Orb 2.0

Whilst searching the web for a new mobile phone and contract this week I came across a programme called Orb. Orb sits in the systray on a Windows based system and allows access to media files housed on that computer through a web-based interface. Orb is completely free to download and use, which is highly surprising given the advanced nature of the software.

Orb Video viewPhoto, video, audio, documents and even live television (through DVB-T) can be accessed from anywhere that has a high-speed connection and a web-browser, which is pretty much most places these days. This is extremely handy for me, since I have somewhat of a ‘fetish’ for video, audio and photography and it’s all stored on my home PC.

I’ll paint you a picture of what I currently have and therefor why Orb is so useful to me, connected to this one computer I have 6 hard drives; 4 internal and 2 external totalling 1.8tb. The larger 5 of these are cram packed with movies, television shows, mp3 and my photography (The smallest if the boot drive, just Windows XP and installed programs on there). 
Unfortunately, I’m hardly ever at home, so accessing this media from elsewhere (ie. when using a wi-fi access point on my laptop) is cumbersome and unsecure. I have a webserver setup which allows me to browse the files and I also have remote access available to it, but neither of these methods will allow me to watch videos or listen to music without downloading the entire file first which obviously is not ideal.

This is where Orb comes in.

It’s all very intuitive, once you have chosen what you want to watch, the video file is streamed whilst being re-encoded on-the-fly by the host computer to suit the connection speed of the access point being used.
There is a choice of formats to use when viewing videos, either Windows media, Realplayer, Quicktime, 3gp or even an in-browser flash player.
I’m still to come across a type of file that has not been able to be re-encoded and streamed by Orb, which I’m very impressed by, I’ve tried DivX, Xvid, Wmv, Mpeg2 and Avi so far, and they all work perfectly.

Orb playing music in WMPAudio follows pretty much the same premise. You choose a song or create a playlist and Orb on the host computer streams it after re-encoding. Orb supports most, if not all file types too, including DRM’ed audio files (iTunes etc.)
Fill up a playlist, press the big green play button on the web interface, an asx file is downloaded and launches into Windows media player and your music starts playing. Skipping tracks is supported, so if you put something on there that you don’t actually want to listen to, just skip to the next track.

Photo viewing is a pleasure, browse the folders as they appear on the drive, search or tag. Images are initially displayed as a thumbnail but once double clicked become full browser window sized in a lightbox. The functionality is also there to create a ‘playlist’ of photos which when played form a slideshow in the browser window.

N73 with OrbBut, I here you ask, what has Orb and finding a new mobile phone got to do with each other? Well, mobile network Three UK have recently launched their new ‘X-Series‘ handsets, starting with the Nokia N73. Three has come to an agreement with Orb that they develop a mobile compatible version of the web interface.
I received my N73 yesterday and have been playing around with Orb today and have to say I’m damn impressed. For an extra £5 per month Three will give you unlimited data transfer between the handset and Orb (and other programmes that come with the X-Series line, including web-browsing, email, etc.).
The interface on the mobile is clean, fast and easy to use and streaming video and audio works well when in an area of good 3G coverage, which to be honest, with Three is pretty much everywhere that I spend my time. The network has really improved over the two years since I last used them as my provider.

screenshot0007.jpgSo far I have tested the service by watching a full episode of Torchwood. On my drive at home the file is >600mb but Orb managed to stream it at 68k to my mobile without skipping once and the quality was good. I will point out that I was sat in one place with full 3G coverage whilst trying this out.

I believe that I will mostly use the service on my mobile for viewing photographs stored on my hard drives as I have over 17,900 at the moment and am forever wanting to show off my latest shots :)

Has mobile media taken a step forward with the joining of the UK’s first sole 3G network and Orb joining forces? I think it may have and I’m sure that there is a lot more to come too.

LG Shine – Review

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a PR firm who are working on behalf of mobile phone manufacturer LG. I was told that a new handset would be coming onto the market in February, as part of their ‘black collection’, which started with the Chocolate and was asked if I would like to try out a pre-release version and present my findings to the blogosphere. A request that I accepted.

I decided to hold off on posting, feeling that a rushed review would serve no purpose over any others found on the web, written by guru’s who simply pick the phone apart by it’s spec sheet. I really wanted to present my findings as a user, someone who has had extensive experience with using the handset as a consumer like any other. I hope you find my notes of use.

The first thing that you notice when you see an LG Shine is that it is very glamorous. The silver is striking and you just want to touch it to see what it is made of, sterling, steel or plastic.

I believe it is made of stainless steel. It certainly is quite scratch resistant, so this is a major plus. Even after spending days in my pocket, being rubbed up against coins and keys, it has no visible marks on it.

The Shine is a slide handset, which has become a small problem. With greasy fingers, as there is no dedicated grip to push the phone up, it can be awkward to get it into the open position and once you do, you’ve left countless finger marks all over the screen, requiring a rub on your trouser leg to clear.

