Product Review Archive

Product Review – Revo iBlik RadioStation Internet clock radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Revo iBlik RS 1 I am reviewing the Revo iBlik RadioStation Internet clock radio which can work as a speaker dock for the iPod. As well Marks & Spencers, the British department store commonly known as “Marks & Sparks”, sell the same radio under their private label but without DAB digital radio as the M&S Internet Radio with iPod Dock.

Overview

This radio looks like one of the classic clock radios sold through the 1970s and 1980s but, instead of being a flat box with the faux wood-grain finish, it has a trapezoid look that is finished in dark charcoal grey. The top of the radio has a random-styled speaker grille and a removeable panel where you dock an Apple iPod or iPhone, and the right had side of the top surface has all of the radio’s control buttons. The front of the radio has a darker middle stripe with the LCD display. The set uses a telescopic aerial (antenna) rather than the ordinary “pigtail” aerial wire that is common with clock radios for FM and DAB operation. The only limitation, which is common with most portable radios, is that you can’t replace a broken telescopic aerial yourself. The Wi-Fi aerial is totally integrated in to the set.

2009-11-07 001 When the unit is turned off, the display is just bright enough to be a nightlight, which makes it suitable for bedroom use. The display becomes significantly bright when the set is in operation, but there could be improvements in the contrast issue. Revo could have improved the display by using a fully-bitmapped display which can allow for a full-height time display which would be more appropriate for this class of radio than a two-line date and time display.

The set comes with a slim remote control which can be a bonus if you need to operate it from the other side of the room. The only problem with this was that you had to be relatively close to the set to operate the remote control. This may be a problem with the review sample that had “done the rounds” and the remote control’s battery was nearly exhausted and had been transported with the battery in place.

Connectivity

The set has a 3.5nn line input jack (referred to as an mPort jack) for use with portable CD players and the like as well as a pair of RCA line-out connectors on the back for use when connecting to an external sound system or a recording device.This connection is a boon to small businesses who may want to connect the radio to a music-on-hold setup or public-address system if they want to play DAB, Internet radio or music held on a computer over the network through these devices.

Setup

This set is set up in a manner similar to other Frontier-based radios like the Kogan reviewed elsewhere in the blog. <Hyperlink to Kogan review> There is still that niggle with the confusing arrow and “return” symbol when you enter your wireless network’s passphrase. As well, you need to make sure your router isn’t using a WEP-WPA compatibility mode because the set may not connect to the wireless network.

The radio has the option of obtaining the time from the Internet or the local DAB multiplex so it sets itself to the correct time. If you set it to refer to the Internet, you then determine your local time zone. It also has a dedicated “DST” option which you turn on when the clocks go forward for Daylight-Saving time and turn off when the clocks go back for regular time. This is unlike the Kogan where you have to advance the time zone by an hour when the clocks go forward.

The DAB function doesn’t have a “clean-up and scan” option for situations where your set may be moved between locations or if the local DAB multiplexes are re-arranged. This was more of a problem with this review sample which had been taken between Sydney and Melbourne.

Use

Revo iBlik RadioStation - control panel You navigate the menus using four “arrow keys” and a “select” button in the centre of those keys. They are also used to tune the radio amongst the FM, DAB or Internet stations. There is a “mode” button to change between the different sources such as the Internet radio, DLNA music player, DAB radio, FM radio, iPod or aux inputs.

The set can store 10 preset stations in each of the FM, DAB or Internet-radio “bands”, which can be an asset if you dabble in many of the Internet-radio stations. This radio also works as a DLNA media player but can only support control from the set’s control panel or remote control.

Suitability for the bedside table

To set the alarm clock, you press the ALARM key. Here you have room for four different alarm times that can be set to apply once only, every day, Monday-Friday or Saturday-Sunday. This could be useful for setting an earlier wakeup time for the work week and a later time for the weekend where you can afford to have that sleep-in; and you can even have a different wake time for him and her on both the work week and the weekend.

