Tekzilla #8: DIY Media Server, Cheap Notebooks, Songza and Songbird

Posted in Networking, Podcasts on November 29, 2008

The simplest DIY media server. Ex Machina. Using the Xbox 360 HD DVD with your PC. Find Music: Songza and Songbird. Cheap Notebooks, Buying Online, is WiFi 802.11n done yet?

Sharing media throughout your house isn't too hard if you have a home network... even if, like Walt, you have "3 Macs, 2 iPhones, and numerous iPods." The trick is putting all the audio/video/photos you want to share on one machine you can always leave on, then turning on file sharing. And mapping your various machines at home to it. Call it the simplest home media server possible...

Looking for music on the web? We've got nifty tools for you to check out!

Songbird is billed as a "Desktop media player mashed up with the web." We think of it more as a media browser. Built on the Mozilla application framework (the code underneath Firefox!), Songbird skims web pages for downloadable audio files when you load them, can play your local audio, and thru plugins, even manage your iPod. (And this just scratches the surface.)

Songza is pure music search. And playback. And one click posting to your website. You can even build playlists. We just can't figure out just exactly where it searches... tho we suspect it plays the audio tracks from files found in Google Video searches... you can't download the songs you find to your desktop, but there's a lot of stuff being played from YouTube thru Songza!

"Any ideas when or if Draft n will become standard?" Sure, Scott. The 802.11n spec has one last IEEE vote in early 2008, then should be finalized and on the shelves around September 2008. The years of staring at Pre-N and Draft-N on boxes is almost over... Wi-Fi Alliance certification has already begun.

Certification would be nice, since we've bought Draft n products off the shelves recently that wouldn't work together.

Do you need 802.11n? It's not going to make your Internet connection faster (not unless your existing Wi-Fi network is saturated with too many clients... rather unusual for a home setup) but, in theory, it should give you four times the bandwitch of 802.11g... which is nice for transferring big files across your network. (Gigabit Ethernet stomp it, speed wise, tho you'll have to run a cable!)

The ground has been doing the earthquake thing here in San Francisco, so we sent our fearless producer Neha Tiwari to the Berkeley Seismological Lab to get the latest on earthquake science.

Nintendo fans have a whole new Mario experience: Super Mario Galaxy will probably be the biggest title on the Wii this season... and with 40 galaxies, gorgeous art, and a whole new style of play, it's living up to the hype.

Ex Machina, Heather's producer pick this week is one of Patrick's favorite comics, too. Penned by Brian K. Vaughan, the series follows the exploits of retired super hero Mitchell Vaughan, who was elected Mayor of New York City post 9/11. Are all his powers -the ability to communicate with and control machines- gone? Not exactly...

"Power Down": is the latest trade paperback in the series... if you're starting from scratch, you'll want Ex Machina VOL. 1: THE FIRST HUNDRED DAYS.

Code Red is where Jessica tells you about her latest obsession... this week it's FFFFOUND!.com, a neat little place on the Internet where you can post and share your favorite images. The service also has the ability to recommend images it thinks you'll like based on your interests. This isn't another Flickr clone. The makers call it "an inspirational image-bookmarking experience!!" Jessica agrees.

John needs a cheap notebook, he's a "full-time student living off water, sunshine and take-out" that needs to talk with his family overseas. We've got ideas, from a Nokia's $250 N800 Internet Tablet to the name brand notebooks showing up at CompUSA for $650 with 1.5GHz Core 2 Duo processors, 1GB of RAM and 160GB hard drives... we're talking Sony and HP here, not no brands.

That said.. John, we know you don't trust posting your credit card info on the web... but, like Jessica said, it's time to get over that. If you like to shop local and support local business, that's awesome, but millions of folks shop online safely every day. And US federal law limits the liability of card holders to $50 in the event of theft, regardless of the amount charged on the card.

Why didn't we recommend a used notebook? Did you see that pile of parts Patrick had at the beginning of the show? That was a used notebook... make sure it works before you hand over any cash!

Yes, Andrew, you can use the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player as the HD DVD drive in your computer/Home Theater PC... if you want to play movies, you'll need Cyberlink PowerDVD Ultra, $99, which can also play back Blu-ray movies, if you have a Blu-ray drive. (Only the Japanese version of Intervideo's WinDVD has HD DVD playback.)

One catch: you'll need an HDCP compliant graphics card and monitor to get the full HD resolution out of those pre-recorded movies. (Tho we hear you can get around that with a copy of SlySoft's AnyDVD. Email us if you're curious.

You'll also need a powerful system to play back HD DVD or Blu-ray movies. Run CyberLink's Blu-ray/HD DVD Advisor before you drop the cash on the software!

As Jessica pointed out, this isn't much of a bargain. You're paying $180 for the drive and $99 for the software (not to mention the whole HDCP ready graphics card question). You can buy Toshiba's HD-A2 for $230 at Walmart and lots of other stores. Sure, it's not the latest HD DVD Player (there's no 1080p out), but it does a pretty good job.

The online shoe store Jessica and Patrick mentioned? It's called Zappos.com.


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