UPnP AV / DLNA media-playback hardware) Archive

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

Introduction

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

Software availability

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

As a multimedia phone terminal

High-contrast OLED 2

The N85's high-contrast OLED display

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

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

The phone as a GPS unit

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

The phone as a Walkman

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

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

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

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

The integrated camera

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

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

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

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

Connectivity

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

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

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

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

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

Existence in the small network

WiFi Networks

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

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

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

UPnP / DLNA Functionality

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

Mail terminal

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

Web browsing

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

Internet Radio

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

Conclusion, including the phone’s “cool factor”

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

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

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

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Serious about music with DLNA

I have been observing the situation with UPnP AV / DLNA as a standard for network-based music distribution and have noticed something which may be considered unusual in the world of “serious hi-fi”.  A few boutique hi-fi manufacturers, Arcam, Linn, Naim, T+A and Revox, have spent a lot of time in technical research in to achieving the best sound with good music provided via FM radio, records, tapes and CD, have taken their expertise towards music distributed via the home network.

Their solutions have been based around the UPnP AV / DLNA media-delivery protocol over common IP networks and using common codecs like MP3, FLAC, AAC and, in some cases Ogg Vorbis and WMA. Because they don’t need to develop client and server software and that the DLNA media server is available in standalone devices like NAS boxes, therefore, it has become easier for the manufacturers to concentrate on high-quality decoding, digital-analogue conversion and reproduction of the music through their equipment. A lot of these units support the DLNA standard to full expectations such as support for “three-box” operation as mentioned in this feature article.

Some manufacturers have built the functionality in to a receiver(Arcam FMJ AVR600) or music system supplied with or without speakers (Naim Uniti, T+A Caruso, T+A Music Player) or have supplied it as a component (Linn Akurate, Klimax or Majik DS) or retrofit kit for existing equipment (Revox Module Multimedia for M10 or M51 receiver).

Other manufacturers in this league haven’t yet supported UPnP AV / DLNA because of investment in a multi-room audio distribution system or network audio technology they have invested in; haven’t yet developed such equipment or simply that they want to stay away from the field of network audio.

I have written up an article about integrating classical music in to your network music collection and have made suggestions regarding optimum codec setups for your digital-audio files. This is worth reading if you intend to use any of these products with your home network and want to get the best value out of them.

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Is this the new direction for Internet radios?

 Pure Sensia DAB / WiFi radio gains touchscreen, streaming and Facebook

Pure Sensia radio microsite

My comments on this Internet radio

The Pure Sensia DAB / WiFi radio is now demonstrating that the concept of a mobile Internet device is approaching the Internet radio domain. This unit, which is the size of a low-end boom-box and equipped with stereo speakers, will have the usual Internet radio functionality like online access through a portal as well as DAB / FM tuner and access to music held on a DLNA-compatible home media network. But it has the kind of functionality associated with the mobile Internet devices by having access to weather, RSS webfeeds and the ubiquitous Facebook social network. There is even room to expand the functionality through downloaded applications just like you can with most smartphones.

Another thing that impressed me about this Internet radio was the use of an RF link rather than an infrared link for the set’s remote control. One major advantage is that you don’t have to point the remote control at the set to control it. But the main method of operating this radio is through the touchscreen just like you can with the Apple iPhone or iPod Touch; or a well-designed information kiosk. Even the task of adjusting the volume or tuning the FM stations is through a natural interface of you sliding a volume control or FM tuning pointer.

If a manufacturer like Pure can develop an Internet radio that works like an MID, who knows what will happen in the class of connected consumer-electronics devices? Will we end up with more of the converged devices that become more like mobile Internet devices?

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Feature Article – DLNA Network Media Series: The three-box DLNA network model

This is an advanced way of setting up a DLNA Home Media Network and requires a network media player to be able to be controlled by other devices on the same network.

It is a function integral to DLNA 1.5 compatible devices and is part of TwonkyMedia Manager (which I have reviewed here) since it started. Now it will be an integral part of Windows 7 where you can select “Play To” to have music playing on another device that you have specified. There will be many handheld terminals that have this functionality, either as part of the operating system or as add-on software.

