Eye Oh-Ess Four Point Two

A classmate of Z’s mentioned that the iOS 4.2 update was a worthy upgrade specifically for its ability to stream audio to Airport Express Base Stations (from your iDevice). Of course I didn’t really believe him, you know, because I already have a Mac Mini server and I can stream via iTunes from my laptop.

Sure enough, after I updated to 4.2 on the iPod Touch I’ve enjoying the streaming feature, though it depends on your setup. My old amp, a late 70’s Denon PMA-850 started blowing fuses and I was bequeathed a functioning 90’s Denon AVR-610 (I believe the rear channel outputs are bad but using “bypass pre” the main L+R channels sound good). I’ve been slow to build the LM4780 Chipamp and it was terrible not having music in the living room. Per wireless, we have an older Time Capsule that isn’t dual band (I keep it at 5GHz 802.11n) so I have an 802.11g/n Airport Express on 2.4GHz bridged to give my iPod touch wireless access and “AirTunes”.

But how does it sound? Well it works like a champ. Initially I tried using the digital optical out of the AE and I was disappointed with sync and jitter issues. It sounds pretty good, but being streamed wirelessly (.mp3, compressed AAC) from the iPod Touch over 802.11g doesn’t sound nearly as good as lossless audio from the Mac Mini into the DAC and the receiver (100% wire). However, the convenience factor of being able to pick and choose music from the iPod Touch without having to deal with the server/player is huge. The Mini or a dedicated audio server (or using Amazon S3 for cloud based music storage) gives you a much greater capacity, but again it’s the convenience factor; I appreciate that I don’t have to turn on the Mini. The Denon AVR-610 has an IR remote so once I click ‘power’, bingo bango, I’ve got music.

Compared to using iTunes (or something like Sonos or Logitech’s Slim Server) you can only stream from one iOS device to one AE Base Station at a time. And unlike Sonos you cannot have different music streams going to different rooms of the house at once. Within iTunes, when you select multiple “AirPlay” channels each room hears identical streams.

Being a “free” upgrade (to 3rd & 4th gen iPod touches and newer iPhones) iOS 4.2 is an easy recommendation, especially for those who own AE Base Stations connected to their stereos.

iOS 4.2 Audio Streaming

iOS 4.2 Audio Streaming

It goes – Ethernet > Airtunes > SPDIF > DAC

Got the two Airport Express Base Stations working on the network with Airtunes & iTunes.  I bought an older 802.11b/g one for wired usage and an 802.11n one for wireless audio in the kitchen.  I had to do hard resets on both of them before they’d show up on the Airport Utility.  I turned off wireless on the b/g one and told it to use Airtunes via ethernet.  The newer 802.11n Express joins our existing Time Capsule 802.11n network. Optical SPDIF out from the wired b/g Express goes into the E-MU 0404 DAC, unbalanced RCA analog line into the old Denon amplifier.  Works well.  Pretty light, open and clear DAC on the high end.  These old Bose speakers were never much for bass anyhow, and we don’t like to annoy the building.

Apparently Hulu’s content providers (which I believe includes FOX & NBC) decided to pull their support for Boxee.  Now if you haven’t been following Boxee, they are one of the few companies actually making inroads into “set-top conversion” software, allowing people with computers to get the TV shows they want legally from their computers onto actual television screens.  It’s sad really, that this should be an issue.  Almost every show we watch online (legally, usually via the networks’ streaming sites) usually only has one commercial.  So if you’re watching an hour of television at NBC.com and you’re hoping for a variety of commercials you’ll be disappointed, you’ll simply get the same commercial over and over again.  How is it they can’t figure this out?  I distinctly remember watching a Verizon LG Chocolate phone commercial approximately 30 times (with the Feist song as soundtrack) as multiple episodes of a show simply had the same commercial.

