Throw music at your speakers

Yes I know it sounds a bit mad but in the UK you will soon be able to courtesy of SONY.

According to Stuff.TV Sony will be bringing their NS510, NS410 and NS310 speakers to the UK in the summer of 2012.

Sony-SA-NS510-SA-NS410-SA-NS310

Sony will enable you to select music from your PC, smartphone or network drive and ‘throw’ it at their speakers.

This is possible because all three speakers accept streaming via DLNA, Airplay (Apple’s own version) or Music Unlimited (Sony’s rival to Spotify). 

For me this is fantastic news (until I find out the price that is) as I have already set up my home media network to be DLNA compatible where possible.  See my earlier blog item My multi-room media shifting network

I can already ‘throw’ my music from my LaCie LaCinema to my TV, PC or smartphone. Now I will be able to throw it at some decent speakers anywhere in the house and even different music to different speakers.

Roll on the summer

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What should I use to manage my energy usage?

I have been keen on monitoring my energy usage for a while now. It’s probably because I am a bit of a miser and any savings I can make anywhere are hotly pursued. I’m also a bit of a gadget freak.

My first attempts was to use stand alone devices as they were cheap and didn’t require much setting up. I used an OWL electricity meter monitor and a Maplin plug in Power and Energy Monitor to monitor individual devices. This gave me an idea of what I was using minute by minute day by day etc but there was no data storage and graphs or remote access. This got me thinking about what I really wanted from my energy ‘management’ system.

Energy Management Requirements:

  1. Must collect data and store it in the cloud.
  2. Must provide graphs of usage and comparisons with peers.
  3. Must be able to export to my PC for further analysis and reporting
  4. Must be accessible over the web for when I am away from the home
  5. Must use recognised industry standards like ZigBee or Z-Wave so that I could buy from other manufactures and it still work as a system.
  6. The home network must be separate from my home computer and media network which is WiFi based.
  7. The system should be capable of expanding to from just monitoring to management.
  8. The system should be able to work with any possible security  management system I might include at a later date.
  9. Some big industry boys are using the products
  10. Hopefully has a cheap starter kit so I can get going and abandon if it doesn’t work out.
  11. Hopefully I could control the system from my Android SmartPhone.

I was very tempted by the Vera Home Control System which use the Z-Wave system. However this would have required forking out a reasonable sum just to get going.  So I settled on the ZigBee based Smart Energy from AlertMe.com which is only £49.99

For this price you get an electricity meter monitor which connects via ZigBee to a hub and then to a display screen. The hub also passes your data to your account in the cloud automatically.  Thus not only do I get a constant read out of my electricity but I can see all the charts on the internet which also predicts my costs.

This a screen capture of my energy usage and cost prediction

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And a graph of my usage today

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I wanted to play with their smart plug which also connects to the hub using ZigBee. The smart plugs not only capture electricity consumed but the attached device can be switched on and off remotely from the dashboard.

I have connected mine to my fridge/freezer just to see how much it is costing me and whether its time to get a new one. Not that I want to switch it on and off remotely Here is the graph of my fridge/ freezer consumption today

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Future possibilities

  1. I could extend this system to include a camera and sensors.
  2. There is talk that AlertMe are considering full energy management since they bought Wattbox see this news item

My requirement that Big Business is interested in the company and it’s products is met by British Gas’ interest and use of its products  see this news item

My Solar Photovoltaic Rig

Last autumn I took the plunge and had solar photovoltaic panels installed.  I have detailed below the components of my rig, who installed it and how much it cost.

I have also embedded a Google spreadsheet which shows the performance of the rig since installation (Sheet 1) and the income I have earned (Sheet 2). This spreadsheet should automatically update each month.

Solar panels for your home

PV Cells – I have 12 Yingli PV modules. The product is the Multicrystalline YGE 185 Series module type YL175P-23b with peak power output 175W. The installation is rated at 2.10 kW

Inverter   – power-one Aurora PVI-2000

Meter      – ISKRA Type: ME162 D3A51 M3K0

Installer  – PV Solar UK

Cost        – £10,640 incl VAT

Commissioned 28/07/2010

Estimated annual generation 1573.00 kW (@41.3p = £649.65 pa

I opted to have my exported electricity metered separately rather than accepting a flat 50% of the amount generated.

My Solar PV Performance

This uses the Google Docs embed feature.  Alternatively go to the Google spreadsheet directly  My Solar PV Performance

My mobile hotspot courtesy of Zoom

In rural locations it is difficult getting a 3G signal. I have resorted to a MiFi from Zoom which can pick up a good 3G signal from the car in the drive! Now my laptop and phones can surf the net from the warmth of the bungalow using wifi. The Zoom is great because it will take any SIM and automatically establish a data connection. Also I have the flexibility to just use the USB stick direct into my computer.

