UPnP AV / DLNA media-playback hardware) Archive

Now the Danish king of design approaches the DLNA Home Media Network

Product Information

BeoSound 5 Encore – Bang & Olufsen

My Comments

The Sonos networked music distribution system is facing a challenge, this time from Bang & Olufsen. This Danish name, associated with design masterpieces that yield high-quality sound and pictures, is now showing up a music system that can have the same navigability and control that the Sonos has been known for.

Infact B&O have worked on hard-disc-based music systems since the late 90s with the Beosound 3300 which uses a hard disc for storing favourite CDs. They have also worked on the concept of multi-room control of audio equipment since 1981 with their Master Control Link setup which had remote-control receivers associated with secondary speakers that are connected to a music system. This is in addition to being the first company to provide interlinked operation of “multi-box” AV systems.

But they have been holding back on integration with the home media network This is even though a few other European-based premium-audio names like Linn and Naim have presented network-capable audio equipment, typically in the form of network media receivers or CD receivers with network media and Internet radio functionality. Most likely, they had held back on networked AV until they were sure that it was going to work and work in an elegant and easy-to-use manner befitting of their name.

I have previously covered this brand on HomeNetworking01.info through their “working” of the sound subsystems in ASUS premium and multimedia laptops as well as reviewing a pair of Form 2 headphones.

This Danish design piece is in the form of a control panel that has all the connections to the network, 2 USB storage devices, a line-level input as well as a pair of B&O Beolab speakers. It can work as a client device to an existing Beosound 5 / Beomaster 5 hard-disc-based music system  It can be connected to an Ethernet network or a 5GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi segment and can play music held on a DLNA-capable media server or stream through Internet radio.

There is a question worth asking about this setup in relation to use with established B&O music system setups. It is whether the unit can work with an existing B&O Beolink multi-room setup, especially in the form of gaining access to the network and Internet sources through the remote speakers of that setup.

This is now showing that the Beosound 5 Encore is providing those Beo-enthusiasts access to DLNA-based network audio in a manner that befits the heritage that they have always valued. It may even be something that the trendy inner-urban cafe, wine bar or beauty salon may consider for their music system.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor

Introduction

I am reviewing the Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor. This is and adaptor that connects to an external display like a TV, monitor or projector and/or an external amplifier in order to play media files held on a local storage device like a USB memory key or via a small network.

Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$299.99

Functions

Internet Radio RadioTime Internet Radio
Pandora Internet Radio
Internet TV YouTube
Internet Photo Services Flickr
Interactive Services Facebook
Network Media UPnP AV / DLNA MediaRenderer
Stored Memory USB Mass-Storage Devices

Connections

Output
Audio Line output 3.5mm AV jack
Digital Audio output PCM / Bitstream via Toslink optical jack or HDMI jack
Video Line output 3.5mm AV jack
Component Video output Separate 3.5mm AV jack – YCC only
Video HDMI output Yes
Network
Wi-Fi Optional dongle adaptor
Ethernet Yes

The device itself

Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor remote control

The unit's remote control

It is a small device about the size of two packets of cigarettes stacked on top of each other and is powered using a power adaptor. Users operate it with a very small remote control that has the main transport functions and a D-pad for navigating around the user interface.

Setup

Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor connections

How this connects to your TV

The device connects to the TV using an AV cable that plugs in to a four-conductor 3.5mm jack on the back of the unit. There is another 3.5mm four-conductor jack for connecting to the component-video connections on a suitably-equipped display device with a separate patch cable. Of course, this unit can be connected to HDMI-equipped display devices like most plasma and LCD TVs; and it has an optical SPDIF socket for connection to equipment with an optical digital input like most surround receivers.

Sadly, this device doesn’t support connection to display devices that use RGB inputs in any form. This may affect those of us who want the best out of monitors or projectors that use such connectors like most SCART-equipped European TVs, business-focused “data projectors”, classic “3-gun” projectors or professional-grade video displays. You may get around this by connecting the device to the display via one of the “HDFury” HDMI-RGB adaptors

It has the ability to play media that is held on USB-attached storage devices like memory keys or USB hard drives. This can be useful for playing media that you have held on one of these devices.

As for video codecs and file types, it can natively handle most audio and video file types including the DivX and Matroska MKV family of file and codec types.

Network setup

The WDTV Live HD can be connected directly to an Ethernet network or HomePlug AV network with the appropriate “homeplug” bridge device, But it is one of these “wireless-ready” devices that connects to a Wi-Fi network using an optional Wi-Fi dongle available from Western Digital or through one of their retailers.

Use

Western Digital WDTV Live network media adaptor in use with older TV

This can work with any display device including older TVs

The user interface is a “full-screen” one which works to the edge of the screen. This may be of concern with those of us who have hooked the WDTV Live up to an older CRT-based TV set that has the orthodox curved screen edges. As well, the logos for the Internet services are rendered in a dull manner and could benefit from “true-colour” display with a highlight around the currently-selected service.

Of course, there is a screen-saver function which can be overridden for displays that aren’t affected by long-time display of images or set to appear after a time between 5 minutes to 15 minutes. Here, it just shows the WD logo; but could show now-playing information during audio playback.

