Your Digital Media Has Never Looked So Good

 
nwavguy
Topic Author
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Joined: Fri Aug 26, 2005 4:01 pm

SoundBridge vs SqueezeBox: Can Roku Narrow the Gap?

Fri Aug 26, 2005 5:28 pm

As someone who owns 4 different home network music players, it's frustrating all of them have some rather serious shortcomings including the SoundBridge.

Those interested in a more detailed comparison can find my comments of each below, but I have two big complaints about the SoundBridge and I wonder if anyone knows if fixes for either are available or in the works?

First, as far as I know, you can only control the basic play, pause, forward, etc. functions from a web browser? The Audiotron lets you select music and build playlists from a web interface to the device itself and there are also some cool 3rd party solutions for the SqueezeBox. But using the Roku remote and display is a really tedious way to browse a large music library. Likewise, if your music is on a server hidden away somewhere, you can't easily remotely control the server software either without some sort of remote desktop software and the hassles and compromised security that go with it. If you're using Windows Media Connect to play protected content, your choices are even more limited.

Second, the SqueezeBox offers the wonderful feature of being able to sync multiple units together to play the same music in different rooms. I'm not sure how much of this is a funciton of the SlimServer software, but it's wonderful if you have more than a studio apartment and don't want competing music sources in different rooms. Hey Roku folks, any plans for this?

Here's my summary after spending quite a bit of time with each of the 4 players I have:

Roku M1000 - The WiFi is rock solid to my Linksys WRT54GS router. The display is great. I like the ability to play internet radio with the PC off (something the SqueezeBox2 just finally added). The analog audio quality is also quite good. But the Roku's single biggest plus is its ability to play protected content. All-you-can-eat flat rate subscription music is just too cool for words. Only the Roku, D-Link and a couple others can play it. The user interface isn't as slick as the SqueezeBox which is more intuitive (easier to back up in the menus for example). It's also not as configurable as the SqeezeBox. As mentioned above, you can't sync multiple players and you can't fully control the player via a web interface. <SIGH>

SqueezeBox2 - Great analog audio quality equal to the M1000 (unlike the original SqueezeBox) and the huge advantage of being able to sync multiple players between rooms. You can even run SoftSqueeze and sync one or more PCs to play in sync with players in other rooms. VERY COOL! It also supports cross fading between tracks which is a really nice thing. It's vastly more configurable than the SqueezeBox and has lots of geek appeal. If only it could play protected content. <SIGH>

SqueezeBox Orginal - Pretty much as above without the ability to play direct internet radio (vs streamed from the local server), without crossfading and with slightly inferior analog audio outputs.

AudioTron - The big strengths are in the fact you can fully control it from the front panel without the remote (using a very well implemented "jog wheel" control). It's a breeze to browse a huge music collection from the front panel interface. It's even easier (although a bit sluggish) to do it from any web browser on your network. The analog outputs are the worst of these 4 but the digital output works great. The other big strength is that it has native Windows Networking built in so you don't need any server software at all--just share one or more folders with your music in them and it finds them and catalogs the music all by itself. So no bloatware to cause problems on your PC or server. It will also work with a cheap dedicated network drive. Finally, it has a built-in PDA "mini browser" interface that lets you browse your music collection and fully control the player via WiFi from anywhere in the house. Sadly Turtle Beach, who once had the best player on the market, hasn't kept up and the AT is now fairly dates. But it still has some advantage over the Roku and SlimDevices offerings.

What we really need is a networked player than can be FULLY controlled via a PC browser and PDA that supports cross fading, can sync to other players in other rooms and will play WMA protected content (i.e. Plays for Sure). If Roku can't do it, someone else will.
 
kzr1y2
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Aug 26, 2005 2:39 pm

Fri Aug 26, 2005 7:25 pm

Hi nwavguy,

Great post ... hopefully the folks @ Roku will take the intended supportive feedback.

