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Winamp Remote Beta - An Early Look.. Turn Your Computer & Treo Into A Media Monster For Free!..

Tue Dec 11, 2007 - 8:26 AM EST - By Harv Laser

Winamp Remote - a brilliant concept

I don't lug my laptop around with me everywhere I go, but I have a TON of audio and video on it that I'd like to be able to stream to my Treos, and they ARE always with me.

Even the biggest SD cards can only hold so much, and if I get the burning urge to listen to a certain song, or OTR show, or watch a full-length, commercial-free movie I've digitized when I'm out and about, at a store, in a waiting room, driving (audio) or parked (video) in the car, even {{gasp}} in the bathroom.. and that media isn't on my card, well damn.. why can't I access all the STUFF I have at home on my hard drives on my Treo?

I was hot on the Avvenu service for a while.. it lets you stream and share all the stuff on your computer, but the downside is that after you use it for a while, you realize that everything you want to stream has to be uploaded to Avvenu's servers, and their interface is tree-based, tedious to use, and uploading is dog slow, to say the least, so I've pretty much stopped using it. Sometimes, when re-visiting software I've reviewed, I revise my opinion of it.. especially when something faster, more elegant, and more logical comes along..

Sure, I could upload audio and video files to my private FTP Site where I have virtually unlimited storage, but that'd take a long time.. audio, like .MP3 files upload pretty quickly, (unless you're uploading hundreds of them), but those pesky monster video files, which can run hundreds of megabytes, take hours to upload. (My cable modem upload speed is about one-tenth of my download speed, which is fairly typical).. and what if you don't have unlimited server space you can use?

The beauty of a Treo, even though it doesn't have a hard drive like an iPod, it has that oh-so-useful data connection that no iPod has.

Now what can we do with that data connection so we can access ALL the goodies on our computers no matter where we are? Folks, I bring you the solution. Read on..

Wait, don't touch that dial, this isn't yet another Kinoma review..

This'll take a couple paragraphs of back-tracking to set up, so have patience, read along, and it'll all come together shortly.

Click my name at the top of this page, and you'll find I've written at length about Kinoma Player 4 EX and the tens of thousands of audio, video, and other media sources it'll stream directly to your Treo. After using it for thousands of hours (no foolin'!).. it's STILL my all-time favorite PalmOS program.

A couple months ago, I reviewed Kinoma's "other" consumer product, Producer, an inexpensive program whose main purpose (although it has others) is to scale down digitized videos to both convert them to "modern" formats (MPEG-4 and WMV-9), and make them play or stream more smoothly on a Treo which, after all, is a tiny computer, but doesn't have the horsepower or the bandwidth to play the same video that your vastly more powerful computer can handle with ease.

You can copy videos run through Producer to your Storage card, or, with Kinoma's new http authentication abilities, upload them to your password-protected, private FTP site and stream them from there.

Well despite the universe of media at your fingertips that's either built into Kinoma's unbelievably vast Media Guide, and despite the wonderfulness of Producer, and despite the ever-increasing capacity and ever-Decreasing price of SD Storage media, even the most capacious of those little cards can't hold but a tiny fraction of what a modern hard drive can, and even if you scale down full-length films with Producer and upload them to a private site to stream them to your Treo, all of that takes quite a bit of time.

Wouldn't it be easier to eschew all that processing and converting and uploading, and just give your Treo the ability to wirelessly stream all your audio and video directly off your computer's hard drive(s) on demand? In other words, turn your computer into your own private media server. Of course it would.

If you're like me, you have gigabytes of music and videos on your computer. Maybe hundreds of gigabytes. Maybe a terabyte or more. While almost everything else seems to get more and more expensive, consumer electronics, like huge hard drives have gotten so much cheaper in the past year or two, it's unbelievable.

Last year I picked up a brand new 320gb LaCie USB 2 "Brick" drive, on sale, for barely over $100.00. It's over ten times the capacity of the 30gb drive that came in my three year-old laptop, and would have cost a small fortune a few years ago. That slick, whisper-quiet, fan-cooled, external box, which looks like an enormous Lego, is nearly half filled with dozens of full-length movies I've captured with my Neuros Recorder 2, never mind a couple thousand .MP3 Tracks I've accumulated over the years. It'd take me ages to upload all that stuff to my FTP site, or to Avvenu.

But along comes the new Winamp Remote Beta ("WR)", and I now have Treo access to ALL the audio and video on my computer's drives, and I don't have to process, convert, scale, or upload any of it anywhere.