Online services

The Facebook service has the expected functions like viewing one’s own news feed, contributing to a Status Update or writing one’s Status Update as well as the ability to view one’s Photo Albums or a Friend’s Photo Albums. All text entry is based on “pick-n-choose” methods and the pictures do come up properly on the full screen.

I have tested the YouTube service with this device and have used it to play some videos including the service’s “poster child” video which is the “Keyboard Cat” video. The user interface is what would be expected for a 10’ interface and the users would be required to use the “pick-n-choose” method for any text entry like account login or video searching.

The “Tune In” Internet-radio function works properly for Internet radio access and allows the Internet radio stream to play in the background while you navigate the menus. During the day, It had performed well on quality-of-service when streaming Internet radio; but like all Internet services, this will depend on how congested the connection is.

UPnP AV / DLNA media access

The UPnP AV / DLNA functionality on the WDTV Live works properly when you use the remote control to call up the content on your UPnP AV / DLNA Media Server. In previous firmwares, this media player had problems when playing out media under the control of a UPnP AV Control Point like Windows 7 or TwonkyManager. Here, it would play only one item at a time and require the user to advance the media to the next item using the remote control or the Control Point.

Now, units that have firmware newer than version 1.65 can play multi-item playlists and slideshows without needing to be “pushed on”. There is still a problem with this function, especially with image slideshows and video playlists where the unit will show its menu every time a new image or video is loaded up before it plays that image. This could be improved with “read-ahead” buffering for subsequent media items.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

I would like to see the user-interface improved in various ways, such as use of brighter colours or full-colour logos for the Internet services.  The screen-saver could also support “service-driven” behaviour like showing now-playing information for audio sources.

As well, this device could benefit from integration with local online-video services like the local “catch-up TV / video-on-demand” services offered by the local TV stations. Of course, I would like to see an improvement on the media changeover behaviour when the device is used as a UPnP AV / DLNA MediaRenderer under the control of an external control point.

This device’s form factor could be taken further with an integrated digital-TV tuner for implementation as a digital-TV set-top box that could have online and network media access as well as digital-TV access.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Western Digital WDTV Live or any of its successor models as a cost-effective device that can be useful for pressing a cheap or old TV, monitor or projector in to service as a network media playback device in the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network.

Send to Kindle

IPTV now being featured on mainstream TV media

Articles

Smart TVs (A Current Affair article) – NineMSN VIDEO

My Comments

From the recent “A Current Affair” broadcast on the Nine Network, it seems to me that the “Smart TV” or “Internet TV” concept is now ready for prime time.

What is this trend all about?

This is where functionality like access to IPTV channels, “catch-up” TV and video-on-demand is now being integrated in to most of the big-name TV sets that are to be sold at the likes of Harvey Norman. It will also include an “app-store” interface so that users can add functions to these sets in a similar way to how they add functions to a smartphone or tablet computer.

Some of the sets will come with an integrated hard disk which will provide PVR functionality. But what wasn’t mentioned was that most of the sets from the big brands, especially LG, Samsung and Sony, will support integration with the DLNA Home Media Network. This means that these sets could play content held on a computer or network-attached storage device that uses this standards-based technology.

Typically, these functions will be pitched at TVs targeted for the main viewing area i.e. the main lounge room or family room. But this kind of function may be added to existing sets through the use of some of the current-issue Blu-Ray players and network-media adaptors like the Sony SN-M1000P network media adaptor.

A few key questions that I have

“TV plus Apps” or IPTV and interactive-TV content?

There could be a fear that this could turn out as “TV plus apps” with the same old TV content plus some apps such as clients for the popular social networks, photo-sharing sites and YouTube-type sites thrown in.

But some providers are making ties with the various manufacturers to set up free and pay-TV front-ends through the IPTVs. Examples of this include Samsung establishing a tie with BigPond TV to provide direct access to that content or most of the manufacturers running ABC iView through their TV sets. It may also open up opportunities like video-on-demand or boutique content services. As well, once there is a level playing field for adding TV services, this could lead to the addition of extra TV content.

If there is a desire to provide new live or on-demand IPTV services, there needs to be support for adding the newer services to existing IPTV equipment. This could be achieved through an always-live app store on these sets. Similarly, existing broadcast content, both editorial and advertising, must be able to support links to apps and interactive front-ends that are accessible to the average viewer with one click of a particular button through the use of interactive-TV content-delivery standards.

This can include applications ranging from interactive games and competitions that are part of children’s TV through “play-along” quiz shows to polls run in conjunction with current-affairs shows which have the option for you to view “extended-version” interviews.

Equipment Useability

A key issue that I have raised in this site was the useability of services like the Social Web on this class of equipment. Typically, the “smart TV” concept prides itself on connection with social-network services like Twitter and Facebook; but there will be the desire to gain access to photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa or gain full benefit from sites like YouTube. These can make use of “smart-TV” services more daunting for someone who doesn’t find themselves competent or isn’t experienced with technology.