I'm running into similar problems in my quest for the *perfect* player.

Back in 2000, I put together a complete JVC Home Theatre, spent the money on the Top-End JVC Components (including the Receiver) which offered sub-room capabilities so that I could install a separate set of speakers for the dining area. So essentially, the receiver allows for main-room & sub-room activities to be different.

Afterwards, I invested in a couple of XBOX'es; one for XBOX Live and the other for XBMC (www.xboxmediacenter.com). Both XBOX'es are connected to the JVC Receiver. The *unmodded* XBOX is used for gaming and XBLive and the other *modded* XBOX is used to run XBMC. The HDD in the modded XBOX is 250GB and currently contains my entire CD collection in MP3 format. Now someone can watch TV downstairs while we listen to music in the dining area - all good ... so far.

To further add complexity to my life, I married someone who often says: "Well that's all great, but what about when..." ;-) We spend a good portion of our summer months outside in our garden with friends & family. Right now, we take a portable CD/Radio outside to listen to music. I got the idea that it would be great to have a portable audio system that could stream the audio stored on the XBMC HDD via WiFi - the SoundBridge looked like the solution.

After extensive research, I've come to discover the following technological challenges:

XBMC is cable of consolidating Media Sources but wasn't designed to allow streaming - or what I call universal distribution. XBMC is capable of connecting to a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device providing it is capable of SMB/SAMBA. So essentially, I could purchase a NAS drive and move all of my media to it but I still couldn't use the SB2000.

The SB2000 is capable of playing audio from media servers such as WMC, SlimServer, MT-DAAP, Wonky, and possibly others. The problem however is that it does not support SMB/SAMBA and it requires a Media Server services - as you are already well aware. Technically however, the challenge is far greater; I have to find a NAS that is modable (ex: Linksys NAS), void the warranty by hacking the firmware, purchase an extra application (ex: Wonky) and install that on the modded NAS, and make sure that the NAS still offers SMB/SAMBA so as to allow XBMC to stream the audio via my Home Theatre when we are indoors. Furthermore, I must now keep the NAS hacked firmware, the SB2000 firmware, the XBMC application, and the HXBOX hacked bios up-to-date on regular basis.

As a consumer my challenges revolve around finding a solution that is self contained. As you probably have seen from many posts, no one wants to use a PC - and I agree; they are prone to failure, virus, and vulnerabilities. And when they breakdown, finding parts is next to impossible.

So it seems that challenges for companies like Roku are from all ends 1) Codec formats, 2) Operating System, 3) Network & Communication Protocols, 4) DRM, and 5) financial viability - the last one being the most important I suspect.

From a design perspective, it seems like a product that contains support for SMB/SAMBA, has a media server, and would included a plug-in for each major Operating System would do the trick - simpler said than done I am sure.

Cheers,

KZ
"Low maintenance, now there's an idea"
 
Dan Smart
Posts: 151
Joined: Sat Feb 19, 2005 11:19 am
Location: Connecticut

I don't think that there's a gap that Roku needs to narrow..

Fri Aug 26, 2005 8:29 pm

I don't think that there's a gap that Roku needs to narrow because:

* The very nice man at Cidero has some excellent software that allows you to remote control your Soundbridge from your desktop http://www.cidero.com/, and also allows you to synchronize playback on multiple devices.
* Someone recently posted in this forum that he had just released a beta of some software that allows you to control a Roku from a pocket PC, which makes him a very nice chap as well. http://www.tl-it.de/media/pages/bridgecontrol.php. The announcement thread can be found here: http://www.rokulabs.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3904.
* The nice (if slightly less generous) chaps at rudeo have an excellent piece of software that allows you to contol the soundbridge from a pocket PC http://www.rudeo.com/default.htm, as well as using the pocket pc as a rendering device.

While it does appear that currently you have to use the Cidero software on a desktop machine to achieve snchronization between multiple SoundBridges, I'm sure that this situation is only temporary, and while non of them are a full featured "web interface", I for one think that this is an enormous advantage.

