Home Networking And IT Information And Discussion

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

DLNA and UPnP AV in the business

Originally posted: 5 January 2009, Updated 6 July 2009

Very often, DLNA and UPnP AV are typically marketed as being for use in the home due to the reduced amount of configuration needed for devices that comply to these standards. But devices based on these standards can appeal to business use, especially to small “mum and dad” shops, community / religious organisations and other similar businesses who don’t have regular access to “big business” IT resources.

The functionality is typically available as low-cost or free software or, in some cases like Windows XP and Vista, available as part of the operating system. There are some “business-grade” network-attached storage boxes that have the functionality for business continuity as well as the ability to work as DLNA-compliant media servers.

The main issue that one will have with this kind of setup will be that the network that you intend to connect the equipment on must be on the same subnet or logical network, served by the same DHCP server. This will be fine for most small-business, and SOHO networks, including the “private” segment of networks that provide Internet access to the public such as wireless hotspots and Internet cafes.

If you are concerned about security of business data or the integrity of business systems, you could run a separate server for the DLNA-presented media data rather than use the main server for this purpose. Then you can lock down the main server as tightly as it should be for the data.

Visual Merchandising

DLNA-based setups can come in to their own when it comes to all sorts of visual merchandising applications. This is more so for small businesses who cannot afford to buy business-grade "digital signage" or find the "digital signage" difficult to manage due to complex setup requirements.

You can have images or videos of products that are always kept fresh and up-to-date and can intermingle these images and videos with up-to-date “electronic signage” that you create with programs like Microsoft PowerPoint. The best example of this being used would be the real-estate agent who uses the setup to show pictures of the houses he has currently for sale or a beauty salon showing examples of the most fashionable hairstyles they have done lately.

A DLNA-compliant network electronic picture frame like the Kodak EX1011 or the D-Link DSM-210 can work wonders here as can any DLNA-compliant network media receiver (or games console) hooked up to a large flat-screen TV or monitor. Similarly, a DLNA-compliant flat-screen TV like one of Sony’s recent LCD TVs can fulfil the same needs here, especially now that the cost of these sets in in affordable territory and the sets are available from most electrical retailers.

The media server can be part of the file server’s functions or can be hosted on a separate box such as a network-attached storage unit. You just need to add the media to this server by using a standard network file-transfer protocol like SMB or FTP.

You will need to make sure that the media server presents the files either by keywords (tags) and / or folders of the file system so that you can file the pictures how you want to file them. Windows Media Player and TwonkyMedia do support working by keywords and folders.

If you use a presentation program like Microsoft PowerPoint to create “electronic signage”, you just need to export all of the slides in your presentation as JPEG files in to a folder available to the media server. This is done in PowerPoint by opening the presentation and selecting “File” – “Save As” and selecting “JPEG” as the file type. You then have the option of exporting the current slide as a JPEG or exporting all the slides in the presentation as JPEG files in a folder named after the title of the presentation.

Background Music

If you are sick and tired of the radio or those business-to-business music services, you can use a computer as a music server, with the music playing out through a DLNA-compliant network media player such as one of those Internet radios.

As I have mentioned in my previous DLNA feature articles, it is very easy to do whether you decide to use a computer or a network-attached storage box as a media server. Most of the network-enabled music players support shuffle-play which can be very useful for this application and a lot of them have a line-out connection so you can connect them to a public-address amplifier or music-on-hold interface.

Education – The media library

A DLNA-based media system can work well when it comes to education. It doesn’t matter whether the idea is to show a video to a class or whether a student is viewing a video they saw in class “once more” in the library.

A capable DLNA media server with a properly-indexed media collection can work wonders here, with the users selecting the AV material through the DLNA media player’s user interface. Most such players can connect to existing AV equipment or the DLNA functionality can be part of the equipment’s functionality.

Similarly, if the media server provides it, you could allow Web-based access via any computer connected to the facility’s network. This can allow wireless-linked computers to be used to “pull up” the learning resources.

Other business-based DLNA applications

DLNA is eventually heading in the direction of a common IP-hosted data system for transferring media between portable and fixed devices. A typical application may include uploading images and movies from a digital camera or camcorder to a “base” computer for editing and viewing. Similarly, there may be the application of downloading AV material from a computer to a smartphone so it can be viewed on that phone’s display.

Conclusion

What needs to happen is that DLNA needs to be viewed as not just being for the home but being for business and educational life as well.

