Review: Pure Sensia internet radio and streaming media player doodad

Posted in Gadgets, Tech on January 16th, 2012 by Andy
The Pure Sensia media player

It's pretty sleek

A new gadget landed in my kitchen over the festive season, an all-signing, all-dancing DAB/FM radio with network media playback and internet streaming functions, disguised as a Martian rugby ball.

Sounds like a mouthful, but it basically takes music or audio from anywhere and boshes it out. Available sources include:

  • FM radio
  • DAB radio
  • UPNP/DLNA media servers on your network
  • Internet radio stations
  • Pure’s “The Lounge” content service

It comes with a touchscreen and a small RF remote. The latter is perfectly good for adjusting volume, but not much else. Actually switching sources and browsing is done on the screen, which is adequate, but often a little sluggish. TBH we’ve got used to better touchscreens in the last few years and this one isn’t quite up to par. Changing volume is particularly fiddly, and I haven’t even got fat fingers. Overall that’s a relatively minor inconvenience, and it’s not so bad you’ll be smashing it in rage.

Setup is very easy, it will find and connect to your wifi easily, and if you’ve already got a UPNP media server sloshing out music across your network connecting to it is straightforward. Likewise “The Lounge”, which provides a web interface you can log in to from any computer and subscribe to podcasts and the like. There’s also full access to all 6 bazillion internet radio stations, and a nice search tool to cut through them to find what you want.

Overall it’s very easy to hook up to a vast amount of content, which is exactly what we wanted for a device like this. But don’t fool yourself, this machine will not replace your main hifi. Sound quality is to be honest a little disappointing. It’s perfectly good enough for some tunes to cook or wash up to, but it has neither the volume nor the quality to do your favourites full justice.

On the plus side power usage is negligible, and the screen has a nice cheerful clock on it when you turn the radio off. There’s the obligatory nod towards “apps” but beyond some basic Twitter/Facebook/Picasa integration there’s not much going on in that department, and who actually wants to stare at their radio reading tweets anyway?

In general this gadget has the right idea, too many internet/radio mashups are missing critical parts of the picture. But the Pure Sensia does include the important bits: FM/DAB radio, internet streaming, network streaming, integrated speakers, and a decent sized touchscreen. Sure, some of those features need a bit of work, and if you want them ironed out your should probably wait for the new Sensia 200 to hit the market, but I’d still recommend the current Sensia as a massive upgrade from your current kitchen tranny.

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How to build a Media Centre PC

Posted in Computers, Gadgets, Howto, Tech on November 11th, 2009 by Andy

Why watch those downloads on your PC, when you can watch them in comfort on your TV?

Why watch those downloads on your PC, when you can watch them from the comfort of the sofa?

The plan:

Watch video and photos and listen to mp3 music stored on our home network through the normal TV and stereo in the living room.

Issues:

  1. Must have low power consumption
  2. Must be quiet
  3. Must boot fast
  4. Must be stable and low-maintenance
  5. Cheap is good!

What:

Mini-ITX based PC with a decent processor and onboard graphics, squeezed into a tiny wee case.

Why:

For a while now most of us have had two cool things in our homes: a home entertainment system and a network. But how can we get all our great digital content onto that nice big TV and hifi in the living room? The answer is a media centre PC.

How:

Hardware:

  • Jetway JNC-62K Motherboard with onboard Nvidia 8200 graphics card
  • AMD Athlon X2 e4850 high efficiency CPU
  • Silverstone NT07-AM2 low-profile heatsink/fan.
  • 1GB RAM
  • 80GB SATA hard drive
  • Terratec Aureon PCI sound card with S/PDIF
  • Jou Jye NU-528i-B case with internal 73W power supply.
  • Wireless keyboard with built-in trackpad
  • TOSlink optical cable to get shiny digital sound to the hifi

Software:

How much?

Grand total was £269 (+P&P), sourced from mini-ITX.com, Advance Technologies, and dabs.com.

>>> Enough talk, show me how it’s done! >>>

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Amarok 2 is a mess

Posted in Computers, Ubuntu on April 29th, 2009 by Andy
wolf

The bones of an extinct Amarok

I’ve been a massive Amarok fan for ages, even though I use Gnome. So imagine my disappointment when I upgraded to the new release (Amarok 2) and discovered my favorite music player is now a complete turkey.

What previously was an easy-to-use, full featured music player  is now a clunky conglomeration of broken junk. That’s a massive shame, as previous incarnations knocked the socks off anything available on any OS. And don’t get me wrong, I tried to get used to the new look. But after finding myself still struggling against the interface after several weeks i’ve decided enough is enough, and Amarok has been ditched.

It’s not just me either. It looks like lot of folks hate the new Amarok. Some of this is bound to be garden variety resistance to change, but from the comments a lot of people (like me) genuinely wanted to like Amarok 2, but just don’t.

C’est la vie. Amarok is gone and Banshee
has replaced it. So far i’m pleasantly surprised. Very pleasantly. Banshee seems to be doing everything Amarok did, but faster and in some cases slightly easier. Which just goes to show that a nasty surprise can sometimes be a good thing.

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Creative Zen MP3 vs Ubuntu

Posted in Gadgets, Howto, Ubuntu on January 9th, 2009 by Andy
The Zen, showing the sexy red default theme

The Zen, showing the sexy red default theme

I recently got my mitts on one of Creative’s excellent Zen MP3 players. The short story:

  • 16GB of storage. Up to 24GB if you want to bung an SD card into it.
  • Clear and bright 2.5″ screen, easily good enough for watching video.
  • It’s tiny. Smaller than a credit card and <1cm thick.
  • FM radio, photo galleries, calendar, EQ.

Like most electronic gizmos it comes with a CD chock full of Windows software. But who wants to boot into Windows just to use their MP3? Let’s look at some Linux alternatives (all of which are in the Ubuntu repos)

Music & Video transfer

The Zen uses the MTP protocol to transfer stuff. That’s a proprietary Microsoft thing, but luckily Banshee can jive with MTP.  The other music players like Rythmbox will do the same. If you’ve got Banshee to pull down the album art that’ll get transferred as well.

Video Encoding

As I mentioned, this player has an excellent little screen, but if you want to play video on it, you’ll have to re-encode it to the right format and size. Cue Arista Transcoder.  It has presets for the Zen that make getting your encoding settings as simple as one button.  Plus it’s fast!

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