Dishing up music

I’ve been meaning for a long time to continue my line of posts about my home media set up. Anyone who vaguely knows me (or stalks this blog) will know that I recently moved down to London, into a flat I can (sort of) call my own, so for the first time I’ve been able to play about with AV equipment in my way!

In this first post, I’m going to talk a bit about how I’m currently using the set up to serve my music collection around the flat, to work, and to my phone for on-the-go listening. It’s worth noting at this point that everything here relies on an old machine running Ubuntu server that’s currently sat in my cupboard, a solution that won’t work for everyone…

I’ve mentioned previously that I was looking into using DAAP to get at my music. This ended pretty quickly when I realised the clients available for listening are fairly crap. The actual configuration is fiddly, and I was after a nice functional GUI to access my music through. DAAP failed at pretty much all of this, so I went in search of another solution. After trying many different software packages (commercial and otherwise), I struck upon Subsonic, which seemed at first glance to do everything I was after. Essentially, it requires a server (available for all platforms) with access to your music collection, and will then spit the content back out to its own web UI (accessible through a personal URL if you’re not like me and running some kind of dynamic DNS service) plus it has a number of native players available for different platforms (including mobile). Best of all – it’s free! They withhold some features until you’ve given a small donation, but it’s entirely usable as a free package!

The web UI is basic, but skinnable (I’m still working with the basic skin – works well), and gives you access at a glance to all your artists, albums and playlists (although I’ve not done much with playlists yet, that part does seem a bit tricky). This UI also lets you play with the ID3 tags on your music, including the grabbing of album artwork off the internet, so if you’re as OCD as me about music tagging, your needs are well catered for! Within the web application your play queue appears at the bottom, with the current playing song in a lovely flash player. From the main window you can add things onto the end of the play queue, or change the playing song entirely. It’s basic, but functional, and if you want anything more advanced there are a number of native players available for all operating systems.

What interested me most was the quality of the iOS native applications. I’ve tried all of the ones recommended on Subsonics App page, and a couple that are in the app store but not endorsed officially, but I have now struck upon iSub as a favourite. It allows the caching of songs on your phone for playback when no data signal is available (although you have to have played the song for it to be cached – I’d like a feature where you could pre-cache songs to the phone), plus it integrates nicely with the iOS player API (play/pause whilst locked etc).

One other massive bonus was my discovery of a XMBC plugin for Subsonic (XMBC is what I use to browse media on my TV, as I’ve mentioned previously, more in a future post). This lets me listen to songs through my TV in the flat without having to bother turning a computer on – a massive bonus, and much more sociable if you have company!

The only downside of Subsonic is the reliance on a stable internet connection to an always-on music server. There are commercially hosted solutions available, but since I already had a machine running 24/7, and have recently splashed out on Virgin Media’s 30Mb fibre connection, it made sense to run the package from home.

So there it is – a whole-hearted recommendation for Subsonic (they’re honestly not paying me for this!) and it’s associated other applications. Tune in soon for a peek into the world of my TV/Movie system!

Dishing up media

As my latest project for ‘what to do when incredibly bored in the evening’ is to find a way of creating a central server for all of my media (starting with music, the rest is pretty easy) and then being able to play it off any device, preferably with some kind of specialised app for iPhone that would let me download tracks and playlists for local playback. If anyone has undertaken a similar project, I’d love to hear about it!

So – the task list so far:

  • Stable running media server
  • Automatic feed-in of new content (from download server – will blog about that one some other time!)
  • Automatic tagging (ID3 etc) of new content (this may be a step too far!)
  • Playlist viewing/editing
  • Access over the network
  • Access over the internet
  • Access from the iPhone (including local playback)
  • Front end media player (using XBMC or similar) for video/picture

Sounds like another one of those pipe-dreams, but I’m off to a pretty good start it seems! I’ve struck upon using some sort of DAAP server (currently running forked-daapd, will probably end up with the original daapd as it seems a bit more stable) off a dedicated test machine (so I don’t bork up my other running server, I’ve got plenty of old machines lying around the house at the moment!) which can then be connected to anywhere off the internal network, and some simple port forwarding should sort that for the wider world.

The only gripe at the moment is the lack of playlist support – the DAAP protocol isn’t designed to have anything to do with playlist editing, and that’s a pretty major feature I want to have! I may end up with some kind of web interface to the server that’ll let me edit playlists directly – not ideal, but I guess it’ll do the trick.

I’m currently struggling with the iPhone access part – I’ve found a single DAAP client (Simple DAAP Client), but that doesn’t support any caching, and is very basic (but free). I may have to resort back to some kind of manual syncing to get the iPod functionality, which would be a shame, but not an insurmountable problem.

The automatic tagging is definitely a big problem – what I’m envisaging at the moment is a daemon running on the server that uses Musicbrainz or something similar to update ID3 tags on MP3s as they are added on to the server, however such a thing may be slightly beyond the realms of possibility at the moment unfortunately. One day maybe…

I’ll try and keep this post up to date with my progress, but it’s likely to be slow work as my entire ‘server farm’ is being uprooted and moved to London in a few weeks. Flat hunting later this week, better make sure it’s got plenty of cupboard space for all these machines!

To Mac or not to Mac

As you may know, I am the extremely happy owner of an iPhone. I also happen to be doing a degree which has something to do with programming (apparently…), leading me to wonder what would happen if I were to try combining these two!

