Thursday, November 06, 2008
Both Tangent and Pure have new devices that seem to be coming out in time for, what I am sure they hope to be, a Christmas sales rush.
Both have internet radio, plus DAB and FM also with the ability to play from a USB attached disk and support for playing your own music held on the home LAN.
The new Tangent model, NET-200, is another Reciva-based radio - like their Quattro.
This time it looks somewhat like my old Audiotron that I referred to in an earlier posting. It is a component hi-fi sized device - with no speakers. So, you add this into your existing hi-fi (including via a digital-out) or add powered speakers.
More details at the Tangent site.
Pure's second internet radio is the Avanti Flow.
This does have speakers - and an iPod dock.
Both are towards the top-end of the price range for people who are simply looking for internet radio - but they do provide more than that.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Well - I'm not sure that it is very interesting! But then I wasn't convinced by the facility in Facebook etc. Knowing that Harry has missed the bus may well be important to his employer who was expecting in on time for once or his girlfriend who faces missing the start of the film again but is it really more than a gimmick? If Twitter cannot sustain the cost of sending SMS in Europe will users pay for it?
However, I can see that aggregated information about listening habits could be useful, especially to advertisers, commissioning editors or public service broadcasters wanting their charter renewed - but I doubt that many people will switch over to listen to a programme that they had forgotten about because some of their friends are.
But - now with RadioPOP going live - http://www.radiopop.co.uk - it does mean that there will be data collected and published in full colour.
Right now it is not directly linked to the popular BBC iPlayer - and only provides live streaming (not Listen Again) but it will be interesting to see how much use it gets.
At least two suppliers of the technology underlying many internet radios are based in the UK - and provide access to the BBC live and Listen Again programming. If they add support for this as well then it will give it an extra boost. However, once it gets into BBC iPlayer then the figures really will make interesting reading.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
All sorts of product information comes out around the time of IFA in Berlin.
The official announcement of the Squeezebox Boom that I mentioned in the previous blog entry was timed to coincide with IFA opening - and indeed shipping started on the same day.
Other products that were announced around the same time include the Intempo RFI-W and the Pure Evoke Flow.
They are both priced around the same level at the Squeezebox Boom but have a few immediately obvious differences. For example - both Pure and Intempo include regular FM radio.
Pure also include DAB (with promise of availability of future firmware upgrade to DAB+).
The Pure device has a single speaker and, like others in the Evoke range, can have an extra speaker added at additional cost. Another costed option is a ChargePak (rechargeable battery to you and me).
It will be interesting to see where their internet radio database comes from. The front-end to it is at http://thelounge.com but at the time of writing this it is not open. My guess is that the data comes from vTuner but I am less confident about the portal itself. Logic says that it would be a varient on that offered by Frontier-Silicon given the relationships between Pure, their parent, Imagination Technologies and Frontier-Silicon. But perhaps Pure have done their own to differentiate themselves from other brands using FS.
Intempo include an iPod dock and ability to play from SD memory card and USB disk.
Again it will be interesting, to me at least, to see where they are sourcing their internet radio technology from. They used Reciva for their first model, the GX-01, but a few of the early suppliers of badged internet radios are trying things with more than one manufacturer. It is due out at the end of September 2008
Logitech have put a lot of effort into the audio design of their new Squeezebox.
On announcement they published this great document. It contains a lot of technical detail, written in a very easy to read way - Logitech Squeezebox Boom Audio Design White Paper (PDF)
As usual, senior staff from Logitech have been active within the SlimDevices forum to answer questions about the new system. There was a private beta program running since April 2008 with some of the most active community members getting the chance to try things out and give feedback. I think that this approach is one of the big reasons why SlimDevices has both great products and passionate supporters.
It is going to be interesting to see if Logitech can steal a march on the competition by being available a full month earlier.
Will people go for what looks like more ways to listen from Pure and Intempo?
Are the audio qualities of the Squeezebox Boom going to be important?
Will the ability of the Pace device to run on an optional rechargeable battery make it more attractive to the outdoor types?
Will this new activity spur Roku into kicking new life into Soundbridge Radio?
How about Philips - I should really go and have a look at their new model to see how they have moved on since I last tried one a few years ago.
Or - will people seem them as much of a muchness and buy based on what they can find in the shops and which one has the most appealing looks and/or cheapest price?
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Having achieved a stable and working set-up, with local media files and internet radio playing at home, including the ability to synchronise between 2 rooms, we really had all that we needed.