The three boxes in this DLNA media network

Three are three logical units in this equation

Media Server

This holds media files or references to media streams and is typically represented by Windows Media Player 11 or TwonkyMedia Server which is part of TwonkyMedia Manager which I have reviewed in this blog. Also, in a PC-less solution, it can be a network-attached storage or music server device.

Media Control Point

This is primarily a software program or hardware device that can find material on any Media Servers on the home network and allow the user to “push” the content to any Media Render device on the network.

Media Renderer

The Media Renderer is similar to a UPnP-capable Media Player except that it can accept instructions via the home network to play particular media files or streams.

Typically this setup is represented by three boxes but a device can have two or three of the functions built in to its housing. An example of this is the TwonkyMedia Manager program or the PlugPlayer DLNA controller for the iPhone or any of the recent Nokia N-Series mobile phones. Here, the program has a built-in software media renderer function as well as a software media server function and control point.

UPnP AV 3-box model

What can you do

Put the netbook or another computer to good use as a media controller

An idea that would appeal to many geeks and media enthusiasts is to load a program like TwonkyMedia Manager 1.2 on to a netbook or subnotebook computer and use this computer as a remote media controller for the DLNA Home Media Network. This could mean that you could bring up pictures and video on a DLNA-capable TV or electronic picture frame using this terminal. This would end up being much easier than finding the remote control for the TV and working through an unwieldy user interface.

As well, handheld devices like smartphones, mobile Internet devices or PDAs that are equipped with WiFi functionality can work as a remote control, whether natively (in the case of phones like most of the Nokia N-Series phones) or through a software program available through their standard Web channels.

Similarly, you could use your office PC to show merchandising videos / images on your DLNA-equipped TVs and picture frames in the shop’s public space rather than going around to each TV or picture frame to bring up the right merchandising material.

Use of AV network media adaptors for music or other audio content

Typically, an AV network media adaptor like the D-Link DSM-320 or the Zyxel DMA-1100P typically doesn’t have any form of display on it. Instead it requires the user to control it using the remote control while using the attached TV as its display. This wouldn’t equate very well if you intend to play music rather than show pictures or videos using the device. Here, these devices can be managed by having the music playlists pushed to them without need for the attached television to be on.

“Follow Me”, “Party Mode” and other advanced playback techniques

Some of the DLNA media controllers allow for advanced playback techniques where program material can be “pushed” to other Media Renderer devices from a particular point in the track. This can allow for “follow-me” playback where the content which was already playing on one device is played on another user-specified device with the content stopping at the previous device; or “party mode” where content is broadcast to a group of devices. The last mode may have problems due to the data-oriented network protocols not being able to work well in supporting synchronous playback from one source.

Similarly, there could be other playback techniques like exhibiting different pictures from the same cluster on different screens.

Portable devices being part of the DLNA digital media network

Another application for this kind of operation is for a digital camera or mobile phone to “push” digital images held on that device to DLNA-compliant TV screens or picture frames. This would typically work well for “there-and-then” showing of pictures and videos taken with the device rather than downloading of pictures to a network-attached storage device.

Similarly a mobile phone or MP3 player could “push” digital music held therein to better speakers via a digital media adaptor.

The main issues and hurdles

Is the playback device able to be controlled by the home network

Not all DLNA-capable playback equipment is capable of supporting “3-box” push-mode operation at the moment. Typically, most DLNA equipment from the big names that was issued over the last two years, especially televisions and network media adaptors and home theatre receivers will support this functionality “out of the box” or through a firmware update that the customer does. Some existing equipment may support the functionality through a customer-performed firmware update or may do so out of the box. One of the best references for this capability is this list in the TwonkyForum discussion board run by TwonkyMedia, in relation to TwonkyMedia Manager.

