How-To: Streaming stuff around your house

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In this increasingly wireless world, it seems odd that it’s actually kinda difficult to get music or other media from one device to another.

In my case, I have photos, movies and music all stored on a central storage device on my network — a Network Attached Storage device, or NAS.

Getting to that media easily with other devices means I have to have a something running and acting as a server to manage access to the media. In my case, it’s a small windows based computer that acts as the server.

Or should I say ‘servers’ because to get my media streamed around the house is a feat that requires more than just one piece of software.

ituneslogo.jpgLet’s start with iTunes
I have that running  and sharing its library (which is pointed at the media on the NAS). iTunes allows any other copy of iTunes running on my network (and that I’ve enabled Home Sharing on) to see the shared library and use the media on it.

So now any computer running iTunes can play music from my shared iTunes library. This means my Apple TV (2nd Gen) can see my media library too.

But moving a computer from soundsystem to soundsystem is a little clunky, so read on, gentle reader, read on.

iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone
It’s fairly easy to plug your iDevices into most home sound system these days, so I won’t go into details on that, but that’s how I get the music to the room I want listen in.

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WiFi2HiFi

Now things get a bit more complex. Streaming media to these devices requires another piece of server software running on that server box. And a matching application on the iOS device.

The iDevice is the receiver, and the Server is, erm, the server.

There are currently three solid iOS receiver apps (and matching free server software):

With all three, the basic principal is the same:

1) Point the server software (on the PC) at the directories you want to share with the iOS devices
2) Let the server software build a catalogue

Now things get a bit different
With Air Video and Stream To Me, you just:
3) Point the app (on your iOS device) at your server (usually using an IP address).

If you’re using WiFi2HiFi, it’s easier — you just start the server software, and it automatically detects your iOS device with the app running and streams all your computer’s audio to it. So whatever you’re playing on your computer will be streamed to the iOS device.
4) With Stream-To-Me and Air Video, you have more control. The matching server software lets you view your media libraries and select the media you’d like to stream.

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Stream-To-Me

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Air Video

As of this writing, Air Video only streams video (with on the fly conversion or queued conversion), while Stream-To-Me sends most video and audio formats without conversion.

So depending on your needs, you’ve got hardware and software options for getting your media to you using your existing devices. Very cool, and convenient way to get your stuff to where you are.

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Did Apple just kill a small part of the music industry?

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Ever since the iPhone and iPod Touch caught the attention of developers of developers with an interest in music, there have been music apps in the iTunes App store.

With yesterday’s announcement of Garage Band for iPad these smaller niche developers could be challenged by the vast development resources Apple can bring to bear.

Garage Band iPad
Digging into the details, iPad Garage Band really looks like a great all-in-one package with a good selection of instruments, instrument enhancements (Smart Instruments), Plug-ins, Synthisizers, and Digital Audio Workstation components (Amps & Effects), as well as multi-track editing and recording.

Wow, there’s a lot there for $4.99. Seriously. I’ll be getting it.

What’s out there now
Taking a quick look at some of the leading music creation and instrumentation apps in the store, you’d exceed that level by just buying one app, in many cases.

Recording

Sequencers

Instruments / Synths

 

You see the challenge?
For consumers and software developers, once again, Apple has redefined an industry, but perhaps not in a good way. Or did they just make a statement that the existing apps are way too overpriced? Time will tell.

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Boppin’ with the BeBot!

bebot.jpgiPad music and synth apps all seem to be trying to exactly replicate the
experience of using a real synthesizer or instrument, like Virtuoso Piano 3 .

Recently I discovered BeBot, an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad music app that breaks that stereotype.

According to the developer, BeBot is:

…Part synthesizer, part animated robot.

Touching the screen causes the robot to move and make sounds controlled by your movements. Play it like a musical instrument, or just have fun watching the robot and making sounds with your fingers.

Features 4-finger multitouch polyphony, multiple synthesis modes, user-definable presets and scales, tweakable synth settings and effects, and more!

And for me, this reads as pure fun! Robots! Synths! What more could you want.

Well, how ’bout a Theremin? Yep, the developers have built in a preset that emulates a Theremin pretty darn well.

Some will see this as a musical time-waster or toy, yet it can have serious musical applications. Check out the video  below of Jordan Rudess working the BeBot on an iPhone.

So, for $1.99, I’m thinking this is a pretty versitile piece of musical tech. How ’bout you? Got a favourite musical iOS  app? Let me know about it in the comments.

And, as an aside, check out this awesome video of a Theremin being used to play the Star Trek theme!


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Speed up your Internet experience by using the right DNS server

Last week I saw this LifeHacker article (via AppleInsider) about NameBench, a window utility that tests the speed of your system’s DNS servers.