However, I still wanted a bit more - internet radio in the bathroom. There were two different drivers. One was to cover the long relaxing soak in a warm bath and the other was to have news (from France) in the morning while getting ready for work. Putting electrical equipment in the bathroom is not something to undertake lightly because of the hazards of mixing power and water or steam and electronics - but trying to use the wifi-enabled PDA with wet hands or steamed-up glasses was not going to work!
So it would be used a relatively small amount of time per week and would have to be easy to operate. For the small amount of use that was expected, I could not justify putting an extra Logitech Squeezebox, plus powered speakers, in there. The user community had been calling for an all-in-1 box for quite a long time ...
but there was no word (not even a rumour ... until on 6th August 2008 - when unofficial news of the Squeezebox Boom leaked out).
I was interested in trying out an "internet radio". One of my brothers had already seen my home set-up and wanted to do something similar. He has very poor FM reception in his bedroom and wanted to be able to listen to BBC Radio 4 last thing at night and on waking up. There were a number of potential solutions (for example - add an external FM antenna, or try and get it via longwave). In the end he bought a Logik IR100 - from memory it was about 130GBP at the time.
It was up and running very quickly. The built-in support for RealAudio plus Reciva maintaining an updated list of the BBC Listen Again programmes meant that it easily meet my brother's needs. (Reciva provides the engine inside the box and is the provider of the station list).
Not to be outdone ... another brother went a slightly different route - and bought the Roku Soundbridge Radio. This device also features a conventional FM and AM receiver as well as internet streaming - so looks very attractive to a radio fan.
He is pretty pleased with it but has a few usability issues plus recently the power supply failed (just after the warranty expired).
Reciva already had a few other brands using their technology - but all were priced higher than I was prepared to pay for a 3rd device ... then the Logik IR100 went through some price drops. PC World was selling them for 60GBP and eventually 50GBP. My resistance was broken one week-end as I was buying some ink and paper ... within minutes of getting it back home I was listening live to stations from around the world.
It is not wrinkle free - but more than adequate for the way we are using it.
The firmware for the Reciva-based radios is upgradable over the internet, but the process is controlled so that firmware upgrades (officially at least) are only available for particular models once the brand agrees. This does mean that there are all sorts of different versions of the firmware on different models - which can lead to some frustration when a bug fix or new facility is available to some radios but not others.
There were a few bugs that affected the Logik IR100 but the assumption was that DSG would not be interested in agreeing to an update because they were probably trying to clear the stock by dropping the price. In the end, I made contact with one of the senior members of DSG to ask if anything could be done. I had a reply pretty quickly (over a week-end) saying that it would be researched. After a few weeks there was an update to say that it looked pretty likely and then a few weeks later I had confirmation that a new firmware release would be available very soon. An excellent outcome and confirmation to me that a simple request expressed clearly, logically and without emotion ... really can work.
The Logik IR100 has moved up in price since then - but I think it is still worth looking out for good deals.
The Reciva platform has continued to spark my interest in other ways. Reciva asked if any users would be willing to help process the queue of station add/modify requests. I volunteered and was soon involved in working out the right stream URL for attempted add requests. I am not sure how many I have fixed but I expect it is well over 1000. I find it a good way to stimulate the mind in the morning before breakfast!
This is a fast moving area - so I do suggest that you do your own investigation before buying. Models that I referred to might no longer be available or issues that I had may well be resolved. Feel free to ask questions via the Comments area.
28-Aug-2008 - Updated to include official link to Squeezebox Boom
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Having converted some of the family to the pleasure of using a stand-alone device to play internet radio and local music files, the next step was expansion. Putting another device in an area that was not really suited to having a regular computer.
There were a few candidates that seemed to be offering something similar. They are some subtle and not so subtle differences between them (such as whether or an additional application needs to be installed, learned and run to handle core functionality, functionality of the remote control and support for many different formats/protocols for streaming - including the ability to play back material from the BBC Listen Again library).
I had seen a few at CES in 2004 and 2005 and had already been researching.
In general, I discounted devices that could not be controlled from the device (plus its remote control) itself (i.e. if it needed a TV to be on, or if the only way from from a computer).
My shortlist had come down to Sonos, Philips, RokuLabs and SlimDevices (now Logitech).
I decided that although it looked great, it was too expensive for me and did not seem open enough for what I had in mind.
However, I have subsequently recommended it for closer inspection to friends who had both more spare cash than me and less desire to get into the technicalities.
They seemed to have the only device that really was a conventional mini hi-fi system, with CD-player, regular radio and built-in speakers but it was taking forever to come to market in Europe.