The phone is packed with features, a lot for the size.
The camera is of good quality, incorporating Schneider Kreuznach optics (quoting from the same page as Carl Zeiss and Nokia here, methinks) which make for high resolution shots and a great macro mode. Unfortunately, it is brought down by having a really pathetic zoom rate. Even when zoomed all the way in it really isn’t any closer in to the action than normal.
Bluetooth is de facto, as with any handset these days.
MP3 player is built in, but with just under 50mb of internal storage in the 2G flavour, there isn’t much room to breathe, but of course, MicroSD cards are optional and cheap.

The keypad is sturdy, the keys are average size, but you do really need to use fingernails to press them, which, for those who are like me and enjoy a good old munch on them quite often, can become a bit of a problem. Not something that a few days of willpower won’t fix though.
Consequences of the fiddly keypad are that text messaging becomes quite cumbersome, and the ‘hang-up’ button is right there above the 3 button. On many an ocassion I have been in the middle of a long SMS message and pressed the dreaded red button, only to lose the whole message, and it’s doesn’t get saved to drafts either!

The screen is one of the biggest plus sides to this phone, it is very high quality, a good size and the clarity is unbelievable. Photos displayed are shown clear and bright, as are the menus. It is far superior to any other that I have used over the years.

Now for my least favourite part of the handset, the scroll wheel.
I could not get on with the wheel at all. I found it unresponsive and tricky to use and the buttons either side of the wheel (not the softkeys) even more so. They are way too small, even to be used with fingernails.

In the image above, you can see that 5 buttons have been put into one very small space.
Soft key on the left (with the slit), then a button, then the screen wheel, then another button and then the right soft key. The buttons next to the scroll wheel are the offenders that I spoke about above. They are used for navigating left and right through menus.
Although, one redeeming factor is the menus are designed in such a way that you do not actually need to go left or right if you don’t want to, going down or up far enough will eventually take you to the icons on the left or the right of where you currently are.

Negative part over, I have thoroughly enjoyed using this phone over the past few weeks. As many of you will know, day to day I use a significantly different handset to this, the Nokia N91 (pictured to the right with the Shine).
I have found that although the LG model is a very sophisticated piece of kit and very desirable, the advanced functions that come with the Nokia N91 are far more suited to my lifestyle (4gb hard drive, wi-fi, html browser, etc.). You really do have to decide what type of phone you need and what suits you.
If you like to look swish, but don’t spend too much time navigating the menus, connecting GPS receivers and browsing the interweb, then this may just be the phone for you, it really is the Prada bag of mobile phone handsets. Expect a horde of WAG’s to be snapped by the paparazzi and adorning the pages of Closer, Heat and Hello with their LG Shine’s in hand.

See more pictures 

Looks 9/10
Features 6/10
Useability 5/10

Overall 7/10 – I do like this phone.

Alias unknown

So, sex offenders are to be required to supply their email addresses and chatroom names now when signing the register. Let’s think about this for a moment…

Obviously this is a PR stunt from the Home Office, trying to look like they are doing something to curb the crisis that is currently engulfing their department, but it also goes to show how out of touch the Home Office really is. If they think that having paedophiles, rapists and the like let them know what their email address is will stamp out these crimes, they are living in a dream world.
Addresses and aliases can be changed in a matter minutes, everybody knows this, how come Mr Reid and his department clearly do not?

Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Lycos Mail, the list goes on. Free e-mail is everywhere and who says that you have to register with your real details? And if they are setting up email accounts with which to commit crimes, do you think they are going to be afraid of breaking law one more time and not informing the authorities of this additional or change of address? I certainly do not think so.

Why ask for potentially false or easily changable information? Yes, it’s a bit of a minefield, as anything with the internet involved is very easily manipulated, but, the Police could seek to identify the sex offenders’ ISP and make it a requirement that if or when they change providers that the company has to inform the Police, not leaving it up to the convict themselves.
With the information that could be obtained from their ISP, monitoring would be far more relevant as records of websites visited can be obtained. Even if the person used an anonymous proxy to do his web-surfing, records from the ISP would be able to show this, and surely this should is where a red-flag pops up and the person is questioned as to why they are using this method to gain access to websites.

Peering into citizens internet usage habits has been written into law for some time now, the Goverment has the authority to do this, so why not use it? If it can be used for terror suspects then why not convicted paedophiles?
Hell, we’ve already given the Yank’s the authority to go through the email accounts of British citizens who wish to travel to the USA, why can the fuzz not be seen to be actively doing this domestically?

Please, don’t patronise us Mr Reid.

Correction

It has recently come to my attention that I may have given misleading information in my post “Berman in the firing line again” (24/01/07).

In light of this new information I would like to make a full retration of said article and apologise to Neil McEvoy of Plaid Cymru.

CPZ LeafletsThe leaflet that I assumed was being distributed by Rodney Berman and the Liberal Democrats was in fact not the same. The literature that was being delivered is pictured to the right and is clearly anonymous, as was originally stated by Mr McEvoy.

A referendum on the Controlled Parking Zone in Canton, Cardiff, was held on Friday 26th of January and residents voted overwhelming not to instate it in it’s current form.

No2CPZ.co.uk