Network Media Devices Archive

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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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011–Part 2

IFA LogoWelcome back to the second part of my report on the Internationaler Funkaustelluing 2011. In the first part, I had touched on home appliances briefly but had focused on computing technologies like smartphones, tablets, laptops and the home network.

Now I am focusing on consumer electronics which mainly is focused around digital cameras, TV and home-theatre / hi-fi technology.

Consumer Electronics

Cameras

3D is still being considered a dominant technology with some of the cameras being equipped with two lenses and sensors. As well, Samsung have also fielded a camera with two screens – one on the back and one on the front.

The camera manufacturers are releasing more of the small interchangeable-lens cameras. These are typically in the “non-SLR” style with the screw-on lens mounts. It is leading towards the appearance of more compact cameras with high-factor zoom lenses. Here, these cameras are being pitched mainly as  mainly “bridge-cameras” which exist between the “point-and-shoot” camera and the SLR camera and have many adjustable photography factors including semi-automatic and manual exposure modes.

An issue that may affect the launch of digital photography equipment at this or subsequent IFA shows is the up-and-coming Photokina photo/film/video trade shows. These shows appear in Cologne at the end of September and they are often seen as a major launchpad for anything to do with photography or videography. A valid point may be raised about whether companies with digital photo / video equipment show their equipment at both shows, launching consumer equipment in Berlin and “enthusiast” equipment (DSLRs, high-end camcorders) in Cologne.

Of course, there hasn’t been much interest in using network technology for photo and video equipment when interlinking with computer equipment.

TV and Display Technologies

There are a few key trends that are occurring concerning the television receivers being promoted at the IFA.

One is the DVB-T2 digital-TV standard which is to launch in Germany. This revision of the DVB-T terestrial digital-TV standard will provide for more HDTV with H264 video. It will also allow for advanced interactive TV (HbbTV, VoD) platforms, robust terrestrial reception as well as more services per TV channel.

3D is still a dominant technology with Toshiba and other names promoting glasses-free 3D viewing where their sets use a polarizing screen and support an ersatz 3D effect for regular content. Haier are also using a similar technology for their 3D Internet-enabled set. LG are running 3D TVs that work with cinema-style passive polarizing glasses. ,

For content, Deutsche Telekom  is providing “Entertain 3D” channels as part of their Entertain IPTV service. This requires the  Deutsche Telekom “Entertain” set-top box and access to a VDSL2 next-gen service. There will be the magazine channels as well as highlight footage from Bundesliga football (soccer) matches as well as the “usual suspects” – those popular 3D action and animation films from Hollywood.

Another key trend is Internet-driven smart TV. This is with access to the Social Web, video-on-demand / catch-up TV amongst other interactive-TV services using the home network.

Hama are releasing at this year’s IFA an Android STB with access to full Android Honeycomb service  on the TV screen. This time, the set-top is able to connect to the network via WiFi, or Ethernet.

Samsung are pushing the Social TV agenda. This allows you to view TV and chat on the Social Web at the same time with a button to press to focus on Facebook/Twitter/Google Talk chat streams or TV content. There is also the ability to use a Samsung smartphone or Galaxy Tab as the TV keyboard once you install the appropriate app. Of course, there is a Samsung TV remote that has a QWERTY keyboard and LCD display to facilitate the chat function.

Samsung have also released an app for their Android smartphones and tablets which allows the image on their Smart TVs to be shown on these devices.

Sharp have contributed to the smart-TV race with the AQUOS Net+ app subsystem for their TVs. As well Metz are showing a network-enabled 3D TV with HbbTV broadcast-broadband support and a 750Gb PVR.

There was an increased number of TVs that had the 21:9 aspect ratio being launched at this show. This aspect ration was more about a “cinema-screen” aspect ration that was often used with a lot of movies since the 1950s.

Even the projector scene is going strong at this year’s IFA.