6 July 2009 Posted by | SOHO / Small business computer setups, UPnP AV / DLNA | , , | 5 Comments

Video introduction to DLNA setup

I had come across a video on how to set up a DLNA media network and was amazed by how it went about describing the process. The video is mainly based around TwonkyMedia Manager (review) as a media server and a Sony Bravia DLNA-compliant LCD TV as the media player, but it applies to any network media device or software that follows UPnP AV / DLNA standards.

For further reading, please visit my feature article on establishing a DLNA home media network with your PC.

This will become more relevant to Australian viewers who had watched the Harvey Norman TV commercials advertising a 40″ Sony Bravia LCD TV for AUD$1976 at the time this article was published. The TV that is in this particular promotion is infact DLNA compatible.

12 June 2009 Posted by | UPnP AV / DLNA | 3 Comments

Network Connectivity Joins the AV Club – or Ethernet connectivity via AV equipment-connection cables

 Network Connectivity Joins the AV Club | ABI Research

Cite from press release

Over the past few weeks, a couple of announcements around consumer electronics connectivity have caught my eye. In late April, the DiiVA Interactive TV standard was announced after a year of development, with the backing of mainstream CE manufacturers LG, Panasonic, and Samsung, along with the Chinese government and a number of major Chinese CE manufacturers. The DiiVA standard was designed to integrate HD Video, multi-channel audio and bi-directional data (Ethernet and USB) in a single cable. Then, just last week, the HDMI Licensing group announced the HDMI 1.4 specification, which will integrate Ethernet connectivity within the HDMI cable.

My Comments on this concept

The concept behind the DiiVA stamdard and HDMI 1.4 is to cut down the “spaghetti junction” that exists behind a home-entertainment system by avoiding the need to run an Ethernet cable between each Internet-enabled AV device and the home network.

The current problem is that most Internet-enabled equipment that is in the field will require use of a direct network connection, typically an Ethernet cable, even if the AV setup includes equipment that has the new connections. As the standards gain traction, users will have to work out which component will be the interface to the home network; and some equipment will need to always have a direct connection to the home network as well as support for Ethernet connection via the new standards.

When the standard reaches momentum, I would still prefer that certain classes of equipment always have an Ethernet socket or MoCA/HomePlug AV interface. Primarily, I would require that a television set (with built-in TV tuner); and a surround-sound receiver would have the home-network interface. Similarly, I would require that devices performing the role of a surround-sound receiver like “home theatre in box” systems and single-piece “soundbars” be equipped with the home network connectivity. This is typically to allow one to assure network connectivity to all consume AV-equipment setups that use these connections, as these setups evolve. Some AV peripherals like optical-disc players or games consoles may just rely on their network connectivity coming via the AV connection.

Another factor that needs to be worked out with this connection setup is making sure that the network-enabled AV setup just works. Issues that can impede this ideal could include “network collision loops” where devices that are directly connected to the home network and are interconnected with network-enabled connections create an infinite data loop. This can lead to extensive operational and performance difficulties, similar to when a laptop is connected to a WiFi router with an Ethernet cable while its WiFi network functionality is active. This issue could be addressed by the use of a priority-based algorithm for determining the data flow in the AV setup.

Once these issues are addressed, these connection standards should then lead to trouble-free network-enabled home AV for all setups no matter how sophisticated they are. Similarly, this could lead to such concepts as the AV devices providing extra network services such as in-fill WiFi access points or Ethernet switches.

4 June 2009 Posted by | Future Trends, Network Management, UPnP AV / DLNA | , , | 2 Comments

Thecus NAS server ( Network attached storage ) | Thecus® Unveils the N0204 miniNAS Device

My comments on the Thecus “midget” NAS server

I had posted comments on this blog in response to a “SmallNetBuilder” article regarding this “midget” NAS device and its relevance to the small network.

The main issue that I touched on is its small size and the use of the low-power 2.5” hard disk as part of a network-attached storage device. I had mentioned about the key advantages of this application being the small size and reduced power consumption and quieter operation that this class of device will offer.

A point of innovation that I had raised for further development of this device would be to have the device work from an automotive or marine power supply, thus supporting “office on wheels”, DLNA in the car and mobile video surveillance applications.

Actual Press Release from Thecus follows

Thecus® Unveils the N0204 miniNAS Device

Thecus N0204 NAS03/30/2009 – Big things are happening in the world of NAS devices. Today, Thecus® is proud to introduce the N0204 miniNAS device – the world’s smallest fully-featured NAS device.

