Archive for March, 2010

Network Routers beginnings

One of the things to take into consideration is a Router. There are many types of routers for the network for wired and wireless networks.

The basics that you need to know

Wired Networks

10/100/1000 based wired networks. The most common 10/100/1000 are meant as megabits per second over the wire. the 1000 is a gigabit. So if you see a router say it is a gigabit network router it supports up to 1000 megabits.

Wireless Networks

b/g/n There are the different wireless standards. The most recent and “fastest” being an “N” Wireless router.

Then there is dual band. This can have the N wireless using both 2.6 to 5 mhz. Without dual band and your router can use both streams, then you would have to choose one over the other.

The first question is do you need Wireless N or gigabit speed.

STREAMING: If your internet connection is not faster than 56Megabits per second, regardless of G or N, it will still be the speed of your internet connection. So here it doesn’t really matter

CONTENT FROM HARD DRIVE ON NETWORK: If you want to play full BluRay ISOs with lossless data, then a Gigabit router and Wireless N makes sense. The speed needed over wireless for clean streaming of BR is 11 mbps.

Other types of media over the wire or wireless has lessor requirements and would not require dual band, wireless N or a gigabit wired network speed.

So today the top of the line Router will be a

Wireless N dual band Gigabit router, giving you the fasted wireless and wired network speeds

Do you need the top of the line?

If you want the best, then get the best. There are three products out that support N dual band gigabit and attaching USB Hard Drives to the router. (Using a NAS Server/Drives versus USB External Hard Drive is for another topic.)

One from Netgear the WNDR3700

One from D-link the DIR-825

One from Linksys the WRT-610N

Recently I have tested the Netgear and the D-Link.

My first opinion is skip the D-Link, the sharing the USB Hard Drive requires you to run a special program on your computer to be able to access the hard drive from that machine. Also, only one device can access the Hard Drive at a time, so if one computer is using it, another computer cannot. Also, it is supposed to support uPnP or Universal Plug and Play, so that you can access it from devices like a Tivo, PS3, or other Media Server. From my usage, I never could get that to work.

The Netgear is a better product, and you can map your attached hard drive to a drive letter on your computer. You can have multiple computers access the same hard drive at the same time, where the D-Link could not. From reading comments online, some people have found that the dual band connection would lose connectivity. CNet, in their review found some speed issues with accessing files on the Hard Drive.

I also have noticed that the D-Link and the Linksys get the same average reviews of 2-3 star out of 5, whereas the Netgear gets higher average reviews.

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Sezmi

Sezmi at Best Buy – in store review

I just visited Best Buy and they had a Sezmi all setup that you can see a demo and even try it out.

I was impressed by this service/device.

However, please note that as of right now, they are just testing things out. The service is only available in certain cities.

Check if Sezmi is available in your area

Here is what you get

  1. TV Service. There are two packages and both are extremely cheap. For $4.95 a month you can get your standard network channels like ABC, NBC, etc. For $19.95 they include some cool cable channels, like my favorite SyFy. Pricing PackagesI have heard that they are also working on a sports package. Because we need those live sporting events which are difficult to find streaming live over the internet.
  2. DVR You can record all that you watch through their services. However, you cannot take these programs off of the device. I would assume this is because of the TV service. Just like a cable companies DVR where you can’t remove the programs you record because of the law. Whereas, Tivo, since they don’t provide the content they can have programs transferred to your computer or mobile device.
  3. On Demand Movies and TV shows. You can rent movies and TV shows from .99 cents to 4.99. You can also purchase movies for around $14.95. But remember if you purchase them, they stay on the internal HD (see below) and you cannot take them off the device.
  4. 1TB Internal Hard Drive. For you to store hours of SD and HD content.
  5. USB port to add an external Hard Drive
  6. Network connectivity So you can access your media from a server, NAS drive or computer connected to your network
  7. Internet streaming. You can watch YouTube, Podcasts, Crackle. That is all for right now. If you have a Tivo, it is the same stuff you can get from YouTube and Internet On Demand stuff. As long as I can get my DiggNation, I am a happy camper.
  8. Built in UI. The UI was pretty easy to navigate, but for each selection you might wait a couple of seconds for it to show you results.
    • A Big plus is the ability to continue to watch whatever is currently playing while you search for other media.
    • You can have multiple users, meaning you can hide some of your media from your kids. (You know which media I mean)
    • A decent search, for the times you know exactly what you want to watch, but don’t want to waddle through the menus and take time for each to load.

