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.

Buffalo LS-421 Diskless NAS Review

Buffalo LogoThe Buffalo LinkStation LS-421 Diskless NAS represents a small departure from the norm for Buffalo in that this is the first consumer-oriented unit to be offered as an enclosure without drives. While replacing drives in the previous generation of LinkStations was easy, it’s good to see this being offered as an option from the start. GNC has reviewed several Buffalo units in the past and many have been no slouch in the speed department. The LS-421 features the new generation Marvell ARMADA 370, 1.2GHz ARMv7 CPU core and DDR3 512MB RAM so let’s see if it stands up to the claims of “up to 80 MB/s” .

Buffalo LS-420 Box

From the outside, the LS-421 hasn’t significantly changed since the previous version with a slightly front rounded surface. The previous iteration of the product had blue LEDs on a black fascia; this time it’s white LEDs on silvery-grey which looks good when they’re flickering away. Overall, it’s not going to win any design awards, but it’s not going to offend either. There are two USB ports, a USB 3 one on the front and a USB 2 on the rear. These can be used for additional storage or printers.

Buffalo LS-420 NAS

 

Buffalo LS-421 rear

Installing the disks is straightforward, needing only a screwdriver to screen the hard drives into plastic frames which then guide the drives into place in the NAS. The front of the unit simply pops on and off. Once the two drives are in place, the network cable can be connected and the power plugged in. For those interested, it’s an external PSU.

Buffalo LS-421 with disks

On power-up for the first time, there’s about ten minutes of activity while the LS-421 sorts itself out. While that’s happening, the supplied Buffalo NAS Navigator 2 software can be installed on the PC or laptop. It’s much improved over the previous version, but it’s not essential software as the NAS is largely configured via a web client. However, it is useful for troubleshooting and finding the IP address of the LS-421 for the first time.

Linkstations

Those used to the old tabbed style of web interface will discover that Buffalo has gone all Metro with a tile-based UI, albeit without the Microsoft colours. All the usual configuration features are present and correct – disk format, share administration, users, groups, RAID 0 / 1 and so on. Buffalo also gets brownie points for prompting to change the administrator password whenever the web client starts.

Buffalo LS-421 Tile Interface

The LS-421 isn’t only a network NAS, as it has Bittorrent and DLNA services built-in. Having a NAS-based Bittorrent client is useful as you don’t need to leave your PC on for large downloads and once downloaded, the server with contribute back to others downloading the same file. The DLNA server worked fine too, letting me play mp3s via the Roku.

Apps are available for iOS and Android to access files on smartphones and tablets, and it’s possible to configure access to the NAS across the Internet so that you can upload and download files while out and about. Obviously the speed is going to be limited by the network or broadband connection but it’s a useful to have the facility in case you need it.

With all of that out the way, how fast is it? I tested using Totusoft’s LAN Speed Test from a fairly old laptop running Windows 8.1 and also with dd and bonnie++ from a newer SuSE 12.1 Linux desktop. All tests were run at least three times and both computers were connected into the same gigabit switch that the LS-421 was connected into.

From the laptop, LAN Speed Test gave an average over a couple of a runs around 33 MB/s for writes and 22.5 MB/s.
On the desktop, dd gave a write speed of 63 MB/s, and bonnie++ wrote at 45 MB/s and read at 68 MB/s. Remember these figures reflect the performance of the LS-421 in my environment and YMMV as they say. Certainly, the bonnie++ read of 68 MB/s isn’t very far away from Buffalo’s claims of 80 MB/s.

Overall, the LS-421 is a tidy NAS unit and with an online price of GB£85 (without drives), it’s definitely one of the cheaper NAS enclosures. It’s nippy and with a total capacity potential of 8 TB, it can grow as your needs require.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the review unit.

Playing Local Media on Vizio Co-star with aVia

This is a followup post on the Vizio Co-Star. One of the hardest problems I was having was trying to play the media that was on my local network. First I tried to figure out PlayPoint which comes as a default app on the Vizio Costar with no luck. I then installed Plex since I have a Plex server installed on my Mac.  It worked sometimes. For example I would start to play a movie and it would play fine. However if I left the Plex app and then went back in and tried to play the same movie, sometimes it would play, other times I would get an error message. It also wasn’t see all the contents that was on the server. For me working occasionally is more frustrating than not working at all. After trying different settings without success, I started to look for another option. I then tried the GTVBox app, which is $2.99 in the Google Play Store. It didn’t recognize any of the media that I had and so it didn’t work at all. Still searching for something that would work, I started going through apps in the Google Play store that were recommended for Google TV and I found one called aVia.  aVia is free of charge and according to it’s description  it can play most video types. Since it was free of charge I decided to give it a try, to my surprise it worked.

