Libratone Zipp Wireless Speaker Review

I first came across Libratone at the The Gadget Show earlier in the year where their colourful hi-fi speakers with interchangeable covers stood out against the more run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speakers. On the back of my interview, Libratone kindly sent me a Zipp, a portable wireless AirPlay speaker, to further my education in their products. Let’s take a look and a listen.

Libratone Zipp Box

The Libratone Zipp is very much fashioned in iStyle but takes a welcome break from monochrome with interchangeable coloured covers. The Zipp comes with three covers in the box from three collections and the supplied Zipp came with the “Funky collection” – pepper black, plum purple and pineapple yellow. Additional covers are £39 which may seem expensive but the covers aren’t felt or fleece, they’re Italian wool. Here’s the Zipp in its different clothes.

Libratone Zipp Magenta

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap

Changing a cover is easy – just unzip the cover, carefully remove it, fit the the new cover and zip it back up. There’s a small frame which fits around the control panel but it clips in firmly and helps get everything lined up. The panel’s neatly hidden behind the leather carry strap.

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap Up

As a wireless speaker, the Zipp uses wifi rather than Bluetooth to stream music and until relatively recently, you would have needed Apple products to use AirPlay. Android users can now join the party as the Zipp now provides a DLNA interface which several music apps now support including Robin Davies’ 2player, which I used for this review. Sadly, many don’t, including Spotify, which is a shame.

The speaker can work in two modes, DirectPlay and WiFi Play. In the first, the speaker creates its own little wifi hotspot and the smartphone or tablet connects to the hotspot. This mode is used both for initial configuration and for playing music away from home, say, at a friend’s BBQ. With the WiFi Play mode, the Zipp connects to the same wifi network as the music-playing device, which is the way you’d use the Zipp at home.

Setting up the Zipp is a little fiddly but otherwise straightforward and only needs to be done once. Libratone’s free app helps with this but the steps are broadly turn on the Zipp, connect to the Zipp’s wifi hotspot, enter the main wifi key and restart the Zipp. It’ll then connect up to the main wifi network and the speaker will be available for music output.

Libratone App 2player Erasure

Obviously the Zipp is only a single unit, although it has an amazing capacity to fill a room. Libratone have developed a set of acoustic tricks called “FullRoom” which let the Zipp’s tweeters and drivers expand the sound, but you need to tell the Zipp where it is in the room to take full advantage. The Libratone app helps with that too. You can hear the impact of some of the changes if you fiddle with the settings while music is playing but much of the change is subtle.

Voicing Position

In addition to setting the spatial characteristics, the type of music can be enhanced through preset equalisations such as “Easy Listening” and “Rock the House”.

Aside from the interchangeable covers, the other cool feature is that the Zipp is portable and has a built-in battery which Libratone says will last about 4 hours playing music over wifi and twice as long using a cable. I didn’t try running the Zipp very long from a lead but the time seems about right for wifi. The Libratone app helpfully shows the battery level so you know when to recharge. There’s a small bag included in the box but Libratone could do with a dedicated Zipp carrying bag as it’s heavy to lug around – it’s portable but it’s not a travel accessory.  I liked the liberty that this gave as I moved the Zipp between rooms and was able to have music in rooms that didn’t normally have sound without using headphones.

Libratone Zipp Panel Libratone Zipp Top Control

The pictures above show the panel on the side and the top-mounted controller. The USB port on the side-panel can be used to power the music player (and for configuration when using Apple devices) when using the 3.5mm jack for the audio feed.

Generally the Zipp worked well. I did have the occasional problem with the Zipp not being recognised either as an output option in the 2player app or by the Libratone app when trying to change the FullRoom config. Usually a restart of either the app or the Zipp itself would sort it out but it’s a bit irritating when the dropout occurs halfway through an album. To be fair, the issue could lie with my wifi network or with the music app itself and I’ve no experience with other AirPlay devices for comparison. For now, it’s something to be aware of.

As a reminder, Android users needs to confirm that the apps that they want to use with the Zipp are AirPlay or DLNA-compatible. Unlike Bluetooth speakers, where the driver is at lower level and makes almost any app capable of outputting sound to a wireless speaker, the apps needs to be DLNA-aware to use the Zipp wirelessly. Searching the Play Store reveals several good apps that can be checked for full compatibility.