Is the playback device set up to be controlled by the home network

Another thing to look for with playback devices is whether the function is enabled even though the device has the function. This may be looked at in the form of a Settings menu option in the Network Settings Menu or similar menu which may be labeled “Digital Media Renderer Mode”, “DLNA Remote Control”, “Network Media Control” or something similar. If this mode is set to on, the device can respond to DLNA requests.

Some devices have the function disabled in the default factory setup while others may allow this kind of control by default.

Conclusion

Once you have this issue worked out, you can then use a handheld device, computer or dedicated remote controller to cause media to play on other home network devices.

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NETGEAR Digital Entertainer Elite Now Shipping Worldwide | eHomeUpgrade

NETGEAR Digital Entertainer Elite Now Shipping Worldwide | eHomeUpgrade

My Comments:

Previously, I had made some comments about the NETGEAR Digital Entertainer Elite network media receiver / server that was previewed last year. I had mentioned about Netgear considering the possibility of extending its functionality as a DLNA media server, especially since it has a user-replaceable 500G SATA hard disk built in.  The original model that was talked up happened to be the EVA-9000 but this model that is now released is the EVA-9150, but this unit is part of the same series.

Now it is released worldwide rather than being “dribbled out” in to different countries over the year. It is selling for a manufacturer’s retail price of USD$399 which may mean a likely street price of USD$300-350. This may make the unit more suitable for people who have invested in good-quality flat-screen installations.

It would also come off as being useful in the “small-business” context for “digital signage” and similar applications, whether you upload the pictures to the hard drive or hook the unit up to a computer or NAS running a suitable DLNA server. Here, a “showcase” of regularly-used material can be kept on the hard disk, but other material can be held on computers that are on the business network.

I am certain expecting that this could bring Netgear further in to the network media receiver market and will make this market competitive.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Comments

Kitchen / laundry appliances, building control and security

Unlike the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2008 in Berlin, this show hasn’t headed towards exhibiting kitchen / laundry appliances and building control / security devices. But a show like this could head down that direction under various mandates like the “green” energy-efficiency mandate and the “smart home” mandate.

The main reason that this has been put off is because of the financial downturn in the US where many of these companies who rely primarily on the “new building” market are simply not selling many of these devices, therefore cannot afford to spend on this kind of activity.

Windows 7 Goes Beta

This has meant a major milestone for Microsoft in having Windows 7 legitimately enter the public beta stage. It has allowed the blogosphere to talk about improvements to the way Windows will be working under this operating system.

One major improvement will be the Device Stage where there will be an integrated user interface for all of the peripherals that the computer benefits from. It doesn’t matter whether the device is connected by a USB or other peripheral-connect cable or is accessed over a wireless peripheral link or the IP network the computer is a member of. This interface will provide access to the standard tasks for managing the device as well as any manufacturer-specified tasks for that device.

Another highlighted connectivity improvement is the Windows 7 “Home Group” which simplifies how a home network is set up and represented. This also includes any “non-computer devices” like network media players, network-attached storage units, games consoles and IP cameras.

Large colour bit-map display as a preferred user-interface display for “fixed” consumer electronics

Previously, we have seen “fixed” consumer-electronics devices like stereo / home-theatre equipment, computer network equipment and similar hardware having either a vacuum fluorescent display, monochrome liquid-crystal display, monochrome LED display or lately an OEL display as their user-interface display. Such a display would take up a small area of the device’s front panel and typically show textual information. If they show graphical information, it would be a low-resolution display which represents a “current-function” icon or a bar-graph representing a quantity like sound level.

Now manufacturers are supplying some of their devices with high-resolution colour LCD or OEL displays. Examples of this include the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N router / electronic photo frame / UPnP Media Server; Linksys’s Network Home Audio products and Linksys’s new media-focused DLNA NAS boxes. This has been because of high-resolution colour LCD modules of sizes up to 17 inches becoming more cost-effective.

This has allowed the “fixed ”consumer-electronics devices to have a user interface that is very similar to that provided by the coolest portable devices. It has also allowed manufacturers to look towards equipping their devices with touchscreens and iPod-style “spinwheels”. The user-interface menus on these devices are starting to have the same kind of experience that is accepted on the latest set-top boxes or portable media players.

