UPnP AV / DLNA Archive

5 Year Special–Entertainment In The Connected World

5 Years Special iconAnother major trend that has come about over the past five years is increasing interest in “connected entertainment”. This has been augmented with the role of smartphones, tablets and computers having access to online content services, typically through natively-coded client-side apps.

But it is also about a surge in the availability of traditional devices that are associated with entertainment being connected to the home network and drawing down online content from various sources.

Network-capable entertainment devices

Increasingly we are purchasing network-capable entertainment devices that are fit for use in the main living or family areas of our homes.

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV

Firstly, most TV manufacturers are supplying “smart TVs” that have network connectivity and access to online content services. Typically the manufacturers, primarily the “big-name” companies are offering this towards mid-range and premium models in their product lineups. This feature is also being extended to Blu-Ray players, “home-theatre-in-box” systems and the like so you can add this feature to existing TV sets which is important as TV sets last a long time and are capable of being “pushed down” to secondary viewing areas. It is also a key feature for any of the newer 4K “ultra-high-definition” TVs that show images that are sharper than the regular Full HD TVs on the market.

Cyrus Lyric 09 CD receiver

Cyrus Lyric CD receiver – a network-capable stereo system

Similarly, network-capable music-playback devices are reaching standards that befit high-quality music reproduction. Here, these devices are either as “wireless speakers”, integrated music systems or hi-fi components that can be connected to existing hi-fi systems.

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

The “wireless speakers” are single-piece tabletop speaker systems that connect to the home network in a manner similar to what Sonos envisaged with their products. Here, you can have a group of these speakers that are connected to the same network play the same audio content without them being out of sync. Most of the setups may work in a “party-mode” setup where they play the same content whereas an increasing number of these speakers can allow you to set two like units up as a wirelessly-linked stereo pair for increased stereo separation or wirelessly link a subwoofer to the speaker to provide some extra bass. A trend that could easily come about is to have a wirelessly-linked multiple-speaker setup for surround sound, which could make this concept more appealing because of the absence of wires.

At the moment, Wi-Fi-based multiroom wireless speakers will work with other speakers that implement the same technology, typically by having the same or compatible chipsets. This is because no standard has been defined for these kind of speaker setups.

WD MyCloud EX4, WD MyCloud EX2, WD Red 6Tb hard disk

WD MyCloud EX Series NAS units able to benefit from the 6Tb WD Red

Another device that is being considered highly important for the “connected entertainment” world and is something that every home network will have to have is the network-attached storage appliance. These devices work as “always-on” media servers that can provide audio, image and video content and most, if not all of them implement UPnP AV / DLNA and iTunes / DAAP media-server functionality to do this on a level playing field. This means that you don’t need to run a desktop computer all the time to make the latest photos or the music you ripped from your CDs or downloaded from iTunes or similar services available to your smart TV or your network-connected stereo equipment.

Online Content Services

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Internet Radio

Previously, online content services were typically Internet radio services which offered global access to Internet-hosted simulcasts from various broadcast radio stations and networks. I saw this as the “new shortwave” because you could hear a radio station that is local to a particular city or town through this setup and these have been facilitatied by a few Internet-radio directories like TuneIn Radio and vTuner.

Now we have seen the arrival of the “global jukebox” in the form of music-streaming services like Spotify, Deezer and Pandora. These services allow you to legally stream an album, song or playlist via the Internet and work either for free with advertising or for a modest monthly charge. They are becoming a way to, for example, sample music you are interested in or even just listen to music for a modest cost or for free.

Spotify screenshot with album tracklist

Spotify, one of the most popular online music-streaming services

For music, the buy-to-download business model still exists courtesy of the likes of iTunes, Google Play, Amazon or most other online stores. There are some label-direct music stores that offer music on a “buy-to-download” basis. Most of these services offer the music as CD-quality 320kbps MP3 or 256kbps AAC files for each album track but some are offering them as master-quality FLAC or similar files. As well, most of these tracks are being made available as single tracks for pennies’ worth for those of us who want to construct the perfect playlist.

Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix – the sign of on-demand video’s progress

This is also including music distributors and online retailers like Amazon who sell us vinyl records or CDs that come with “pre-ripped” MP3 files that are available to download. For most of us, this avoids the need to rip the CD or to copy the record to the computer’s hard disk so it can be heard over the network or on our portable devices.