Note that the Cideo software will (at least in theory, I only have SoundBridges on my network nowadays) synchronize mutiple uPnP renderers regardless of type.

The remote control interface that is available in 2.3 appears to have spurred multiple people to attack these problems, so I confidently expect to see several exciting new solutions in this space soon. flower if I could program worth a flower at the moment you might even see something from me, but apparently I can't, so you won't, at least not soon :(.

I regularly use, and I am very impressed by, the Cidero solution; I've only briefly tried the other two so far, but have liked what I've seen.

[Still taking painkillers, so apologies for speelong and grommart etc]

Dan "Gap, Schmap" Smart
4xM2000 2xM1000.
 
wideasleep1
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Fri Aug 26, 2005 9:23 pm

^^^^
What he said...give Cidero a try.
Then as it was, then again it will be
An' though the course may change sometimes,
rivers always reach the sea

M1000x2,M2000,Twonky 4.3.3 RC1 beta on LinkStation HGLAN400gig,Buffalo whr-g54s on DD-WRTfirmware-luv'in it!
 
nwavguy
Topic Author
Posts: 12
Joined: Fri Aug 26, 2005 4:01 pm

Re: I don't think that there's a gap that Roku needs to narr

Sat Aug 27, 2005 9:24 am

Thanks for the info--that's just the sort of thing I was looking for. Cidero is certainly an impressive application.... but....

I'm not ready to run out and buy another Roku just yet after reading Cidero's rather lengthy technical details on maintaining sync between 2 players. As he points out, SlimServer implements a specific protocol for time sync, but if you're not using SlimServer (which doesn't support protected content) his software more or less has to do it "blind" and just hope the multiple players start and stay in sync (and it can force periodic re-syncs).

Further, if you're using WMC (to play protected content) the Cidero application has to reside on the same PC with WMC (and your music) so it can be authorized by WMC. So that sort of puts me back to where I started from having to run special software on my server? I guess for piracy/authentication reasons, WMC won't serve music from a network drive.

The remote control stuff looks more promising. I think to do time sync properly, as the Cidero website suggests, Roku (and others) need to implement and support a real-time protocol specifically for that purpose. They already exist, they're just not currently supported in most players (the SqueezeBox and Sonos being two notable exceptions).

I also realize that some of the grief is centered around wanting to play protected content which forces the use of WMC and the limitations that go with that. It would be nice if the folks at Microsoft would go even further than the WMC 2.0 beta in terms of adding some of this functionality to WMC. But in the case of time sync, the players would still need to support whatever protocol is used.
 
onewell
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Re: I don't think that there's a gap that Roku needs to narr

Sat Aug 27, 2005 12:15 pm

nwavguy wrote:
Further, if you're using WMC (to play protected content) the Cidero application has to reside on the same PC with WMC (and your music) so it can be authorized by WMC. So that sort of puts me back to where I started from having to run special software on my server? I guess for piracy/authentication reasons, WMC won't serve music from a network drive.


Hi - Just to clarify, the Cidero controller can play back protected content to the Roku from a different PC than the one running WMC. The security related communication happens between the Roku and WMC, never passing through the controller (so it can't screw it up! :) )

One key for improved sync capabilities for all these devices is to minimize inter-device DAC clock drift as much as possible. Hopefully the M1001 improves on the M1000 in this regard (tho current situation isn't too bad)

-Oliver
What, me worry?
 
Dan Smart
Posts: 151
Joined: Sat Feb 19, 2005 11:19 am
Location: Connecticut

Re: I don't think that there's a gap that Roku needs to narr

Sat Aug 27, 2005 7:08 pm

nwavguy wrote:
Thanks for the info--that's just the sort of thing I was looking for. Cidero is certainly an impressive application.... but....

