Panasonic embraces DLNA with new Blu-ray recorders
By Adam TURNER
DLNA is going mainstream with Panasonic turning its Blu-ray recorders into media servers.
I've felt for a while that DLNA is the secret sauce of the digital lounge room, but it's been slow to make any impact in the mainstream consumer electronics market. When I say mainstream, I say brands your average man on the street has heard of and would consider buying for his lounge room as opposed to the study. A handful of devices are DLNA-compliant players, but they're relying on you to have a computer or NAS serving up the content. Panasonic is set to shake things up with its new DMR-BW880 and DMR-BW780 Blu-ray recorders.
Panasonic's existing DMR-BW850 is probably the most impressive Consumer Electronics device on Australian shelves - although you're paying a hefty price to own Australia's only off-the-shelf Blu-ray recorder. The new DMR-BW880 and BW780 go a step further by acting as a DLNA media server. Better yet, Panasonic assures me they are fully DLNA compatible, not a hobbled version of DLNA designed to only work with other Panasonic gear.
This is awesome - now you can stream TV recordings straight off the BW880's hard drive to a DLNA compatible Blu-ray player (such as Panasonic's new BD85), a DLNA-compatible media player (such as the WD TV Live) or DLNA-compatible software on a computer (such as XMBC which also runs on a hacked Apple TV). I haven't had a chance to review the new Panasonic gear yet, but I suspect it might let you stream other content from the hard drive and attached USB devices.
Throw in DLNA compatibility along with Catch Up TV (which is restricted to Panasonic TVs but will eventually come to the Blu-ray players) and suddenly AU$1499 for the 500GB BW880 (or $1299 for the 250GB BW780) doesn't seem as oppressive. If you don't care about Blu-ray, Panasonic's cheaper DVD recorders are also DLNA servers.
It's a shame that the Panasonic recorders rely on Freeview's crappy free-to-air EPG, if the Panasonic gear offered the advanced PVR features of a TiVo then it would be the ultimate entertainment device and I'd happily hand over $1499. Hopefully the new Panasonic Blu-ray recorders offer a taste of what's to come.
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Air Video + TiVo makes Apple's iPad an awesome streaming media player
By Adam TURNER
Of all the apps I've tested on my iPad, Air Video perhaps excites me the most - even though it's just an iPhone app with an iPad makeover. Combining Air Video with TiVo's Home Networking software grants the iPad access to the bulk of my home entertainment library.
At AU$2.99 Air Video is one of the App store's hidden gems. It's designed to stream video across your local network from your computer to your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch and comes with server software for Mac and Windows. It will even transcode video to iFriendly formats on the fly rather than waiting to convert the entire file, which gives it a distinct advantage over TVersity's iPhone options. There's a free trial version of Air Video, that limits the number of files you can see on your server, but I guarantee that within 10 minutes you'll happily hand over a few dollars for the full version.
The iPad's screen size, grunt and 802.11n networking combine to make it a far superior remote viewing device than my humble iPhone 3G. It's great for sitting on the couch or in bed while watching video, plus it's big enough that a few people can watch it at once. Pulling video straight off my Windows 7 Media Centre is far more convenient than copying it to my MacBook, converting it to an iFriendly format and then syncing it to my iPad via USB. Air Video even has a beta remote access option for watching videos over the web, but I haven't tried this yet.
Air Video will handle mp4, m4v, mov, avi, wmv, asf, mpg, mpeg, mkv, 3gp, dmf, divx and flv files - which is an impressive list. My only major disappointment is that it can't take my library of ripped DVDs and stream it directly to the iPad. The other feature I'd like to see is a desktop client for watching videos on a Mac or PC, which the developers say is on the roadmap. Meanwhile I could probably use TVersity to serve up the video files to Macs and PCs around the house.
My video library is divided into three segments; downloaded video (downloaded with uTorrent and stored on the Media Centre), recorded television (stored on the TiVo) and ripped DVDs (ripped with AnyDVD HD and stored on the Media Centre). I guess my Holy Grail is to access all this content from one interface. I know it's possible from the Windows MCE interface, but I've found my media centre to be a fickle beast as a PVR. Meanwhile my TiVo is rock solid and features powerful core PVR features. The lack of ad-skipping on Australian TiVos is annoying but not a deal-breaker when it does everything else so well.
After the excitement of setting up Air Video (yes, I'm a nerd who can get genuinely excited about such things) I decided it was time to investigate the TiVo Home Networking software which lets you transfer content between the TiVo and a computer. The software has been sitting there for a long time but I have to admit I've never got around to looking at it - probably because I figured anything endorsed by TiVo Australia would have all the great features stripped out of it. Boy, was I wrong.
