18 December, 2010

Western Digital WD TV Live Hub Media Centre

"All your favourite personal and Internet media on your HDTV" it says on the box.

In fact it's a 1TB Internet enabled NAS (network attached storage) box. It connects to the TV via HDMI for HD and component or composite cable for SD and to the home Ethernet network. Then you can transfer your content (photos, video, music or whatever) from the various computers round the house and view them on the TV or from other computers connected to the home network.

Minor gripes
The system is localised - you can set your local language, time and place, daylight saving etc. But there is no way of changing the onscreen temperature to Centigrade from Farenheit.
The installation in Windows XP involves downloading a piece of softwre just so you can see the box on your computer. While the manual (online only, not in the box) states that this is possible, you are asked for a password. The default password is on page 74 of the 168 page online manual, which of course I only looked at afterwards.
My Linux (Ubuntu) computer found the box with no problem. I couldn't figure out how to see it with an Android phone connected to the home wifi network.

Major gripes
While the Internet service could be a useful feature, it's by no means a fully fledged access. In fact, you can only connect to a handful of selected sites, like Facebook and Flikr.
Quite a few video formats I tried to use were incompatible. 

Positive features 
I was pleasantly surprised by the viewing quality of streaming video on Youtube. Much better than on my computer.

OverallI don't expect it to sell well here in France, where the internet connected homes are based on high powered boxes that combine modem, router, PVR and other functions. The forthcoming Freebox V6 is a much better solution, with full Internet access and a much better user interface. The only advantage of the WD is the 1 TB of storage capacity, compared to 250 GB on the Freebox. But then, you can always hang extra hard drives onto it.
The WD box  makes a good complement to the Slingbox I've recently had on test, although some functions overlap (streaming round the home). Merging the two would be good.

05 December, 2010

Slingbox Pro-HD

The Pro-HD version just launched in France, price €299.
The Solo is still availible for €199.

Compatibility issues.
The Slingbox web site claims the box is compatible Mac and PC.
Too bad if you relied on that information and bought one, only to find out that it's only compatible with certain versions of Mac. Not an I-Book G4, apparently. It won't work on Linux, which doesn't even get a mention on the whole web site, not even to say it won't work. The current release of the Slingplayer doesn't even work with Wine.
The irony is that the Slingbox itself uses embedded Linux.It looks like Slingmedia are perfectly happy to take advantage of community developed resources, but not willing to give anything back.

The accessories are priced way above comparable products from other manufacturers. €22 for a replacement power supply, €15 for a Scart to phono adapter, €30 for an HD cable. And at €24 for the I-phone and Android versions and €26.50 for Windows phones, must be among the highest price for any apps.

One annoying if trivial aspect: if you want your account to be in English, you can only be in various countries. You can't have an English language account if your based in France, Germany, Italy etc.

How HD is it?
Although it's called the Slingbox Pro HD, it's not quite as HD as all that.While it does have a component HD input, there is no HDMI. That is fair enough, as they're not allowed to by the HDMI specification. It's a point worth bearing in mind. Secondly, the HD can be streamed round the house, but not over the Internet. Thirdly, the built-in digital TV tuner does not receive HD.

Power consumption
I got a reading of between 11 and 12 Watts when I connected an in-line power consumption meter. There was only a barely noticeable difference when the box was actually doing some streaming.
This works out to 93 KWH of electricity consumed (taking 11 W as the base), which costs  €9 a year on my home tariff.

No Subtitles, Pay DTT or Radio 
I tuned the Slingbox HD Pro to my cable outlet, which carries the local TV channels plus a handful of radio stations in DVB-T format, i.e. the same standard as used by digital terrestrial TV ("Freeview" in the UK). The Slingbox features an HD DTT tuner, so I was able to watch all the DTT channels in the other rooms (but only on Windows PCs - not my on my Linux netbook) without having to lay antenna extension cables. Usefull. But there was no way of switching to radio. No big deal, as the radio stations are also available in streaming. More importantly, subtitles were no longer available. Nor was there any provision on the Slingbox tuner for viewing the pay TV channels - not that I subscribe to any.

Slingmedia replies
Here is the reply I had from Sling, via their French PR office to my questions. 

Q What is the situation for Linux based machines, such as netbooks and some phones (as well as PCs of course)?