Within minutes, you can have the same capability. All it takes is Winamp Remote Beta, Kinoma Player, and maybe around ten minutes to set everything up.

Before I get into the meat of how Winamp Remote Beta works, and what you'll need to do what I'm doing with it, I have to warn you – it IS still in Beta. This article is really a "first look" at this revolutionary new software, not a review. It has quite a few quirks and needs some work before it's ready for prime time.

What you'll need..

To turn your computer into your own personal media server, and get access to all the audio and video stored on it via your PalmOS Treo you'll need:

  • A modern Treo with the Blazer Web browser.
  • Kinoma Player 4 EX
  • Winamp Remote Beta installed on your Windows computer (free).
  • A Winamp Remote account (free).
  • A bunch of media on your computer that you want to stream on your Treo.
  • an unlimited data plan from your cell carrier (not free).

That's basically it. Kinoma Player 4 EX is available for lunch money. The entire Winamp Remote Beta service is free. The media on your hard drive is up to you to supply. Rip audio from CDs or download it, rip video from your cable box or DVDs or download it.

The unlimited data plan will cost you some per-month fee.. I pay Sprint about $15.00 for their PowerVision Pro Pack, or whatever they're calling it this week. When you're going to stream a ton of data over your Treo's connection, an unlimited data plan is an absolute must.

Getting Started

Kinoma Player 4 EX is the ONLY PalmOS software that can interact with and stream from WR, and as I've been tooting its horn for over a year now, this is just one more reason why it's at the top of my all-time favorite apps list.

Kinoma still needs some enhancements; I've mentioned what I think it needs plenty of times in my previous write-ups, so I'm not gonna re-hash them all over again here. But if you want to get started using Winamp Remote Beta on your PalmOS Treo, you'll have to have Kinoma Player 4 EX installed, so just buy it.

Initial installation and set-up

First, on your computer, visit the Winamp Remote site, download the Windows program installer, and create a password-protected account for yourself. The program is free. Sign-up is free.

How can they give this software and service away for free? Well, some years ago, the media monster AOL quietly bought out NullSoft, makers of the insanely popular Winamp media player, which has over 64 million users world-wide. I've been using Winamp myself since I bought my first Windows computer years ago. I didn't know AOL had acquired NullSoft until I got started with WR and noticed the AOL moniker on the download site..

After you've created your account and logged in to the "real" WR site, you'll see some banner ads running down the right-hand side of WR's Web page.. that's where the revenue stream comes from, for now. That's why they can give away this service for free. The ads are fairly unobtrusive, and, thankfully, there are NO audio or video ads embedded or pushed at you when you're streaming your own media off your own computer (and I hope they keep it that way!).

Winamp Remote is actually a modified, customized version of Orb in disguise. What it's gonna do is turn your computer into your own private media server.

Follow the instructions, and Install WR Beta on your peecee. You can elect to have it start up each time you reboot your computer or not. I chose not, but that part's up to you.

Launch WR and you'll see a green "orb" ball with a yellow "Winamp" lighting bolt through it down in Window's "tray" just to the left of your computer's clock.

Next, you need to configure WR to tell it which folders (and sub-folders, and sub-sub folders, and so on) on your hard drive(s) have audio and video you want to stream to your Treo through Kinoma Player.

This is VERY easily accomplished with WR's configuration requester by just browsing your computer for those folders that hold your media.

Winamp Remote Beta automatically indexes these folder paths on your PC by default:

  • C:\My Music
  • C:\My Documents\My Music
  • C:\My Documents\My Videos

To add additional folder paths, just right-click on that little Winamp Remote icon in your Windows system tray, select Configuration, click the Add button and navigate to the folder you want to add or remove. Piece of cake.

Since my huge external drive is my "G:" drive, I configured WR to index most of its media-holding folders.

Besides PalmOS Treos running Blazer and Kinoma Player, there are many other ways and other hardware platforms with which you can use Winamp Remote, and you'll find an FAQ about all the other things you can do with it here, but since this is TreoCentral, I'm not going to delve into using it on a PlayStation, Wii, or an Xbox.. I'll leave that for you to explore those possibilities.

On with the show!

Okay, you've bought and installed Kinoma Player 4 EX. You've downloaded and installed WR on your computer, and created a WR account for yourself. You've configured WR and told it which folders on your computer you want it to index, and from which you want to stream audio and video to your Treo, so let's put it to work.

Start WR running on your PC, and then grab your Treo, load Blazer and send it to http://winamp.orb.com . You'll have to sign in with your new WR user name and password the first time.