TiVo Home Networking 2.8 with the TiVo Desktop Plus key seems brilliant. The set up was simple and its features are amazingly powerful. Basically it will let me automatically copy a set number of episodes from a Season Pass from my TiVo to my PC and then automatically convert them to my format of choice. In other words, I can tell it to always keep the three most recent episodes of The Big Bang Theory on my PC, converted into an iPhone-friendly format (and then delete the original files from the PC if I want). Then all I need to do is point the Air Video server software at the folder with the iPhone files in it and I can watch them from the iPad. Now whenever I pick up the iPad at home, the last few episodes of all my favourite shows are only a few taps away. Until Air Video offers a desktop interface, I can always point TVsersity at that folder.
The icing on the cake is that the TiVo Home Networking software lets you automatically copy files to the TiVo, so I can point it at a BitTorrent folder with an RSS Season Pass to a show such as Lost and then automatically copies the three most recent downloads to the TiVo. Now I can use the TiVo or the iPad for watching downloaded or recorded video. Brilliant.
The only drawback to TiVo Home Networking is the cost - $100 plus another $40 if you want to automatically transfer and convert files. I got a review copy from TiVo's Australian distributor, but I know I'd baulk at handing over that kind of money - especially as other PVRs would let you cobble together a similar solution for nothing. Perhaps if TiVo offered a limited trial version (like Air Video) it might help me decide to part with my cash.
I must stress that I've only just set all this up. It seems to be running smoothly so far, but I've been burned enough times that it takes a while for me to trust such things. If it all goes as planned, it will certainly make my iPad a far more useful little gadget.
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Apple's iPad - more than a toy?
By Adam TURNER
The "magical" iPad has arrived, but is it more than a luxury gadget?
I've had my iPad for 48 hours now, after a friend FedExed it to me from Silicon Valley. The iPad's user experience is exquisite, as you'd expect from Apple, but what is this latest wundergadget actually good for?
The obvious answer to that question is reading books, magazines and newspapers - which is why it's such as shame that Australians initially miss out on access to the new iBookstore. Of course a quick Google search reveals instructions on setting up a US iTunes account, so Aussies can taste the forbidden fruit.
Without eBooks, the iPad really is little more than an overgrown iPod touch - although that's not necessarily a bad thing. The extra screen real estate certainly improves the user experience and there are already apps that take advantage of that extra space. Even so, the iPad's virtual keyboard means it will never be a netbook replacement - despite Apple's deceptive iPad demo videos. The iPad's horrendous outdoor screen glare also puts a dampener on plans to use it as the ultimate gadget on the go.
For me I think the iPad will become our household coffee table computer, although it's frustrating that the iPhone OS isn't designed with multiple users in mind. I'd like to see some kind of fast user switching introduced in the iPhone OS 4.0 software update, along with multitasking.
I know it's a cliche, but the iPad really is an elegant solution looking for a problem. If you can find the right problem, or you've just got the cash to splash on a luxury gadget, you'll probably love the iPad. Just keep in mind that you're getting a big iPod, not a small Mac.
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All Play and no rest...
By Adam TURNER
The Hydrapinion team has decided to take a week off for Easter, we should return to our regular programming next Friday.
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Shut up, the footy's on ya telephone
By Adam TURNER
I love the way macho sports such as Australian Rules football give sports geeks an excuse to play with tech.
This week I've been playing around with AFL Dreamteam - an online fantasy football game. Normally using the words "online", "fantasy" and "game" in the same sentence would earn you a severe wedgie at the hands of the cool kids, but apparently it's all okay if you're talking about the "foddy".
The AFL Dreamteam is basically a strategy game you play on your computer or smartphone, based on real world sports statistics. I can see a lot of parallels between fantasy football and games such as Warcraft or Starcraft. The players certainly get just as passionate and obsessive, judging by the many websites dedicated to weekly Dreamteam analysis. Suddenly it's okay for big boofy blokes to spend hours in front of a computer and then play with their iPhones at the footy, as long as they're still swiggin' a beer, scarfin' a pie and callin' the umpire a maggot.
As one of my SMH readers put it; "Fantasy football is Dungeons and Dragons for the people that used to beat up the people that played Dungeons and Dragons".
There is plenty of other sports-related tech around, including quite a few AFL-focused iPhone apps. Right now there are two AFL apps in the Top 10 Grossing apps on the Australian iTunes store. It's little wonder when you consider Australia is one of the world's great sporting nations and Melbourne is Australia's sporting capital - home to the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Sport has always been the great social equaliser in Australia. Not matter what your station in life, tribal bonds make everyone equal when talk turns to the footy. It's such a powerful force that it even allows jocks to act like nerds, yet escape the ridicule of their peers.
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