Total Cost is $299 for all the components, plus your monthly fees.

It looks like I could only find it at Best Buy. Here is a link to Best Buy to order it online*.

*This is not an affiliate link at this point.

Some first ideas of options

OK, After looking at some nice threads on AVSForum and Google Searches here are some of the possible solutions.

Network Routers – Wired and Wireless

1) If you are going to do any streaming via the internet, get a Wireless-N Gigabit router.

The best solution will have you connect the router to your AV room via wires. That is right, if you want the full monty. That is streaming BluRay ISOs, then the best throughput will be via that Gigabit network wired connection. Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable. Otherwise, you will not get choppy video and not so perfect audio.

If you don’t need to stream BluRay ISOs, then the Wireless N is still a must to get the best speed, and reduce the chances of any “freezes” in your video playback. The speed is definitely more important for video streaming. And I mean either video streaming off the internet or from your Hard Drive.

Some of the higher end Wireless-N Gigabit routers even include USB connections to your external hard drive.

NAS Drives/External Storage

2) You should have a NAS drive or some way to get a HD accessible from your set top box.

The best solution is a NAS drive system, where you can hook up multiple eSATA Hard Drives in a RAID. RAID for “backup” purposes. And put them in a good hiding place to not clutter up your room. Also to keep any extra noise away from your AV room.

The second best is connecting your HD via Firewire or USB to a device that can then have that data accessible from your living room/TV. This could be the Wireless-N Router, one of the set top boxes like AppleTV, etc.

Cheapest route is to always have your computer turned on that your external USB hard drive is attached to. But cheapest is relative to the electric bill you have for your computer always on.

As, I said in the first section, some routers allow the connection of an External Hard Drive via USB 2.0. Products like Apple’s Airport Extreme and all the normal Router companies like LinkSys, NetGear and blah have equivalent products in the $120-$180 range. Although I did see a Belkin router that does all this for $70 at Target this weekend.

Media Server

3)  You should have a Media Server that will be connected to your AV room. This is the one where there are so many Media Server boxes and options out there that you can go crazy. As if I wasn’t already.

The highest end Media Server that I saw seems to be the Dune Media Server, it also seems to be one of the only ones that truly support BluRay ISO playback with complete loss-less Audio. It has some great reviews and if you live in the USA you can get yours at DunePlayer.com

The AVSForum appreciation thread on the Dune Player is here

Arthur from DunePlayer posts in this thread and is extremely helpful, from what everyone says. I haven’t called them yet to help me out. 😉

The one downside, I see, with the DunePlayer is the UI. There are a couple of applications that are nice like Torrents and Internet Radio, there isn’t an application for say viewing YouTube content. Now if FLV is supported you can manually enter in a URL for streaming video off the internet, but who knows all the URLs of the videos you want to watch. Also, how do you watch DiggNation from Revision3? But maybe, you can buy two media servers. The DunePlayer to get all your media on your Hard Drives including BluRay stuff, and then use another Media Server for the other cool apps.

So, do you need loss-less Audio? If not, then many of the other Media Servers will work for you. Although a little bit more pricier than other Media Servers, I like the AppleTV after it is hacked. With it being hacked you can install so much more stuff, like Boxee. However, the AppleTV’s CPU is not the top of the line and if you are streaming any HD content from your HD, the AppleTV will not do the trick. So if you want to stay with Apple here, then the next step up will be the Mac Mini.

