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.