So….does the Zipp sound good? In short, it’s very impressive with music retaining clarity and detail even at higher volumes and the Zipp has a surprising amount of volume for such a small unit. Obviously any single speaker unit is going to be lacking in comparison with hi-fi separates but the Zipp knocks into a cocked hat any of the speaker docks that I’ve heard. Finally, it’s absolutely, definitely the best portable speaker that I’ve ever listened to. At GB£369, it’s not cheap but if you have a bijou pad that needs filled with sound, you should give the Zipp a listen. It looks great too.

Thanks to Libratone for the loan of the Zipp.

XBMC and AirPlay

XMBC I have an Apple TVand iPad. One of my favorite things is the ability to take a video that’s on my iPad and then send it over to the Apple TV by using AirPlay. Let’s face it some videos are better on a bigger screen. Plus everything sounds much better on the Apple TV, which is connected to my sound system than it does on the iPad. The problem is I only have one Apple TV and there are times when I’m sitting up late at night and looking at my iPad and I see a video that I want to see on my large screen TV in the bedroom. To that TV I have attached a Mac Mini which I use as a media center. As part of that media center I installed Banana TV to AirPlay my videos from my iPad to that Mac Mini. However Banana TV no longer works with the iOS 5 update.

My favorite media center application is XBMC. XBMC is a free open source cross-platform media center. It is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Apple TV and many other devices. XBMC is highly customizable thru the many add-ons that are available. As a media center it was great however without Banana TV there was no way to get my video from my iPad to my Mac Mini, until now. XBMC has just gotten an the official update from Dhama to Eden and with this update AirPlay from the iPad to the Mac has become available. If you already have XBMC than go ahead and update to Eden. If you don’t have XBMC you can download it at the website. Once you’ve either updated or downloaded it, you want to go into Systems, then Network and then Services and tap down until you see where it says allow AirPlay and click enable. Now you can AirPlay videos from an iPad to a Mac, PC or Linux machine. There is one caveat it does not work with videos that have DRM installed, despite this caveat I am really glad this update has occurred.

Skifta by Qualcomm

Skifta Qualcomm which is known for its silicon and wi-fi technology for handsets and tablets is spreading into software and service. One of the consumer products they are currently developing is called Skifta. It is a media shifting platform which works through  DLNA-certified and UPnP -compatible devices. DLNA protocol has been around for about eight years. Most TVs today which are over 36 inches and Internet enable are DLNA capable. The Web site of your TV’s manufacture should let you know if your TV is DLNA capable. DLNA is a nonprofit trade organization which enables the sharing of digital media between various consumer devices by defining interoperability guidelines. Because DLNA is a nonprofit organization they don’t have the money to spend on advertising and promotion, so its adoption has been slow but steady. The growth of the Smart or Connected TV market has help to increase its popularity over the last 12-18 months. Its biggest rival is Apple’s Air Play.

Qualcomm was showing off its software platform Skifta at CES 2012, which works with the DLNA platform. Think of Skifta as Airplay for Android. Once Skifta is installed on your Android device, it will go out and find any DLNA enabled device including TV’s, computers and the Playstation. You can then sending any media that is available on your network to that device. Skifta also gives you access to various Internet providers including Revision3, Ted Talks, Facebook and others.

Qualcomm is also developing a Skifta audio adapter which you attach to a receiver that is not DLNA enable and enable it. They are also making a DLNA platform that can be installed easily by the manufacture into a receiver. I installed the Skifta application on my Android phone and it almost immediately connected and found the media on my network. Once I set up an account it also let me pick up media from Revision3 and Ted Talks among others. Unfortunately I don’t have a connected TV, so for me its use is limited, but I love its possibilities.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Steve Lee Wave of Tech

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PlayPlay

Philips Introduces New AirPlay Line

AirPlay is a standard introduced by Apple, but it has been picked up by many audio hardware makers to get their products integrated with the Apple and iTunes ecosystem.  Philips is introducing a whole new line of AirPlay-compatible products from entry-level all the way up to the high-end of audio.