You can set the unit to wake you to the buzzer; a particular station on either FM, DAB or Internet radio; or music held on an attached iPod at a chosen volume. What you set the radio to wake you to can be different for each alarm event, so you can factor in different radio programs that are broadcasting on different times. This definitely offers more than the typical clock radio that most of us use where you have up to two different events and you can wake either to the buzzer or the last-tuned radio station.

When you set the alarm, you have to make sure you save the changes by highlighting the “Save” option and pressing SELECT. This is also true if you want to override the alarm clock by turning it off. The ability to set the alarm clock to come on to a nominated radio program allows you to sleep to music from your iPod, DLNA network media server or a different radio station while you wake to your favourite radio program.

The all-important snooze bar is located at the front edge of the control buttons and is bracketed by two other buttons which are radio presets or “previous-next” buttons when the set works as a media player or with an iPod. This same button can be used to set up the sleep timer. Here, you press this button repeatedly to determine how long the radio can play before switching itself off, then press the “select” button to engage the sleep timer whereupon the radio will turn itself off after the nominated time.

Sound quality

The sound quality is similar to what you would expect for a typical 1980s-issue clock radio. This is because it uses the same speaker size as these units and the speaker is positioned to come out the top of the set in the same manner.

Fit and finish

The finish is a “satin-style” plastic finish that is similar to most current-issue clock radios and portable radios. This hasn’t harboured unnecessary fingermarks and the buttons are quick and responsive. It does then have the look and feel of a good-quality clock radio.

Points of Improvement

For this class of radio, the main point of improvement would be a larger bitmapped display with an EL backlight or a larger bitmapped OEL display which can show the time in large figures which makes it suitable for viewing from a distance. Other than that, the radio suits its best-placing very well, as a clock radio for the bedroom.

There could be an option to have the alarm set for particular days of the week, such as Monday, Saturday or Sunday; as well as Monday-Friday and Saturday-Sunday so you can cater for situations where you may have to factor in particular shifts that occur on particular days.

Conclusion and Best Placing

This is an Internet radio / iPod dock / network music player that I would recommend for use in the bedroom as a highly-flexible alternative to that old clock radio. This is more so if you want to wake up to more than regular FM and AM radio or need something that provides a highly-flexible alarm clock. It can also be used in the office, kitchen, shop or waiting room as a radio or background-music device, and can become a conversation piece in itself because of its shape. 

If you are after this radio in Australia, from my experience, I have found it for sale at the electrical department of the David Jones department stores at Westfield Shoppingtown Doncaster. You may also find it available in other premium department stores like Marks & Spencers.

I have had this set on loan for a week courtesy of Bush Australia. As well, Bush Australia have offered the set for sale to me at a reduced price as per their standard practice with media.

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Product Review – Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone (Symbian S60 version 3)

Introduction

Nokia N85 smartphone I am reviewing the Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone, which is part of Nokia’s high-end “N-series” multimedia phones. It has been positioned as a second-tier model in their lineup and is one that can be easily missed in the crowded multipurpose mobile phone market, especially where this market is dominated by the Apple iPhone for personal use and the Blackberry phones for business use.

Software availability

This phone is part of the Symbian S60 Version 3 platform which has a wide availability of software from different places. This means that additional functions can be added “off the Web” by visiting Handango, software providers’ Web sites and S60-themed Web sites as well as the Ovi application store. This puts it as a decent alternative to the Apple iTunes App Store model that is being implemented by the “King Of Cool” with the iPhone.

As a multimedia phone terminal

High-contrast OLED 2

The N85's high-contrast OLED display

The display is based on OLED technology rather than the usual LCD technology which makes it easier to read in all light. The display is very bright and can be seen at extreme angles. Infact, I consider this display the “vacuum-fluorescent display for battery-operated devices” because it has the same brightness and consistency as the vacuum-fluorescent displays used on most home-installed consumer-electronics devices, especially Panasonic or Sony equipment. A disadvantage that this display may have is that this may lead to some pictures, especially some photographs, appearing too saturated and with a bit too much contrast but it may be how the OLED display reproduces the pictures. It may be a boon with text or diagrams such as the Ovi Maps.

