Forget DLNA/UPnP! AppleTV with Airplay Rocks!

I’ve got an XBox 360, PS3 and WD Live connected to my TV. For some reason, none of these will play a video file using standard network shares. (The WD Live is supposed to, but  it doesn’t seem to navigate through directories.) As such, I use one of these devices–usually the WD Live– to connected to a DLNA media server running on the PC. I’ve tried most of the server programs (PS3 mediaserver, Plex, TVersity, Orb, etc.) but liked MediaMall’s PlayOn the best. I would have liked to use PS3 media server, but it is a memory hog!

Most of the time this arrangement works fine. The biggest issue is sometimes the video or audio would hiccup. I was never sure if this was the file or the server software, although the file would normally play fine playing it on a PC. Anyways, restarting the video and either trying to jump to a spot or fast-forward can be an exercise in futility. I really wanted more of a desktop experience when navigating through a video file.

If you think about the fact that the media server is converting the file in real-time and then serving the file to the client, I suppose this makes sense why navigating is so difficult. Of course, that probably wouldn’t be a problem if there was direct network share access.

I thought about setting up XBMC, but that seemed like a hassle, although I loved using it on a hacked original XBox. Anyways, I sometimes use the Air Video app on my iPad/iPhone. That supports AirPlay which allows you to display the video/audio onto an Apple TV. The Airplay server program runs on your PC so it’s essentially the same deal as using the DLNA setup. I should note that I’m guessing that when you Airplay the video to the Apple TV, it goes directly from the server program on the PC to the Apple TV. It isn’t running through the iOS device. I say this because it works using my iPhone or iPad, and putting the iOS device in the middle would have to create severe bandwidth/processing issues which I do not see.

The BIG difference is navigation! You can quickly shuttle through a video or jump to a specific part with just a slight lag. It is a million times better than when using DLNA.

What are the cons? Well, it works best when the video is in MP4, M4V, or MOV format since they don’t have to be converted. I’ve found that the quality of Air Video’s (real-time) live conversion is pretty poor even if you use the highest live conversion bitrates. So this can be an issue if you’ve got a lot of AVIs. There is a built-in workaround, however; you can have Air Video convert the file before watching. It doesn’t seem to take too long and it will depend on your PC’s processing power.

Anyways, to some extent I’ve swapped one issue (navigation) for another (poor AVI quality), but I’ll still run the DLNA server so I can the old way is always still an option–too bad Apple TV doesn’t do DLNA :-( The WD Live is headed for eBay.

UPDATES:
2/24/13 – I found that Air Playit has a better real-time AVI conversion but it’s hang up is it doesn’t run in background.

2/25/13 – I just switched to ServeToMe and the real-time conversion quality is very good. Plus, it runs in background. Memory and CPU useage is pretty good too! Fingers crossed…

iHome iW3 AirPlay Rechargeable Speakers

I’ve been thinking about whether to get a Bluetooth speaker for use with my iPad/iPhone or an Apple AirPlay one. I’ve been using a jury-rigged Bluetooth set up with an old iPad speaker dock and a Logitech Bluetooth adapter connected to the Aux input. Not a very elegant solution.

The thing about using Bluetooth is that it pretty much takes over all of the iOS device’s audio output. So audio notifications can get problematic. AirPlay on the other hand can be limited to specific apps, like the Music app. The downside of AirPlay devices is that they are EXPENSIVE! I thought about doing an AirPlay DIY project that uses an Apple Airport Express, but I wanted a small self-contained unit.

Best Buy had the iHome iW3 on sale for $179, so I decided to give it a try. So far I love it. It’s pretty compact aside from it’s giant AC adapter–I think Apple should be in charge of designing all AC adapters ;-)

Connecting to your WiFi network is a snap. It’s got a USB port and I just connected my iPad to it using the included 30-pin style connector. A little dialog box appears asking if you want to allow it to access your WiFi setting. That’s it. I assume it would work if you used one of the newer Lighting cables, but it doesn’t list the iPhone 5 or iPad 4 as supported devices on the box.

There are some basic playback controls on the top. The entire unit is relatively heavy and sits on it small charging base. To move it, you just lift it by the recessed handle in the back. Most of the unit is covered in this speaker material. Your natural instinct is to grab the unit by the sides, but I would worry that this wouldpermanently stretch the material. Only time will tell. I would have preferred a plastic or metal covering.

The sound is good, but to be honest I’m not a big audiophile.

AirPlay emulator for Windows!

Just installed shairport4w which is an AirTunes emulator for Windows. It basically allows you to wirelessly stream music to your PC from your iPod/iPad/iPhone/iTunes by making your Windows PC “look” like an AirPlay device.

So what I’m doing is kinda interesting. I’ve got a Subsonic server running on one PC that is streaming music to my iPad via the iSub app. The iSub app sends the music to another PC that is running shairport4w! Seems to work perfectly. Very cool!

I tried streaming to some speakers via Bluetooth, but what I don’t like about that method is that *all* audio goes to the BT speakers. So if the speakers aren’t on, you’ll hear nothing and just have to remember to turn off BT or disconnect the device. Using AirPlay you generally get to choose from the app what the target speaker device is.