Online video is mainly driven by the likes of streaming services like Netflix who are even producing their own content as well as licensing other parties’ content. They are also being augmented by “catch-up TV” services where one can view one or more previous episodes of a TV series “on demand” after it was shown. Because these services are yielding high-quality content, they have led to people in the US abandoning their cable-TV services and watching content on these services.

Naim UnitiQute 2 on dressing table

The Naim Uniti!Qute 2 – a high-quality network-connected music system for that small room

Most such services are nowadays being delivered via set-top boxes that connect to your home network and implement a native front end to these services. But, as smart TVs come on the scene, anyone who offers a video-on-demand service has to provide a native front-end for the main smart-TV platforms.

In some parts of Europe, ADSL and fibre-based next-generation broadband is being used to deliver pay-TV. This is more so as part of telecommunications companies offering a “single-pipe triple-play” service to their customers where one connection to the customer’s home carries broadband Internet, landline telephony and multi-channel pay TV.

They have also implemented a “hybrid broadcast broadband” platform for television where it is becoming feasible to provide TV content services, including interactive TV, by interlinking traditional broadcast TV with content available via the Internet. Broadcasters primarily use this to deliver a supplementary video-on-demand service such as a catch-up TV service to the main TV set.

At the moment- there isn’t a level playing field for providing video content on an “electronic sell-through” or “download-to-own” basis in a similar way to what is being used for audio content. There are still issues with digital-locker services or digital-rights mechanisms binding users to particular content platforms or the risk of people losing access to the content they bought if an electronic-sell-through platform ceases to exist. They are not at a point where you could buy a movie or television series online and download it to a NAS for viewing at home knowing that you still have access to the movie even if the vendor goes off-line.

Conclusion

It will take some time to bring some video content-delivery services to the home network in order to have it accessible on the main TV set, but the home network has become an entrenched part of our entertainment lives/

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QNAP launches a 4-disk slimline NAS

QNAP logo courtesy of QNAPArticle

QNAP Adds Four Bay Skinny NAS | SmallNetBuilder

My Comments

QNAP 2-disk NAS

QNAP to release a 4-bay 2.5″ NAS which will be as big as this NAS

A trend that is showing up with QNAP and some other NAS vendors is to release NAS units that implement 2.5” hard disks or solid-state drives rather than the regular 3.5” variety.

Here, QNAP’s latest 4-disk 2.5” variety known as the TS-451S is able to have the same footprint as a 2-disk unit that uses 3.5” disks. It may be about being able to implement a disk cluster that has some hard disks and solid-state drives or simply being able to gain more shelf space. It is very similar to an earlier Thecus NAS that could run 2 of the 2.5” disks, effectively being a “pocket rocket”.

But let’s not forget that this unit will run QNAP’s QTS 4.1 standard operating system with the ability to download extra function-specific apps. It could become a direction for the likes of WD and Seagate to offer 2.5” hard disks and solid-state drives pitched at these units and allow for the highly-compact units to court a huge range of applications where space is at a premium, including in-vehicle or portable use.

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Yamaha fields a network-capable stereo receiver that can suit most needs

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Yamaha Audio

R-N301 Natural Sound Network Receiver

Catalogue Page (Australia, Europe)

My Comments

A class of hi-fi component that is missed out on when it comes to network audio and AV is the stereo receiver. This component is more focused about reproducing music in stereo from radio broadcasts or other hi-fi components like CD players or turntables. This is compared to the home-theatre receivers which are more focused on reproducing surround sound, typically from attached Blu-Ray players, cable TV or other video sources along with support for radio broadcasts.

Onkyo previously released a network-capable DLNA-compliant stereo receiver in the form of the TX-8050 but Yamaha have released a more affordable unit which also works with Pandora, Spotify and co. This receiver, known as the R-N301 Natural Sound Network Receiver, has these abilities along with support for AirPlay and DLNA control and can put the music out at 100 watts RMS per channel (0.2% THD, 8-ohm speaker load, 20Hz-20kHz frequency response).

One omission that may affect some peoples’ buying decisions is the lack of a phono preamplifier so you can connect a turntable. This may be of concern especially with vinyl coming back in to vogue but is available in a more expensive network-capable stablemate in the form of the R-N500 Natural Sound Network Receiver.

But what I see of this is that Yamaha is joining Onkyo in providing a “full-width” stereo receiver that can be part of the home network but can be used in a lounge area like the formal living room where music, reading and other similar activities is the main activity.

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Australian Audio And AV Show 2014

Introduction

IMG_2138In October I had visited the Australian Audio And AV Show which was hosted at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel and this was about observing the way hi-fi and home AV were progressing especially on the Australian market.