I’ve previously had one or two ideas put to me for iPhone software, and also have thought of some myself. Objective-C looks like a bit of a pain in the backside to learn, but challenges are fun! The only obstacle left in my way is Apples decision to only let you run their iPhone development software on their own OS.

This leaves me with a couple of options. Firstly, I could put together a hackintosh on some old hardware, providing I’ve got some hardware lying around that it will work with! The only downside of trying that approach is that this is likely to happen. The other option is to buy one, I’ve been having a look at Mac Minis, which would probably cost somewhere in the region of £600 with student discount.

I don’t know if I’m ready to give up my Mac-hater stance and actually buy one, but I’m tempted…

My take on the iPhone 3GS

First of all, this is not a particularly informed review. I do not own one of these devices currently, I’m basing my opinion on third party reviews and Apples’ keynote address on the 3GS.

The one thing that strikes me about this whole launch is the amount of hype Apple are creating about the 3.0 software – but overlapping this with the launch of the 3GS. For instance, things like Spotlight search and the new Messages app feature center-stage on the Apple website promoting the 3GS, but these are available on 3G and even 2G iPhones!! That said, the features 3.0 brought to my phone have been sadly disappointing. The vast increases in SDK capabilities haven’t been taken up by developers at all (may do another post on this some time) for whatever reason, and I’m yet to use Spotlight in a ‘non-test’ capacity. The messages app is all well and good – but when I tried to send a contact to a friend of mine, it came out as rubbish. I know there’s not a standard for such messages across phones, but that sort of invalidates the point of having such capabilities!

Voice control is all well and good, I’ve not seen many reviews of this feature out in the wild, so I can’t really pass judgement on that. The addition of a magnetometer within the 3GS will be a huge feature. I personally try to get out and about doing some Geocaching, and hopefully the Groundspeak iPhone application will be updated to allow use of this compass to make seeking caches even easier with an iPhone.

However, the simple addition of video recording (and increase in camera quality) is just about enough to sell me on the 3GS. I’ve whinged about the quality of the existing camera until I’m blue in the mouth – but still I use it for all my day-to-day shooting! People are much more likely to be carrying a mobile phone than a full camera when they need it most. Apple have pulled some really good moves in this hardware update, and I for one am on the end of the hook – I want it!

Skype for iPhone released

Skype have just launched their official iPhone client in the UK! Woop!

My first reaction was definitely one of ‘wow’ – the interface is slick, and a quick phone call to their ‘test service’ (didn’t want to wake anyone!) revealed the call quality to be excellent, although it seemed that a little part of my test message was dropped.

Only problem I can see with it is the lack of cell network support, I’d really like to be able to make calls on the go without having Wi-Fi nearby. Other ‘nice to have’ would be the use of background processing on the iPhone, but that is Apples’ fault obviously. Maybe push notifications could be used somehow in this app? We shall wait and see…

My new addiction

And they say small things amuse small minds? Never been more true!

Found an absolute gem in the iPhone App store the other day: Flight Control [iTunes link]. Here’s my go at a little review!

The UI is much smoother than I’ve seen on many iPhone games, simplistic menu options and tutorials make this game so easy to dive in to. The basic idea of the game is to guide planes onto a runway (you can probably see why I like it already!), whilst making sure they don’t collide with each other. It’s harder than it sounds!

There are 4 types of aircraft in this version: light aircraft, helicopters, medium and large jets. All of which move at a slightly different speed – the controllers nightmare! I’m sure nothing this drastic would occur in real life though (aircraft landing within split seconds of each other?!), or else I’d only be able to land 66 planes before killing someone!

The use of the touch-and-drag interface on the iPhone coupled with clever use of the on-screen graphics and onboard sound make the game extremely easy to use, it takes mere seconds to get started.

Overall, I’ve no regrets on spending 59p on this app, and I can’t wait to see how it will be expanded on in future releases

P.S. I wanted to include some screenshots, but no matter how hard I try, the iPhone won’t let me take them off the internal memory 🙁

Nuevasync update

Just been released! Provides support for multiple calendars on the phone (so they appear in different colours) and also for read-only ICAL files.

Well, that’s just put gCalCloud out of business! I shall be shelving the project tomorrow, but will post the source code for people to have a look at just how crap it was! Hehe

Anyway, cheers Nuevasync, you just saved me a project!


As part of my resolution to get using this blog some more, thought I’d invest in iBlogger – a iPhone application that’s actually quite professional! It’s on sale at the moment, down from £4.99 to £0.59 – well worth it!

Anyway, think it’s time I slept!

iPhone 3G – me want!

God bless you Steve Jobs, you never cease to amaze me with your new technology. New iPhone 3G was announced last night at WWDC, with some brand new features:

  • 3G (duh!) which actually seems to work at the same speeds as HSDPA(?) It is actually a HSDPA phone, according to Apples tech-specs – which makes it 3.5G!
  • A-GPS (Assisted GPS, works with Wi-Fi and Cell tower to calculate positions faster)
  • 2.0 software (obviously!)
  • Also available in white!
  • Flush headphone jack
  • All-metal buttons
  • Better speakers

The 2.0 software looks good as well, can’t wait for some native games to come along!

The best thing of all – o2 offering free upgrades to existing customers! No contract termination fee, just pay for the new phone, sign up for a new 18 month contract, and you’re away!

I’ve already registered so that o2 will phone me up to set the ball rolling on these things in early July – I can’t wait!

Update: Just realised I’m away through most of early July – damnit.