Plug and pay

The long weekend gave me a chance to tidy up the house, clear out the clutter and try to make the most of the stuff that I had managed to collect over the years. Well one such item was a NetGear MP101 wireless media player.

I once had an idea of streaming MP3 audio around the house to Hi-Fi’s in different rooms. I originally began using a long digital coax cable to link the digital audio output on the PC’s soundcard to the digital audio input on my Hi-Fi, which was located in the bedroom. This worked and I was able to control Windows Media Player 11 on the PC using Rudeo, a Windows Mobile application.

It worked because there is a standard for universal plug and play (UPnP) which allows media files to be streamed using a UPnP server to a media play that is compliant with the UPnP Renderer standard and control playback using another device as a remote control through the UPnP controller standard – and all of this worked over Wi-Fi. So I was able to use Rudeo on my XDA Orbit to control playback of music from a PC running Rudeo’s UPnP -compliant media server software located in a different part of the house. The digital coax link from the PCs soundcard to the Hi-Fi simply kept the sound quality high and meant the MP3 files weren’t physically streamed over Wi-Fi.

So this weekend I wanted to go one better. Surely I could connect the NetGear MP101 to my old Hi-Fi and have MP3 music files streamed over the Wi-Fi network?

I was surprised the level of networkign competence needed to get the NetGear to see my secured Wi-Fi network. The NetGear MP101 was designed by geek engineers for geek users. Am I using encryption, if so, is it WEP or WPA? Is MAC address filtering enabled on the router? Do I have a DHCP server? What IP address should the MP101 be manually set to?

Now, all of this could have been made a lot simpler, particularly given that my router was also from NetGear.

Once the Wi-Fi connection had been configured I needed to install a UPnP media server. The MP101 does ship with one, but since the MP101 was supposed to be UPnP-compliant I decided to install OnShare Pro, a media server I have used in the past. This worked and I was starting to feel that streaming media over Wi-Fi wasn’t so bad. I could start OnShare runninng on the PC in one room and then play music over Wi-Fi in another part of the house, and browse my Windows Media Player 11 library on the Netgear MP101. Excellent…

However, since the user interface on the MP101 was pretty poor and the infrared remote control was all but useless, I decided to try using a UPnP controller, to control playback via Wi-Fi.

The one I installed was Cidero, a Java-based UPnP controller which runs on Windows and Linux, and which works surprisingly well on the eeePC. I used it on the eeePC with my previous setup to control the media player, where the PC with the UPnP renderer (actually Windows Media Player 11) was physically connected to my Hi-Fi. Now I wanted to use Cidero with the NetGear MP101 to play music and control playback over Wi-Fi.

But while Cidero could see the OnShare media server, there was no Netgear MP101 renderer icon visible so I was unable use Cidero to control remote playback on the MP101.

A search on the Internet revealed that this is a common problem, not just with the cheapie MP101 but also more expensive players like the Slingbox and Soundbridge devices.

It seems that manufacturers have failed to implement the full UPnP spec in their devices and conveniently forgotten to mention this to consumers. It means that you have to use the cruddy remote control that they ship with. What’s the point in having a standard if manufacturers fail to implement it properly? Why should we have to pay for devices that do not comply with UPnP?

So you can’t plug and play with UPnP devices. Now that’s a real shame because the UPnP standard has some genuinely useful features. For instance, I imagine many, many people would love to be able to stream video from the hard disc on their Sky Plus Box or via the BBC iPlayer to a TV in another room, and be able to control playback. But sadly this is not possible yet.