Philips has a stand-alone speaker with built-in WiFi and a WPS button to easily connect to your home router and you can control them through an app of your PC, Mac, or mobile device.  They are also introducing a new pair of headphones that are towards the high-end of this category as they made from premium materials like leather, memory foam, and have a durable, cloth-lined wire.  You can see both products in the video below and also visit Philips online to get more info.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Apple TV 2 Review

http://images.apple.com/appletv/images/whatis_gallery_slide120100901.jpgToday I picked up an Apple TV. The setup was simple just plug in the power cord and then connect an HDMI cable from the Apple TV to a HD monitor. You do have to buy the HDMI cable separately. At that point you either have to connect an Ethernet cable to hard wire it, or connect it to your wireless network. If you have a network password like mine this can be tedious using the remote that comes with the Apple TV, thank goodness you only have to do it once. The next thing I did was turn on home sharing, so I can watch movies that are on my network thru my Apple TV. This reminded me that I do have some videos that need to be convert to the correct format. I will probably use Handbrake to do that. I also need to go back and enter better metadata, I am getting unknown video a lot.

One of the reasons I picked up an Apple Tv was to use AirPlay with it and my iPad (version 1) and iPhone 4. It worked perfectly with the iPad, I love having the ability to send videos from my iPad and then watch them on a big screen. However, I work on my iPad a lot, so I wanted to make sure the iPhone also worked with AirPlay. At first I tried using AirPlay with Showyou a video application I had on my iPhone and it didn’t work. I thought maybe it didn’t work thru Showyou, so I tried it thru the YouTube and it still wasn’t working. In fact I wasn’t even seeing the AirPlay icon at all. I double checked and they were both on the same network, which I knew could be a problem. I finally found the answer on the Apple Forum, I power the iPhone down completely and then restarted it and then AirPlay worked.

So far after using the Apple TV for only a couple of hours I really like it and am glad I purchased it. I did have the original Apple TV and I jail broke it and now I am deciding if I want to jailbreak this one. If you have a jail broken Apple TV 2, I would like to know why you did it, did you run into any problems doing it and do you like the results.

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Boxee on the iPad

BoxeeToday Aug 9, 2011 Boxee released Boxee for the iPad. This allows you to play videos from the home screen of Boxee on your iPad and also local video which are on the same wireless network. After you install Boxee on the iPad and sign in, you will see your Boxee home screen, which shows the videos your friends are sharing with you, videos you have saved for later and the Boxee feature videos. At this time you can not play Boxee Apps on the iPad. If you want to play local video files you need to down load the Boxee Media Server to your computer. This is where I ran into my first glitch, according to the system requirement it should run on any Intel Mac running 10.5 and above. However when I tried to install it on my Mac Mini core duo, running Snow Leopard, I received an error message stating it couldn’t run on the machine. It did install fine on my MacBook running Intel Core 2 running Lion. I did send a support ticket to Boxee, but haven’t heard back yet. I did look at the Boxee forum and it appears I am not the only one with the problem. Once the Boxee Media Server is installed to your computer, you can add your media files by clicking on preferences. By default it will add your My Movies folder if you are running it on a Mac.  To add additional folders click on the plus button. I had no problem adding my video folders that are stored on external hard drive attached to my Airport Extreme.

Videos directly from Boxee played and sounded great. However, when I went to play local videos there was no sound. In fact the volume rocker was not working at all. The first thing I did was a full shut down of the iPad and then a restart. That didn’t fix the problem. Then I went into Settings and then General and for some reason decided to switch my side rocker from where it locks the  iPad rotation to where it works as the mute button. Surprisingly that fixed the problem, although I have no idea why. So far it has played all video formats I have sent to it without any problems. You can send your videos to your TV using Air Play if you have an Apple TV or Boxee Box attached. If you use a Mac Mini as a media server you can use Banana TV to send videos from Boxee on the iPad to the monitor.

The Boxee Media server also works with Window XP, Vista and Windows 7, at this time it is not available for Linux. I haven’t been using Boxee on the iPad long since it just came out, but so far I like it. It will be interesting to see if they add the ability to view video apps on the iPad, I suspect the hold is due to licensing issues rather than technical ones.