Measuring a tiny 132 x 88 x 63 mm exterior, one could easily mistake the N0204 as a regular external hard drive. But look closer and you will see a very capable two-bay NAS device that fits right in the palm of your hand. The N0204 houses two 2.5” SATA hard disks, providing up to 1TB of storage. You can manage this storage with your choice of RAID 0, 1, and JBOD, making the N0204 the most robust pocketable storage device in existence. And because its drive bays are hot-swappable and feature auto-rebuild, you can change a hard disk without powering down the unit. The N0204 even comes with Thecus®’ Nsync for remote replication as well as the Thecus® Backup Utility for total data security. With huge storage, RAID functionality, and advanced data safeguards packed into a tiny device, the N0204 miniNAS is in a class all its own.

Tiny but mighty, the N0204 comes with many of the features and functionality possessed by its much larger cousins. For starters, the N0204 can function as a complete media hub with its built-in iTunes server, photo web server, and media server. With the built-in media server, you can enjoy your videos, pictures, and music with the N0204 by using any DLNA compliant media players. Plug in a USB web cam, and the N0204 turns into the world’s tiniest home surveillance server, allowing you to preview, capture and schedule image snapshots up to 640 x 480. Add to that support for both Windows and MAC OS operating systems and a whole new user friendly Windows Utility to easily set up and link the N0204 with your PC, and you’ve got some serious storage that you can whip out of your pocket and plug into virtually any network.

The N0204 miniNAS is a marvel of engineering. With advanced energy-saving capabilities, the N0204 only uses between 25~30% of the power compared to traditional two-bay NAS devices. You can even schedule power on/off for better power management. The N0204 also features whisper-quiet cooling, which means low temperatures and even lower noise during daily operation. A convenient USB 2.0 port in the front and the one-touch copy allow you to copy the contents of a USB storage device to the N0204 with a single button press. You can also copy data from the N0204 to any USB disk for data exchange. The N0204 supports USB printers, external hard disks, USB web cam, and even works with USB WLAN adaptors, allowing you to give this tiny NAS device wireless capability.

A complete NAS device in a form factor smaller than a paperback book, the N0204 miniNAS proves that great things do indeed come in tiny packages.

“When we tell people what the N0204 miniNAS can do, the most common reaction is disbelief followed by awe,” notes Thecus General Manager Florence Shih.  “We’ve essentially created a fully-functional NAS device in a package that you can take anywhere. With the N0204, you can enjoy the power and convenience of NAS storage anywhere life takes you.”

For more information on the N0204, check out:  
http://www.thecus.com/products_over.php?cid=12&pid=137&set_language=english

18 May 2009 Posted by | Network hardware design, UPnP AV / DLNA media-server hardware | Leave a comment

RipNAS Statement SSD Windows Home Server Unveiled | eHomeUpgrade

RipNAS Statement SSD Windows Home Server Unveiled | eHomeUpgrade

My comments on this Windows Home Server-based NAS

Is this for real that a network-attached storage system for a home network will employ solid-state storage? You might think that the typical network-attached storage will be required to use regular electro-mechanical hard drives for its storage, but this unit has brought the idea of solid-state storage to this class of devices.

Why does this device implement solid-state storage as a main storage solution? It is designed from the outset to be a music server that can exist near one’s hi-fi equipment which will be located in the main living area or home-theatre room. The typical NAS box will be making a whirring or whining noise as the hard disks come to life while a fan keeps the system cool. But this design implements the solid-state disks and the use of a heatsink to cool the unit without any need for noisy fans.

The RipNAS Statement is a DLNA-compliant “ripping NAS” with a built-in optical drive and intended for keeping your music library on a hard disk, available to UPnP AV media clients, iTunes setups and the Logitech Squeezebox. It does implement “best-case” ripping practices where the music will be held as FLAC files but can be transcoded to LPCM or MP3 to suit most UPnP AV devices. The software can do other tricks such as keep highly-accurate metadata for all of the albums held on the hard disk and implement server-side volume levelling for albums recorded at differing volume levels.

This machine is one of a class of NAS units which will be dedicated to storing personal music, photo and video files and it could be a reality that we see households running one NAS for backing up data and another strictly for media-server functionality.

Welcome to a world where the serious music enthusiast can have access to the fun of network media! This may now mean that the home media network can be an acceptable path for the great recordings like Miles Davis’s “Kind Of Blue”, Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” or Pink Floyd albums of the 1970s as well as the great classics.