The full name of this device is Zoom 3G Wireless-N Travel Router hence the need to also use the Zoom 7.2Mbps 3G Tri-Band USB Modem

In this configuration I am using a PAYG SIM from 3

My multi-room media shifting set-up

One Quiet Media Server

I have always hankered after one store for all my media accessible to all my devices. I first of all tried this with a PC dedicated to media. It worked fine except I needed to leave it on all the time which was not very energy efficient and quite noisy. So I looked around for a Network Addressable Store with a media server.

LaCie LaCinema HD

I finally settled on the LaCie LaCinema HD 1 TByte. It’s small, quiet (no fan),  connects directly to my TV via HDMI and sits on my LAN.  So I can leave it on without disturbing anybody, yet it’s accessible to anyone in whatever room they are in.

Media Shifting

The other feature I wanted in my network media server was for it to be UPnP DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatible. The main reason for this was most if not all media players can recognise a UPnP/ DLNA server on the network.  Thus any media player device on my network should be able to fetch media from the server whether it be music, video or photos.

Including DLNA in the specification brought a surprise benefit – media shifting. This means that one device can take media from another device and play it on a third device. My mobile phone can take media off my laptop and play it on my TV (via the LaCinema). This feature depends on the software so for instance Windows Media Player 11 cannot send the media to another device but Twonky software can.

Internet Streaming

Being able to store all my media on my home network and shift it around to any player is wonderful, but today everybody wants to be able to stream their media from the Internet as well.  Thus we have services like Spotify to stream music, YouTube for videos and Flickr or Picassa for Photos (plus many other services).

The PCs and my smartphone on my home network all have access to the internet and can stream whatever service I like.  The beauty of DLNA is that I can use a PC or my smartphone to stream from the internet but send it to any other DLNA device for playing. This feature depends on the software so for instance Windows Media Player 11 cannot pass the stream onto another device but Twonky software can.

So here is my media shifting setup:

Device Media Software Feature
LG TV via LaCie LaCinema HD Twonky Server D, i
Revo Blick Radio Station WiFi Radio Revo – Audio only P, i
O2 Joggler O2 P, I
Windows XP PC Twonky Manager D, I
Windows Vista Laptop Windows Media Player 11 D, i
HTC Desire Android smart phone Twonky Mobile D, I
WD MyBookWorld (blue ring) NAS none
Kodak WiFi Picture Frame Framechannel i
Humax Freesat BBC iPlayer – ITVPlayer soon i

Feature Legend:

D = DLNA compatible so can play from any server and send to any DLNA player

d = DLNA compatible can play from any server and receive via a third device but cannot send to another DLNA player

P = although not DLNA compatible will nevertheless play from any UPnP server.

I = internet streaming to another device

i = internet streaming only to itself

My possible next steps

Now that I have experimented with DLNA I am ready to upgrade my media players. I should be able to upgrade to a decent stereo music player that is DLNA compliant

There were some DLNA Photo Frames but they don’t seem to be available anymore.

Some of the new smartphones come DLNA enable such as HTC Desire HD

Difficulties encountered

Windows Vista (Home edn)

  • Windows Media Player will only recognise the LaCie if I first use the LaCie Network Assistant to mount the drive it will then appear as PVConnect on LaCinima_HD
  • Windows Explorer recognises the the LaCie as a network media device but not as a Network Addressable Storage.  I can only access the folders on the LaCie through the LaCie Network Assistant.

Windows XP

  • Windows Media Player doesn’t recognise the LaCie even if the LaCie Network Assistant has mounted the drive
  • Windows Explorer recognises the LaCie as a network media device

Twonky Mobile

At present I am having a problem playing music from the LaCinema on my mobile. Play stops abruptly part the way through the track. I’m still working this one through with LaCie and Twonky.

The battle for your status space heats up

The battle for the place where you view the status updates of all your friends no matter what network they’re on has heated up.
Both Yahoo Pulse and Windows Live have just tightly integrated their updates with Facebook. You can see all the status updates of your Facebook friends in Yahoo Pulse and Windows Live. You can comment on them and update your own status all from within Yahoo Pulse and Windows Live.
We have for sometime now been able to see our Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace and Buzz friends status in our twitter clients such as Seesmic, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite and update our status in those social networks. But the integration in Yahoo Pulse and Windows Live is much richer. Perhaps we might see Google Buzz going down the richer integration route?
Another approach was taken by Digsby which like Yahoo and Microsoft gives you a richer experience combined with a live presence through integrated chat.
These new, richer experiences combined with the ability to pull in contacts from our other social networks, shows a growing trend towards social media interoperability rather than just data portability. We are now able to operate across networks rather than just import our other networks into the new network.  We no longer need to open several networks to keep updated and share. We are beginning to be able to do that from within whatever network we’re operating at the time, with Yahoo and Microsoft leading the way.