I'm not ready to run out and buy another Roku just yet after reading Cidero's rather lengthy technical details on maintaining sync between 2 players. As he points out, SlimServer implements a specific protocol for time sync, but if you're not using SlimServer (which doesn't support protected content) his software more or less has to do it "blind" and just hope the multiple players start and stay in sync (and it can force periodic re-syncs).

In my limitted experience, my rokus maintain synchronization better than my squeezeboxen used to, indeed I've never had them lose synchronization. Now in fairness they were generation 1 squeezeboxen with some ancient server release, and things have probably improved in slimworld. Still Roku synchronization via cidero works just fine for me, it's a great piece of software.

nwavguy wrote:
Further, if you're using WMC (to play protected content) the Cidero application has to reside on the same PC with WMC (and your music) so it can be authorized by WMC. So that sort of puts me back to where I started from having to run special software on my server? I guess for piracy/authentication reasons, WMC won't serve music from a network drive.

I think you have misunderstood. You need to authorise the machine that runs the proxy server for synchronization, an easy way to demonstrate that you have achieved that authorisation is to run the controller on the machine that you are going to run the proxy on, authorise it, and check that the controller works, because if it does then the proxy server will as well. This is a one time thing. You do always need to authorise the machine running the controller as well, although this may change in the future. This isn't really related to DRM except tangentially, its just that WMC requires you to explicitly permit access, and doesn't currently distinguish between controllers and renderers.
Despite what Microsoft literature may have said, the reason that WMC doesn't currently serve music from network drives is technical, and it is a fixable problem. This has nothing to do with DRM, authorisation or licensed players though.
nwavguy wrote:
The remote control stuff looks more promising. I think to do time sync properly, as the Cidero website suggests, Roku (and others) need to implement and support a real-time protocol specifically for that purpose. They already exist, they're just not currently supported in most players (the SqueezeBox and Sonos being two notable exceptions).

I also realize that some of the grief is centered around wanting to play protected content which forces the use of WMC and the limitations that go with that. It would be nice if the folks at Microsoft would go even further than the WMC 2.0 beta in terms of adding some of this functionality to WMC. But in the case of time sync, the players would still need to support whatever protocol is used.


I believe it is possible to build a better WMC than WMC which will serve protected music using the same WMP objects as WMC. I've been trying to do this for about 9 months now, my current disability has so far been the only impediment.
While I agree that it would be nice if Roku supported a protocol that was more easily synchronizable, I'm moderately happy with the cidero proxy solution, and if I'm correct in the beliefs I expressed in the previous paragraph, I think there'll be a better solution in the DRM case at some point, assuming that is that you cannot currently play DRM music through the current solution.

Dan "Damned Rights Mangling" Smart
4xM2000 2xM1000.
 
RokuPatrick

Sat Aug 27, 2005 8:22 pm

Moved to Feature Request Forum since that's what this really is.
 
nwavguy
Topic Author
Posts: 12
Joined: Fri Aug 26, 2005 4:01 pm

WMC & Cidero & DRM

Mon Aug 29, 2005 12:21 pm

Well this isn't entirely a feature request, it's also a review of the Roku vs competing products, and most recently, a discussion about how to implement Cidero to overcome some Roku shortcomings. I guess I can understand, however, Roku's desire to get it out of the general SoundBridge forum--especially if Roku has no comment on implementing any of the functionality being discussed?

Thanks, Dan Smart, for your added comments. I read on the Cidero site he recommended running Cidero on the same PC as WMC when WMC is used as the server. If that's not required, I may give it a try and see how it works?

And I very much agree someone could develop a better WMC, but wouldn't that require getting the "keys to the vault" so to speak? Can a third party application use Windows Media Player to manage DRM and streaming transparently without needing any of the proprietary details of the licensing, encryption, etc?

I'm assuming the music is streamed by WMC in some sort of very well encrypted format? If you replaced WMC, wouldn't you need to know the inner workings of at least some of that?

