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Articles about home, SOHO and small-business IT and networking issues

DLNA on multiple components in a home theatre setup?

As more manufacturers are supplying DLNA-equipped network hardware for the home-theatre setup, it may be worth wondering whether you should have just one DLNA-capable component in your home AV setup and stay at that, or install more DLNA-capable components in your setup as you upgrade equipment.

Here, I am talking about DLNA-capable media-player or media-renderer equipment, rather than media-server or media-controller equipment. This is to cater for setups where a dedicated media server device like a personal-TV service or hard-disk-based media jukebox device is part of the equation due to its role as providing media for the network.

One DLNA-equipped unit in the same rack

It may be more efficient and cost-effective to have just one DLNA Media Player unit such as a DLNA-capable flatscreen TV, network media adaptor or video-games console, in the rack. This may be cost-effective when you are getting your feet wet with network-based audio and video or the setup comprises of a TV and a video peripheral that doesn’t have its own speakers. It may also be easier to manage in relation to integrating with the home network or gaining access to the media on the DLNA-capable media server(s).

Two or more DLNA units in the same rack

This situation will appeal to people who are taking advantage of the fact that, over time, DLNA media playback will appear in more pieces of home AV equipment at price points affordable for most people. It will also appeal to people who upgrade their home-entertainment setup to newer technology on a “piece by piece” basis as and when they can afford it. It involves the same AV rack having two or more DLNA media playback devices like a TV and a home-theatre receiver.

One main benefit of this setup would be to perform network-media tasks with one piece of equipment. This is more so with a network-ready home-theatre receiver that has a good onboard display or is capable of working as a network-controllable “media renderer” because you don’t need to turn on the TV if you just want to listen to music. Similarly, you could have a DLNA-equipped TV show a collection of pictures related to a party you are hosting while your DLNA-equipped home-theatre receiver plays music during the party.

It also allows for the use of components that excel at playing particular types of content like, for example, a network-capable receiver that is highly-tuned for audio content or a DLNA-compliant TV that works with the latest codecs. Similarly, you may have a games console that may run games that make use of media held on secondary storage integrated with or attached to the console or available on the network. A possible example of this could be a “street racing” game of the ilk of “Need For Speed Underground” where the driver chooses the style of musical accompaniment for their drag-racing and drifting challenges.

What should I go for

This depends on your setup. If your setup is primarily a video setup with just a TV and one or two video peripherals, you could just add one DLNA-capable playback device to the setup.

But if your setup has a separate amplifier or you intend to add a home-theatre sound system with its own amplifier and speakers, it may be worth running a separate DLNA media player capable of playing sound independently of the television. Similarly, if your home theatre has a DLNA-equipped plasma or LCD TV that is used for “regular viewing” and a projector-screen that is used for “special viewing” like Hollywood blockbusters or major sports events, you could use a separate DLNA media player like a DLNA-enabled Blu-Ray player with the projector.

Things to remember about such installations

If you intend to install multiple network-ready devices in a home-theatre setup, you will need to make sure these devices connect reliably to your home network. If your network runs WiFi wireless, you might be tempted to connect the devices to the WiFi wireless segment, either through integrated WiFi connectivity that the device has, by purchasing the optional USB WiFi kit that the device’s manufacturer offers or by purchasing an Ethernet-WiFi client bridge device from a computer store. The limitation with this is that WiFi wireless networks can be very flaky at the best and the problem can be made worse with metal shelving or a metal frame; or installations that are close to a brick or stone chimney.

It may then be preferable to use wired networking such as Ethernet or HomePlug powerline to the entertainment rack with the components connected via an Ethernet switch to the Ethernet or HomePlug backbone. This kind of setup will lead to the networked components in the home AV rack operating reliable when it comes to network and Internet activities. There are some HomePlug-Ethernet bridges, available in either HomePlug 1.0 Turbo or HomePlug AV, that have a switch with 3 or 4 Ethernet ports. These units can definitely do the job of bridging a rack of networked AV equipment to a HomePlug segment.

Conclusion

Once you know what direction to go for as far as far as DLNA-capable devices in a single AV rack is concerned, you can then know how to integrate your AV racks in your home’s or business’s DLNA media network.

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31 July 2009 Posted by | Home computer setups, UPnP AV / DLNA | | 3 Comments

Feature Article – Repurposing that ex-business laptop computer for home use

Originally published at my previous Windows Live Spaces blog in May 2007
First published on this blog in November 2008. Updated 31 July 2009
 
If you are repurposing an ex-business laptop computer for home use, you need to make sure that it is safe as far as the computer’s former life is concerned and able to perform well in the home. Here, you would need to “detach” the computer from its former business life by removing line-of-business applications and data; and business-specific configurations like network, VPN and terminal-emulation setups used in the business. In some situations like ex-kiosk computers where the computer was heavily locked down, you may have to research the Internet to find out how to reset the BIOS settings so you can boot from the optical drive for example.
 