It will certainly make those monochrome user-interface displays look so tired and “yesterday” as far as product user-interface design is concerned.

SDXC – the next-generation high-capacity SD card

The standard SDXC card can hold up to 2Tb, and being part of the SD Card lineup, be available in the three physical card sizes available for these cards. This iteration of the SD card would primarily appeal to portable devices like laptops, DSLRs, HD camcorders, etc. Could the SD card be the replacement for the hard disk especially in small portable computers like netbooks or as a large firmware storage for electronic devices?

The only limitation about this technology would be that SDXC cards wouldn’t be able to be read in the existing SD or SDHC devices.

LCD TVs – 7mm thick, Plasma TVs – 8.8mm thick

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/4159682/Worlds-thinnest-television-unveiled.html

Thinner flat-panel displays based on the common large-screen technologies are appearing. This will allow for improved consolidation for the display unit, thus allowing also for lighter sets and reduced “bill-of-materials” costs for this class of electronics. Manufacturers can allocate more room for extra functionality and there will be less of the overheating that occurs in these sets because of improved airflow over the chassis. This also leads to improvements in operational efficiency thus reducing the accusation about the large-screen flat-panel TVs being as inefficient as a 4-wheel-drive “Toorak tractor”.

MoCA being launched to the consumer

Mostly this will manifest in the form of “Ethernet-Coax” bridges in a similar form to the common “homeplugs” which are simply “powerline-Ethernet” bridges. Read more about MoCA in this article in this blog.

US-market TVs equipped with Netflix and similar service

In the US, Netflix and similar video-on-demand companies are “buttering up” to the “brown-goods” companies to integrate support for their service in their TV sets and similar devices. Similarly, some TV manufacturers are moving towards providing mid-range and premium equipment with built-in large-screen Internet viewing functionality. This will typically require the TVs, PVRs or set-tops to have Ethernet ports or WiFi connectivity.

If a customer wants to use this kind of feature, they should use the wired means (Ethernet, MoCA, HomePlug) rather than WiFi because this will provide increased reliability with these services.

An ideal feature for these sets would be to have DLNA / UPnP AV functionality with “Play-to” support. This can allow one to view or listen to their own media library whether it is held on their own PC or network-attached storage unit. It is more so because a lot of the NAS units pitched at the home market are being equipped with DLNA server functionality.

Linksys DLNA-compliant music systems and NAS boxes

1 music system with CD player, 1 network music system and 1 network audio receiver, all able to be controlled by a Linksys WiFi remote controller. Linksys is also selling “media-optimised” DLNA-compliant NAS boxes, one of which has a memory card slot for “dump to NAS” ability and a colour LCD display.

The “dump to NAS” memory card slot featured on the mid-range and deluxe units could come in handy with digital-camera memory cards and SlotMusic cards by making the content that exists on these cards available to the home network at all times.

Premiere of USB 3.0

The first few devices will be out, mainly in the form of external hard disks. Could this be an alternative to eSATA as an external hard-disk connection? Could it work as a “fat pipe” for a WiFi-N network adaptor.

The situation will be the same as what has happened with the launch of USB 2.0 where it will be available in a “retrofit” form for existing computers. This option will then end up being available as part of computer hardware introduce from next year onwards.

Premiere of eCoupled

Fulton Innovation had officially promoted the eCoupled inductive power-coupling system, providing it as an alternative to corded power for portable devices. They had set up a proving ground at the CES for wirelessly charging mobile phones, cordless power tools and remote controllers.

This technology will benefit portable entertainment and IT devices by achieving a standard wire-free power source for these devices. They also had proven the idea of “parking” a remote control on a set-top box or TV set so it can be charged quickly. It could allow for the TV or set-top box to perform required tasks like shut-down whenever the remote is parked on or removed from the unit.