Acer are showing the H9500BD 3D Full-HD home-theatre projector which is to be released October. This unit can work at 2000 ANSI Lumen with a 50000:1 contrast ratio. It fixes the keystone problem that often happens with projectors by using a lens-shift setup rather than digitally skewing the image; as well as a high zoom lens that permits a big image with a short throw and also has wall-colour-correction for projection to non-white-walls  It is expected to sell in Europe for €2499 recommended retail price

Sony are also launching a 3D-capable projector with a 150,000:1 contrast ratio and use of lens-shift as the keystone correction method. The big question that I have about this projector is how bright this projector is in ANSI lumens.

Canon also launched the LV8235 which is an ultra-short-throw DLP projector. Here, this projector can throw a 2-metre (80”) usable image projected with it being positioned at 32cm (1 foot) from the wall or screen.

As well, Sony had used this show to premiere a set of 3D personal video goggles. Here, these glasses show 3D video images on separate OLED screens, mainly for use with personal video players or games systems.

Home Theatre and Hi-Fi

There has been some activity concerning networked home-theatre and hi-fi equipment.

Harman-Kardon are launching a 3.1 HTIB with has an integrated 3D Blu-Ray player and uses a soundbar as its main speaker.

Loewe have used this event to launch the Solist single piece audio system. This has a CD player and access to FM and Internet radio broadcasts as far as I know. It can connect to home networks via WiFi, Ethernet or HomePlug and uses a 7.5” touch screen or Loewe Assist remote control as its control surface.

Sony have launched the SNP-M200 network media player which is the follow on from the SNP-M100, It offers 3D video support and an improved Facebook and Twitter experience. Of course, like the SNP-M100, it has the full DLNA Home Media Network credentials including being a controlled device. They also launched another Blu-Ray player in the form of the BDP-S185 which supports 3D Blu-Ray playback and access to online content.

As well, Pioneer have launched some network-enabled hi-fi equipment including a component network-audio player for use with existing hi-fi setups. Philips are using this show also to launch a Streamiun MCi8080 music system with DAB+ and Internet radio, a CD player as well as network audio. Intenso have launched their Movie Champ HD media player which is one of those media players that play off USB (or the home network). But this one can properly play 3D video in to 3D-enabled TVs.

It is also worth noting that Jarre Technologies is a newcomer to the scene of “worked” audio reproduction technologies. This firm has been set up by Jean Michel Jarre, known for setting the tone of European ambient-music with Equinoxe and Oxygene, and is now following the same path as Dr. Dre’s “Beats Audio” name. Here, they are launching their highly-powerful iPad speaker tower which can work comfortably at 10,000 watts and uses “speaker tubes” but would need a large area to perform at its best. Here, this product is all about proving Jarre Technologies metal and I wonder when there will be premium and multimedia laptop computers that have their audio subsystems tuned by Jarre Technologies on the market and who will sell these laptops.

Germany is now heading towards DAB+ digital radio broadcasting which yields an improvement over the original DAB digital-radio technology that it worked with before. Here, this technology uses AAC audio coding, allows for an increased number of broadcast services per multiplex and, from my experience with the Australian setup as I used many DAB+ enabled Internet radios on review, provides for highly-robust digital radio reception. It may be easier for set manufacturers to launch DAB+ digital radios in to this market due to them having DAB+ radios already on Australian and other DAB+ markets; and UK readers may find that their newer digital radios may be already set up for DAB+ technology even though the UK is working on “original specification” DAB radio.

Conclusion

The Internationaler Funkaustellung 2011 has reinforced the role of the networked home especially as Europe takes to the newer Internet technologies like 4G wireless broadband, IPTV and next-generation broadband service.

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Freebox Révolution–the first to be compatible with the full Apple ecosystem

 

La Freebox Révolution est compatible avec AirPlay et Time Machine – DegroupNews.com

My Comments

It is not common for Internet-gateway equipment that is typically supplied by a communications provider or ISP to support any of the protocols that are peculiar to Apple’s ecosystem. Typically a person who wanted a device to work tightly with their Macintosh or iOS device had to use a network device supplied by Apple or an Apple-approved third-party vendor.

