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.

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