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Nokia Unveils the Nokia Home Music Wi-Fi Radio | eHomeUpgrade

Nokia Unveils the Nokia Home Music Wi-Fi Radio | eHomeUpgrade

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My comments

Before long, it will be that nearly every consumer-electronics manufacturer will be providig a DLNA-compliant Internet radio in the form of a table radio. What will need to eventually happen is that the manufacturers design units that offer something special beyond their competitors.

From this review that I read, I had noticed that Nokia had moved away from the same old monochrome LCD display and headed towards a colour display like on their phones. Other steps of improvement in this class included a digital output which can allow the set to be amplified via a home theatre receiver like some of the Philips and Yamaha “soundbars”. But the way Nokia could improve on this design would be to have a variable output connection for a matching right-channel speaker that can be sold as an option; similar to the Tivoli NetWorks Internet radio.

But with more of these sets coming on the market at prices affordable for most, it may be worth reading my article about establishing a PC-less media network in your home network i.e. to set up a dedicated media server like a NAS box and move your media to that server.

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Sneak Peek: Netgear EVA9000 Digital Entertainer Elite | eHomeUpgrade

Sneak Peek: Netgear EVA9000 Digital Entertainer Elite | eHomeUpgrade

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My comments

Now Netgear is raising the bar as far as these network media receivers is concerned. It is an attempt to provide a UPnP-complint high-end network media receiver for those of us who want to bring the video files held on the NAS unit to the home theatre that has the big plasma screen and surround-sound.

The built-in hard disk option could be improved upon in the form of being able to be a UPnP AV / DLNA media server. This can then lead to the unit being an entry-point media server or supporting the provision of “load ‘n’ show” media being available on other DLNA media devices in the home network. This is if the purpose of the optional hard disk isn’t just for downloading content as part of an rental-based or subscription video-on-demand service. Another ideal function would be to be under the control of another UPnP AV control point, whih can allow it to play audio content without the user needing to have the TV on to choose the content.

It will be interesting to see what the reviews in the computer press and the blogosphere think of this unit and its usability.

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Feature Article – DLNA Network Media Series: Setting up PC-less networked AV

Why set up a PC-less networked AV setup

A PC-less networked AV setup doesn’t need a particular computer to be present and running to provide AV media to DLNA client devices.

The media is provisioned by a box that is designed for providing AV media to client devices 24/7. This avoids situations where the media is not available due to the PC crashing or being infested with malware; both events that can be very common occurrences with most home computers. There is no need to worry about a PC which is being used for playing games or doing other system-intensive activities limiting media availability. Similarly, these setups use less energy than a PC working as a media server.

This setup also suits today’s laptop-based computing environment where laptop computers are more likely to be moved from place to place. It also suits environments like holiday houses where there is no real use in keeping a desktop computer on the premises but there is the desire to have occasional Internet access at such locations.

As well, this kind of setup appeals to computer-shy people who may want to benefit from digitally-hosted media. This is because there is no need to have a noisy ugly computer in the house for this kind of activity to occur.

Another bonus is that when you add more media client devices to the network, a dedicated media server can handle the increased demand more capably. Contrast this with a PC where the odds of failing when serving more devices can increase rapidly.

What kinds of PC-less media server exist?

Dedicated DLNA music server (Philips Streamium WACS-7000, Sony GigaJuke  NAS-S55HDE, etc)

This unit is typically in the form of a hi-fi system or component that is part of such a system. It has a single hard disk that is primarily for storing media, typically music files and have a network interface, either in the Ethernet or 802.11g wireless form.

Such units will have a built-in CD drive and can “rip” audio tracks from CDs loaded in that drive. They will have access to a metadata service like Gracenote so that the tracks are properly indexed by song title, artist (both album and contributing), genre and album title. As well, they could record audio to the hard drive from a device connected to the server’s line-level input or, where applicable, from a built-in radio tuner. This is in a similar manner to recording music to tapes from the radio using that good old cassette deck.

