Two nights ago, I was pretty intent on getting at music on my Windows Home Server from anywhere but my home. While I was successful to some extent, I experienced failure as well. Using Firefly Media Server and the Fireplay add-in, I was able to stream music to any web browser — provided that browser supports Flash. That’s fine for my computers when I’m on the road, but it’s of no use when I simply want to use a handset. Neither my Apple iPhone nor my Palm Pre supports Flash yet, so I wasn’t happy with the solution in place.
I spent a good four hours researching my options between then and now. Many of you offered great suggestions and I hit those first: LogMeIn, Simplify Media, Orb, Webguide, and SqueezeCenter all got a look. I then kept sleuthing and found several other possibilities: LobsterTunes, icecast / ShoutCAST, Subsonic and more crossed my browser.
In the end, many of the solutions were constrained by the Flash requirement or offered solutions specific to a particular type of handset. Ultimately, I want total freedom in the devices I use, so a tool for a specific mobile platform isn’t the answer. So after several hours of research, I took VP’s suggestion and revisited an old friend: Orb. The software not only works with my iPhone and Palm Pre, but it’s among the easiest server solutions to implement.
Over at the We Got Served wiki, I found all of the simple steps to get Orb running on my Windows Home Server box. Orb is pretty straightforward to get going and I’ve used it several times before, but I hit up the wiki just to sure I didn’t overlook anything. It was basically just a simple, standard Windows installation with very little configuration. All I really had to do after the installation was point out my shared Music folder to the Orb server. I also set up the family with user names and accounts since they have mobile devices and we have one centralized libary on the Windows Home Server now.
Once Orb is running, it’s easy to get at the tunes on an iPhone, but not so much on a Palm Pre. I’ll get to that in a second. For an iPhone or iPod Touch, you simply point your mobile browser at http://mycast.org.com, log in and start to navigate through the music library. There’s nothing to configure here — just pick your tunes and the stream will open up in the iPhone QuickTime application. That’s not the case with the Palm Pre.
Orb will try to use the built in music player of your mobile device and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what audio streams the Pre’s player natively supports. In fact, I couldn’t get any audio to stream on the Pre, even though I could hit up my library in the browser. Once again, a little research did the trick. The handy PreCentral forums have a great guide for getting Orb to work with the Palm Pre. The key is to configure Orb to send the proper audio stream. In the case of the Pre, that stream format is “3GP-AAC/RTSP fromat (.3gp)” If you don’t configure this correctly on your Pre, you’ll simply end up with errors when trying to play audio.
After choosing the correct stream setting, I was good to go. I tested the setup by turning Wi-Fi off on both of my phones. Using the iPhone, I connected to the Orb server on my WHS machine and began to stream some Big & Rich. Once that was playing, I used the Pre to stream some KT Tunstall from Orb. It worked flawlessly, although it confused the heck out of my ears. ;)
Thanks to everyone for the great suggestions and especially to VP for reiterating the Orb option. There are plenty of media streaming add-ins and server solutions out there, but for a diversity of devices, Orb is looking like the best approach for my needs. The beauty of this solution the large list of supported devices you can use with Orb — from feature-phones to smartphones to gaming consoles, it’s a solid solution.
Now that I have it working, I put a shortcut to Orb on both of my phones for one-touch music streaming capabilities. When I was originally purchasing the Palm Pre, I was lamenting the 8GB of flash storage since my digital media library is larger than that. Thanks to an always-on connection and the WHS box, I’ve put that concern in the Recycle Bin for deletion.