Video Technology

Regular readers may have seen some coverage about the new 4K ultra-high-resolution TV technology and I had a chance to see this technology in full flight for myself at this show, courtesy of Sony. But the Sony representatives have remarked that this technology’s appearance in the broadcast-TV context is still a long way off especially in Australia. Here, they remarked that 4K UHDTV content will have to be delivered in a packaged form i.e. Blu-Ray Discs, file-based video delivered via USB hard disks or via the home network.

Sony 4K UHDTV

Sony 4K UHDTV

BenQ and Epson presented Full-HD video projectors that were more or less targeted at home-theatre setups and were demonstrated in that context.

Audio Technology

The two main distribution trends that are hanging on for quality hi-fi sound reproduction at the moment are the classic vinyl record or file-based audio content delivered via the home network.

The classic vinyl record

A turntable equipped with an optical cartridge that uses light to follow the stylus vibrations

A turntable equipped with an optical cartridge that uses light to follow the stylus vibrations

The classic vinyl record is still focused on new-cut records that have been mastered using newer techniques that permit increased dynamic range. These are played on turntables that are equipped for improved stability and the sound path implements high-grade components from stylus to speaker.  The equipment that I have seen in operation at this and previous Australian Audio And AV Shows is more for those who value the vinyl format as a hi-fi content source rather than to be part of the image.

VinylPlay - an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

VinylPlay – an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

One manufacturer even implemented an “optical cartridge’ that uses reflected light rather than friction to follow the stylus’s vibrations in that groove. Here, this cartridge can be fitted to most tonearms associated with high-quality turntables and is connected to a special preamplifier which exposes this cartridge’s output as a line-level signal. Here, it was about using light as a tool to “follow” a source of acoustic vibrations before it is converted to an amplifiable electrical signal as well as being able to use this cartridge with most turntables.

One turntable that was exhibited here that is considered a proper specimen for bridging the classic medium with today’s Sonos speakers or the computer is the VinylPlay “integrated phono stage” turntable. This has a similar build to most of the recent Rega, Pro-Ject or similar turntables that properly welcomed back vinyl and has what is expected for stability, but has a built-in phono preamplifier with digital and USB outputs as well as line-level and “cartridge-direct” analogue outputs. Another feature that increases its useability, especially for a manual turntable, is a distinct arrow on the cartridge’s front that indicates where the stylus is, so you can be sure the needle is where you want it i.e. on that record. What I see of this USB-equipped record player is that it isn’t about a gimmicky flimsy unit but one that can properly bridge the classic records to a lot of equipment.

Digital audio

On the other hand, the quality of digital audio, both in the recordings that are distributed and the “file-to-speaker” playback chain has improved. For example, the “high-resolution” file-based audio content has been represented here as being above the 44.1kHz 16-bit CD-Audio or the 48kHz 16-bit standard-play DAT specifications that was “cemented” for digital audio recording and playback in the late 1980s. Typically, audio that is made to this specification will resolve towards 24-bit 96kHz or 24-bit 192kHz digital-audio streams and this will either be in the form of FLAC or similar audio files and it yields what could be perceived a clearer sound. It is also augmented through the use of digital-analogue converters or digital-amplifiers that are designed to “pull more out” of a digital-audio stream with very little in the way of unwanted sound artifacts.

Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver

Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver

Equipment that was designed to cope with the “master-grade” high-resolution digital audio sound could also bring out the best from classic digital audio content as I had seen for myself with the Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver. This unit was set up completely as a system with a pair of the Sony SSH-W1 3-way bookshelf speaker and I had let it perform with my Whispers “Love Is Where You Find It / Love For Love” CD. Here, it came through clearly with the soul music, yielding that desirable “punch” to the sound yet coming across clearly.

The home network as part of digital audio

Auralic Aries network-to-digital media bridge which serves an external DAC

Auralic Aries network-to-digital media bridge which serves an external DAC

Again, the home network is still considered as part of enjoying digital audio. This is typically with a network-attached-storage device or music-focused media server holding all the music and network media receivers playing the music that is held on the NAS or from one or more online sources. It has been brought about with the larger size of music files that are prepared according to high-resolution “master-grade” standards and these files being offered on a “download-to-own” basis.

There were a few of the network audio receiver devices which were built to work with an external digital amplifier or digital-analogue converter rather than doing the digital-analogue conversion themselves. These were pitched for use with the top-notch digital-analogue converters and digital amplifiers the were becoming part of a high-grade digital-audio setup.