Increasingly most network-attached storage devices started to support iTunes server functionality or Apple Time Machine backup functionality through the use of open-source components that were enabled through the device’s Web-based dashboard. But the AirPlay playback function has been based on code that Apple controls and devices had to have Apple approval in order to compete with the Apple TV device as a media player.

Now Free, one of the telecommunications carriers in France’s lively and competitive “triple-play” Internet market have integrated their latest Freebox Révolution customer equipment with the Apple ecosystem. This functionality is supplied for free as part of the latest firmware update for the Freebox Révolution router and set-top box.

At the moment, the AirPlay playback functionality is available through the Freebox Server’s integrated speakers or an audio device connected to the Freebox Server’s line output. The Time Machine network backup is done by using the Freebox Server’s integrated hard disk.

There are some other slight improvements for the Freebox Player in the form of  improved MKV compatibility and UTF-8 subtitle handling. But this device could really support the AirPlay functionality better because it would ordinarily be hooked up to the TV and a good-quality home-theatre system. As well, if Apple allows, it could support AirPlay video playback from from a Macintosh computer or an iOS device.

It certainly shows how capable the consumer-premises equipment for a triple-play service can become under a highly-competitive environment for “triple-play”Internet.

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Product Review–Sony BDP-S380 Internet Blu-Ray Player

Introduction

I have written a previous article about recent Blu-Ray players with Internet-video functionality and how they can bless a TV with many years in its life with this “smart-TV” or “Internet-video” functionality.

Now I am reviewing the Sony BDP-S380 Internet-enabled Blu-Ray player which is an example of these players and is the entry-level model in Sony’s component Blu-Ray player lineup. This unit interests me because it is an example of a Blu-Ray player that can extend the functionality of existing TV sets, including older and cheaper units, by providing access to Internet TV services.

The BDP-S480, which is the next model up in the series and costs AUD$30 extra, has the functionality of this player but can show 3D-capable Blu-Ray discs on 3D-capable displays, as well as drawing down material held on the DLNA Home Media Network. The BDP-S580 also has integrated Wi-Fi functionality for most home and small-business Wi-Fi networks.

Sony BDP-S380 Network-enabled Blu-Ray player

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$199

Sony BDP-S480 Recommended Retail Price: AUD$229

Functions

Internet Radio NPR Radio
Internet TV YouTube, LiveStrong, Wired, Market-specific catch-up TV services
Optical Disk Blu-Ray / DVD / SACD / CD
Stored Memory USB Mass-Storage Device

Connections

Output
Audio Line output 2 x RCA stereo
Digital Audio output SPDIF PCM / Bitstream via RCA coaxial
PCM / Bitstream via HDMI
Video Line output 1 x RCA composite,
Component Video Line Output 3xRCA jacks (YCC or RGB)
Video HDMI output 1 x HDMI
Network
Wi-Fi 802.11n WPA2 WPS with optional Sony dongle
Ethernet Yes

The unit itself

The Sony BDP-S380 is a slimline Blu-Ray Disc player that can work well as a DVD player or basic gateway to video-on-demand services.

Equipment setup

You can connect this Sony Blu-Ray player to a large range of older and newer video equipment. An example of this is the component video output being able to be set to yield RGB component video as well as YCC component video. This will please those of us who have European TVs that are equipped with a SCART connector or video projectors and monitors that have RGB video connectors. In the former case, the user will need to purchase a SCART-component-video cable and in the latter case, they will need to make sure the device accepts basic RGB video input through three RCA or BNC terminals.

Sony BDP-S380 Network Blu-Ray Player rear panel connections

Rear panel connections

Of course, the BDP-S380 can work with HDMI-enabled video equipment as a Blu-Ray player should and has the ability to connect to home-theatre receivers or digital preamplifiers via an SP/DIF coaxial RCA connector.

It can connect to the home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi via an extra-cost USB dongle available from Sony. Personally, I would connect this player to the home network via an Ethernet or HomePlug AV connection in order to benefit from reliable performance, and have tested this player’s network ability with this connection setup.