An example of this was when I mentioned to a friend of mine about the Pixel Eyes app on the TiVo platform where they could view their Picasa albums through the lounge-room TV connected to the TiVo PVR. I mentioned that they would have to log in to their Google account using the “pick-pick” method of entering their credentials in order to view their pictures on this service and this idea frightened them off it.

The main problems is that different users will want to log in to this common terminal or, in the case of the Social Web, leave comments in relation to what they are viewing. Typically, this will require a fair bit of text entry and most remote controls won’t be fully engineered to cater to this requirement. The user will typically have to work a D-pad or wave a Wii-style “magic remote” around to pick letters from an onscreen keyboard and may have to switch between logical keyboards to use different character sets like numbers, different-case characters or punctuation. Try entering in a Facebook / Twitter / Google username and password that way or “knocking out” a Tweet that way.  As well, I have raised in that same article methods in which logging in to these services from devices like TVs and set-top boxes can be simplified and referenced how Facebook achieved a login experience suitable for these devices with their HP ePrint app. This includes being able to change the active user associated with a TV or set-top box to another user.

Similarly, I would look at issues like keyboard support for IPTVs. This is whether a TV comes with a QWERTY-enabled remote or not. The best method for add-on keyboard support would be to use Bluetooth HID connectivity so that a Bluetooth-based wireless keyboard can be used as a text-entry tool. Similarly, the ability for one to plug a standard USB computer keyboard in to the USB port usually reserved for USB memory keys and use this for text entry may make things easier. This would work well with those wireless-keyboard sets that plug in to the computer’s USB port.

A remote that doesn’t have a QWERTY keyboard but uses a numeric keypad for direct-channel-selection or parental-code-entry could use this keypad as an “SMS-style” text-entry interface, something which many nimble-fingered teenagers are used to. This would work better if it used the character-set-selection practices used on popular mobile phones.

Other methods that can be looked at include the use of smartphone apps as virtual remote controls like what Samsung has done for their Android smartphones. Here, a user could download an app to their Galaxy S phone and have this become the TV remote control. This could be extended to ideas like multi-control for interactive applications such as “own-account” operation for Social Web and similar applications with the TV screen becoming a “common monitor”.

What to consider when choosing or using your network-enabled TV

DLNA functionality

The TVs or set-top devices should support DLNA Media Player functionality at least, with preferable support for DLNA 1.5 Media Renderer functionality. Initially this would give you access to content held on your computer’s or network-attached-storage device’s hard disk.

The Media Renderer functionality can allow the TV to be controlled by a UPnP AV / DLNA control point such as TwonkyMobile, PlugPlayer or Andromote on your smartphone or tablet computer, or TwonkyManager on your netbook.  In the case of Blu-Ray players and set-top devices, you may even be able to play music from your network storage through your favourite stereo without the need to have the TV on to select the music

If the TV or set-top box offers integrated PVR functionality, look for DLNA Media Server compatibility because this may allow you to play recorded TV shows on other TVs in the house without them needing to be of the same brand.

It is also worth noting that some DLNA functions like DLNA server or Media Renderer may not be enabled by default even though the set has these functions. Here, you may have to go to the setup menus and look for “DLNA control”, “Media Server” or similar options and enable them to benefit fully from these functions.

For further information, it is also worth reading the DLNA Networked Media articles that I have written on this site.

Connecting the set to your home network

When you connect one of these TVs to your home network, I would suggest that you avoid using Wi-Fi wireless connectivity, especially if the TV or set-top box uses a dongle for this connectivity rather than integrated Wi-Fi connectivity. This is because of the fact the Wi-Fi network is radio-based and if anything is shifted slightly between the Wi-Fi router and the TV, you may have service-reliability issues.

Instead, I would recommend that you use a wired method such as Ethernet cable or a HomePlug AV powerline-network setup. The Ethernet-cable solution would work well if the router and TV are in the same room; you have wired your home for Ethernet or you can get away with snaking Ethernet wiring through windows. On the other hand, the HomePlug solution would work well for most users who don’t want to or can’t lay new wiring through their homes because this uses the house’s existing AC wiring.

In fact, if you are renovating or rewiring your home, it may be worth considering wiring the house for Ethernet and making sure you have an Ethernet connection in the main TV-viewing areas of the house. This may be achievable if you have an electrician who is competent or knows one who is competent with communications or data work doing the job.

Conclusion

This site will have regular coverage of home media network issues that will become of importance as we head down the the path towards online home entertainment.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Rotel RCX-1500 Network CD receiver

Introduction

I am reviewing the Rotel RCX-1500 network CD receiver which is one of the first “big-set” hi-fi units that I have reviewed that can do proper Internet radio and benefit from the DLNA Home Media Network. Previously I have been reviewing Internet radios that are mainly “small-sets” which are table / clock radios or portables and are intended for use as secondary or auxiliary audio devices.

The product class

This unit is infact a CD receiver, a class of “single-piece multi-function” hi-fi music system which continues from where the music centres and casseivers (receivers with integrated cassette decks) of the 1970s and early 1980s left off. Here, some of these units were equipped with the functionality and quality of modest separate-unit hi-fi systems yet they offered this in a single box, which you could just hook up a pair of speakers to. The manufacture of high-sndard pieces of this class of equpment had diminished through the late 80s. This is although Bang & Olufsen were consistent in this field at a premium price and a few other manufacturers like Proton, Bose and Onkyo were releasing in to their model ranges  one or two receivers with integrated CD, tape or MiniDisc transports that weren’t just second-rate music systems.