.. which serves this Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter and Auralic Taurus control amplifier

.. which serves this Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter and Auralic Taurus control amplifier

One of these was Auralic Aries network audio bridge connects between home network or online content and DAC,  DLNA support and works as Media Renderer. Connects to DAC via USB, AES/EBU (Digital XLR), SPDIF Coaxial or SPDIF Optical, network via 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi or Ethernet. As well, it works with Linn’s Songcast “network sound card” software so it and the DAC work as a computer sound card. This device is controlled using Auralic’s Lightning DS mobile-platform app but has the ability to work with an Auralic remote control for ad-hoc program selection and transport control.

The QNAP NAS works as a music server

The QNAP NAS works as a music server

This small network-media bridge  was fed by a QNAP NAS full of music and passed its digital signals via USB to an Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter. It in turn passed the analogue signals to the Auralic Taurus Pre control amplifier feeding a pair of Merak monobloc power amps to drive a pair of floor-standing speakers.

Another was the latest iteration of the NAD Masters Series of premium digital hi-fi components with the M12 digital control amplifier and M22 stereo power amplifier being driven by the <model number> digital media player. This unit appeared at previous Australian Audio And AV Shows and was an example of an optical-disc transport and network audio bridge device.

Latest iteration of the NAD Masters digital-driven hi-fi system

Latest iteration of the NAD Masters digital-driven hi-fi system

There is an increased number of dedicated music servers or “ripping NAS” units being presented at this year’s show with some of them working as the music servers for their distributors’ rooms. Two examples included the RipNAS Solid v3 and the Naim HDX. The Cocktail Audio music servers still appeared but were on static display, not serving an active system. As always, Naim pushed their music servers in to service as content libraries for two music systems, this time it was the NDS which was serving the Statement ultra-premium hi-fi system and the mu-so wireless speaker.

RipNAS Solid v3 ripping NAS

RipNAS Solid v3 ripping NAS

Lifestyle and multiroom audio

Lifestyle audio still had its strong presence at the Australian Audio And AV Show. This was mainly dominated with single-piece wireless speakers and soundbars with some of the soundbars being used to play music. Some of these systems implemented subwoofers to “lift” the bass response, whether they were packaged with the soundbars or simply as to be set up to work with one of the wireless speakers just to add that bit of “bite” to the sound.

These were part of the multiroom trend where you can have music systems located in different rooms  There was even a seminar on the multiroom audio trend and this highlighted the arrival of the home network and online media as key drivers of this technology.

Naim mu-so wireless speaker

Naim mu-so wireless speaker

But they highlighted the fact that different companies, including chipset and technology vendors, are working on their own solution to permit audio content to be delivered to many speakers via a packet-based network like the typical Wi-FI or Bluetooth network in sync without jittering or packet loss. This was to open up paths for situations like 2 wireless speakers being set up to work as a true stereo pair with proper separation or “party-streaming” setups with multiple speakers and sound systems. At the moment, most of these systems can only work with equipment that implements the same technology and I am not sure whether these systems can work properly on a multiple-access-point setup such as with a wireless range extender or traditional setup with access points connected via an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backbone.

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Denon had exhibited their HEOS Multiroom setup consisting of three different single-piece wireless speakers while Definitive Technologies used Room 320 for showing a highly-complete wireless audio system. This one consisted of a few different single-piece speakers, a soundbar, a wireless amplifier and an “on-ramp / off-ramp” audio adaptor module for their PlayFi-based system which uses a small Wi-Fi network as its carrier. Polk also made us aware of their wireless multiroom system which was based on one of the existing synchronisation technologies.

Definitive Technologies W-Series soundbar - as part of their multiroom setu[p

Definitive Technologies W-Series soundbar – as part of their multiroom setu[p

Ruark Audio had surfaced this year with a collection of table radios and music systems. This was headed by the R7 Radiogram which has a CD player, FM/DAB/Internet radio, Bluetooth playback, DLNA MediaRenderer functionality and access to online services. Here, it is styled in a form similar to the archetypal “radiogram” or “console stereo” that served as the main household music system for most people through the 1950s and 1960s and is something that is pitched at the “baby-boomer” generation.