Update: Aug 11-  Received answer back from Boxee on the Mac Mini  issue, and unfortunately the Boxee Media Server only works on 64 bit machines, so it will not work on that machine which is 32 bit.

Banana TV

Banana TV

If you use a Mac as your media hub and aren’t interested in getting a Apple TV but you would like to use AirPlay you may want to try Banana TV. Once you download and install Banana TV, it will appear in your menu bar. Banana TV uses the AirPlay protocol to allow you to stream AirPlay enable videos or images from your mobile device including your iPad (1 or 2), iPhone or iPod Touch running OS 4.2 or higher to an [Intel Mac]. I really like to use it when I am reading my RSS feeds in the River of News or perhaps I am looking through Flipboard and come across a YouTube video I want to watch. Instead of stopping to watch it on my iPad, I can send it to my computer monitor and continue to read the article while it is playing. (You do have to stay on the same page within the app that the video is on.) Maybe I am looking through the Discovery Application and I want to show my husband the video I am looking at, instead of passing the iPad to him I can simply send it to the TV the Mac is connected to.

Banana TV does have a couple of limitations that the using AirPlay with Apple TV does not have. It will not play videos that are encoded with DRM that are not authorize. It also doesn’t play slide shows; you have to hit the play button for each new image and then it flickers and the next image appears. When playing videos you have the option to play them either with in the Banana TV or through QuickTime. When you first install Banana TV it has always open in QuickTime as the default method under preferences, I found it works better if that is disabled. On occasion the video would not play and I would see a blank screen, usually restarting the video fixes that problem. I have only been using Banana TV for a short time, but so far I like it. It is $7.99 and can be found at Banana TV.

Review of AirPlay on the iPad

IOS 4.3 is now available for download through iTunes . One of the things that came with the update was enhanced AirPlay. Which not only allows you to play iPad videos on your Apple TV as it did before, but it now also allows you to share your Itunes library including videos to your iPad, iPhone (3GS and 4) and iPod Touch. One of the coolest new features is the enhanced Airplay. Prior to this you could send video from your iPad to a T.V. that is connected to an Apple TV. The enhancement is now you can share your Itunes library on your iPad. To get this to work there are a couple of things that you will need to do. First turn on sharing in iTunes. To do this go to the Advanced tab and turn on Home Sharing. At this point you will need to enter your Apple ID and password. Then under Preference and the Sharing tab you can decide what you want to share. You can choose you whole library, just specific playlist or only certain types of media. You can also add a password, to limit the sharing to only those you give the password to. While you are in iTunes you may also want to check to make sure that what you are sharing can be played on your portable device. iPad can play H.264 MPEG4 and Motion JPEG video. For video I use Handbrake to do the conversion.  You will also need to have VLC installed for this to work. The iPad can handle ACC, MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF and Wave audio files. Itunes itself is good and converting audio files.

Once you have everything set up on your computer, you are ready to set things up on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. On your portable device go into Settings the iPod fill in your Apple ID and password and you are set. Now when you open up the ipod app if you tap on Library at the top you should see My iPad and your shared library. Tap on your shared library and it will show up on your iPad. As it is working you will see a little circle fill up. One of the things that confused me for a minute was that I wasn’t seeing any of my movies or TV shows in my iPod application. Then I realized there is a separate app on the iPad called Video, that is where all the video files were.  Although video podcast do show up in the iPod application.

There are a couple of things that I did notice at this point. First it takes some time to load all the videos screenshots. The second thing I noticed and its definitely a bug is sometimes if you have the Info button highlighted and you hit play an error message will pop up and “Says Can Not Play Movie.”  Then in the same movie if you have the chapter bar highlighted and hit play it works fine.   I am sure this is a temporary problem and will be fixed quickly. However if you are having trouble playing videos you may want to try that, until Apple gets a fix out.  Once the video start to play they look and play fine. For someone like me with a 16 GB iPad being able to keep your videos on your computer or a network hard drive and play them on the iPad is a great solution.

TMS #2 Do your Homework First!

This weekend on the morning show we cover a wide variety of topics outlined below. Those of you that were not able to watch live we looked at each content creators setups after we stopped recording so be sure to tune in for the morning show. If you have topics you would like us to cover don’t forget to email me your questions. The audio on this show was much better let me know how it sounds.

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