A SlingPlayer  pour Flash résoudra à terme les problèmes de ce type pour les autres plates-formes que celles actuellement supportées. Au fur et à mesure que nous continuerons à déployer cette technologie, il nous est facile de porter notre technologie sur les équipements tels ceux qui tournent sur Linux et disposant de navigateurs flash.

Translation Sling Player for Flash will solve this kind of problem for platforms other than those currently supported.  As we continue to deply this technology, it will be easy to port our technology to equipment running on Linux and with Flash browsers. 

Q What is the average bandwidth used over the internet, and over the home network? Does it use a lower bandwidth when streaming to a phone?

A La bande passante minimum montante  à partir de la Slingbox locale, pour un accès depuis l’extérieur est de 256kps. Cela permet un visionnage en plein écran sur un ordinateur de bureau ou un Pc portable. Notre SlingPlayer pour PC, Mac ou Navigateur utilise toute la bande passante disponible à chaque « bout » (à la fois du côté de la Slingbox en updload et du côté du SlingPlayer distant en download).
Les équipements mobiles tels que les appareils Apple, imposent un streaming video d’environ 256kbps. Donc, oui les bandes passantes pour ces équipements sont limitées et cela varie d’une plateforme à l’autre. Evidemment, avec un écran plus petit, nous sommes en mesure d’opérer avec une bande passante en upload plus restreinte.

Translation/summary The up bandwidth  from a local Slingbox to the outside is 256 kb/s, which is fine for viewing full screen on a PC. Slingplayer for PC, Mac or browser uses all the bandwidth available at each end. 
Mobile equipment such as Apple phones uses video streaming at 256 kb/s Therefore the bandwidth for this kind of equipment is indeed limited and varies from one device to another.

Q Why are the i-phone, android and windows mobile apps so expensive? They must be among the most expensive apps in the market

A Nos logiciels dédiés au PC au Mac et aux navigateurs restent gratuit. Afin de fournir une expérience de qualité sur les équipements mobiles, nous devons effectuer beaucoup d’engineering au niveau du développement des produits SlingPlayer Mobile.  Nous nous efforçons d’offrir et de fournir une expérience d’excellente qualité et nous consacrons beaucoup de temps et d’ efforts en R&D pour le SlingPlayer Mobile. Nous sommes en mesure d’héberger le SlingPlayer Mobile sur notre propre site internet et nous offrons une période d’essai de 30 jours. En ce qui concerne les modèles de type App Store tels que L’Androïd Market Place ou iTunes App Store, ils ne permettent pas l’accès à des périodes d’essai. Pour cette raison nous n’avons pas d’autre choix que de vendre à un prix listé sans période d’essai.

Translation/summary Our software for PC and Mac will stay free.  SlingPlayer mobile involves a considerable amount of R & D to ensure a good viewing experience. We host SlingPlayer Mobile on our own web site and offer a 30 day trial period. The market places, like Android Store and iTunes App store does not allow trial periods. So we have no choice but to sell at the listed price, without a trial period.

This last point is at odds with the Slingmedia web site, which states in small print after an asterisk
" *Free trial is not available for SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone, iPad, Android, or Windows Phone. "

I didn't try Slingmedia on an elderly I-paq running Windows CE. For one thing, I couldn't find the download link.

02 November, 2010

Logitech Alert 750i

First of all, the blurb.

See the following address for the publicity stuff


This is part of Logitech's range for the current boom in the video security business. Available in indoor and outdoor versions. Among its features are that it can store photos and videos locally, on a micro SD memory card. The 2 GB card supplied is enough for a week of storage.The software detects motion in your appartment and can send an alert to your email  or mobile phone as well as triggering a recording.
The camera can be installed anywhere and comes with a range of mounting accessories, such as a suction cap and a wall fixation. It connects to the internet via a powerline link to your broadband box. The camera power supply unit acts as an ethernet transmitter over the house's power wiring. Only a single cable - like a long thin black string of liquorice - links the power supply to the camera. It carries both the power and the data, so you mustn't use a regular ethernet lead in its place. Too bad if you break the plastic clip that I have always thought was the weak point of ethernet leads. The box contains a second brick, which looks just like the camera power supply unit except for a colour coding. This is the ethernet powerline receiver and simply connects to your broadband box.

Once it's set up, all you need to view your appartment is a web browser. No problem about which operating system you use. But you do need a Windows computer to set it up. You will have to borrow a laptop from a friendly neighbour if you only have Linux, but at least the setting up procedure only takes a couple of minutes. 