Definitive Technologies Adapt "on-ramp / off-ramp" for the W-Series multiroom setup

Definitive Technologies Adapt “on-ramp / off-ramp” for the W-Series multiroom setup

Naim also came to the fore with a single-piece wireless speaker called the mu-so. This could pull up content from a DLNA server or online content services (think Spotify or Internet radio), AirPlay, Bluetooth A2DP with aptX amongst other sources. It is primarily controlled through Naim’s mobile app and works tightly with their multiroom streaming setup. But this uses a 3-way speaker arrangement for each channel with each driver having its own amplifier and it also implements DSP technology which Naim implemented in the sound system used in the newer Bentley cars.

Ruark R7 Radiogram - the up-to-date take on an old classic form factor

Ruark R7 Radiogram – the up-to-date take on an old classic form factor

The Headzone still appeared, representing the increased role that headphones and earphones played in the personal AV life. The theme here still was to listen to music or video content through the headphones rather than have them available to hear the other party of a phone conversation or hear the sound effects associated with computer games played on our mobile devices. But I would see these still play a strong role with VoIP or mobile communications services that implement “HD Voice” or newer telephony-audio technologies which sound as good as AM radio, if not better.

They still are important for the connected life as we use them to be able to listen to music, video and games effects from our computing devices privately. Most of the premium sets were demoed with dedicated headphone amplifiers but some of the headphones were either connected to regular integrated amplifiers or the headphone outputs on some CD players, or simply available for us to plug our mobile devices in to.

It is also worth being aware of the efficiency that particular headphones show up, especially if you are targeting them for portable use with battery-operated equipment. Here, I had discovered this for myself with the Sony MDR-10RC headphones I previously reviewed and a pair of newer portable-focused headphones I am using as my regular set and tried both of them on the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth adaptor associated with my Samsung smartphone. I ran the Bluetooth adaptor at the same volume setting on both headphones and the portable-focused headphones sounded louder but not as clear compared to the MDR-10RC set. The fact that one pair may sound louder at the same volume level compared to another, thus being more efficient, may be of benefit with that battery-operated device because you are not “running the device hard” for the same volume level, thus not drawing on the batteries more.

Speaker technology

An example of one of the many systems that were demonstrated with bookshelf speakers yet yield the bass

An example of one of the many systems that were demonstrated with bookshelf speakers yet yield the bass

A lot of the hi-fi systems were demonstrated with the conventional-architecture speakers, some of which were the traditional floor-standing types or most of which were the bookshelf speakers that were set up on speaker stands. These still yielded strong unassisted bass response with the amplifiers at “ideal listening volume”.

On the other hand, another firm were exhibiting a surround-sound setup which used flat-panel speakers in a traditional quadraphonic layout but these required the use of a subwoofer to convey the bass response.

Conclusion

What the last few iterations of the Australian Audio And AV Show have underscored was the fact that recorded-music reproduction has taken many methods and has improved on the methods. The signal path from the content source, being a vinyl record, optical disc or a file held on a computer or network-attached storage, to the speakers will under a continual path of innovation and even the medium itself will under a path of innovation.

I have provided a Spotify playlist of some of the songs that have heen played here.

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VIDIPATH has now been launched for Pay-TV

Introduction

VIDIPATH logo courtesy of DLNADLNA have worked out the final set of CVP-2 Guidelines and have started a testing regime for video equipment that fits the bill. This is to provide the ability for a level playing field when it comes to distributing premium subscription-TV (Pay-TV) content around a customer’s home network to devices that the customer owns.

A current pay-TV setup with each TV having a set-top box

A current pay-TV setup with each TV having a set-top box

They have also decided to market the new concept under a consumer-friendly brand which is “VIDIPATH”. This is following on from how a distinct brand make it easier for customers to remember what to look for when buying in to a technological improvement, such as with the successful Dolby noise-reduction system for the cassette tape.

The reason to progress with VIDIPATH has been based on the strong circulation of DLNA-capable media-server and media-endpoint equipment to distribute audio, image and video material over the home network. For that matter, it is a feature that is so important to me when I choose network-capable AV equipment or NAS units.

A VIDIPATH-enabled pay-TV setup where each VIDIPATH-capable TV, video peripheral or computer can view pay-TV

A VIDIPATH-enabled pay-TV setup where each VIDIPATH-capable TV, video peripheral or computer can view pay-TV

They launched the certification program for service-provider and consumer equipment on Sept. 11 and VIDIPATH-certified equipment is expected to be available by December, in time for this Christmas’ shopping season.

What does it offer

VIDIPATH offers DLNA compliance plus features essential to the delivery of premium subscription-TV content around the home to the display device.