And I was wondering if my DNS was as fast as it could be…

Previously, I’d switched my DNS services over to OpenDNS, a free alternate DNS Provider that adds value as:

  • Ultra-reliable, globally-distributed network
  • Industry-leading Web content filtering
  • Easy to use for families, schools, and businesses of all sizes

Google also has free public DNS services available, which NameBench scans and includes in the results.

But recently I’d noticed that often videos and other streaming media just wouldn’t play back smoothly, so after reading this bit in the life hacker article I thought I’d give NameBench a try.

“When millions of users all tap into the same DNS server addresses to resolve domain names, as Google DNS does by design, Akamai and other CDNs route content to those users along the same path, preventing the network from working optimally. This causes problems not only for Apple’s iTunes, but also any other media streaming or download service that uses a similar CDN strategy to distribute downloads.”

As an added benefit, NameBench checks to see if your DNS servers are vulnurable up to security standards, and if your DNS requests are being censored or redirected (WikiLeaks, for example).

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WOW.
According to NameBench, By switching back to my ISP, I’d get an amazing DNS speed improvement of over 100%!! Remember, this doesn’t speed up my internet connection, just the speed that the Internet translates domain names into those cryptic Internet IP addresses.

So, by making the recommended changes to my systems DNS settings, NameBench was happy with my settings. Now to see if I actually notice any improvement…

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In Real Life.
Well, I’m not too sure if I am noticing any difference yet or not. There’s so many different factors that can contribute to network speed that one change rarely makes a huge difference.

But still, every small improvement you make adds up, and contributes to a more efficient online experience.
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Discovering new apps on your device

One of the neatest things about owning a digital device is discovering new ways to use it. Got a spare 10 minutes? Look for a new app. Great way to kill time :smileyhappy:

For example, when I bought my iPad Touch, I started monitoring websites and twitter feeds such as 148apps and appadvice.com.

There’s an more than one app for that:
I also installed Chomp — a cool app discovery app (so meta) that recorded your recommendations and suggested other apps based on those recommendations. Apple’s iTune Store and app now does this through the Genius service — though it’s not quite as good as Chomp is.

Last night some friends recommended AppShopper — an app and companion website that introduces some great filtering features to the app discovery process.

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The features include:

  • Popular Apps: Overwhelmed by the App Store? The list of Popular app changes lets you browse a list of only the apps that other AppShopper users think are worth looking at.
  • What’s New: Track all the latest changes to the App Store: price drops, updates, and new apps.
  • Wish List: Add any app to your own personal Wish List and get notified of price changes or updates by email. With Push Notifications, you can get the latest updates sent directly to your device.
  • My Apps: Keep track of the apps you already own. With Push Notifications, you can get the latest updates sent directly to your device.
  • Syncs with AppShopper.com: Wish List and My Apps automatically sync with AppShopper.com so you can manage your lists in a web browser.

A universal application (iPhone/Touch/iPad), AppShopper is a rather cool addition to my app surfing addiction.

Which is great if you’ve got an iDevice…but many reading this could care less because they’ve got an Android or BlackBerrry or Other…so, what exists for those platforms? iOS can’t be the only device with dedicated recommendation services. Time to ask for help…from you! Help us out and leave your favourite ‘other’ device app-finder app or service details in the comments. It’s appreciated!



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.


I read the news today (oh boy)

If you’ve been without power and not heard the news today, The Beatles music library is now available from Apple’s iTunes store for download.

Joy.

No, I’m not overly enthused by this, as I already own digital copies of all the Beatles music that I’m interested in. I bought them on CD years ago, and have since copied the music to my various .mp3 player devices. This is legal in Canada.

I’m not sure what additional value there is in then in the music being available through iTunes, other than to make it easier to buy songs or albums conveniently if you suddenly realize you’ve got the Blue and Red albums, but are missing the White.

Meh. It’s news, but it’s not the big news it’s being made out to be.

How to synchronize your podcast feeds on many computers

A friend recently asked me if I knew of a way to synchronize his podcasts (using iTunes) on multiple computers.

Initially I had no idea, but then I remembered PodNova.

Aside: I’ve since learned that iTunes supports OPML import / export, but still think PodNova is the better way to go — online centralized repository of all your podcast feeds VS saving and moving OPML files between computers.

I’d written about it a few years ago when I was looking into a text-to-speach solution for my blog: How to convert your blog post into a podcast.

Basically, PodNova is a service that you use to subscribe to all of your podcasts. Or, you can stream your podcasts directly to your computer (or mobile device: iPhone, iPod Touch, etc).

But, if you want to keep all your computers synchronized, you simply point  your iTunes subscription at ‘your personalized’ RSS podcast feed. Done.

The result is that you now have one feed to remember, but that feed now contains ALL your podcast subscriptions. All you have to do is subscribe to your PodNova feed, sit back, and enjoy your podcasts. Once per computer.