A lot of these systems expose features and functions that only work best with selected client equipment sold by the server’s manufacturer. They may have limitations concerning transferring audio files to and from the unit’s hard disk, which may limit backup or secondary-storage opportunities. Usually they require a computer to run a special utility in order to transfer music files to or from the unit.

Standalone NAS (network-attached storage) box

These devices are simply a dedicated file-storage device that is connected to the home network and handles files according to standard network-based file-handling protocols. They often provide backup file storage and secondary file storage for computers on the network as well as media-server functionality.  Some users may use the hard disks in these units as a “holding bay” for their computer’s hard-disk contents while they are upsizing that computer’s hard disk.

These boxes will typically come either as a single-disk unit which is the size of a book or as a multi-disk unit that is typically the size of a toaster or breadmaker. These units  either uses the hard disks as a huge storage volume or sets aside some of the disks as a “shadow store” for the data should any of the disks fail. This latter technique, which also provides higher data throughput is known as RAID which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

They are available as a unit fitted out with the necessary hard disks to the capacity you pay for or as an enclosure where you install hard disks that you buy separately. Earlier versions of these enclosures required the user to mess around with a screwdriver and end up losing screws in the assembly process, but the newer units just require the user to slide in or “clip in” the hard disks.

This class of device includes “headless” small-scale server platforms like Windows Home Server and some Linux distributions which can be expanded by the user to perform different functions. They may include this kind of software being loaded on an otherwise-redundant PC that is being repurposed as a small-form file server.

This device will be the way to go eventually because of its ability to provide a flexible media-sharing solution for most small networks.

"Ripping" NAS units

There are a class of NAS boxes that are just like a regular NAS box, having the same number of hard disks as these devices and having the same capacity and functionality as these boxes. But these units, such as the RipFactory RipServer, have a built-in optical disk drive and software which “rips” CDs loaded in to the unit’s optical drive, in a similar manner to a dedicated DLNA music server. They will use a music metadata service like Gracenote to index the tracks that are ripped from the CDs loaded in the unit’s optical drive. These units would be considered as a “bridge” between the dedicated DLNA music server and a general-purpose NAS box.

USB hard disk connected to a DLNA-compliant USB file server

Another common method is to use a USB network file server device that is connected to a USB external hard disk. The device can typically be part of another network device like a router or just become a standalone box. These units, again, handle files according to the standard network-based file-transfer protocols.

They work best with one self-powered USB hard disk because most of these server devices usually run on a low-output power supply that typically powers the electronics within. Most of these units also don’t have the logic to properly handle a USB hub or multiple USB hard disks. If you are using a small hard disk that doesn’t have its own power supply, you may need to connect it via a self-powered USB hub. Similarly, you may find that using a self-powered USB hub can assure reliable service with any of the USB file servers that can support USB hubs,

These setups are useful for a temporary media-sharing arrangement where you are providing media to one or two devices or as an auxiliary media server for other media that isn’t always used.

Storing your media on these devices

If you use a dedicated NAS unit without a built-in optical drive, you will need to make sure that you have SMB (Windows, MacOS X, Linux) or NFS (Linux) read/write access to the media share on that NAS unit. As well, make sure that there is a desktop shortcut, mapped drive letter or other mount point to that share on your computer(s) that you are preparing the media on.

Prepare your media as you normally would, with it ending up in your computer’s media directories. Then copy the media directories to the NAS media share using the standard practices that you use for copying files and directories. You may need to set up a “sync” routine to automatically copy new media to the media share so you can be sure that the new media is available on the network.

Avoid the temptation to "rip" a CD directly to the network share because there is the increased likelihood of errors and slow performance due to multiple points of failure existing between the CD and the NAS’s hard disk, being the optical drive, the ripping and encoding processes and the network transfer process.

Increasing and evolving the DLNA networked media system

One media Server, work towards a NAS unit

This is more analogous to a business’s file server where the IT department want to make sure that all company data is seen as one collection to back up and manage and is at one location. This may appeal to you if you want to have only one primary storage point for your media.