Because most of the subscription music services are depending on Widows Media DRM and WMC to keep their content secure, if anyone does manage to break the security so a person could rip (or stream) the content into an unprotected format, there would likely only be two possible outcomes. One is Microsoft would "plug the hole" and force an upgrade of all the playback software/firmware as necessary which would render the WMC replacement unusable. Or the other possibility is, with the security broken, the content producers would pull the plug on providing their content and we'd see the subscription music services disappear until the studios were once again confident of a secure delivery mechanism.

In other words, hackers could ruin the party for those of us who don't mind paying Yahoo $5/month for a million tracks of music. I'm not suggesting that's your goal, but I am curious if it's possible to legally serve protected DRM without any help from Microsoft (beyond the public hooks to Windows Media Player)?
 
Dan Smart
Posts: 151
Joined: Sat Feb 19, 2005 11:19 am
Location: Connecticut

Re: WMC & Cidero & DRM

Mon Aug 29, 2005 1:07 pm

nwavguy wrote:
Thanks, Dan Smart, for your added comments. I read on the Cidero site he recommended running Cidero on the same PC as WMC when WMC is used as the server. If that's not required, I may give it a try and see how it works?

Oliver [aka onewell] is the very nice chap that can give you a definitive answer to that.
nwavguy wrote:
And I very much agree someone could develop a better WMC, but wouldn't that require getting the "keys to the vault" so to speak? Can a third party application use Windows Media Player to manage DRM and streaming transparently without needing any of the proprietary details of the licensing, encryption, etc?

I'm assuming the music is streamed by WMC in some sort of very well encrypted format? If you replaced WMC, wouldn't you need to know the inner workings of at least some of that?

I believe not. I believe that the DRM objects supplied by WMP provide all of that functionality. As I understand it, I get a blob of information from the player which I present to the DRM object, which presents me with a suitable protected stream to pass back to the player. It has however been almost a year since I was looking at this, during which time I have been taking a steady stream of memory destroying painkillers, and hence I could well be totally mistaken.
I'm hoping that real soon now I'll be at a level where I can concentrate for more than 15 seconds at a time, and might be able to restart developing my server, at which point more details will be forthcoming.
nwavguy wrote:
Because most of the subscription music services are depending on Widows Media DRM and WMC to keep their content secure, if anyone does manage to break the security so a person could rip (or stream) the content into an unprotected format, there would likely only be two possible outcomes. One is Microsoft would "plug the hole" and force an upgrade of all the playback software/firmware as necessary which would render the WMC replacement unusable. Or the other possibility is, with the security broken, the content producers would pull the plug on providing their content and we'd see the subscription music services disappear until the studios were once again confident of a secure delivery mechanism.

In other words, hackers could ruin the party for those of us who don't mind paying Yahoo $5/month for a million tracks of music. I'm not suggesting that's your goal, but I am curious if it's possible to legally serve protected DRM without any help from Microsoft (beyond the public hooks to Windows Media Player)?


As far as I'm concerned, serving DRM music is not one of my priorities in developing a server, as I have no interest in watching my rights trickle away. I also have no interest in cracking DRM schemes because I believe that the correct solution is to refuse to allow the record companies (who have collectively been found guilty of illegal price fixing aka stealing) to treat us as though we were criminals, rather than proving them right (although I am actively involved in fighting to overturn the law that makes cracking DRM illegal).
Having said all that, it is my intent that my server will serve WMA DRM music, if I am correct about the functionality of the WMP DRM objects.

I would suggest that if anyone is going to ruin the party, while they may blame "hackers", it will be the record companies and their insatiable greed (Several record company execs have been heard to opine that DRM protected downloadable music should cost more than CD's because it is "more convienent").