Anyhow, at some point I’m going to try and put together a small low power HTPC that can record and playback at least a 720p stream.  Most of the Intel Atom motherboards simply have abysmal video performance and NVIDIA is supposed going to release something soon (and possibly a new Mac Mini). XMBC or Boxee, or even XP Media Center would work as far as a front end.  My requirements are pretty minimal, I’d like to have a Firefly MT-DAAPD server running for music (transcoding .flac to .wav for iTunes/Airtunes) and possibly a second instance of it running for the rest of the mp3/aac/m4a’s.  I’d probably record shows via the SiliconDust HDHomeRun, which would give two tuners for playback/recording.  Mostly the challenge has been finding something that is close to silent and fanless (especially as the Atom could be fanless) but it really hasn’t been optimized for HTPC applications yet.  OSX86 (search “Hackintosh”) with Boxee and Elgato EyeTV could potentially be an option as well.  MythTV could work too.  Who knows?  Right now I’m pretty happy with the Airtunes and Firefly setup.

Firefly Transcodes FLAC > .WAV for iTunes & Airtunes

So I bit the bullet and ordered a couple of Airport Express base stations so that I can finally listen to music over both ethernet and 802.11n.  A small miracle, the old Dell P3 is able to transcode the FLAC on a USB hard disk drive attached to the Time Capsule (a Samba share via Bonjour in Windows XP mind you) and serve it via Firefly to the iTunes (as uncompressed .WAV with track info) on our Mac laptops.  So now, when I get the Airport Express base stations it should be a matter of selecting both “kitchen” and “living room” in the Airtunes settings and bingo bango, I’m done. Music everywhere.  If I’m ever flush I could use an iPod touch or iPhone to remote control via the mobile interface, however, I’m holding out until they offer 802.11n 5 GHz as a feature.  I don’t understand how Apple could push so hard for 802.11n and then not have it on the products that are supposed to integrate into the “home media system”.  So I think this is it.  It’s the end of the odyssey.  If Z’s in the kitchen with her laptop she can select music from the MP3 library via her iTunes, or if I want to listen to FLAC I select the Firefly Share.  Simple as that, really.

Firefly Media Server (not for television) FKA “mt-daapd” (but for iTunes)

I had looked at this product before, it’s a free GNU sourced media server project, as it’s used mostly for the RokuSoundBridge .  Recently I was pondering servers and looking into AirTunes via Airport Express wireless audio.  Airport Express (in its base configuration) require iTunes running to control where the audio is sent.  The slick thing since the advent of iPhone 2.0 and iPod Touch is the “Remote Software by Apple” which does what it says.  Your Apple TV, your Mac Mini server in the basement, anything connected to your 802.11/b/g network can be under its control via touch screen.  But back to Firefly Media Server.

Okay, say you have 3 rooms and in each room someone wants to listen to different music.  How?  Well, lets pretend again that on your home network you have a server where all the music is centrally located.  Firefly taps this by adding iTunes server compatibility through Bonjour networking.  On the old Dell XP machine it was a matter of installing Bonjour for Windows 1.04 and then the latest build of Firefly.  Right now over 802.11g I have two laptops listening to two different songs, where the Firefly shows up as a shared iTunes Library and amazingly the Dell still has enough resources to playback a separate FLAC audio stream over USB.  That makes 3 concurrent streams of audio, not bad for an old 900 MHz Pentium III.

I am not excited about taking the GREs.  That’s about all I can think of.  I ran 7 miles last Monday and climbed 3 other days last week.  The 7 mile run was too much.  Josh mentioned something about climbing trips in September.  It’s too much for me to think of right now and Ryan has been fing-jured.   On a completely unrelated mechanical note, I did do a little research into bit driver types for professional applications, as in putting two pieces of wood together with a screw.  The Phillips head was never  supposed to make it as far as it has.  From my reading, Canadian carpenters love the old square-Robertson drive. Hex and Torx also work better in high torque situations.  There is a better version of Phillips called the Pozidriv (I didn’t make that up) though it seems to be something of a hybrid Phillips with less public awareness.  The square bit will probably make its way into my tool box, though clearly we all can’t be Canadian woodsmen.