Then there had been a slow but sure renaissance in this class of good-quality integrated-function hi-fi equipment as the trend for “downsized” living especially in “executive” city apartments became more intense. This is where most of the good hi-fi names ran with at least one CD receiver in their line-up that didn’t come with a set of substandard speakers and this Rotel RCX-1500 that I am reviewing is one such piece of equipment.

Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver

Price

Unit alone: AUD$1999 (recommended retail price)

Speakers (Cabasse Antigua MT30): AUD$999 / pair (recommended retail price)

Functions

Analogue Radio FM RDS
DAB+ Yes
Internet Radio Yes
Network Media Audio
CD Yes
Stored Memory USB memory key
iPod / iPhone Yes

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line input 1 x RCA-connector pair
SPDIF input 1 (PCM – Coaxial and optical)
Output
Headphone output 3.5mm
Pre-amplifier output RCA-connector pair
Network
Wi-Fi 802.11g WPA2 (supplied dongle)
Ethernet 10/100Mbps (supplied dongle)

 

Speakers

Output Power 100 Watts (RMS –
8 ohms, )
2 channels
Speaker Connections Binding-posts

 

This unit was tested with a pair of Cabasse Antigua MT30 bookshelf speakers connected using premium audio cables. These speakers were also on loan from the distributor so I can review this unit properly. They are built using an orthodox two-way driver arrangement and use a bass-reflex enclosure and can work with amplifiers that have a minimum power output of 75 watts and maximum of 500 watts. As far I was concerned, these speakers worked very properly with all kinds of music and could yield a decent sound for their size.

The Rotel CD receiver

Functionality comments

 

Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver - slot-load CD player
Slot-load CD player

It is also worth knowing that this CD receiver has a pair of pre-out connections so one can connect it to a more powerful and better-sounding power amplifier or a pair of active speakers like an active subwoofer or some of the active speakers like B&O’s Beolab range or any of the Bose Powered Acoustimass speakers.

It can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet using supplied network-adaptor dongles. The Ethernet option can also allow it to be used with a HomePlug AV network segment using an appropriate “homeplug” adaptor and I would recommend this as a “no-new-wires” option for connect this CD receiver to the home network.

This functionality allows this CD receiver to provide Internet radio or work with a DLNA-compliant media server that is on your home network. The only limitation with this function is that it doesn’t work as a MediaRenderer which means that you have to select your network media using the Rotel CD receiver’s display.

The tuner is “up to the minute” with broadcast radio in Europe and Australia by supporting FM RDS as well as DAB+ radio. There are two antenna connections for both FM and DAB but you can choose to use the FM aerial for DAB. It came with two aerials – the typical “T-wire” for FM and a small whip one for DAB. With this one, it was able to pick up Melbourne’s DAB multiplexes reliably as long as it was near a window.

But I would rather that this unit be connected to an outdoor aerial especially for FM reception so it can provide clear signal reception. You may also be able to use a digital-optimised Band III aerial for better DAB+ reception especially on fringe areas.

You can connect an iPod or iPhone to the front USB socket using the data cable supplied with your Apple device and the sound that is played off the iPod will be converted to an analogue form using the Rotel receiver’s internal digital-analogue converter. As well, this same socket is used for playing music held on USB memory keys.

The CD player is a slot-load type that performs as expected for a decent-standard player. It can play the regular CDs or file-based MP3 discs and gives “best-case playback” for any CDs recorded with the HDCD mastering technique. This does yield to high-quality sound from these discs.

As for connection of external equipment, this is feasible with a line-in connection in the form of RCA connectors or SPDIF digital in the form of coaxial or optical connectors. There isn’t a line-out connection that is independent of the volume control for use as a recording connection, which may limit this unit’s utility with cassette or MiniDisc decks.

It is also controllable by a supplied remote control which has a numeric keypad for direct access to 30 presets in each of the radio bands – FM, DAB and Internet. As well, this remote also allows for direct access to tracks on a regular CD and is a preferred control surface when you are searching content on a well-stocked media server or using the CD receiver’s setup menus.

Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver remote control

The unit's remote control

This unit’s amplifier is engineered for sound quality. Here, the volume control is a motor-driven potentiometer managed through the control on the front or the remote control. There aren’t any tone-control options, which may please audio purists who believe that tone adjustment affects sound quality.

The display is the white bright fluorescent display but uses four lines of text. This also works with the menu-based operation for advanced functions.

Sound quality

The sound quality for the Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver is what you would expect for equipment in its class. This is even so with the Cabasse Antigua speakers that I am testing this unit with.

It comes across as being tight and good across all frequencies. This means that it gives all the instruments in a sound recording a proper chance rather than sounding like the old pub jukebox. This has come across so well with well-recorded rock like Peter Gabriel’s “1 – Car” album which was considered to be in the same league as Pink Floyd. Here, you still had that “punchy sound” while hearing the vocals and other instruments.