Media contents in Dropbox folder available on DLNA-capable Samsung smart TV

VIDIPATH enables a compatible smart TV to view pay-TV content without the need for a set-top box

It uses DTCP-IP link-layer protection and device authentication to assure a secure signal path to the display device. This is important for content providers who want to be sure where the content is actually ending up.

Foxtel IQ2 pay-TV PVR

A PVR-type set-top box can serve as the hub of a VIDIPATH pay-TV setup

Also it uses HTML5-based remote user interface to allow the customer to have the full user experience associated with the pay-TV service at the TV or on the mobile device without the need for a set-top box or “TV-Everywhere” app on each viewing device. This allows for access to PVR services, pay-per-view / video-on-demand content, the pay-TV provider’s storefront and other services associated with the pay-TV service. The HTML5 interface would be able to adjust itself for useability on smartphones or small tablets which have the smaller actual screen sizes even though a lot of newer devices are implementing increased screen pixel densities.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

VIDIPATH-capable Blu-Ray players can bring pay-TV to the secondary bedroom TV

Another feature is to provide the exchange of necessary data across the home network to allow the gateway device to enter low-power modes when the display client devices aren’t making use of it. This also works alongside the ability to provide remote diagnostics on any of the display client devices when the customer calls the pay-TV service provider to rectify faults with their viewing experience.

It even supports “adaptive delivery” to allow the VIDIPATH-capable Pay-TV system to provide a best-case signal that is dependent on the viewing device and on the bandwidth available to the home and within the home network. This is based around the open-frame MPEG-DASH adaptive-streaming technology so that implementations aren’t necessarily bound to particular vendor ecosystems.

How will VIDIPATH be implemented in the home network?

Sony PS3 games console

Consoles like these could be able to pick up pay TV from a VIDIPATH gateway device

A pay-TV service like Sky, DirecTV or Foxtel would supply a VIDIPATH-certified gateway device to the customer. This device would be connected to the satellite dish, cable-TV infrastructure or dedicated IP service connection like DSL and to the home network. It may be in one of two form factors: a “headless” device that has no video output for an attached display device, or a full PVR set-top box of the same ilk as a Foxtel iQ2, Sky Plus box or one of the cable-TV PVR boxes, which is typically connected to the main living-room TV set.

The customer would view their content on a display device that would be a VIDIPATH-capable Smart TV or be a TV set connected to a DVD player, network media player or other video-peripheral device that is VIDIPATH-certified. They could also run a VIDIPATH-certified media-client program on their regular computer, smartphone or tablet to view the TV content on the device.

How will it benefit

Customers

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10" tablet - Press Photo courtesy of Samsung

With the appropriate app, this tablet can pull in pay-TV using VIDIPATH

They can concentrate on their own TV or video peripheral device and the device’s remote control being the navigation device for their pay-TV content, rather than juggling different remote controls for changing channels on the pay-TV box and adjusting the sound on the TV or home-theatre. This is a real bonus with smart TV’s or home-theatre systems that have access to network-hosted AV content.

If I move location, I would only need to worry about returning one piece of hardware to the pay-TV provider as part of the move-out process if they don’t operate in my new location. Similarly, for those of you who live in pay-TV markets where different providers compete, the process of selecting the best offer is simplified because you only deal with one piece of hardware to connect to the provider’s infrastructure. An example of this is most US markets where DirecTV and / or DISH provide a satellite TV service that can compete with what the local cable-TV firm offers.

Pay-TV providers

They are in a good position because they can rationalise the pay-TV customer-premises hardware they need to have on hand at all times. This is more so with having to deal with providing and managing set-top boxes for customers who want pay-TV in other rooms. Rather they can be in a better position to provide highly-capable gateway devices and manage one of these per subscribing household or business.

They still don’t lose the ability to provide the distinctly-branded user experience because this can be conveyed across all of the customer’s VIDIPATH-capable display devices. Rather they can even enrich the branded service and effectively take it further in a “write once, run anywhere” manner.

What do we need to do?

.... as can a smartphone like this

…. as can a smartphone like this

As customers, when the opportunity comes to buy network-capable video equipment, we need to keep our eyes peeled for the VIDIPATH logo on the equipment. As well, when we subscribe to pay-TV, we can use our pay-TV provider’s feedback mechanism to suggest implementing VIDIPATH as a service feature.

As pay-TV providers, we should look towards identifying whether the pay-TV equipment that is in current circulation at our subscribers’ homes can support VIDIPATH after a firmware upgrade. Similarly, implementing VIDIPATH in next-generation customer-facing equipment like gateways or set-top boxes can be a valid step for evolving the pay-TV service. This also will be about training the staff who deal with our subscriber base such as sales staff, customer-service staff and installation technicians to understand the VIDIPATH system and how it can make the job easier. It may also involve effectively “dumping” the revenue stream that is realised from renting multiple set-top boxes to customers who have multiple TVs.