The phone’s battery life is very good even when used as a music player as well as a phone. If you use 3G or WiFi data connectivity or the integrated navigation functionality for a significant amount of time, you can compromise the battery life. You can get around this problem while getting the most out of the phone while you are out and about but cannot readily use the supplied charger by investing in an external battery pack such as one of those “AA-battery”-powered mobile phone chargers. The phone’s MicroUSB socket is its power socket, which means that USB=based power devices used along with a micro-USB flylead can become the phone’s external power supply. The only problem with this is that some USB hubs may not be logically seen by the phone as a charger.

The phone as a GPS unit

The phone has integrated GPS but I am using this function with Ovi-based Maps 3.0 with City Guide subscription. For people who do a lot of walking, the subscription is very good value. One thing that I would like to see in the maps data is public paths for use by low-speed traffic like pedestrians, cyclists or horseback riders; but this is an issue with Navteq and the data they provide to Nokia. The GPS function can be used by other S60 3rd Edition location-driven applications like Nokia’s Sport Tracker GPS pedometer / workout diary or Google’s S60 siftware.

The phone as a Walkman

This phone beats the iPhone when it comes to personal-stereo functionality. This is demonstrable in the FM radio and the integrated music player, especially in how you can add music to the phone.

The phone has an integrated RDS FM radio which works only with wired headsets because the headset’s wire also is the radio’s aerial. There are a few discrepancies when it comes to working with RDS-enabled FM stations. If you preset an RDS radio station, the callsign details that are supplied through RDS aren’t used as a default station reference name. Instead, you have to manually copy the station’s name in to the station’s preset details. The phone doesn’t work with the so-called “dynamic RDS” features like TA/TP/EON traffic-information priority – a feature which can be a boon to public-transport users; PTY program-type functionality (including news priority) or RadioText dynamic text display. It does work with Visual Radio, which is an interactive radio service with 3G or WiFi as data backhaul.

The built-in music player is definitely flexible when it comes to handling music content because it works from music held on the microSDHC cards up to 16Gb / card in capacity. These can be exchanged at will in a similar manner to the classic cassette or MiniDisc formats. Similarly, you can enlarge the storage capacity by upgrading the memory card to a higher capacity. It is compatible with the SlotMusic “musicassette” idea that Sandisk put forward; and the MicroSDHC cards can be loaded with music through a “drag-drop” method via the file system and Nokia PC Suite or directly on to the microSDHC card in an SDHC card reader with the use of an SD card adaptor; or the phone can be synced through Nokia PC Suite or Windows Media Player.

As well, you can download content from a DLNA music server that you are connected to via the WiFi network. This yields a lot more flexibility than the Apple iPod / iPhone system when it comes to adding newer music to your portable collection  As far as codecs are concerned, the phone works with MP3, WMA and AAC codecs and can work with WMA up to 192kbps and MP3 up to 320kbps. The music player is operated in a manner similar to most MP3 players and if you make or take a call, the music pauses and resumes from where it left off. There is even the nice touch of the music fading up gracefully when you finish the call.

The integrated camera

The integrated camera is capable of high-resolution pictures and works well as an auxiliary camera if your main digital camera is out of action. It also works very well for video photography and will use the available memory on the microSD card for the footage rather a particular time limit.

One main problem with it is that if you intend to take pictures to send as MMS messages, it will prefer to send the high-resolution pictures which may not work with most mobile phones. To send an MMS, you would have to set the camera to work at a lower resolution before you take the picture. The picture you save would be a low-resolution picture. A point of improvement that could exist would be to have downscaling for MMS images when an image is sent as an MMS message.This is where a downscaled copy of the image is sent out as an MMS image.

Other than that, pictures and video that you take with the built-in camera can be transferred or printed out using PTP, Picthridge or Bluetooth or a PC can import pictures using Nokia PC Suite and any of the picture import functions that are part of Windows.