Assuming everything is set up properly, you'll see a nicely-formatted Web page in Blazer with a ton of different choices. Here are a few screen shots.

Scroll down a bit and perform a speed test to determine your Treo's data connection rate. You can tell WR (in Blazer), to use THAT speed for streaming, or pick one of the pre-configured speeds. Again, none of this is carved in stone, and you can even have WR do a speed test every time you run it in Blazer, if you want to. I found "160k" works fine for me. You might find a higher or lower speed works better for you, depending on what kind of data rate you get wherever you and your Treo are.

Now browser around WR in Blazer.. since you told the Windows client where your audio and video files live on your computer, you'll find those same files, sorted by folders and sub-folders via the "Audio" and "Video" tabs. Using your finger, stylus, or d-pad, choose what you want to stream.

You can pick a single file, an entire folder full of files, search for files, or put it into "shuffle" play mode. One glaring omission is that if you have a folder with, say, 200 .MP3 songs in it, you can't tell it to start playing from song number 102 or whatever. Your choices are play ONE track, play from the beginning of the list, or shuffle play the whole folder. This needs fixing.

If you've set up everything correctly, and WR Beta is running (and connected to the Internet) on your computer, after you make your media choice in Blazer, there'll be a delay of a few seconds, maybe up to half a minute, while it chews away, and then automatically hands off your choice to Kinoma Player. Kinoma then connects, buffers, and starts streaming whatever media, audio or video, you selected back in WR's interface in Blazer.

The bigger the file(s) you want Kinoma to stream, the longer its "connecting / buffering" sequence takes.. telling it to stream a two hour long, 600mb digitized movie off your computer, through WR, to your Treo might take half a minute or more, depending on your data speed, the load on your computer (what else it's doing at the time), and other factors. Short files, like a single .MP3 Track start playing much faster since they're much smaller files.

Jack in a set of good headphones and enjoy. At least, ideally, that's the way it should work.

Still a work in progress..

But as I said at the start, WR IS still Beta. Being Beta, it's not finished yet. It has some problems. Orb is working furiously to iron out those problems, and the more reports they get about quirks and bugs, the sooner they'll be able to get this fantastic service running the way it SHOULD run.

Kinoma sees what WR is feeding to it as a live stream. Like a radio station. As such, back in Kinoma Player, you won't have as much control over what you're listening to or watching as you would if you were playing the same media directly of your card. For instance, although Kinoma's "<<" rewind / back a Track and ">>" fast forward / ahead a Track buttons are on its screen, when it's streaming from WR, those buttons do nothing, although you CAN touch the progress slider to go backwards and forwards in a streaming file, this causes streaming to stop and the "connecting / buffering" sequence to happen again. You DO have more control over streaming video, as you can zoom it in and out, and rotate it.

But if you want to jump to the next Track in your WR-selected folder full of music, there's no easy way to do it. Hit your backspace key in Kinoma, you'll be sent back to WR in Blazer, and you can re-shuffle, or pick a different, specific tune to stream.

I've seen WR's shuffle mode behave VERY strangely.. sometimes it'll play the same song many times in a row, or play part of it, then switch half-way through to another song, then go back and play the first song again. There's a kind of chaotic randomness to it, again, attesting to the Beta nature of the service. But I've found that the combination of WR and Kinoma Player work MUCH more smoothly when I point WR to a folder full of half hour-long Old Time Radio shows, or tap its Video tab and have it serve a full-length movie to Kinoma Player.

The beauty of using it to stream video off your computer is that there's NO need to scale down that video to "Treo bandwidth size" first in a program like Producer. The Orb engine in WR Beta handles the scaling for you, automatically. Slick.

I'm not a software engineer, and I can't tell you why WR's shuffle mode sometimes goes nuts, but that's been my experience with it, and I've been using WR for nearly a month.

When it's working the way it should, WR is almost pure sex. When it goes into some kind of, for lack of a better term, goofball or confused mode, it's hair-pulling and cursing time. It just plain needs more work.

Sharing your stuff

Send WR Beta off to its full-sized Web site and here you can do all kinds of things, like create playlists of your computer's audio and video files, and SHARE them with anyone else who has a Treo, by sending a link via an SMS message, or anyone who has a computer, by sending a share to their email address. Or share a single file, a group of files, or selectively-chosen files. Your friends get a share link to ONLY those files you permit them to hear or watch, and you can cancel or modify a share any time you please.

You can also preview the details of video files with a thumbnail by just hovering your mouse over their names in the list of files:

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