Because, I really like the Boxee UI, I am really looking forward to the LinkSys’s Boxee box.

Other options just lying around the house.

If you already have an XBox360, PS3 or Tivo HD, you can also use them as a Media Servers, and automatically configure them to connect to your NAS drive, and watch/listen to the content on them. However, from what I have seen, the UIs for them aren’t the best, and you might be doing a lot of hunt and pecking to find the exact media file you want to watch.

I have a Tivo HD and my wife hates that you can’t still watch what you were watching when you go through the Tivo UI. And I totally agree, it is annoying, but it doesn’t bother me as much as her

Getting Started on my Quest

Quest Begins

OK Start of the Media Center/TV Top Box/NAS Drive/Wireless-N quest

So I am starting to look at the different solutions out there to stream both your home AV library and those cool stuff streaming from the internet.

Lets start out by saying, that as of this moment there isn’t one box to rule them all solution. There are different possible solutions depending on your requirements.

Do you have a requirement to stream BluRay ISOs?
Do you have to have loss-less audio streaming?
Do you have a Wireless-N Router already? Or do you just have Wireless-G
Do you have a USB 2.0 External Hard Drive with your music and video?
Do you have a NAS Drive where the HD is visible to anywhere on the network
Do you own a Game Console like PS3 or XBox360?
Do you own a Tivo HD?

What UI do you like the best? This is what will be displayed on your TV to allow you to select movies, music, photos, etc.

There are a number of different UI’s to control your new living room. Here is a list of some of them. Some are just from the device itself, like the Tivo UI

  • Tivo U
  • PS3 UI
  • XBox360 UI
  • Boxee (My personal favorite at the moment)
  • Plex (Mac OS Based)
  • Windows Media Center
  • XBMC (Xbox Media Center, which I believe was the start of Boxee)
  • Google Media Server
  • Myth TV (Yeah, this still exists)
  • and many more.

The different “set-top” boxes that are out. Note, that my definition is any box, for any purpose that you might have attached to your TV or AVR that will display/server or do anything with your media and display it on the TV

  • WD HD TV
  • Apple TV
  • Dune 3.0
  • Mac Mini/Windows/Linux boxes. Basically any Home Theater PC or HTPC.
  • Popcorn Hour
  • ASUS O!Play
  • and many more

Media Player comparison grid at AVSForum.com
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1160835

So here is my current setup

  • 52” LCD TV – Toshiba
  • Onkyo AVR, only one HDMI out to my TV, everything is hooked up through the AVR to get to the TV
  • PS3
  • Tivo HD
  • MacBook Laptop which I can hookup to my TV, which has Boxee installed.
  • External USB/FireWire 1TB HD. Right now hooked up to my Windows box in my office, so right now it is not being streamed to my TV. (One of the things I need to figure out)

I promise in the next posts I will post pictures.

With this setup, I now embark on my quest. Stay Tuned.

Mark

My first WordPress Blog and post

Welcome to the MediaServerBlog, or On a Quest for a Media Server blog.

You could probably guess by the name that this blog is about Media Servers.

Well, yes it is, but when we talk about Media Servers, this also includes any set-top box, wireless router, Networked Hard Drives and some other AV devices that can be used to stream your media content from your “local” storage or form the internet. And this means any content from audio and video to photos and maybe games.

I am on a quest to find just the perfect setup for my home to stream everything. Well, maybe not everything right away, and maybe you only want to stream your iTunes music, or you don’t have a lot to spend. I am kind of on the fence right now, hence all my research I am doing. And I am going to reduce all that research down to the must know information for you and I to make a well informed decision.

This will be the welcome page and as I add new blog posts I will also assimilate them here so that you can simply click the “track” that you are going down and be able to skip posts that might not mean anything for your dream setup.

Mark