When I tried it out at CES I found the menu system too cumbersome and unresponsive - plus the internet radio function seems to only support a "walled garden" approach with no ability for me to enter my own stream URLs, plus there was no support for Microsoft WMA which would have been needed for many internet radio stations. I'm sure that either I was wrong or things have improved since then, but since I could not get my hands on one to experiment with in the UK at that time - I gave it a miss.
I did like the fact that, like the Audiotron, it has a built in filesystem client so that it can play locally held music files without necessarily having to run an extra application.
However, it had no native support for RealAudio format - which meant that I would not have an easy way to listen to the BBC Listen Again material.
Running a connection through a local transcoding proxy could have been one way to do this - i.e. run a local server that can handle RealAudio format and have it translate the data, in real-time to something else. The loss in quality after going through such a translation could be grating, but given the relatively lo-fi that is used for most internet radio then I decided that this need not be a big issue - but I wanted to experiment.
Back then ... the RokuLabs devices included the ability to work with the then current SlimDevices SlimServer. SlimServer was (and still is - but is known as SqueezeCenter nowadays) free to download and use. So I decided to try it out since I would be able to evaluate the free software for use with either vendor.
SlimDevices (now Logitech)
As I read more about SlimDevices I was impressed with the approach they were taking.
The user forum was busy and supportive with active engagement by the manufacturer - it was clear that new functions were being added based on user requests. They seem to have put a lot of effort into the audio qualities of the box and had a good looking screen and menu system.
However, it did look like an old-fashioned bedside clock radio (the subsequent SB3 updated the looks, and the later Receiver plus Controller i.e. Duet goes a step further).
But, there was a free download available of a software-only emulation of the Squeezebox.
So - I downloaded the Slimserver and Softsqueeze. I had both up and running in minutes.
It was easy and extend. Softsqueeze allowed me to try out a lot of things, including putting some add-ins in place. It all worked really well.
So - I placed my order for the newly announced SB2 and it arrived direct from USA at the end of March 2005.
It proved so popular at home - that a 2nd followed not long afterwards. Sometimes we set them to synchonise playback so that we can set-up a playlist from the kitchen in the evening and then continue without a break when we eventually arrive in the bedroom.
So I had decided to go with something that seemed to have good basic functions and an active user community who were developing, with the support of the manufacturer, all sorts of interesting add-ons. I did not expect to use many of them (for example showing the scores for sports that I am not interested in) but there were some that looked promising (for example providing the BBC Listen Again content).
It could be argued that having something that seemed to require additional 3rd-party software to achieve what would lead to an overly complex solution and would need a computer to be left on to run it.
Well - I do not have a big concern over something being complex under the covers - provided there is sufficient information and support for those that are willing and able to dabble. If new functions can be added that can then seamlessly appear in the menu at the device so that everyone in the family can quickly understand how to use it if they need it then I'm all for it.
As for running a computer all of the time - although it is not strictly necessary to do this with the Squeezebox (SqueezeNetwork provides access to internet streams without need of a local server and the device also supports broadcasting a Wake-On-Lan packet to try to restart a slumbering server) ... I already run a PC all day so that it can easily generate the TV and radio listings that I upload for other users of DigiGuide (I generate programme schedule information for end-users to import into DigiGuide of over 100 stations - maybe that could be the subject of another blog entry).
All of the manufactures featured above have released new models since I was doing my research - and there are other players in the market.
I still had an itch ... I wanted internet radio in the bathroom so that I could listen in while having a long soak. There were numerous possibilities - and apart from kicking myself for not putting some speakers in the ceiling when we had the bathroom refitted ... I was happy to start searching again. Slimdevices/Logitech were steadfastly not making any noise about producing a transportable device with built-in speakers. RokuLabs had finally shipped their SoundBridge Radio and there were other small devices that looked a bit like regular radios that could be interesting. More on this later ...
Sunday, July 27, 2008
As DABDig, the application, has needed less of my attention over the last couple of years (partly because it already handles most of the recording possibilities with stacks of TV and radio kit - but mainly, I think, because there are much more sophisticated applications being shipped with modern computers that, for most people, obviate the desire to go and and find extra tooling such as DABDig plus the basic TV listings available in Microsoft Media Center and other similar applications mean that they are unlikely to find DigiGuide) I have spent some time getting involved with the technicalities behind internet radio - and indeed I even help run one.
I decided to post a few words about it here to see if it sparks any interest - and if it does, then I may well add more detail in the future.
How it started for me:
I have listened to radio via the internet for a long time - I don't remember when it started, but I suspect that extended hours of listening coincided with my first broadband connection at home back in 2002 (I was on the free trial being run by my cable TV company to provide broadband wirelessly, that ran for about 18 months I think - which sounds somewhat odd, but their old cable infrastructure in my area was not able to provide internet and I didn't want to have to add an extra line from a different telcoms company to get ADSL).
