Networking

WD TV Live Hub – A Home Entertainment-DLNA Love Story

I’ve never had a CE device that exceeded my expectations. Until now.  My Connected Home includes devices that enable me to stream media between devices on my network, but which also provoked frustration because of half implemented codec support and DLNA protocols. I thought I had true DLNA love back in July 2009 with a Samsung TV, but the lack of firmware updates for DLNA compatibility (such as support for WMA music) eventually caused me to realize it was just a summer romance. Samsung seems to abandon devices after 6 months or so, and concentrates on newer products.

Like many others, while I’d love a new DLNA certified Home Theater receiver DMR, the price range for these is currently $900+. And the Samsung TV is relatively new.

Enter the WD TV Live Hub. This >$200 little box does it all. Like many Home Theater enthusiasts looking for optimum solutions that provide Windows 7 Play To functionality, I’ve been frustrated and was not looking for an expensive solution. This is a very small box with gargantuan capabilities, including a 1TB hard drive to store your favorite media on.

wdliveproduct wd.box

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Is that router you want for the holidays ready for IPv6?

Some of you might be saying, “huh?” and wondering what I’m talking about.  If you are a geek, you probably know that the IPv4 universe of addresses is shrinking and latest estimates are that the IPcalypse will occur in about 3 months. You can follow this on Facebook.

What does this mean? At some point in time, a new web site you want to visit or new web service you want to use may not have an assigned IPv4 address and be reachable over IPv6 only.

Is your ISP working towards insuring that  you can connect to these sites? Mine sure is. Comcast has been working on this for a long time. Of the available technologies, 6 to 4 and native dual stack seem to me to be the most robust. But the catch is that in your home, you need equipment that has implemented one of these technologies, starting with the router at the edge of your network.

I look around and I see a sorry state of affairs for the home user, where there are so few capable devices (let alone firmware upgrades for top of the line dual band wireless routers) that it would appear that the router vendors are planning on forcing consumers to buy entirely new products, most likely to be announced at CES2011.

  • Apple’s Dual Band N Airport Extreme seems the farthest along in out of the box features with firmware 7.5.1,and it is a great performer, provided you are willing to forego things like MAC address cloning, and can limit yourself to 50 clients and not being able to manage via a web browser.
  • D-Link’s flagship DIR-855 has no apparent support for configuring IPv6 features (although their DIR-825 B2 hardware is rumored to have some IPv6 support, but I’ve ordered and returned 4 of them, having received the initial hardware version each time). Of all the top of the line routers, IMO, the DIR-855 has the best and largest set of features and options, and I’m disappointed at the lack of IPv6 features, to say the least.
  • Netgear’s flagship WNDR3700 (I believe it has recently been rebadged with a new product number)  also shows no sign of IPv6 support.
  • Linksys’s  E3000 (rebadged WRT610N) also shows no signs of official IPv6 support (and it is the worst performer of the bunch).

So, yes, there is open source firmware for some router lines, but the typical home user shouldn’t have to deal with a geeky upgrade and the quirks.

My advice if you are in the market for a new router? Don’t be pulled in by those door buster holiday specials.. You are going to need to purchase a new router in the next 18 months or so unless the vendors ante up and do the right thing.

HP ePrint is disappointing

When my older low end downstairs printer needed all ink cartridges replaced at the same time, I realized that buying a new printer would actually be cheaper.

HP has been trumpeting its latest crop of ink jet printers that feature ePrint, a technology that assigns an email address to each printer and enables you to send mail via a HP web service that is supposed to print documents to your printer from anywhere in the world using email.  I had a $50 BestBuy gift card and they (and HP) are selling the D110 ePrinter for $70. That was a no brainer for me.

Too bad ePrint  needs constant care and feeding by the end user to actually work. Here’s my quick review:

The Good: Printer setup over 802.11n was a breeze, as the printer includes WPS. The printer immediately discovered an available firmware update and I applied the update (and had to reconfigure). I setup the ePrint mail list (which lets you restrict who can send jobs to the printer) and added the email address to my contacts. Next, I used my iPad and was easily able to discover and print a page in Safari.