1. Make sure that you have the original media and licence information for the operating system and any other software to be used in the home context.
2. Visit the computer manufacturer’s Website and obtain the complete driver set for the computer’s current configuration. Copy this driver set to a CD-R or USB memory key. You might find it better to work the computer directly with the operating system’s abilities like Windows Zero Configuration rather than use the software supplied by the system manufacturer.
3 Do any necessary repairs to the computer like replacing damaged keyboards. This could be a good time to track down replacement batteries, AC adaptors or AC cords for the computer. If the computer doesn’t have built-in wireless or isn’t able to have wireless networking retrofitted at a later date, track down a wireless-network PCMCIA card or ExpressCard to suit your home network.
4. Format the primary hard disk and install the operating system and other software from the original media. Activate XP / Vista / Windows 7 and Office as applicable and deploy the driver set from the CD-R or USB memory key that you prepared in Step 2.
5. Register the computer with network services that are part of the home network like the network printer. If the printer is hosted by a Windows box, you may be able to set it up using “Point and Print” where you load the printer drivers from the Windows box.
 
As far as software is concerned, you can use a basic “office” package like Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition as well as Screen Paver (the shareware photo screen-saver that I use) and the latest version of AVG AntiVirus Free Edition or Avast AntiVirus Home Edition for your additional software. Most functionality is catered for by the software that is part of the operating system.
 
If you are working with a Windows-based computer, it may be worth downloading Windws Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Photo Gallery from http://download.live.com . These programs provide the essentials for instant mesaging, desktop POP3 or IMAP mail, RSS-feed management and digital-image management.

31 July 2009 Posted by | Computer setups, Feature Article, Mobile Computing | , , , , | 2 Comments

SFR Hubster mobile Internet device

Link to French language review in DegroupNews

My comments on this mobile Internet device after reading the review

This device, provided by SFR for their “triple-play” (Box SFR, NeufBox) subscribers in France, is primarily a mobile Internet device. Primarily it is the “Webby” terminal marketed under SFR’s banner. But it isn’t the typical mobile Internet device that is in the typical handheld form. Instead, it is designed as a tabletop “mini terminal” for use in the kitchen, bedroom or home office. The French-language article even described the unit as a “mini terminal familiale” (family mini terminal).

Hence it is in the form of a small free-standing device that has a footprint similar to a small radio,with a 3.5” touchscreen LCD display that is mounted on its cone-shaped base. It will connect to your home network via WiFi (with WPA2 security and WPS “two-push” setup) or Ethernet.

The unit has IPTV functionality which works in conjunction with SFR’s IPTV service as well as Internet radio and “widget-driven” information services. The widget-based services focus typically on the local weather, financial information (stock portfolio) and your horoscope for your star sign. You can also get it to monitor RSS feeds, including audio / video podcasts and photofeeds. It has an SD card slot and USB host port so you can load digital audio files or JPEG pictures from your digital camera. A subsequent firmware version will provide for video file support. Of course the unit can work as an alarm clock that is always set to the correct time and can wake you to an Internet radio stream, a digital audio file or a buzzer sound.

When you set up the Hubster device, you will need to visit the Hubster Web site (http://hubster.sfr.fr) as part of registering it. This is where you would customise the local weather, financial and horoscope information.

The reviewers reckon that this device needs more capabilities in order to be a full-on auxiliary Internet terminal. It would need to support general Web browsing, be capable of true cordless operation by working with a battery pack and use a screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. I would add to this list the support for common video-file formats; and at least UPnP AV / DLNA playback support so it can play media files held on PCs or NAS boxes that exist on the network. The latter functionality would be relevant to SFR “triple-play” subscribers who hook up an USB external hard drive to their “NeufBox 5” or “Box SFR” Internet gateway devices  and use the UPnP AV media server function integrated in these Internet gateway devices to stream out multimedia files held on the external hard drive.

What is this leading to?

The SFR Hubster’s main target was to compete in the nascent “connected information display” market created by WiFi-enabled electronic picture frames, Internet-enabled TVs and similar devices. Here, these devices pull up information of use to the public like news, weather and financial information from selected Web portals and present it on their displays, either as part of a continuously-changing display or on demand when a user selects a particular option on the device’s menu.

These “connected information displays” would thrive on a strong market relationship between companies involved in making or selling these display devices; and the owners of Web portal and information-streaming services as well as their content providers. This could then lead to these displays being considered the “fourth screen” of influence and companies involved in telecommunications and the Internet being considered as of influence as the classic media companies.

31 July 2009 Posted by | Future Trends, Home computer setups | , , | 3 Comments