While the printed instruction sheet is multilingual, the software installs in the language of the main computer operating system. Too bad if you are an English speaker working on a French computer. Or a French user with a borrowed operating system in English! There wasn't an easy way of overiding this aspect.

I measured the power consumption with an in-line meter. It read 4.5 W for the camera PS and 2.5 W for the powerline reciever.
Power consumption: Camera psu, 4.5 W, CPL receiver, 2.5 W. As my power meter has a resolution of 0.5 W, I measured the power taken by the two units together, which hovered between 7 and 8 W. This doesn't sound like much, but it works out to an annual consumption of 61 KWH. So the amount it adds to my annual electricity bill comes to about €6 - not a lot in the security business. My DSL box takes about double that, and I have to leave it on all the time to supply bandwidth to the FON adapter.

To begin with, I found the powerline transmission rather unreliable. The reason turned out to be interference with the home's existing powerline system. Once I had identified the problem, the solution was easy: just use the Logitech powerline unit as the home's main powerline transmitter. The whole system then worked perfectly and I even found the performance of the home system had improved.

The CPL boxes update themselves online.

The camera has a rather bright red LED on the front.I didn't find it very useful for low light vision. Worse, it brings the camera to the attention of any visiting burglars. 

Setting up was incredibly easy. Nothing like the very complex procedure to set up a D-Link DCS 5300G  IP camera a few years ago. Just install the set-up software, give the camera (or cameras) names and set up an account. That's it. No DHCP configuration, or any of that. In fact, I never did get the D-Link to work in all the ways it should.  

One major security problem: after you have set your password, you can change it from wherever you have logged in. So, no anyone else you give the login details to, so they can monitor your flat while you are sailing in the Carribean out of reach of any network, can change your password. It would be easy to imagine two levels of access, one that can only view and one with full administrator privileges. A James Bond scenario maybe, but then we are dealing in a security system after all.

25 October, 2010

Bewan Powerline S200Maxx adapters

I've had a pair of Bewan adapters on test for the past few weeks.

On the face of it, they look like common or garden powerline adapters. But they do have a couple of advantages over the more basic models.
For one thing, the units have a "pass through" electric plug. That means you can plug the adapter directly into the wall socket and then plug a multi-plug power strip into the adapter's outlet. So the powerline adapter is connected closer to your home's power wiring.

The units worked straight out of the box. Just plug and play.
I tried to install the Windows software utility, but got an error message because a different version of the Microsoft Net software was already installed. No option of up/downgrading, it just refused to install.
So I grabbed the equivalent software from rival manufacturer LEA's web site. That worked fine and detected my whole home powerline network (DSL box, two routers, three computers, IPTV box, network printer, Fonera, Pogoplug). It also gives the option of renaming each gadget with a label that is easier to understand than a MAC address.Then I noticed that the Bewan software had in fact been installed, so I opened that too. It came up with all the network adapters

Readings and compatibility
200 MB Bewan and Netgear CPL units mixed together with no problem. There was a slight loss in overall performance but the speeds between pairs of the same make were better.
Power consumption was very low, under 2W in use or around 1.5 W disconnected (my power meter reads to the nearest 0.5 W). This is much better than the Netgear, which comes in at 3 W disconnected or 3.5 W in use.

04 February, 2010

HTC Magic Android Google phone

A great deal has already been written about the HTC Magic Android Google phone. So I'll just add a couple of comments.

The inbuilt GPS receiver links to Google Maps, not to a fully fledged navigation system. Personally I prefer to see a map rather than a voice telling me where it thinks I should go, but that is another matter. Nor is there a route planner or all the other trappings of a GPS navigator. But I can live without.
More to the point, the map data is accessed online, either over the G3 network, or by wifi. There is no way (or no easy way) of adding your own data from a Navigon or other CD, or even downloading portions of google maps for offline use. So, when you are in the middle of the countryside with no network - no maps!

Wifi sensitivity
Wifi senisitivity was good, but not outstanding. It was better than Free's two wifi phones, but not as good as the Twin Tact or the wifi in my Acer Aspire One netbook.  Not a problem when you are using it in a small flat, but vital if you are on a high floor in a hotel with the access point at ground level.