Conclusion

I would expect DLNA VIDIPATH to simplify the pay-TV experience and integrate it with an increasing number of customer-owned display devices, whether be Smart TVs, games consoles or tablets.

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The XBox One now to have DLNA as part of major software update

Articles

Xbox One to Finally Include DLNA Support | Broadband News & DSL Reports

XBOX One will learn to play media from USB and DLNA sources | The Register

The Xbox One is getting major media updates: here’s a breakdown | Engadget

My Comments

XBox One games console press photo courtesy Microsoft

The XBox One now to be DLNA-capable

The XBox 360 games console originally came out with the ability to play content held on a UPnP AV / DLNA media server and was one of the first devices pitched to the mass market to do so. This also underscored the multi-function abilities that was the direction for game-console design.

But, when the XBox One came out, this console didn’t have much in the way of media playback beyond DVDs and some online services. This is even though Microsoft had touted it as being part of one’s media-consumption ecosystem with highly-integrated media behavour.

Now a major “version-2” software update has opened the doors for a file-based media player that allows you to play media from USB Mass-Storage Devices as well as that which exists on a UPnP AV / DLNA media server that is on your home network. This is also augmented by the support for a plethora of file formats like MPEG2 TS and MKV. The Register article placed doubts on support for MKV due to it being used for illegitimate torrented material, but it could also be about “prepping” for access to legitimate “download-to-own” video content.

DVB digital TV tuner module for XBox One press image courtesy Microsoft

DVB digital TV tuner module for XBox One

It also adds extra paths for access to broadcast content through your XBox One such as a USB DVB-T tuner module for digital TV in Europe and Oceania, or access to the DLNA-based broadcast-LAN tuners like most SAT-IP compliant satellite units or an increasing number of the HDHomeRun units available for North American or European use.

This is a step for Microsoft to claw back the multifunction abilities that these consoles have and make them earn their keep as a video solution for the secondary lounge area, college dorm or other similar living areas.

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Synology now premieres their NAS with hardware transcoding

Article

Synology announces DiskStation DS415play, shipping August | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Synology

DiskStation DS415play NAS

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Synology DiskStation DS415play NAS with media transcoding - Press image courtesy of SynologyI have previously covered Synology’s direction with including hardware media transcoding in consuner-grade network-attached-storage units on this Website when they were mooting this feature as part of their product lineup for this device class. This will take the pressure off the device’s CPU when it comes to optimising multimedia content for the destination device’s capabilities, thus opening up the reality of enjoying high-resolution video files or high-grade audio files in a “best-case” manner on your home network.

This feature has come forth in the form of the DiskStation DS415Play 4-bay multimedia NAS which also has Intel Atom dual-core horsepower and 1Gb RAM. The hardware transcoding can, for example work “best case” to 1080p on-the-fly, while the NAS can work as a network DVR for TV broadcasts once you use a USB digital-TV tuner module with it. Even the DLNA-certified media server software supports the ability to use the hardware transcoding for use with high-grade video and audio files. The only question about this is how well does the DLNA media server handle already-created playlists or the metadata associated with the audio, photo or video files.

The 4-bay design supports up to the RAID-5 disk arrangement and includes the ability to upsize these RAID-5 disk arrangements whether through adding extra hard disks to the unit or upsizing already-installed hard disks. This may be a chance for this unit to attain a long usage life by allowing you to increase its capacity to suit new needs.

Synology is laying down the gauntlet for what can be part of a high-end multimedia storage device for your home network, and who knows who will answer them when it comes to the same feature set for these devices.

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Buffalo raises the bar for wireless NAS devices with the MiniStation Air 2

Article

La MiniStation Air 2 sans fil de Buffalo | Ere Numerique (France – French language / Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

Buffalo Europe

Product Page (MiniStation Air 2 – HDW-PDU3)

My Comments

Buffalo is raising the bar when it comes to the wireless network-attached storage device. These devices typically have a capacity of up to 128 Gigabytes due to their implementation of a solid-state drive and observed limitations such as working either as direct-attached storage for a regular computer or their own Wi-Fi network for mobile devices that ran an app supplied by their manufacturer.

