output Power 50 Watts (RMS) / channel 2 channels stereo
Speaker Layout 2 separate speakers Each speaker:

Back-ported bass-reflex construction
1 x 120mm Woofer
1 x 2.5cm dome Tweeter

Speaker Connections Proprietary plug connection on main unit Push-in connection terminals on speakers

 

The system itself

Setup and Connection

The CMT-MX750Ni can connect to a network either via Wi-Fi wireless or Ethernet. This allows for flexibility with wired and wireless network setups, such as working with highly-reliable Ethernet and HomePlug networks. You need to use the remote for setting up the music system on a Wi-Fi network that doesn’t use WPS push-button setup. Here, you use the numeric keypad on the remote to enter the WEP or WPA passphrase for your wireless-network segment in an SMS-style manner.

Sony has “reinvented the wheel” when determining how the speakers should be connected to the main unit. Here, they have used a proprietary Molex-style plug at the system end of the speaker cords like they have done with their DVD home theatre systems. Personally, I would prefer that they use a two-conductor 3.5mm phone plug, or the older 2-pin speaker-DIN plug, both of these connections can allow for easier-to-replace, easier-to-modify speaker connection. Infact a lot of the music systems that were sold through the 1970s and 1980s with supplied “separate-piece” speakers, such as the “detachable-speaker” boom-boxes have used either the 3.5mm phone plug, 2-pin speaker-DIN plug or RCA plug to provide “plug-in” speaker connections and these have just worked as well for plug-and-play operation.

The speakers are a typical bass-reflex two-way setup but aren’t aggressively styled. One thing I am pleased about these speakers is that they are well-built and the enclosures use an all-wood construction rather than a plastic front baffle which shows the quality behind the system.

In use

You have the ability to perform basic content-navigation tasks using the controls on the Sony CMT-MX750Ni’s front panel but you need the remote control to use this music system to the fullest. The system uses an “Inverse” LCD display as its display. This yields readable text but Sony could implement a monochrome OLED or fluorescent display rather than the LCD which makes it look “cheap”.

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system remote controlOther than that, when you operate the Sony CMT-MX700Ni or CMT-MX750Ni music systems, you find that you are operating a well-built music system. The switches and mechanisms don’t exhibit any sort of tackiness that can be noticed in a lot of bookshelf music systems. The remote control is relatively large and with it you have one-touch access to the sources and main functions as well as being able to do advanced functionality.

The FM tuner didn’t perform properly on the “pigtail” aerial that was supplied with the unit, especially as it was on the lower level of a split-level house. Here, I would recommend connecting it to a better FM aerial like an outside one if you want the radio to work properly in a difficult scenario.

This setup didn’t challenge the DAB tuner with it able to survey the DAB+ multiplexes in Melbourne and provide clear and reliable reception from any program on these multiplexes.

The CMT-750Ni and CMT-700Ni use an iPod dock that drops down from the front panel. This makes it easier to hide the dock if you are not using an iPod or iPhone with it. As well, the iPod or iPhone can lean against the front panel while plugged in without the need to use any dock adaptors. The only limitation with this is that you need to pull back a hard-to-discover latch before you can close the iPod dock.

The front-panel USB socket allows you to play music of a USB memory key, SD card adaptor or smart phone. But it is “live for power” only when system is in operation and supplies the power when you select other sources so you can charge up your Android smartphone or other USB-connected device. This situation is similarly true for the system’s iPhone dock and it could be tempting for users to dock their iPhone in this CMT-MX750Ni’s dock in order to charge even if the system is not playing. It could have the option to supply power to charge devices connected to the USB socket or iPhone dock even when the Sony music system is in standby.

When the Sony CMT-MX750Ni or CMT-MX700Ni plays Internet radio and loses the connection to the station, it doesn’t try to reconnect to the station unlike the other Internet radio products I have used. Here, it just goes back to the main menu and you have to retune to that station, and this can be annoying with over-subscribed Internet streams. Other than, the Internet radio experience works properly as best as the link can allow.

This system works as an audio device in the DLNA Home Media Network. This includes the ability to play audio content that is “pushed” to it from a DLNA-compliant control point like Windows Media Player or TwonkyMedia Controller. It serves this function properly whether you pull the content up using the unit’s control surface or push the content out using a DLNA control point.

These music systems can work in the “Party Streaming” mode where multiple Sony receivers or music systems connected to the same home network can stream the same content at the same time. The CMT-MX700Ni or CMT-MX750Ni systems can work as either a host or a client system in this aspect.

Sound Quality

There is the ability with these Sony music systems to adjust the tone of the sound system. This can only be done using the remote control and you have to press the EQ button on that controller. Here you have access to bass and treble adjustments but you can also enable a “Dynamic Sound Generator” mode using a separate button. This may add “extra bite” to some recordings but may not yield difference with other recordings and may be about providing “big speaker” sound out of small speakers.

The sound quality is typical for a high-end “micro” form-factor music system but can clip or sound “muddled” around just near the maximum volume point. I have observed this with recent popular RnB music which is tuned for a loud sound with excessive bass but It can “go loud” on recordings that weren’t tuned “loud”, although I have had the CMT-MX750Ni run at “flat” tone settings.

I even ran this system on a DAB+ broadcast of an ABC Radio National program and had noticed that the speech from the show’s presenters came through very clear, crisp and intelligible. This didn’t matter whether it was a man or woman speaking in the show.

Limitation and Points Of Improvement

The “pigtail” aerials (antennas) supplied for DAB and FM use are inadequate for reliable FM or original-specification DAB digital radio (UK, Denmark, etc). As well, these supplied antennas remind you of using the typical clock radio which has this kind of FM aerial and are out of character with this system’s class. It could do better with a “whip-style” aerial similar to what is used for the Wi-Fi network connectivity and could support “single-input” aerial setups through an option.

Other connectivity improvement that It could also benefit from include having a pair of RCA line-input connectors or a “tape-loop” set of input and output RCA connectors on the back of the system for whenever you connect a computer, tape deck or other piece of audio-equipment in a semi-permanent manner. It can also benefit from a headphone jack for private listening purposes. Similarly, it could also benefit from integrated Bluetooth A2DP functionality so it can work with phones and media players that use this medium as a way of transmitting music data.

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system iPod dock

iPod dock with fiddly latch that needs to be released to close it

I would also improve the iPod dock so that you don’t have to operate any latches to open or close the dock. As well, I would provide the ability to charge smartphones connected to the USB socket or docked in the iPhone dock while on standby as a user-selected option. This can allow the user to keep an iPhone or other smartphone “topped off” when docked or connected to the system.

Another point of improvement would be to allow the CMT-MX750Ni music system to retry Internet-radio streams if the stream it is tuned to “gives up the ghost”.

I would also like to see the Internet-media and home-network-media functionality implemented into most of Sony’s bookshelf-stereo range and / or for Sony to develop a network-connected CD receiver along the same lines as the Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver I previously reviewed.

Conclusion

I would recommend purchasing the Sony CMT-MX750Ni or CMT-MX-700Ni network-enabled music systems for use in a small room like a bedroom, den or office. It may work well for use in an apartment’s small living area.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t use this music system in situations where it is expected to fill a large room with music or play in a noisy area like a party or cafe.

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