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Video Streaming

The Orb server could also stream video from a webcam, so I tried plugging my webcam into the ReadyNAS. This, as expected, did not work, nor did I actually expect it to work, but thought it was worth a shot.

After disconnecting the webcam, I tried streaming some music to start. The MP3s I loaded worked fine on both my iPad and my 3GS, although on 3G the audio quality was noticeably degraded. The Orb server also can stream Internet radio from a central database Orb maintains. You have to search through it though, which is mildly annoying as the interface on the iPad could easily accommodate browsing through a list.

iPhone video playback example
Figure 4: iPhone video playback example

The real test is streaming video, and this is where Orb really is trying to position itself. I started out with some easy, standard definition content which included such classic like episodes of Batman, the animated series, and the recent series Chuck. The server served these up fairly quickly, even over 3G, although, oddly, on 3G the audio quality was noticeably degraded.

Another iPhone video playback example
Figure 5: Another iPhone video playback example

Trying to stream high definition content was another story. I picked 3:10 to Yuma and Hancock as test content to stream to the devices. They all had the same problem with not being able to stream consistently to my iPad, which was on the Wi-Fi network. My 3GS fared slightly better than my iPad, as at least it stayed connected, even though it stuttered a lot. I found this strange since the 3GS was running over the 3G connection.

These problems point to the Orb server (running on the ReadyNAS Ultra) more than a connectivity problem. My best guess is that the single core Atom D410 in the ReadyNAS Ultra is not really cut out to be transcoding and streaming high definition video on the fly. I will be interested to see if the upcoming dual-core powered ReadyNAS Ultra Plus line will fare any better. Trying to stream multiple videos at the same time to the two devices was even worse, which really underscores the fact that Orb seems to need a decent hardware platform to support HD transcoding.

In order to not limit Orb on the ReadyNAS hardware, I installed the Orb Caster software on my primary Windows machine, a Core i7-920 with 6 GB of memory. This system definitely meets the Orb Live Technical Specifications, which call for a 2 GHz Pentium 4 processor or faster and 1 GB RAM for Windows 7, Vista, XP Home or Professional SP3 and Intel processor, Mac OS 10.5.1 or later and 1 GB of RAM for Macs.

The process was a little long, because Orb Caster indexes and then "processes" all your media. I don't know that "processing" means and couldn't find any info on Orb's site. But it's probably not pre-transcoding media because I had 200 movies in the folder that I pointed Orb Caster at to index and the process didn't take days!

During this test, I uninstalled Orb from the ReadyNAS in order to not have any server conflicts. Once Orb Caster finishes installing, you have to go into its settings and enable the Remote Access, and enter the username and password you registered with Orb.

I then re-ran the high-definition tests and, sure enough, the video was much higher quality and streamed flawlessly to the iPad. The 3GS was much smoother as well, although there was an occasional stutter. I attribute this to the 3G connection because the 3GS over Wi-Fi worked flawlessly. The video content actually looked really good on the 3GS over Wi-Fi.

So the conclusion is that the Orb software on the ReadyNAS really is hardware limited, since even re-running some of the standard definition content made it look so much better when coming from Orb Caster on my PC.

iPad HD video playback example
Figure 6: iPad HD video playback example

Closing Thoughts

It’s amazing where we’ve come in just a few short years. With Apple introducing the iPhone, and the subsequent onslaught of copies and “me too” devices, we are quickly being freed from having to be at home to play our media.

However, it’s also important to note that your media is still best served from a computer, at least for Orb or any other remote media solution that requires on-the-fly transcoding of HD video. My tests showed that the ReadyNAS Ultra just isn't up to the task, while my two-year old Windows system was. Hopefully, the ReadyNAS Ultra Plus will be more suited to handling HD transcoding.

That being said, as long as you use Orb with a computer with enough power to handle transcoding the content you want to watch, it's a nice, although somewhat expensive way to enjoy your content from iOS and Android devices.

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