More media servers support Netflix
September 4th, 2008 by Maxim · 12 Comments · 22,445 Views
Recently MediaMall Technologies announced Beta 3 version of its PlayOn media server. MediaMall currently bundles its ActiveTV media server with several networking media players, including D-Link DSM 520 and DSM 720. Both ActiveTV and PlayOn servers come with default configuration containing several hundred “channels”, including CNN, Hulu, Reuters, NPR, Yahoo!, VH1, MTV, ESPN, BBC News, CBS, YouTube and others. MediaMall says support for Netflix movie streaming is on the way. It already can stream movies in standard definition and high definition from Hulu and movies from MovieLink.
The announcement comes in light of recent announcements by Microsoft and Sony to allow Netflix movie streams to their consoles, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, respectively.
Like another popular media server, an open-source program TVersity, both PlayOn and ActiveTV are transcoding servers. It means that when a media player requests a media stream, such as YouTube video or a Netflix movie or a video clip from your PC, the media server may try to convert the source media stream into a stream that the media player can understand and can render with the best quality/speed. Unfortunately, most users are stuck with a choice of either playback without jitters or a high quality playback that may eventually stop. The reason is that there are several factors affecting the quality and speed of playback. First of all, the source stream may have to be pulled and cached on your PC where the media server is running. Depending on your connection speed, it may take some time. Then, depending on capabilities of your media player (Xbox, PlayStation 3, D-Link media player), the PC may have to convert the stream into something the player can support. This conversion, especially on high-definition video in real time, requires a lot of processing power. To watch HD video you often need a PC with quad-core CPU or better. Whether the source needs to be transcoded depends on the capabilities of the player. Until recently, PlayStation 3 was the least capable player, supporting only MPEG-2 streams. Microsoft issued a number of firmware updates for XBox 360 over the years to support more media formats natively, such as XVid, DivX and MPEG-4. D-Link DSM-520 supports even more formats natively through the firmware. Thus XBox 360 and D-Link DSM players have been most popular and most easy-to use media players. Finally, the video, transcoded or as-is, is streamed to the player over the network. The quality of the playback at this point is dependent on the speed and quality of your wired or wireless networks. Of all media players we are aware of, PlayStation 3 is the only one that has a gigabit wired network port, so it maybe the most ready for the future of streaming video. PS3 and DSM-520 have wireless network adapters, albeit their speed is limited to “g” mode with only 54Mbit/s throughput. XBox has an optional wireless “g” adapter. That being said, the 1080i video stream broadcast over the air or what you see on your HD cable or satellite channel is an MPEG-2 stream at 15Mebagit/s plus 1.5Mbit/s audio stream, so theoretically even wireless-”g” connection should allow you to watch HD video. However on practice the story is completely different. Streaming uncompressed MPEG-2 video to Sony PlayStation 3 proved frustrating: the movie would stream without audio, would skip and lock up, and fast-forwarding would hang the console entirely and require a cold restart (based on our test 1 year ago). Most new computers already have a gigabit Ethernet adapter, so if you got one you are set. Just get yourself a CAT6 network cable and connect your PC with your player. You might need a gigabit switch as well – if your computer has only one network adapter (most do), you need to switch between Internet traffic and the traffic between your PC and the media player.
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*** Update *** As of September 26, 2008, PlayOn media server has Netflix streaming support enabled, but the server is still a Beta version and there’s still a lot of bugs and problems to get rid of. Judjing by the number of support requests on MediaMall’s support forums most PS3 users had a positive experience. However my own experience trying to use PlayOn to play Netflix movies in my instance queue has been frustrating and disappointing. Installation was a snap: uninstall older Beta version, reboot Windows PC, and install the new version. Then I turned DSM-520 on. The menu under Video category offered Hulu, CBS, YouTube, ESPN, Netflix and CNN. I don’t have Hulu account yet. CBS folder was empty – probably support for it hasn’t been enabled in this Beta version. . I only had accounts at YouTube and Netflix. Youtube was easy to watch and playback would start in a few seconds. Youtube videos are divided into categories, like Most Popular/Most Recent/Most Watched etc.. – very convenient. Fast-Forward function did not work for YouTube on DSM-520 – the playback would restart. ESPN folder had over 30 clips. Playback started immediately – no hiccups and the quality was descent. CNN folder said “coming soon…” – support for CNN not yet implemented. But Netflix was a real pain. I have about 26 movies in my instant queue. It took about 30 seconds for DSM-520 to display the titles of the movies. Scrolling through the list was painful, since between me pressing the Down or PgDown button on the remote and the selection actually scrolling down about 5 seconds would pass. After Play button was pressed, in about 5-10 seconds a message would come up saying “unable to open the file”, after which the file list was being refreshed again for 30 seconds and scrolling to next item was again taking 5 seconds. Playback never started – for neither of 26 movies. Now I am waiting for support team to come back to me. *** Continue reading the original post below ***
*** Update 2 *** Technical support at MediaMall was very helpful and hammering out bugs in their latest Beta and after jumping through couple of hoops I am now watching Police Academy 7 on my big-screen TV streamed from PlayOn media server to my D-Link DSM-520 HD media player! The playback is smooth without hiccups ***
*** Update 3 *** On 1 October 2008 MediaMall officially announced Netflix support on their PlayOn media server, with XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 being officially supported players. HP MediaStart network player is also supported. Support for Nintendo Wii is coming soon. Although not officially supported, it’s also possible to stream Netflix and Hulu to D-Link DSM-520 (like I do) as well as Popcorn Hour players.
The initial public response clearly shows that Netflix streaming to TVs was one of the most desired features for any media player – MediaMall’s web site was overwhelmed with visitors and practically shut down for nearly 40 hours following the announcement.
For me, the movie watcher, Netflix support has been most important feature I wanted from my D-Link media player. Especially now, when Netflix is adding content from Disney, CBS and Starz.
The program is still in Beta, and trial period expires after 45 days. After that, a 1-server license costs $30.
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ActiveTV | D-Link DSM-520 | D-Link DSM-720 | HD streaming | Media Player | Media Server | Microsoft | movie downloads | netflix | networking media player | PlayStation 3 | PS3 | Sony | streaming video | transcoder | transcoding | TVersity | UPnP | XBox 360
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