Monday, 11 January 2010

Getting Streamy

Whilst spending time with family over the festive period I started to miss my media. Music, TV, shows and films that are stored on the hard drive of my home computer that I am constantly accessing. Whilst researching ways to access this, I uncovered a wealth of different software and services available to stream media to various different devices.

Therefore I thought I would take this opportunity to review the various streaming devices I have experienced in order to offer some assistance to users that are potentially experiencing the same problems I had when trying to stream from a singular source.

Windows Media Player
Windows users will be able to take advantage of the default media stream
ing service via Windows Media Player 11. The service is able to stream media to a number of devices. The method of setting up a shared library is unnecessarily complicated for the user as both library and network options need to be addressed.

In my experience the streaming service offered by WMP11 is tempermental at best, suffering from intermittent crashes and failures over even a wired LAN connection. Currently there is still no support for mobile streaming. This is on the horizon for Windows Mobile operating systems but unlikely for iPhone or Android users at present as Microsoft try to take advantage of their operating system doninance in order to grow their mobile base.

According to recent reviews, Windows 7 which features Windows Media Player 12 offers a far better experience when it comes to sharing media across multiple devices but mobile is a medium that remains unsupported.

However, I am still nervous about updating my operating system for fears that WMP12 is not all it promises to be and I am faced with incompatibility issues with any of my alternative solutions.

If you encounter any problems when streaming media from your hard drive to any
playback device an online search for the relevant error messages will always result in a strong recommendation to use the media streaming software alternative, Tversity.

The free version allows access to a limited amount of the users media library but $30 allows the user to share their full library across multiple devices. The console is intuitive and illustrates a guide to setting up media streaming for a particular device.

However on the negative side, whilst Tversity does claim to support iPhone playback, in reality this feature materialises in slow, clunky and tempermental performance. It is adept at playing the Quicktime default formats of MP4 and MOV but struggles with MPEG or AVI formats. This is because live conversion is not supported so each file needs to be converted to an appropriate format before it can be played.

Air Video
This solution manifests itself in an application that can be downloaded for
Mac or Windows operating system and an application that can be purchased from the iTunes store. Users can purchase the free version which restricts the user to a limited view of their media library but a one time payment of £1.79 removes this restriction.

The application allows Remote Access over WIFI which is very easy to set up on both core and satellite application. It also allows upscaled playback via the component cable output which is incredibly useful when wishing to access movies or TV content from another WIFI destination.

The only downside of the application so far is that depsite claims on the website and within the iTunes store description, it restricts use over a 3G connection. However, restrictions on media streaming are not unexpected as operators rapidly try and upgrade their infrastructure to cope with the exponential increase in demand for bandwidth triggered by mass smartphone adoption.

This website has become a cult sensation amongst the SmartPhone comm
unity. It allows users to access TV streams from the most popular FreeView channels including BBC, ITV and Channel 4 services. Indeed the number of channels has grown significantly since launch and the service now offers access to 30 free channels over a computer or iPhone.

The application can be accessed via any web browser over WIFI and 3G connections and is free of charge, although further attempts to monetise the product are surely on the horizon in 2010.
The user interface is clean and simple and the ability to upscale using a component cable is again supported.

SkyMobile TV

This SKY application allows access to all the main SKY Sports Channels as well as ESPN, At the Races and SKY News services. The user experience throughout the sign up process is made complicated due to the necessity to register for a SKY ID and set up the direct debit for the regular £6 per month payment.

This applications shares the same restrictions on 3G playback as Air Video. However component video playback is not available which dampens enjoyment somewhat. It is understandable that SKY would want to protect the base of users that are persuaded to subscribe to their full channel packages in order to receive Sky Sports but watching live sporting events over the iPhone is simply not practical.

This serves a quick roundup of some of the software and services available for online streaming, I am sure that this number will grow significantly in 2010 and inevitably some of the bigger software providers will increasingly get involved.

In the future however, I envisage that content will be stored in the cloud and users will be required to pay for ownership or access to the content. It is such a waste of resource that users download content to their machines when it can so easily be stored in a central hub. Playback will be available on a multitude of media devices and screens including computers, TV's & mobiles. At the current rate of innovation, this future may become a reality very soon.

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