To get it to work I had to first install a DLNA server on my Macbook. I chose TVMOBili which allows me to stream up to 10GB free. Anything above that will cost a small fee monthly. Once you download the DLNA server of your choice you will need to set it up by adding the folders that contain the media that you want view on your Google TV. If I remember correctly it added the media folders that were on the Macbook automatically, I had to add the folders that were on the external USB drive manually.  In my case I ended up deleting the media folders that were added from the Macbook, since I don’t have any media on them

Once you are finished installing the DLNA server, you are ready to set up aVia. The first thing you will need to do is go into My Sources and check the boxes next to the folders which correspond to the DLNa servers that you are using.
In my case it is listed as TVMOBiLi.nameofmacbook-MacBook.local. If you click the OK button on your remote at this point it will give you the option of choosing which types of media you want aVia to play. By default it is set up to see Music, Video and Images. If you hit the back button twice it will bring you to the front page which says My Media. To play a media file click on the media type, for example Videos, then Folders, then My Content, then Videos again and then choose either Movies or TV Shows. The folders are then listed alphabetically by title of the video. Pick the folder that the video you want to play is under and then click the video and it should start to play. Originally I thought it could only play mp4 file, however that was not true. I had originally set up the TVMOBiLi DLNA server incorrectly and it just wasn’t seeing the other files. Since I fixed that problem it has played everything I have thrown at it.

There are a couple of things that I am still trying to figure out, like how to restart a video from where you left off, instead of from the beginning. However so far, aVia has been the best way to play local media on the Vizio Co-Star.

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

UPnP Forum and How Your Gadgets Stream Music

UPnP Forum LogoIf you’ve ever wondered how your gadgets talk amongst themselves to successfully play music from your PC through a media streamer, you’ll be interested in this interview with Dr Alan Messer, President of the UPnP Forum.

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is the standard by which IP networked gadgets advertise their services and intercommunicate. Formed in 1999, nearly all the big vendors are signed up with over 1000 members, the notable exception being Apple who tend to do their own thing. Think Intel, Samsung, Nokia, Philips.

The most common example of UPnP (AV spec) is DLNA-certification which governs media management, discovery and control and this effectively determines how music is streamed from one device to another. Set-top boxes know how to use different router ports based on UPnP techniques. Almost any consumer device attached to the network in the home will have some element of UPnP built-in.

(No, Andy, it’s not the ISA PnP but thanks for the trip down memory lane.)

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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PlayPlay

Promise Technology And DLNA

Billy Harrison stops by to chat about Promise Technology.  Promise just released an app for Android and iOS devices (Windows Phone 7 is on the way) that works with DLNA compatible hardware, such as new Samsung TV’s, to browse and play back your media.

Media stored on a server can be played back on multiple DLNA devices in a home.  They also produce their own media server (although their software is compliant with their competitors).  There’s a whole lot of information in this video that makes it much more informative to watch than to try and explain.  Sit back and watch Mt. Harrison explain all of the great functionality provided and the multitude of devices that this technology in involved with.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News. and Esbjorn Larsen of MrNetCast.com.

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DLNA For The iPad And More

Jeffrey stops by the DLNA booth, but before we get to that, if you want to understand what DLNA is, the we recommend you visit their Wikipedia page.  They are showing off some cool devices with that act as DLNA servers, such a home media server, Droid X, laptops, TV’s, Blu-ray players, and an iPad.  Their new iPad app allows user to stream content from a server or upload content to a server.  With over 200 companies manufacturing DLNA-compatibles devices (and more coming) it could become the defacto standard for media content.  For more information you can visit the DLNA website.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast.

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Samsung 58″ Class (58.0″ Diag.) 500 Series 1080p Plasma HDTV

A few days ago I made a trip to my local Best Buy store and ended up walking out with a Samsung 58” 500 Series Plasma HDTV. I’d gone into the store thinking if I left with anything, it would most likely be an LCD HDTV. However, after spending quite a while comparing picture quality and prices on the massive number of sets covering the big-box store’s back wall, I happened upon the Samsung model PN58C500, a 58” Plasma.

This Samsung Plasma has an absolutely stunning picture, rivaling the best high-end LCD sets that cost two and almost three times more. The PN58C500 sells for $1,197.99. I happened to have a “Best Buy Rewards” coupon for 10% percent off of any HDTV set costing $750 or more, and the coupon did end up applying to the PN58C500. My final price, including our rather high local sales taxes, ended up being $1,147.