There is also a low-resolution camera on the front of the phone which comes in handy if you make a 3G videocall, but you can select to use the main camera during the videocall if you intend to show the other caller something rather than yourself.

Connectivity

As far as regular mobile-phone connectivity goes, this phone offers whatever is expected from a high-end mobile phone or smartphone.

The phone has a MicroUSB data and power socket and a 3.5” 4-conductor jack for headphones / AV lineout and headset / audio adaptor use. I use the phone with a Nokia-supplied headset audio adaptor with built-in microphone that is connected to a set of premium headphones so as to gain good-quality sound. The phone can connect to cassette adaptors for use with car cassette players or classic ghetto blasters; either directly or through an audio adaptor.

The main problem I have had with the audio adaptors is their flimsy tie-clips anchored to these adaptors that break under typical use. If this happens to you, I would suggest using either a metal “bobby-pin” or tie-clip; or a regular plastic clothes-peg from the laundry, attached to the audio adaptor with a rubber band. The only problem is that it may look a bit ugly especially in conjunction with formal wear or good headphones; and, for women, may be uncomfortable against the cleavage. To do this, wrap the rubber band around the audio adaptor making sure it isn’t pressing any of the buttons. Then open the clothes-peg, tie-clip or “bobby-pin” and pass one of the jaws of the clip through the rubber band. You then are able to clip the audio adaptor to your collar, lapel or tie with the tie clip, clothes peg or “bobby pin”.

The phone has a built-in PLL-controlled FM transmitter which you can use alongside an FM radio for music playback. If it was able to use this FM-based link for handsfree calling, I wouldn’t use that functionality at all because of having to set up the radio to handle the call every time a call comes in – one step too many.

The Bluetooth functionality is equally comprehensive in that is supports the Headset and Handsfree profiles for handsfree calling; A2DP / AVRCP audio playback profiles for music streaming functionality; and SIM Card Profile and Phone Book Profile for the increasing number of advanced in-car handsfree devices available with newer premium vehicles or on the aftermarket. This certainly means that the phone can partner with all of the good Bluetooth headsets and helmets as well as all of the good in-car handsfree setups.

Existence in the small network

WiFi Networks

The phone’s main method of connection to a small home or business network is through the built-in WiFi transceiver.

This transceiver works with 802.11g WPA networks that work purely to the WPA or WPA2 modes as well as to insecure WEP networks. This avoids routers or access points that are set up for WEP/WPA compatibility modes. For business and other high-security networks, the phone can work with most EAP-based enterprise security network setups; including SIM-based security. The phone can be programmed to work with wireless networks that have their SSID hidden, with use of a “hidden” option when you create an access point. The WiFi radio is very sensitive, which can come in handy whenever you use wireless hotspots.

The main gap the the phone has concerning WiFi-network connectivity is the lack of ability to support the WPS easy-enrolment setup that is becoming the norm for currently-issued wireless routers.

UPnP / DLNA Functionality

The phone works “out of the box” as a media player to the phone’s display and speakers or as a UPnP AV Control Point for pushing content held locally or on anther DLNA media server to another UPnP AV / DLNA Media Renderer device. It can also share content held on its memory card to a DLNA Media Network. Playlist management – can it push the contents of a container to a device?

Mail terminal

The built-in Symbian mail client supports IMAP4 and POP3/SMTP e-mail systems and uses a similar auto-setup routine to Windows Live Mail, where you just supply your fully-qualified e-mail address and password and the phone just works it out. The client is a similar standard to what is integrated in most smartphones but due to 12-key data entry, may be best used for reading e-mail and sending short replies or notes.

Web browsing

The web-browsing experience is similar to most other smartphones and is limited by the small screen. It can be viewed horizontally by selecting a mode to “view horizontal”. Password entry for social-networking and similar pages can be difficult due to the 12-key text-entry method primarily used in this class of phone.