[Standard disclaimer about speeling gramma and coherence here]

Dan "I'll shut up about the politics of DRM at this point" Smart
4xM2000 2xM1000.
 
nwavguy
Topic Author
Posts: 12
Joined: Fri Aug 26, 2005 4:01 pm

Re: WMC & Cidero & DRM

Tue Aug 30, 2005 11:45 am

First of all, thanks for taking the time to respond Dan. If DRM can be managed transparently entirely by WMP that's very cool and good news. If that's the case, however, why aren't others taking advantage of that?

I don't agree with your views of DRM. Yeah, it's annoying I can't do whatever I want with my DRM tracks, but that's life. I can't watch Showtime without an authorized cable/satellite box either.

We're in the infancy of DRM playback and it should get rapidly better. That was part of my point with my original post. Roku has a headstart in being one of the few network players to support Plays For Sure DRM and it would be great if they could keep their product at the front of the pack in terms of the other features. I've likewise been encouraging the Slim folks to have the SqueezeBox support DRM. Sadly, I don't think a small group of users can pursuade the big guys like D-Link to do much of anything with their player but it (and others like it) are promising as well.

Remember when memory based portable MP3 players were expensive and there were only a handful on the market? Now you can just about find them free inside a box of breakfast cereal. They're also in PDAs, cell phones, cameras, etc. That same thing is going to happen with network media players. JVC, Onkyo and others already have relatively inexpensive receivers and complete systems with ethernet ports and/or WiFi antennas on the back. Roku can continue to innovate or try to milk what they have and get left in the dust. It's their choice.

This is getting off topic, but I think a more centrist view is best where the music labels are concerned. I agree they've made some major mistakes and, in many ways, they've paid dearly already for those mistakes. CD sales are WAY down and many labels are in the red. If there really was a big excess of greed and profit, they wouldn't be losing money and their stock prices wouldn't be going down. The reality is the big labels are going to control most of the music content for quite a while and the ones in trouble will either get bought out or find a way to become profitable again.

When DRM was first in the news, the battle lines were drawn and some people saw it as an affront to their rights. But, in reality, DRM has enabled some very cool things like Yahoo Unlimited Music for $5/month. Over a million tracks--most of them with high quality 2 pass 192K encoding--that can live on your local drive and you can play 'em whenever you want for the price of a single used CD every month. AND you don't have to rip them yourself, etc. It's not perfect but it's very convenient and most of the encoding is true CD quality. Competition is going to keep Yahoo from ever holding my DRM music collection hostage.

The fact is lots of people are stealing music and it has hurt everyone up the chain from the CD retailers to the artists to the labels. I don't buy the music execs argument that most of the sales decline is purely related to stolen music. I think a lot of it is also due to competition from other legal sources, including used CDs, and even other entertainment formats like DVD, video games, satellite radio, etc. But if I were lobbying the feds for tougher laws, I'd probably be making the same arguments the big labels have been making.

Regardless, those who feel justified to steal from the labels (and retailers and artists) because they've somehow supposedly screwed them, are simply being irrational. That's like saying I shouldn't have to pay federal taxes because the Bush Administration has made some major mistakes. Or I can steal gas because gas prices are so high. Dream on.

When enough people wrong someone else (i.e. the music labels), and cause them harm, you can expect laws to be passed that try to address the problem. They won't be perfect laws, but it's not hard to understand the desire or even need to have most of them. I can't legally drive my car 90 mph in this country either. That's life. Speed limits reduce my right and freedom to drive fast, but are a necessary thing--just like copyright laws, etc.

I know the whole argument about "if I pay for music I should be able to do whatever I want with it for my own use". But when people are given that right/ability, they've clearly demonstrated way too many of them will give said music to others for free. Something like two thirds of college students surveyed say they regularly (illegally) trade music. Montana just gave up (again) on their unlimited daytime speed limit. Too many people were abusing it.

The answer, IMHO, is to make it sufficiently cheap, easy and attractive to legally get and enjoy the music you want and then the theft problem will be reduced to tolerable levels. That's exactly what's happening, it's just been too little too late. But I think we're turning the corner. So it would be wise to include DRM in whatever you do.

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