There’s no 3D circuitry, but that’s not a problem for me since I consider 3D TV’s (as well as 3D movies) to be a useless gimmick. The PN58C500 has Samsung’s “AllShare DLNA Networking” that allows the set to connect to computers and DLNA servers running on your home network to stream HD video via Ethernet. I’ve also got a Mac Mini, as well as a Western Digital HD Live Plus media player attached directly to the set via my surround sound receiver/switcher.

The PN58C500 has a useful variety of video formatting modes to easily cycle through via the remote control that facilitates getting the right picture format for the particular video you are watching or device you are watching it from. It has 3 HDMI inputs, and is a thin 2.8 inches thick.

The remote control seems to be a bit touchy, needing to be pointed at the set to ensure that remote control commands register. Also, the built-in speakers seem to fire out of the bottom, but the volume levels are more than loud enough to be usable.

If you are looking for a new big-screen HDTV, you can’t go wrong buying this set considering the price versus value. I cannot over-stress the absolutely stunning picture quality this set produces.

Twonky Mobile Server

It’s always fun when technology intersects, and it becomes possible to do something cool that was previously not possible and/or was never thought of.

Such is the case with my Sprint HTC Evo smartphone. Sure, it’s a pocket computer. Sure, it has WiFi. As such, sure, it’s a network device with a potential node on my home network.

Rewind. What was that last bit again? My phone is a network device with a potential node on my home network. Let’s see – what can I do with network devices – share resources, share drives and therefore share files.

Enter the free Twonky Server Mobile for Android. Twonky Server Mobile is a free piece of software available in the Android Marketplace that shares audio, video and photos from the phone to UPnP and DLNA certified receiving devices on a home network. This includes software such as Boxee and UBMC among others.

I had a copied a number of videos to my Evo’s 8 media card so I’d have them available to watch if and when I had time. Hummm – with the Evo’s WiFi turned on and connected to my home network, if I ran the Twonky Server Mobile software, would I be able to see Twonky Mobile Server as an available network share with my Western Digital TV Live Plus boxes? If so, how would it work?

I’m happy to report that the free Twonky Mobile Server for Android works flawlessly. Simply start the app and there’s nothing else to do on the phone. Twonky Mobile Server shows up as an available server on the network, and the audio, videos and photos show up and play with UPnP and DLNA certified receiving devices such as WD TV Live Plus boxes.

Twonky also offers a small array of inexpensive server software products that make it possible to easily share audio, video and photo media from your Windows or Mac computer via UPnP and DLNA to certified devices such as Playstation 3, many digital photo frames, many Blu-ray players, and other devices and softwares.

Ending A Relationship

Our relationship had always been so full of promise and fun. Being gone so much of the time due to my job was certainly a strain. Even so, when I was around, I didn’t make many demands.

Something was coming between us. Lately I’ve been looking elsewhere and slowly began finding satisfaction on the Internet. The thought of divorce has been crossing my mind over the past few months. It was a painful decision, but I knew it had to be made.

Today I decided it was time to sever our ties.

I’ve been a Dish Network customer for about 10 years – until today.

What came between us? I’ve been experimenting with the idea of getting TV content from various sources on the Internet. I’ve tried connecting both Mac with Front Row and Windows Media Center laptops to an LCD HDTV. A full-fledged computer is very flexible in that it can play virtually any file type, but the clunky, complex hands-on Interface is not designed to be operated from an easy chair. I want as much content as possible integrated into one place.

In the meantime I stumbled across some software called Playon TV available at http://www.playon.tv. The software comes with a 30 day trial and works with the DLNA and UpNP network device standards. The software sells for $39.95. Playon TV is designed to be installed either on a computer or a home server on the home network. Playon TV enables streaming of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Videos, Pandora, etc. to a DNLA/UpNP device like the WD TV Live Plus, X-Box 360, etc. There are also plenty of free third-party plugins for Playon TV that add a mind-boggling and growing variety of content to the Playon TV network share. It works well with my hacked Apple TV with XBMC.

Yesterday I visited my local Best Buy store and bought a Western Digital WD TV Live Plus to connect to the small HDTV in my kitchen. The WD TV Live is a very small set-top box that comes with a small remote control that has an Ethernet port in and an HDMI port out. Straight out of the box it does an excellent job of playing Netflix and is capable of playing back 1080P content. Only the Plus version plays Netflix.

The WD TV Live Plus combined with the Playon TV software convinced me it was time for radical measures. This afternoon I cancelled my Dish Network account and will save $97 dollars per month. I also bought a second WD TV Live Plus unit to connect to my main HDTV/surround sound setup.

At $97 dollars per month savings the two WD TV Live Plus units will have paid for themselves within 3 months.

Can I live without access to Dish Network? I think it’s going to be similar to a few years ago when I dropped my wired phone line. There was a bit of an emotional attachment that I had to let go of, but once I cut the cord it was no big deal.