This system was even performing well with classical music especially as I was playing through a recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto which was done with “period” instruments. Here, the combination of this CD receiver and the Cabasse speakers shone through the whole of this popular concerto and was clear with all of the instruments.

As for handling the audio codecs, this amplifier answers the requirement for handling properly-encode music properly especially if you use the “maximum” throughput settings for the codecs like 320kbps MP3 or 192kbps WMA.

Limitations and points of improvement

The network connectivity could be improved on by not requiring the user to deal with easy-to-lose dongles. This is more so with Ethernet as most Internet-enabled hi-fi components and TVs use integrated circuitry with an Ethernet socket on the back.

As well, the Rotel could benefit from WPS setup for Wi-Fi wireless networks especially as most current-issue routers implement this easy-to-use setup method.

An improved version of this unit could support a proper tape loop and a phono input for use with a turntable especially as a lot of the older people may keep records or tapes lying around and could benefit from a simplified system with these inputs.

Conclusion

This is one network-enabled CD receiver that I would recommend for people who have a pair of good-quality bookshelf or “piece-of-furniture” speakers that they wish to keep going but want to benefit from newer sources like music held on their home network or iPod; or Internet radio. I would also consider this unit as a the core of a simplified music system if they want to choose their own good speakers.

This unit, along with the Cabasse Antigua speakers or bookshelf speakers of a similar standard, would be an ideal simple music system for use in an apartment or small house by people who place high value on music. It is especially more suitable with older retired people who are moving towards smaller flats or retirement villages.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Pure One Flow portable Internet radio (Frontier Internet Radio platform)

Introduction

I am reviewing the Pure One Flow portable Internet radio which is the younger brother of the Pure Evoke Flow radio that I have reviewed a while ago. This unit is designed along the same lines as the “old-style” portable radio that can be perched on a window sill or the top of a fridge.

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$249

ChargePAK battery pack: AUD$99

Pure One Flow portable Internet radio

Functions

Analogue Radio FM RDS stereo
DAB+ Yes
Internet Radio vTuner (Pure Lounge portal)
Network Media DLNA media player

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line input 1 x 3.5mm phone jack
Output  
Headphone output 1 x 3.5mm phone jack
Network  
Wi-Fi 802.11g WPA
Ethernet Requires mini-USB Ethernet adaptor

 

Speakers

Output Power 2.5 Watts (RMS) 1 channel
Speaker Layout 1 3.5” full-range

 

The Internet radio

The Pure One Flow is the same size as a midsized portable radio and is housed in a rubberised cabinet with knobs for volume and “select” function and buttons below LCD display. The rubberised casing is a marked difference from the glossy plastic that is used on some radios, which attracts fingerprints and is hard to keep clean. I also like the knobs, especially for the sound volume because it is an interface most of us are accustomed to, where you can just “flick” the knob downwards to turn it down.

Like the Evoke Flow radio that I previously reviewed, this unit can work on AC using a supplied “wall-wart” power adaptor or battery power using a “ChargePAK” rechargeable battery pack that is available as an extra-cost option.

Pure One Flow portable Internet radio - side viewAudio connectivity is in the form of an auxiliary-in jack so you can use the radio as an amplified speaker for your MP3 player or other audio device. It also has a headphone jack which is a connection that I am noticing is becoming increasingly rare for Internet radios. The reason I find this connection important is that you could use an active-speaker system like a pair of computer speakers as better-sounding more-powerful speakers for the radio.

The set works well as a DAB-based digital radio, being able to pick up all of the multiplexes that are broadcast in our area.

For Internet-radio station selection, this unit uses a  “Form style” user interface if you intend to select a smaller group of stations but will give you the complete list of stations if you are just browsing. This is in contrast to the “tree-based” approach that most Internet radios use for selecting stations.

There is also access to a “sounds” service where you can hear sounds like sea wave; as well as access to the “FlowSongs” music download service.

This radio works properly as a DLNA-compliant media player, being able to play most audio file types that are held on UPnP AV media servers.

The sound quality for this set is very similar to an average mid-sized portable radio such as the archetypal transistor radio of the 1960s. It can still fill an average-sized room with music and the sound is focused around the middle frequencies.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

This unit could be improved with the telescopic aerial being used for the Wi-Fi wireless network as well as for FM and DAB radio.  The Wi-Fi functionality could work well with keeping the details for up to five wireless networks, which can be useful if you take the radio between multiple locations, which is something you would be tempted to do more readily with this set.

Another limitation is that you can’t enable daylight-saving time on this set. Instead, when you determine the time zone, you only can set up for standard time. This could be rectified with a firmware update which exposes a “daylight-saving” on-off function or access to a table of “spring-forward / fall-back” times hosted on the manufacturer’s Website.

Another improvement that I would like to see would be to support regular AA, C or D batteries even with a battery cage so you don’t have to look for the hard-to-get ChargePAK battery packs.