The only limitation about this is that if you need to “do anything” with the NAS unit like upsize it or replace a failed hard disk, you will have to have the media library out of action.

Two or more Media Servers serving different content

You may want to have the media on two or more media servers rather than one media server. This may appeal to a household which has young adults or adolescent children living in it. In this situation, they may want to keep their media on an NAS that they have responsibility for and can take with them when they move on. This avoids you having your media server being “clogged up” with their media which you will less likely want to touch whether they are with you or when they have left your place.

Similarly, you may have media to do with your personal activity as well as media to do with your business or community-engagement activity. Here, you can run a separate media server which houses your business media and this one can be managed under business standards and be financially underwritten by your business. This includes Web developers who run a NAS box as a “Web-page workbench” and want to view primary pictures for their Web page on a DLNA media client attached to the big-screen TV.

Here, you create the different media servers but you make sure they have different names so that your DLNA client devices can differentiate between the server devices. You may use different types of server such as a USB hard disk connected to a DLNA-capable USB file server for a small project or a business-class NAS unit for your business data.

An increasing number of NAS devices pitched at the domestic market are starting to support the ability to aggregate multiple DLNA media libraries in to one large media library. This allows the user to point their media client device at one reference point for all the media that exists on the one home network.

Media Servers in different geographical locations

There may be the possibility of running another DLNA-based media network in another geographic location like a business premises or another house.

The main issue about this is keeping both locations in sync with the desired content. You may have to use an Internet-based sync utility which is supported by your media server to synchronise content between locations.

On the other hand, you could set up an IP-based NAS-NAS backup set for incremental or differential (only files that are new or have changed) backup, but the backup jobs could still be large if any metadata is changed.

You would have to make sure that both NAS units are accessible from the Internet. This may involve establishment of a “dynamic DNS” setup through the use of “DynDNS” or similar utilities; or having each location have a fixed IP address. Then there is the issue of setting up a port-forwarding rule in your router, which may be easy if your NAS units implements UPnP-based port forwarding and you are using a UPnP-compliant router in each location. On the other hand, you may have to visit the router’s Web page to set up the port-forward rules.

This situation hasn’t been made easy because typically the concept of using multiple NAS boxes for applications like multi-location file storage hasn’t been defined as a key application.

Conclusion

Once you have moved towards the PC-less DLNA-based media network, you will thank yourself that you have headed down that path. You won’t need to keep a noisy computer on all the time just to enjoy your music over the network.

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Mainstream-priced Internet radio from Sanyo

Sanyo R227 Internet Radio review in Wi-Fi Planet

EhomeUpgrade announcement of the Sanyo R227 appearing on the US market

My comments:

This Internet radio, which will be appearing in the US market in 2009, is the first Internet radio / UPnP-AV (DLNA) compatible media player to be available from a mass-market brand at a price that appeals to the mass market. Most such sets are typically priced at a level that causes most consumers to think twice about buyint one and may not be available at retailers visited by most people.
 
I have also noticed that, especially in the Australian market, mauufacturers tend to place a steep premium on network or Internet functionality as far as consumer electronics is concerned. For example, I had noticed the Kodak EasyShare EX1011 WiFi-enabled digital picture frame (which can work with UPnP-AV media libraries) being sold for nearly AUD$400 where others that work from memory cards or thumbdrives only come in for under AUD$200. Then there isn’t much public awareness in the mass-market consumer-electronics retail channel about the idea of “pulling-up” media like audio files or digital images that are held on a home computer using devices that are connected to the same network used for gaining access to the Internet. 
 
What needs to happen is that more of the manufacturers that are well known to the mass-market need to sell network-enabled equipment at prices that appeal to most customers, especially by placing such equipment in the value-priced segment for the equipment type. They should also stick to having the equipment use UPnP AV / DLNA as the preferred network media-provisioning protocol so that customers don’t need to clutter their computers with many poorly-written network-media-provisioning programs that are awkward to run. This also takes the responsibility of writing a media-server program away from the equipment vendor thus allowing for cost-effective network-capable hardware.
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