Internet enabling my TV (in the UK)

How much of the internet do I want on my TV?

  • I am mainly interested in video services rather than everything on the internet.
  • if possible connections to my social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter so that I can share my thoughts about what I am watching especially if my friends are also watching the same programme.
  • I don’t want to pay for a monthly subscription for Sky or Virgin Media so it will have to be a Freeview or a Freesat TV.
  • I want access to UK TV Catchup services such as BBC iPlayer
  • I want access to Video on Demand services so I can watch a film of my choice.
  • I want access to Web TV so I can watch TV from countries other than the UK
  • I would also like access YouTube to view my favourite videos mine and my friends videos.

Please note: this blog is about internet enabling TVs in the UK, so there is a lot of content specific to the UK only.

Network Media Receivers

My earliest attempt was to connect a network media receiver to my TV in order to access content I stored on PCs on my home network. This allowed me to view my pictures, video, recorded TV programmes and music but didn’t give me access to the internet.  I then tried a piece of software that did give me access to certain parts of the internet but was fragile and very clunky. There are now of course network media receivers that give you access to content on your home network and windows onto certain parts of the internet like YouTube, NetFlix, Flickr.

Quiet PC with Remote Control

This took me to the stage where I considered a quiet PC connected to my TV and to the internet via my home network. I looked at Asus Eee Box and the Aspire One but settled with just connecting a laptop running Boxee which gave me remote control access to many Boxee “channels”.  Channels is the term sed by Boxee and other such portals to describe the different video on demand providers like Netflix and Pandora as well as YouTube, Flickr and Facebook.

Video Set Top Box

Boxee then launched their own Video Set top Box the Boxee Box to compete with AppleTV and the Roku box. Each of these gave you access to a number “channels” – Video on Demand services like Netflix (subscription) Hulu (not UK) and of course YouTube, Photo services like Flickr. Boxee has the advantage that it also gives me the BBC iPlayer. Roku is interesting because one of its channels is ‘Framechannel which I also receive on my WiFi Photo frame.  Framechannel in itself provides a large number of channels including Flickr and Facebook photos.

Internet enabled Freesat Player

One of the biggest prizes was to be able to access the BBC iPlayer on my TV.  I could do this with Boxee but Freesat then activated their ethernet port on their boxes and the BBC iPlayer became available on my Freesat box ( a Humax Foxsat HDR).  Now there was the possibility that my Freesat box would be come my portal to Catch Up TV and Video on Demand.

The BBC announced that Project Canvas was likely to be given the go ahead by the BBC Board and that ITV, channel 4 and Five were all signed up. Even better project Canvas was to be an open product allowing other parties to use the standard to deliver their Video using the same standard. Thus we have the possibility of Project Canvas enabled set top boxes giving us access to all the UK Catchup TV services and a plethora of other Video over the internet services including paid for services all using the same video over the internet standard.

Internet enabled Freeview Player

Freeview boxes do have an ethernet port but this has not been enabled. However there are some services based on Freeview boxes There are two subscription based services – BT Vision and Taltalk TV. Both are based on Freeview boxes but also supplying catchup TV and Video on demand. Both have also joined Project Canvas (see above).

For a non subscription Freeview box service there is Fetch TV which has a a viable Video on Demand service and includes access to the  BBC iPlayer.  3View have just brought their box to the market . This provides access to your home network, YouTube, email, Facebook and Twitter with iPlayer coming soon.

Internet enabled TVs

Finally there is the Internet TV There are a couple of interesting examples here. First is the Cello iViewer TV which gives access to the BBC iPlayer, YouTube and other WebTV services. Secondly there are TVs from Sony, Samsung, LG, Vizio that make use of the downloadable widgets from the  Yahoo Connected TV Service to give you access to Amazon Video (not UK) & Blockbuster (not UK), Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo News etc.

Conclusion

So where does that currently leave me?  I haven’t been that successful in linking my social networking sites to the programmes or channels I am watching, although I can view them separately. I have largely dispensed with the network media receiver leaving me with:

  • My ethernet connected Freesat player that gives me access to the BBC iPlayer and the possibility of the other catch tv services and Video on demand services through Project Canvas later this year.
  • Boxee running on my laptop connected to my TV that gives me access to the BBC iPlayer, YouTube and lots lots more, using my Windows Media Centre remote control.

Roll on the release of software and Set Top Boxes that will use the Project Canvas internet video standard.

Then of course there is always Google TV on the horizon

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