General operation experience

Sony BDP-S380 Network Blu-Ray Player remote control

Remote control

The BDP-S389 Blu-Ray player has a user experience similar to what happens with other Sony consumer audio-video equipment made over the last few years that uses the TV as its user interface. Examples of this include the PlayStation 3 and the STR-DA5500ES home theatre receiver which I reviewed previously.

This user interface, known as the “XrossBar” interface, has you moving between the main media types (Music, Pictures, Video) and the Setup and Network options using the “Left” and “Right” buttons on the device’s remote’s D-pad. Then you select the sptions like media collections and services or setup screens using the “Up” and “Down” buttons on that D-pad. When you are in this interface, you really know where you are because you still see some of the other top-level icons on the screen.

Local media playback

The Sony BDP-S380 is able to work properly as a fully-functional standard Blu-Ray player. This includes the ability to work with BonusView and BD-Live discs that require reusable local storage or network connectivity.

Of course, like nearly all DVD and Blu-Ray players that are on the market since the last few years, this unit need to be operated by their remote control.

It can play content held on USB Mass-Storage Devices, primarily memory keys and single-unit flash-card readers. The instructions mention that this player could work with USB hard disks but the player may not provide enough power to drive the bus-powered 2.5” hard disks by itself.

Here, the Sony has two USB ports for connection of these media devices. But the front port can be used for the optional Wi-Fi dongle or a USB keyboard. At the moment, this would come in handy when using the built-in YouTube or Qriocity services where you enter in user login details or search for media. The rear USB port is used for separate local storage if you are using BD-Live or BonusView discs.

There is a small display on the front that can come in handy for playback of audio CDs and SACDs without the need for the TV to be on.

Network Media

The Sony BDP-S380 can be used to connect to the local “catch-up TV” / video-on-demand services that are offered by most of the channels. For Australian viewers, this includes the ABC iView service, the SBS service and the Plus7 service.

You also have access to other Internet video libraries like the YouTube library, the Qriocity library, LiveStrong.com amongst many others. With some of the libraries, you have to log in to the libraries to gain proper functionality such as access to personalised content selections. There is an option to allow this player to regularly poll for new services that are delivered on the Bravia Internet Video platform, which you can do through the setup menus.

The login experience for services like Qriocity and YouTube is primarily “SMS-based” where you use the numeric keypad on the remote control to enter your login parameters. If you need to change character sets, you have to highlight a “ABC” / “123” option using the D-pad. There is the option to use a USB keyboard for improved login experience.

Like most of these devices, there isn’t any form of catering for the reality of multiple users sharing the one piece of equipment. Here, if you log out of the YouTube client for example, the software doesn’t cache your username – you have to enter these details fully.

Being an entry-level model, the Sony BDP-S380 loses some features. One of these, which I find critical for the networked home, is DLNA media playback. The Sony BDP-S480, which is the model above, has this feature along with Blu-Ray 3D playback as the two main differentiating features.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

I would recommend that Sony provides the DLNA media playback feature across the whole component Blu-Ray player range for the next model run and provide extra DLNA features like MediaRenderer functionality for step-up and top-shelf models.

As well, I would like to see support for an improved multi-user “hot-seat” experience for this class of devices, such as retention of username and/or simplified PIN login options. It could also benefit from social communications features like Twitter / Facebook access and a Skype videoconferencing terminal in a similar vein to Sony’s BRAVIA TV sets.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Sony BDP-S380 Blu-Ray player as a good-quality Blu-Ray / basic Internet video solution for use with a cheaper or older TV set. This is more so for those of us who want to “cut our teeth” on Internet video by replacing a half-dead “Chinese-special” DVD player rather than replacing a TV set with many miles left in it. You also get a good-quality reliable optical disc player as well as an Internet-video terminal in the same package.

If you want more functionality with your home network, especially if you have lots of media on a network-attached storage device, I would prefer that you spend the extra AUD$30 and go for the Sony BDP-S480 rather than this model.

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