10 May 2009 Posted by | UPnP AV / DLNA media-server hardware | , , , | Leave a comment

Secure streaming from Windows Media Player via the Internet

W7 RC Secure WMP Internet Streaming is Impressive | DigitalMediaPhile.com
further details on handling of network connection speeds

Windows 7 Enables Secure, Remote PC to PC Streaming via WMP and Windows Live ID | eHomeUpgrade

My comments on this feature

There are certainly a few key applications for this feature.

One main and obvious application would be to gain access to music, pictures or video held at home from a remote location like the holiday home, car or small business. This would be achieved through the use of technologies like 3G or WiMAX wireless broadband; or simply ADSL broadband depending on the location.

Another application similar to what Barb Bowman was using as her demonstration setup in the articles she had posted on this feature is a household with two or more individually-controlled Internet services. This may be a student or other person who is paying board and lodging to you; a live-in housekeeper or nanny; or an elderly or disabled relative or friend who needs continual care. These people may want to operate a separate Internet service that is under their own control but may want to annexe both the primary household’s and their own media resources.

But. as with any new technical implementation, there are questions that need to be asked

Could this setup work over a VPN such as one used to facilitate remote access to a small business’s data? This setup may be of benefit to a shop or small office where some of the music or pictures used as part of merchandising at the business may be held on the home computer.

Could this allow a UPnP AV / DLNA device to pull up media from the remote location via the Windows Media Player “gateway”? In this setup, a DLNA-compliant Internet radio installed at the remote location points to the UPnP Media Server that is part of the remote computer’s Windows Media Player. This would be pulling up media from the local computer’s Windows Media Player setup as in your described installation.

7 May 2009 Posted by | Network Management, UPnP AV / DLNA | , | 1 Comment

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.

21 April 2009 Posted by | UPnP AV / DLNA media-playback hardware) | , | 3 Comments

SmallNetBuilder – Thecus Adds Dual-Bay Hot-Swap Mini 2.5" SATA NAS

SmallNetBuilder – Small Network Help – Thecus Adds Dual-Bay Hot-Swap Mini 2.5" SATA NAS

My comments on this “midget” NAS

The 2.5” laptop hard disk as part of a highly-portable dual-drive network-attached storage has matured as a form factor with Thecus competing with Buffalo Technology in this product class.

The reason that these network-attached storage devices, which would be nearly the same size as a regular single-drive unit that works with a 3.5” hard disk is that they can offer what the what the regular single 3.5” hard disk units offer but with more advantages like reduced power consumption and operating noise as well as the advantages of being able to work as a RAID device.

The Thecus NAS has improved on the Buffalo design by offering BitTorrent support and the ability to work with a USB webcam as a time-lapse video recorder / network camera server as well as the usual file storage and DLNA media-server functionality.

As more companies sell these small dual-disk NAS boxes that use laptop hard disks, this could open the floodgates for network data storage applications where size or reduced power and operating-noise matters. It doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with

Point of innovation

An opportunity for innovation that can exist with this class of NAS devices is for them to work on an automotive or marine power supply environment. This is a power supply which runs nominally at 12 or 24 volts DC but would typically have varying-voltage conditions due to situations encountered in these situations like whenever the engine is started. These units would also need to shut down if the power is below a critical level for vehicle use so the engine can be started. As well, it may be desirable to support “ignition sense” so the unit can go in to different operating modes depending on what position the vehicle’s ignition switch was set to.

If this is achieved, these NAS devices could provide data storage to an in-vehicle LAN (which may have a wireless wide-area-network router at the edge) in a cost-effective manner. It could then lead to DLNA-based media handling on the road and improved network-based local data storage for “office-on-wheels” applications. With the Thecus NAS mentioned in the article having USB webcam support, it could allow for the use of a cost-effective USB webcam-based “black box” video-surveillance system for mobile applications like, for example, buses operated by community organisations and schools; or delivery vehicles.

At least there are signs of progress towards the small-form-factor NAS boxes becoming a reality and increasing the application space for these devices.

2 April 2009 Posted by | Network hardware design, UPnP AV / DLNA media-server hardware | , | 1 Comment

Product Review – TwonkyMedia Manager 1.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantages

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

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

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

Limitations

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

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

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

Nice to have

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

23 February 2009 Posted by | Product Review, UPnP AV / DLNA client software, UPnP AV / DLNA media server software | | 2 Comments