Internet Radio

There is an integrated Internet Radio receiver function that can work with WiFi networks or 3G networks. If you want to use this function with a 3G network, it will need to work on an “all-you-can-eat” data plan if you want to do a lot of Internet-radio listening. The station directory is similar to that offered by Reciva or vTuner; which means having the stations sorted by country or genre. The phone can also “pipe” the Internet radio sound through the Bluetooth A2DP audio stream which allows you to play Internet radio broadcasts through Bluetooth speakers and similar audio accessories.

Conclusion, including the phone’s “cool factor”

This phone will appeal to the mature users who want a fully-functional yet flexible multimedia mobile phone but don’t intend to do a lot of text entry on it. As well, the phone “sets the cat amongst the pigeons” with the OLED display which is different from the LCD-display norm, thus can appeal to those who don’t have good eyesight.

What Nokia needs to do is to offer phones equipped with this OLED display and Symbian S60 to cut in to established smartphone markets like the QWERTY-keypad business phone (whether Blackberry-style or lengthways) or the touchscreen phone.

I have bought this phone on a published 24-month Telstra 3G “cap” contract under the regular terms and conditions for all customers who sign up to the contract. Therefore I am not writing this out of fear or favour.

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Product Review – TwonkyBeam (beta version)

TwonkyMedia have capitalised on their UPnP AV / DLNA expertise and developed a browser helper object that can play user-selected music, pictures and video from a Web site that you are browsing on to a DLNA-enabled media renderer device “there and then”.

What is TwonkyBeam

TwonkyBeam is a browser helper object which allows you to “push” media found on a Web page to your UPnP AV-enabled media device(s). This can come in handy with YouTube videos, Facebook or Flickr photos, last.fm music or similar sites where you may want to have the media on devices other than your PC’s screen or your laptop’s tinny speakers.

At the moment, the program has been written to work with Windows and Internet Explorer, but will be ported to other desktop Web-viewing environments.

How does it work

Once the software is installed, there is a window that lists all compatible media on the Website and you select which media you want to use. As you select the different media, the media file’s URL is highlighted in the main Web page. In that same window, there is a list of UPnP AV-enabled media players on your network that accept “push” content.

The user identifies the media player that they want to push the media to and selects the media to be viewed in the media list. Then, to show the image, they press the “play” button in that window above the media player list.

On the other hand, the user can right-click on the link and select “TwonkyBeam to” as a way of putting the media on to the DLNA device.

Limitations with certain Websites

At the moment, the current version that is available is a “rough diamond” beta version. In some ways, the program doesn’t provide full access to photo albums that are broken in to groups of, say, 20. This may limit its usefulness with large Facebook photo albums or Flickr photostreams, which is what I have often used the program with when testing it against the “TwonkyMedia Manage UPnP AV Media Renderer”. Nor does it provide access to embedded media clips like most of YouTube’s pages or video clips that are set up in news articles, blogs and social-networking sites. These are the ones where there are playback controls integrated in to the site’s user interface and you can typically see the video in the Web page.

Web developers may have to provide an “all images” view as an option for photo albums or write a “link” URL for video clips that are ordinarily embedded to work around the limitation. The “link” URL could be part of the article’s copy or as a separate link under the embedded video.

Development ideas

One way of improving this program would be for Websites to support media XML files that describe the primary media assets. This would include collections that are broken up in to paginated groups like most Web photo albums.

Similarly, there could be support for handling Flash-embedded videos that are common to YouTube sites and most Web sites that include video material. This could be looked at through the development of applets that “click on” to TwonkyBeam and similar programs and expose the video clips to these programs.

Conclusion

This program can work as a “quick and easy” way to get media that is in a Web site up on to the large screen or better speakers of a DLNA-connected TV or stereo system. It could, in some ways, legitimise the need for one of the Sony or Samsung DLNA-enabled flatscreen TVs in the office or conference room.

The review will be updated whenever the beta version of this program is “polished up” and ready for full release.

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Product Review – TwonkyMedia Manager 1.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantages

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

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

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

Limitations

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

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

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

Nice to have

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Update – 20 September 2009

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

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

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

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