In January 2003 I released an update to DABDig to drive Total Recorder - so that it would be possible to schedule recording of internet radio streams from DigiGuide - because back then there was very little "Listen Again" or "On Demand" functionality on radio stations around the world.
Over the years I have had, and still have, various internet radio devices. In general, these look like regular radios or a hi-fi component (so get put in places that normal home PCs don't go - such as kitchen, dining room and bathroom) and are very easy to use for all of the family. I have taken an active technical interest in the technology and the communities built around them.
The first that I went for was the TurtleBeach Audiotron.
Sadly no longer available to buy new - but even now, some years after all support ended, it still stands up well against today's offerings.
This device can play audio files from your home computers or NAS but, via a facility called TurtleRadio, it could also play thousands of internet radio stations. This was playing most nights after we had the family dinner (music during dinner tended to be Jazz FM (when it was still just about a jazz station) or PlanetRock dependng on whose turn it was to control the DAB radio in the dining area).
After a few months of twiddling the dial to pick up different genres and countries from around the world - we ended up with a staple diet in the presets - FIP and FranceInter were always popular and remain so now, the world music station on RadioIO (RadioIO is still going but that station and compiler has long gone).
We were very happy with internet radio - and wanted (well I did anyway) to buy another one to put downstairs to augment or even replace the DAB receiver. TurtleBeach were rumoured to be making something new ... so I held off for many months to see what would arrive. In the end they announced the some updated models plus the MediaTron (same idea as the AudioTron) but could be controlled via a TV interface, including showing cover art. I was one of the few that managed to get my hands on one and have a play - on their booth at CES in Las Vegas in January 2004.
However, the device never made its way to the stores. Eventually TurtleBeach pulled the plug on the whole thing, not just the new models. So something else had to be done! I had already been researching a few other devices and had used the CES show in 2004 and 2005 to have a look at them in more detail (it was a happy co-incidence that I had to be in Las Vegas at the same time as CES for 2 years in a row).
So - what did I go for? More about that in the next blog posting.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
I decided to make a release - bundling up all of the updates from the last few months.
Some of this is experimental since there were not many people who tried it some of the requested features so get in touch if something new does not do what you expected.
- For ATiMMC there is a digital-only device which has different registry settings - start to adapt.
- For ChrisTV the date field follows local Windows settings so make it configurable.
- For WinTVPVR - set default recording windows style back to Restore (WinTVPVRRecWinStyle=1) because running it maximised prevents recording with some versions of Win2K.
- Add experimental support for Microsoft Media Center Edition (MSMCE).
- Add substitutions for GMT start and end date/time.
- For GBPVR - Added optional Priority field because it looks like new versions of GBPVR require it.
- For GBPVR - Added conversion_profile.
- For GBPVR - Added call to new function to force recording schedule to reload because recent GBPVR versions no longer use a timer to poll database.
- Add a general ability to mess around with the timezone when working on UTC date times.
- Added support for automatic detection of WinTV background recorder (BGRecorder).
- Apply InternalWebSend to Nebula DigiTV to provide more control when web-based scheduling is used.
- For Topfield - Add support for substitutions in file names to make it easier to use MyStuff TAP.
- Add support for DVBDream.
- For DVBViewer - add support for parameter passing on record requests.
This also includes the features from 2.58 that I made available to some people but did not announce - namely:
Add new substitutions - for Tab ($HT) and Null ($NU).
- For TiVoWeb - allow parameter substitution so that extra fields can be inserted.
- Put leading zero in the end date/time fields - for people using the substitution facility.
- Note - this might have an unexpected effect on some devices that take textual date/time fields.
- but initial checks of them look OK. If recordings used to work and now do not with this version then this might be the reason so let me know quickly!
- For TwinHan VisionDTV - new field mechanism to add/replace fields in schedule file to support new in VisionDTV 2.65 ProgarmName (sic).
- Add parameter substitution D2 and E2 for 2 digit start and end year.
- Start to add Compro Videomate
Friday, May 23, 2008
There is a reported bug introduced by the recent service packs from Microsoft.
It is to do with the way that VBScript processes dates.
It is possible that this will have an effect on some of the scheduling performed by DABDig.
It is related to the date handling routines. In general, DABDig handles the date in a non-locale specific form so that the same code runs everywhere, but this newly introduced bug might cause some problems.
If it proves to be a problem for end-users and if Microsoft do not release an update soon then I will put in a generic workaround.
More about this here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/951978/en-us
Let me know via Comments to this post if this affects you (in more than simple presentation ways).