Conclusion

This set may be considered as an option when you want to replace that old “transistor radio” with something that gives you access to “modern” radio sources like DAB or Internet radio. It could he very useful where you want a set of this class to be highly rugged and durable.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Pioneer NAC-3 Internet audio system with 2 iPod Docks

Introduction

I am reviewing the Pioneer NAC-3 (XW-NAC3) Internet music system with 2 iPod docks. This DLNA-enabled network media unit is a flagship model that heads a series of iPod speaker docks that Pioneer has recently released and is the latest attempt by this company to sell “small-set” audio equipment like portable, clock and table radios.

This Japanese company has always been known for high-quality home audio / video equipment since the 1960s and car audio equipment since the 1970s but has dabbled in the highly-competitive product class at various times through the 70s and 80s, initially selling these goods under the “Centrex” brand in some markets but eventually simply selling them under their own brand. This unit is an example of how Pioneer, along with the other Japanese consumer-electronics companies are trying to get their claws back in to a very competitive product class which is awash with many cheap Chinese-built products that are sold under many different brand names.

As an echo to the earlier attempts in the “small-set” audio product class, this unit has functionality that makes it stand out from the pack. One party piece is to work with 2 iPod or iPhone devices and play tracks from one or both of the devices and another one is to properly implement “three-box” DLNA Network Media functionality where it can be managed by a Windows 7 computer or other DLNA control point.

It will also be the first time I have reviewed a network media device and am implementing these “at-a-glance” tables for this class of device. Regular readers may have noticed that I am implementing these “at a glance” tables when I review laptop computers and printers so people can see the basic facts about these products before they read the review text.

Pioneer NAC-3 Internet radio and iPod dock

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$699

Functions

Internet Radio vTuner
Network Media DLNA
3-box DLNA functionality Controlled Playback Device
– Content Selection
– Audio Content Playback
– Volume Adjustment (Network media)
Local Stored Memory USB
iPod / iPhone 2 iPhone docks

Connections

Input
Audio Line input 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Output
Video Line output 1 x composite RCA jack
Network
Ethernet Standard 100BaseT Ethernet

Speakers and Sound Output

Output Power 10 Watts RMS per channel
(8 ohms, 10% THD)
2 channels (stereo)
Speaker Layout 2.0 stereo layout 2 x  3” (6.6cm) Full-range
2 x 3” (7.6cm) Passive radiator

 

The unit itself

Pioneer XW-NAC3 remote control

Card-type remote control

This unit has been designed to appeal to the young generation who just want something new rather than your “father’s old station-wagon”. Here, it has a shape that is similar to a banana and is finished in a glossy-white plastic cabinet. It can come with three different speaker-cloth colours – burgundy-red, black or white. As well, it comes with a card-size infrared remote control which you have to use for operating most functions including access to Internet radio.

This unit can play music from 2 iPod or iPhone devices; a Bluetooth A2DP-compliant audio source, a USB Mass-Storage Device or a line-level source as well as material over the network. But this set lacks some functions that I have been used to with most Internet radio units that I have reviewed previously on this site.

One function that it misses is the ability to connect to the host network via Wi-Fi wireless. Here, you have to connect it to the network using an Ethernet cable, but you could use a HomePlug kit or a Wi-Fi-Ethernet client bridge to connect it to the home network and want “around-the-home” flexibility without needing to lay Ethernet wiring. The other function that it lacks is access to regular broadcast radio, whether FM or DAB+ digital radio. This may not be of concern if you are seeing this unit as an Internet-enabled complementary radio / network music terminal / iPod speaker doc while you use your ordinary radio (which most households have plenty of) for listening to regular local broadcast radio.

iPod playback

2 iPod docks on the Pioneer NAC-3

You can play and charge two iPods or iPhones here

The ability to play and charge 2 iPod or iPhone devices is useful for quite a few applications. For example, a person who has one of those high-capacity “iPod Classic” series devices can still use this device as a “jukebox” alongside their new iPhone 4 that they have just signed a contract for. This is infact the demonstration setup that I used with an iPod Classic and an iPhone that I had borrowed from a teenage boy that is living with me.  Similarly, a household with many “iDevices” can this as a charging station for two of these devices. The two-iPod function is augmented by a dual-device shuffle mode which plays tracks from each of these devices sequentially. The iDevices can even be put in to “shuffle” mode so as to allow the unit to randomly pick music across the devices.

Bluetooth A2DP

The system can also work with Bluetooth A2DP audio sources like a lot of mobile phones, tablet computer (including the iPad) or some MP3 players. Here, this worked as a “Bluetooth speaker” for my Nokia N85 mobile phone and had worked as expected. The track navigation and PLAY/PAUSE buttons on the remote control had controlled the music playback on my phone.

The pairing experience was a bit confusing because there was one procedure to set up the paring code but this didn’t make the unit “open for pairing”. You actually had to press the PLAY button on the remote control to achieve this goal and begin the pairing process.

Network functionality

All the media available via the home network connection is accessed when you select “Home Media Gallery” as the function source. This includes the Internet radio as well as music files available from any of the DLNA Home Media servers on your network.

Internet radio

The Internet radio works from the vTuner Internet-radio directory and has the similar directory structure to all of the other radios that I have reviewed. It has the ability to store 30 Internet-radio stations with 10 stations in three “classes”. You will have to use this function once you regularly listen to particular Internet-radio stations because if the set loses connection with the station, you will need to “retune” to that station.