How are Buffalo raising the bar here? They are offering two variants of this NAS – one with a 500Gb hard disk and another with a 1 Terabyte hard disk. It works to the Wi-Fi 802.11g/n standards including support for dual-stream (theoretical) 300Mbps bandwidth. Like most devices in its class, it can stand between another Wi-Fi segment like your home network or hotel-supplied Wi-Fi Internet service and effectively bridge the other network’s services to the network it provides.

On the other hand, it can be connected to a regular computer as an external hard disk using the USB 3.0 connection which most newer computers have at least one of. When you use it wirelessly, you will need to use Buffalo-supplied apps to shift files between the MiniStation AIr 2 and your mobile devices, and I am not sure whether this implements SMB/CIFS to transfer files between a regular computer running Windows, Mac OS X or Linux and this device via its Wi-Fi network. But, from what I have read, it does use DLNA to stream multimedia files to client devices like Internet radios.

Let’s not forget that it can house half a day’s worth of power on its own battery and Buffalo reckoned that it could charge two smartphones.

Personally, I see this raising the stakes with storage capacity, wireless bandwidth and battery runtime along with the ability to implement DLNA media serving. If Buffalo could take steps to have devices of the MiniStation Air 2 able to work with a “master” network like your home network for “picking up” content and other files without having to be tethered to a regular computer, it could become a useful device to take network-hosted content on the road. The capacity that this unit offers is also a sign of things to come for mobile computing.

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D-Link offers a wireless network extender that is a network music player

Article

Extend Your Network, Listen To Music With D-Link’s New Adapter  | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

D-Link

DCH-M225 Wi-Fi Audio Extender

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

D-Link are another company who are emulating the success of the Apple AirPort Express multifunction device by offering a device that works as a 2.4GHz wireless range extender or a network audio player for the home network.

The DCH-M225 Wi-Fi Audio Extender can extend a 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi segment’s range using dual-stream technology and WPS “push-to-connect” enrolment. Or it can work as a Wi-Fi-connected audio player according to either AirPlay or DLNA MediaRenderer standards, thus making it feasible to play out music from your smartphone, tablet or computer to your favourite stereo equipment that is connected to this device. It would earn its keep in the “smartphone-based DLNA’ setups as well as with music piled up on a DLNA media server as described in this feature article.

Personally, if I wanted this device to be a direct competitor to what Apple offers, it would have to have an Ethernet port so it can also work either as a wireless client bridge or an access point as well as the music player and wireless-network range extender.

At least D-Link is using the audio playback functionality as a way to differentiate itself from the horde of wireless-network extenders that is being offered.

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Hardware video transcoding to be a feature for NAS units

Article

Synology adds hardware video transcoding and more to consumer NAS | CNet

My Comments

Netgear ReadyNAS

NAS units to be able to transcode on the fly for the media network

Most consumer and small-business network-attached storage units can serve as a DLNA-compliant network media server for whatever folders you nominate on them. Typically this allows you to have access to whatever multimedia you store on them without you needing to run a desktop or laptop computer to gain access to that media from your smart TV, Blu-Ray player or stereo system.

But not all client devices can handle all the media formats and types that exist on the scene. For example, some of them may not handle QuickTime or Motion JPEG formats that some digital cameras or smartphones tender as formats for their video files. In some cases, not all TVs or video players could handle Full HD video content or some would handle this while struggling. As well, most older and cheaper network-capable audio devices wouldn’t be able to handle 24-bit 96khz audio files which are being considered de rigueur for high-quality high-resolution audio content.

It could be feasible to have a DLNA media server integrated in a NAS perform media-file transcoding to suit the client devices. But this would tax the NAS device’s processor ability when it comes to performance and responsiveness.

What Synology have done is to integrate in to the DS415Play NAS the ability to transcode media files using hardware transcoding. This means that a separate hardware system handles the job of transcoding the media content like what happens in a multimedia-capable computer where the graphics chipset performs any transcoding or rendering for video-editor software running on that computer.

This feature could become important with the availability of “download-to-own” file-based video or high-resolution audio and be seen as part of the feature set for premium-level NAS units. This could then reduce any consumer worries about home AV equipment not supporting particular advanced video formats or the inability to benefit from a “high-resolution” audio album on equipment you use for casual listening like that Internet radio.

It could also encourage the availability of “master-grade” audio and video content in file-based formats for the home network or the ability to gain access to a wider competitive shopfront for file-based image, audio and video content As well NAS units that support content aggregation could also handle transcoding for other NAS units that don’t have this feature which could come in to place in a multi-NAS household.

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