The Bad: Normal TCP/IP network printing works as expected, except for buggy 64 bit drivers that need to be reinstalled after a computer restart.  This has existed for at least a year and HP thinks reinstalling every restart is an acceptable solution, apparently. Many of their printer support pages all point to the same KB/FAQ so stating. Also,  HP is using the Bonjour protocol on the printer, which enables the IOS functionality. (It is too bad that Apple decided to use their own proprietary protocol, but it is good news for folks like HP who hope to sell new network printers. I assume that the reason that printers connected to local computers work with the new iPxx print function is that Bonjour is installed (and required) on the host computer.

The Ugly: The real travesty is that the ePrint functionality that links the printer to the HP Web Service is badly broken and these printers lose their connection to the Web Service (but ALL other functions continue to work) and that HP has been aware of this since at least August, as evidenced by this 18 page (and growing) thread. HP interns patrolling the forum have marked “power cycle the router or the printer” as an acceptable solution, but there has been no official reply from HP tech support OR a commitment to fix this.

Update 11.29.2010: Had and email exchanges with HP Support. After they emailed their scripted response to run their proprietary network trouble shooter (for an issue that does not even require a local computer to be turned on) I asked them to escalate to someone that understood ePrint. I’ve told them it was not a LAN issue in all the emails and clearly, with bold type, characterized it as an issue between the web service in the cloud and the printer not maintaining a connection or renegotiating one. When I installed the basic driver on a second W7 x64 laptop, the first page I printed displayed the following message (these are the print cartridges included in the factory sealed box).

cartridges

In Conclusion: I suspect that HP needed to release and promote a not ready for primetime function to coincide with the launch of IOS 4.2.1 which enabled printing from an iPxx device. HP’s current list of ePrint enabled printers as of 11/22/2010 includes:

•HP Officejet Pro 8500A e-All-in-One Printer series – A910  for customers worldwide
•HP Officejet 7500 Wide Format All-in-One Printer Series- E910  for customers worldwide
•HP Officejet 6500A e-All-in-One Printer – E710
•HP Photosmart D110 series for North America customers
•HP Photosmart B110 series for Asia and Europe customers
•HP Photosmart B210 series for customers worldwide
•HP Photosmart Premium C310 series for customers worldwide
•HP Photosmart C410 series for customers worldwide
•HP Photosmart Ink Advantage K510 series for Asia and Europe customers
•HP Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One Printer  C510 series for North America and Europe customers
•HP Envy eAll-in-One Printer D410 series for customers world wide

Recommendations: If you need a replacement printer or especially in you want iPxxx print functionality, and can live with having to reinstall drivers on 64 bit Windows at inconvenient times, check out one of these printers. If you are looking for ePrint, it isn’t ready for prime time.

Connecting Multiple IP Cameras to Windows Media Center

After publishing a piece on how to connect an Internet enabled camera to WMC, iPhones and iPads yesterday, I received a couple of emails basically saying, “great, but I want to monitor more than one camera in a master view like stand alone IP surveillance software”.

I thought about this for a bit and then tested to see if an HTML page could be hosted locally, placed in the C:ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Accessories\Media Center\Media Center Programs folder with the appropriate MCL and PNG file. The answer was yes, and this now opens the door to more customizations.

Further, I thought that the still images needed to be refreshed. Not much value in watching an image on the screen that just sits there. I fired up Microsoft Expression Web and created a page and added in a META REFRESH tag to reload every xx seconds (I used 30 seconds as the interval). While tables should not be used for layout on a page designed to be viewed in a real web browser (a deprecated means of coding), a nested table structure proved perfect for display inside Windows Media Center. I specified the Segoe UI font and ended up with something that looked pretty decent and worked.  Here is the view inside Windows Media Center:

mycameras

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Connecting an IP Camera to WMC, iPhones and iPads

Motivated by the upcoming yearly Halloween onslaught of youngsters and the not so young about to come through my condo complex, I started thinking about how to integrate an Internet capable surveillance camera with my connected home and devices. I’m not a “real” developer, but I’m a pretty smart geek (IMO) and I started looking around for ideas that  I could borrow and customize.

My goals were to be able to check activity in my parking lot/walkway on demand from Windows Media Center, my iPhone, and my iPad. The web is a wonderful wealth of information, and putting this together was not really difficult. And definitely worth sharing with others.

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