It can handle jitter and latency situations OK but as I have said before, it goes to the “Home Media Gallery” menu once it drops out and loses the connection. This can happen at busy times when the Internet service is oversubscribed and there isn’t proper QoS functionality on the network between the radio station’s server and this set.

DLNA network media

This unit integrates properly with the DLNA Home Media Network. Here, it will work as a network music player where you select your content using the NAC-3’s display and remote control; and it will even list the UPnP AV / DLNA Media Servers that exist on your network when you select the “Home Media Gallery” function so you can start “delving” in to the content on your desired server.

It also works properly as a network-controlled music player when you use a UPnP AV / DLNA control point program like Windows Media Player 12 (Windows 7) or a mobile phone with a DLNA media control program. I have even tried this with my Nokia N85 phone which I use as a personal “Walkman” and have “pushed” music held on the phone to this unit via the home network. As well, unlike some DLNA-compliant media players that are meant to work under network control that I have used, this unit will even play a program of music that you direct it to play from the network-based control device.

Sound Adjustments and Quality

There are bass and treble controls accessible from the remote control but I had kept the bass and treble set at “flat” so as to hear a sound that I can assess fairly. There is a “sound-effect” button which allows the system to be switched between a “vivid” mode with a bit of extra bass and treble, a “Lo-Fi” mode which yields a cheap transistor-radio sound and an “ALC” mode which keeps the sound level constant for use in noisy environments.

Even if I don’t use the sound-effect modes and I have the bass and treble flat, this Internet radio doesn’t sound like a “gutless wonder”. There is still some punchy bass even with popular music that was recorded before there was the desire to make such music sound boomier and louder. Yet you still hear the vocals and instruments that carry the body of the music clearly and distinctly. Even the heavy bass lines from the recent dance tracks that were on the iPod and iPhone that I borrowed from the teenager to try out the dual-iPod functionality didn’t worry this music system much and they still sounded “tight” – there wasn’t that old bass-heavy “jukebox” sound.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

The Pioneer NAC-3 Internet music system could benefit from integrated Wi-Fi wireless-network or HomePlug powerline network connectivity. This is more so because it is the kind of network device that appeals to being taken around the house from room to room.

It could also benefit from a headphone jack because some people use this jack to connect a more-powerful active-speaker system or an amplifier to these devices for increased sound output. As well, the VIDEO output on this unit could be used not just for iPods and iPhones that have a video output. Here, this jack could work with the DLNA network media player to play pictures and video material through a connected TV set.

The Internet radio functionality could have some improvements in the way it operates. It could come back to the “last-tuned” Internet station or attempt to reconnect itself after a dropout. But this may have to be facilitated through a separate “Internet Radio” function on the function selector like what most other Internet radios have.

Conclusion

I would recommend this unit for people who either run two or more iPods or iPhones; a Bluetooth-enabled music-capable phone or have established a DLNA Home Media Network and want a “complementary” transportable device that can get the most out of their digital music library available on their portable devices or home network.

Send to Kindle

HDTVs and a BD-Live Blu-Ray player driven by Google TV offered by Sony to the US

Articles

Sony Intros the Worlds First HDTV Powered by Google TV | eHomeUpgrade

Sony Internet TV & Sony Internet Blu-ray Player Revealed at NYC Event | Sony Insider

My comments

The new Sony TVs and Blu-Ray player have moved from a regular Sony firmware to a firmware based on the Google TV platform with access to the Android Market. This will provide the extensibility that Google TV can provide especially when new “over-the-top” or interactive TV services come on the Internet scene.

There is no mention of any DLNA support for integration with the DLNA Home Media Network devices; but an Android app pitched at Google TV devices could solve the problem.

At the moment, these sets are only available to US market with the market-specific features such as an ATSC tuner with CableCard support and the BD-Live Blu-Ray player only able to play DVD Region 1 and BD Region A discs. But it doesn’t take long for Sony to reconfigure their TV devices for the European, Asian or Australian / New-Zealand markets by adding features that are specific to these markets .

Technorati Tags: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Send to Kindle

New NETGEAR products for the home network

 NETGEAR Rolls Out HD Media Players, UTM and Powerline Products – SmallNetBuilder

My Comments

I have read the attached article and found that most of the devices had impressed me as devices that would work well in a home or small-business network. This was because of particular abilities that had made the devices unique rather than run-off-the-mill devices.

NeoTV network media players

NETGEAR NeoTV 550 network media player

NeoTV 550 network media player

This group of NeoTV network media players may be very similar to the other network media players  like WDTV Live that are appearing on the market. This is that they are capable of playing audiovisual media held on a USB memory key, camera card reader or external hard drive; or from a DLNA/UPnP-AV-compliant media server that exists on your network. But one of the models in this lineup, the NeoTV 550,  has eSATA connectivity and the ability to be a Blu-Ray Disc player when connected to an optional eSATA-connected Blu-Ray drive. This can benefit people who want to consider running this unit alongside their DVD player as a network media player but may take the plunge for Blu-Ray when they are ready.

