07/12/2011, 10:23 PM
I've been playing with (ok, obsessing over) my shiny new 32gb Touchpad for almost two weeks now. I have discovered like most of you that my new hotness has some shortcomings. Especially in the video playing and storage departments.
Don't get me wrong. Videos look great on the Touchpad's screen and you can stream videos from the websites using flash and html 5 like Youtube, Hulu, Crackle, Amazon Video, and Vevo just fine. You can't do that on the iPad2. However, playing videos from your personal video library is anything but easy.
First off the Touchpad's native video player will only play mp4 or m4v videos. That is if it could actually find them on your Touchpad (read about mp4 videos in this forum to see what I mean). If you are like me you have a large video library with videos in multiple formats. I have over 230gb of videos encoded in either .m4v, .mp4, .avi, .mpg, .wmv, .flv, or .mkv format. It would literally take me weeks to convert all of these videos into just .mp4 or .m4v format. Not to mention that I would have to pick which videos I wanted to load on the 25gb of space I have left on my Touchpad. So I decided to set up a server to stream my videos from my desktop computer to the Touchpad and transcode the videos on the fly so they will play on the Touchpad.
Ok, let me explain what transcoding is. Transcoding is the act of converting a video or audio file into a format that is supported by your media player on "the fly". In other words once you select the file you want to play, it is converted to your media player's supported format pretty much as it is playing. So if I select an .avi file from my library, the server converts the video to .mp4 or embedded Flash for my Touchpad as it streams it to the device. It sounds complicated, and it is, but once it's set up it's pretty cool.
There are a lot of media servers available for Windows, Linux, or Mac that are supposed to transcode video and audio files. The problem is finding one that does it in a format that the Touchpad supports and is easy to set up. These are the two main reasons it took me two days to find a good one. Another reason is that I am cheap. I hate paying for something that other people are giving away.
So here it goes.. I decided to use my old ancient desktop sitting in the back of my kitchen as a server. It runs both Linux (primary) and Windows (alternate) in a dual boot configuration. My media files are on a 1TB external USB hard drive connect to the computer. The computer is on the same wireless network as my Touchpad and all of my other media devices. I just needed some good media server software to get things up and running.
I first started off with MediaTomb. I believe it is only for Linux. It's free and is an excellent media server. It streams to the Touchpad (through the web browser), my Android devices (using Upnp), my other computers, and my Playstation 3. The problem is that it won't transcode video files. Transcoding support is built in and I followed the instructions, but it just doesn't work for me. I'm not the only one. The forums were filled with others who were having issues with transcoding through MediaTomb. I spent most of my time trying to get it to work. Finally I gave up.
Next up was the Playstation 3 Media Server, aka PMS (I know ladies, bad name but it wasn't me who picked it). PMS is also free. PMS had pretty much the same issues with transcoding as Mediatomb. Except, believe it or not, PMS had trouble streaming video to the Playstation 3. I found this to be very odd. I tried both PMS for Linux and PMS for Windows. Same results.
Next on the list was XBMC, the X-Box Media Center. Free with a nice interface, but once again transcoding did not work. Fuppes was the same.
I got desperate so I decided that I was willing to pay for good transcoding support and I was even willing to use Windows. I read about TVersity and Twonky. TVersity charged for trancoding and did not have a free trial period. With all the problems I was having I wanted to test the software out before I bought it, so I did not try TVersity. Twonky was free to try for a limited time so I decided to give it a go. Set-up was real easy. It has a nice interface for mobile devices that works in both HTML and Flash format. My wife killed my Touchpad's battery with another day long Sparkle marathon so I tested Twonky through my laptop's webkit browser. It worked great in Flash mode. So much so that I knew I had finally found the one! I spent $19.99 for a license and waited for my Touchpad to spark back to life.
Big mistake! Once the Touchpad was back up and running I tried to access my files through the Touchpad's web browser in Flash mode. Twonky requires the Windows Media Player plugin along with Flash to work! What a horrible thing to require! Not all devices with web browser have the WMP plugin, Touchpad included. So Flash mode did not work. I tried HTML mode. I could browse and select the files with no issues, but Twonky would not transcode them while in HTML mode. No problem, I was a paying customer so I emailed tech support. I also checked the Twonky forums. No dice. Then I got a reply back from tech support. They told me that transcoding support was not "built into" Twonky since it required a plugin, which was installed. They could not help me because the plugin was a third party plugin and that I needed to "search the forums for answers". They had no issues boasting about transcode support on their website, but they had an issue with supporting their boast? I immediately demanded my money back. Still waiting on that...
I finally decided to give Playon a try. I heard about it from one of the other members of this forum. There are like 4 different payment plans for it. I don't know them all so if you become interested check out their website (Watch Internet Videos on Your TV | PlayOn). It is also free to try for 14 days so I decided to take it for a spin. Set-up on Windows was easy. The local file media server is in beta but it works nicely. There is also Netflix support, Hulu Plus support and a boatload of cable channels (not live , but some of the latest episodes).
On the Touchpad you access the server through a website, m.playon.tv. For some reason you get an error that says no servers are available, then your server is displayed. Once you click on it you can access your files or any of the services I mention in the previous paragraph through the web browser. Once you select a video to play, Playon transcodes it to Flash and imbeds it in your web browser. It evens goes to fullscreen mode automatically.
The videos look great, just as if you were playing them in their native format. There may be a stutter at first, but if you let it buffer for a few seconds your videos will play stutter free. I also noticed that some videos would not immediately start playing without hitting the play/pause button a few times. It may just be my computer having issues with streaming. You can only play Netflix videos that are in your queue. Easy enough, just login into Netflix on the Touchpad's web browser, add the videos you want to play in your queue, then go to Netflix in PlayOn and the videos will be available to play. There is an app in the app catalog that will access your Netflix queue also.
So far I'm very happy with Multimedia on my Touchpad. Having a rock solid stable version of Flash built into the web browser is a definite plus! I just wish that the video player was more mature, stable, and supported more formats than just .mp4 and m4v. If you want to access to Netflix or to play video files on your Touchpad without having to convert them over or take up additional space, give Playon a try!
Whew this is long! Hope it helps someone...