Skype Lite
There is (at present on SFR's android portal) no Skype app, only Skype Lite, which involves calling a landline phone number, since voice part of the call is carried over the cell network. So, expect to pay massive roaming costs if you use it abroad.

Android, in its wisdom, does not allow users to change the proxy settings. Fortunately there are web forwarding sites. But they are limited.

A life-size test: see plane departure times while sitting in an airport lounge. Turned out to be almost impossible.

My review model came without a headset. Very awkward for use in public places, such as airport lounge.
It transpired not to be compatible with any of the other headsets and hands-free sets I had, including models with the same type of mini-USB plug and a high range Parrot bluetooth handsfree headset.

11 January, 2010

SFR TV on Google phone

SFR lent me a Google Phone (an HTC Magic which came out last spring, not the new one that hit the headlines in January and is still being waited for in France) to test their TV application.

Verdict: it works, but... 
The idea is good. Choice of 3G or wifi to view streamed TV in pretty good quality. Anyone sceptical about watching TV on a tiny mobile screen will be pleasantly surprised. It can be viewed either horizontally or vertically (the accelerometer automatically switches to the right setting). The angle subtended by the 3 inch screen at handheld distance is in fact considerably bigger than watching a 29 inch TV at the other end of the sitting room, which the crystal clear picture suits well. Some 20 channels provided (TF1, France2, France3, M6, Direct8, W9, TMC, NT1, NRJ, France4, BFM-TV, Gong, Manga, RTL9, and 5 versions of MTV unless I missed some. No France5 though). Of course you can also watch videos from Youtube and other web sites.SFR have coupled this with a package providing unlimited access that really does mean unlimited - unlike their rival Orange, some of whose subscribers have had nasty surprises when the bills arrived. However, being a free trial, I was unable to check this for myself.

International use
I also tried to use the service while in the UK.  Roaming had not been activated on the demo account - but you would have to be really keen not to miss an episode of your favourite series to pay the kind of charges that would incur. Unless someone else is paying of course. The TV didn't work via wifi either. This may have been through checking the location of the IP address, or some other reason, as the same error message appears. For some reason Android forbids apps from changing the system proxy directly. While there are Android web browser apps (e.g. ProxySurf) that support it, they won't work with the TV app.

would have been a very expensive way of watching TV
The big but is the patchy nature of 3G coverage. Wifi coverage is even worse. So you can be antisocial and watch the TV while sitting in a cafe with wifi or 3G. But our attempts to watch on the French side of the Eurostar were a resounding failure. Completely impossible to watch Plus belle la vie. A couple of scenes flitted in, only to be cut off again with the message that there was no signal. Presumable the device is just as useless to try to amuse the kids on a long car journey. I didn't try it in the metro (the Paris transit authority has conveniently installed GSM antennas in the tunnels) because I didn't want to risk having it snatched.
Even static reception wasn't all that could be desired. A plane delay at Charles de Gaulle Airport should have provided an ideal use for it, but no. Probably to the releif of my fellow passengers, as SFR had not supplied an earpiece for personal reception and it was incompatible with any that I had, including recent bluetooth models.

So, finally, the only use I could find for it was as a second TV at home, to watch in the kitchen and the toilet.

04 January, 2010

Neuf GW3 hybrid wifi phone

I recently fished out my Neuf GW3 hybrid wifi phone because a friend needed a phone while visiting Paris.
When I tried to set up the VOIP, it turns out the files were no longer available on the SFR web site - a victim of Neuf''s acquisition by SFR no doubt. Fortunately I had a copy on an old computer.

Briefly, it would be a nice phone if it wasn't locked into the Neuf firmware. Camera, IPTV support, slot for micro SD card. And of course, SIP.
The only way of installing new SIP accounts seems to be via the configuration file.
I was able to install a non-Neuf SIP - an old Wengo and a Webcalldirect (Betamax) - account via the configuration software, but the phone can only handle one SIP account at a time.

IPTV. According to a report in a user forum, an active Wengo account can be used to reactivate the TV rights. This is quite probable, as Wengo had been acquired by Neuf and Neuf uses the Wengo address for its activation, as can be seen in looking at Neuf's configuration software.
In any case, it doesn't work now.
.But SFR are streaming TV for the Android and iPhone. Pity they don't take care of their existing customers!

Here are a couple of links:
Pervasive network
Open Twin
Configuration software