At the moment, I am not sure whether this unit can work as a substitute DVD player if it is connected to an eSATA or USB DVD drive or a DVD is loaded in to a connected Blu-Ray drive.

HomePlug AV 802.11n access point

NETGEAR XAVN2001 HomePlug AV 802.11n wireless access point

XAVN2001 HomePlug AV 802.11n wireless access point

One device I am pleased to see on the scene is the XAVN2001 HomePlug AV 802.11n wireless access point which work like some of the 802.11g wireless access points that can connect to a HomePlug 1.0 Turbo segment. It is also available as part of the XAVNB2001 kit which includes the Netgear XAV2001 HomePlug AV-Ethernet bridge as well as this access point. Like these other access points, this unit plugs in to the wall and works as a bridge between an Ethernet segment and a HomePlug AV powerline segment as well as being an access point for a 2.4GHz 802.11n wireless network.

This device can work as a way of extending the effective radio footprint of an 802.11n wireless network with the use of an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backbone. On the other hand, it could bring an 802.11n wireless network and Ethernet network point in to an outbuilding or static caravan (trailer) in the manner talked about in my feature article “Multi-Building Home Networks”.

Quick extension-access-point setup with WPS

I had done further research about this access point through Netgear’s Web site and found that this unit uses WPS as a way of simplifying the creation of a multiple-access-point wireless-network segment. This kind of segment, also known as an “extended service set” makes use of multiple access points with the same SSID, network operating mode and security parameters so a portable device can move between access points with minimal user intervention. I have written a bit about the concept of using WPS as a way of simplifying setup of a small multi-access-point wireless network in an article I had posted last year on this site at its old location and had moved to the current location.

The user just has to hold down the unit’s ON-OFF button for a few seconds then press the WPS button on the WPS-ready wireless “edge” router to start the configuration routine. A few moments later, they are then able to move the access point to the area where the Wi-Fi network is needed and proceed to connect this access point to the Ethernet or HomePlug AV backbone which the wireless router should be connected to.

Conclusion

If more manufacturers can look towards making affordable and easy-to-use network devices, they can end up with equipment that will appeal to most users and have equipment that is out of the ordinary.

Send to Kindle

A Sony Network Media Player to upgrade your HDTV with

News Articles

Sony’s Upcoming SMP-N100 Networked Media Player Packs a Punch | eHomeUpgrade

Hands on: Sony’s $129 N100 Media Player ‘Does More Than Roku | CEPro

My comments

Already have a Sharp LCD TV / Blu-Ray Disc combo or a good LCD TV or projector hooked up to a Blu-Ray player that you like so much? You may want network video playback or access to Internet TV.

This was fulfilled with devices like the WD TV Live or similar devices but if you place heavy value on consumer-electronics brands, you could be interested in the Sony SMP-N100 Networked Media Player. This unit isn’t just a DLNA Networked Media Player but is a dedicated component version of the Sony Bravia Internet Video platform which is what Sony is using to bring Internet video and applications to the lounge-room TV.

It can work with an 802.11g/n Wi-Fi home network, an Ethernet network or a HomePlug network if you use a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge and can play media from USB Mass-Storage Devices but there are still a few questions that need to be answered.

One is whether the device can work properly as a Network Media Renderer where it is controlled by a DLNA-compliant external controller like TwonkyManager, Andromote or PlugPlayer and the other is whether it can handle high-definition media like high-resolution “megapixel” JPEGs or AVC-HD videos properly and quickly on suitable equipment. The former function is one I would consider important if you are using it to play music from your home network and you don’t want to turn on the TV to select what you want to play.

At least this is an example of a way of bringing Internet-based video to most users in a cost-effective way without having to consider replacing video equipment.

Send to Kindle

An Internet “edge” router that can become a DLNA media player and controller

Article

D-Link’s Xteme N DIR-685 All-In-One Router Gets DLNA Certification and Some Nifty New Features | eHomeUpgrade

Download link:

D-Link’s support website – DIR-685 downloads

My comments

I had previously mentioned the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N Broadband Router / Electronic Picture Frame in this site during my coverage of the CES 2009 show in January 2009. This warranted my attention because of a storage router that also worked as an electronic picture frame because of its colour LCD display.

This router also was part of the DLNA Media Network because it could become a DLNA media server for material held on a user-installed hard disk or an external USB-based storage device. But this functionality has been extended through the latest firmware update for it to become a control point in the DLNA Media Network as well as showing pictures held on other DLNA Media Servers on that same network.

By the same token, the screen can be controlled by other DLNA Media control points such as TwonkyManager or a control point integrated in a smartphone like Andromote (Android), PlugPlayer (iOS – iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch) or the one that part of most of the Nokia phones.

At the moment, the utility of this function is limited to digital images because there isn’t any sound-handling functionality in this router.

This could lead to ideas like a “two-box two-screen” network solution for visual merchandising consisting of this router and a Sony or Samsung DLNA-ready TV with images shown on both the router and the TV. Similarly, this device could be seen as another “screen” for pictures to appear in another area but sharing a common pool of pictures in the network.

Therefore this is another example of a common standard breeding product software innovation rather than an imitative design culture.

Send to Kindle