Tag Archives: streaming

Qobuz lossless streaming and hi-res downloads available in the UK

The French music streaming and download service Qobuz went live in the UK this month.

Qobuz has some distinctive characteristics. One is that unlike most music services (including Apple iTunes, Amazon MP3, Spotify and Xbox Music) Qobuz offers an option for uncompressed music both for streaming and download. For streaming, you can choose 16/44 CD quality, while downloads are available up to 24 bits/176.4 kHz.

High resolutions like 24/176 appeal to audiophiles even though the audible benefit from them as a music delivery format may be hard to discern. See 24/192 Music Downloads … and why they make no sense. Getting true uncompressed CD quality is easier to defend; while it may still be hard to distinguish from MP3 at a high bitrate, at least it removes any anxiety that perhaps you may be missing the last degree of fidelity.

Despite the technical doubts, better-than-CD downloads may still be worth it, if they have a superior mastering or come from a better source. This seems to be the case for some of the selections on HDtracks, for example.

One complaint I have heard about some sites offering high resolution downloads is that some of the offerings are not what they appear to be, and may be upsampled from a lower resolution. This is the audio equivalent of padding a parcel with bubblewrap, and strikes me as bad practice even if you cannot hear the difference. Qobuz says it does no such thing:

Les albums vendus par Qobuz en qualité “Qobuz Studio Masters” nous sont fournis par les labels directement. Ils ne sont pas ré-encodés depuis des SACD et nous garantissons leur provenance directe. Nous nous interdisons, pour faire grossir plus vite cette offre, les tripatouillages suspects.

which roughly translates to

The albums sold by Qobuz ‘Qobuz Studio Masters’ are provided directly by the labels. They are not re-encoded from the SACD and we guarantee their direct origin. We refuse to accelerate the growth of our catalogue by accepting suspicious upsamples.

It strikes me as odd that Qobuz insist that their hi-res downloads are “not re-encoded from SACD” but that its highest resolution is 24/176.4 which is what you get if you convert an SACD to PCM, rather than 24/192 which is the logical format for audio captured directly to PCM.

Qobuz has mobile apps for Android and iOS, but not Windows Phone. There is a Windows 8 store app, but I could not find it, perhaps for regional reasons. There is also integration with Sonos home streaming equipment.

I had a quick look and signed up for a 7-day trial. If I want to subscribe, a Premium subscription (MP3) costs £9.99 per month, and a Hi-Fi subscription (16/44) is £19.99 per month.

Navigating the Qobuz site and applications is entertaining, and I was bounced regularly between UK and French sites, sometimes encountering other languages such as Dutch.

I installed the Windows desktop app is fine when it works, though a few searches seems to make it crash on my system. I soon found gaps in the selection available too. Most of David Bowie’s catalogue is missing, so too Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. You will not go short of music though; there are hundreds of thousands of tracks.

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I also tried downloading. I installed the downloader, despite a confusing link in English and French that said “you are going to install the version for Macintosh.”

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The downloader quietly downloads your selections in the background, just as well for those large 24/176 selections.

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If you hate the idea of lossy compression, or want high-resolution downloads, Qobuz is worth a look. It would be good though if the site were less confusing for English users.

You can subscribe to Qobuz here.

Farewell to the Squeezebox

It looks as if Logitech has discontinued the Squeezebox, a range of devices for playing music streamed from the free Logitech Media Server. Logitech also runs a streaming service on the internet, Mysqueezebox.com, which supports internet radio, Spotify integration and more.

The Squeezebox devices are no longer on sale on Logitech’s web site, and a press release announces the Logitech UE range. This includes wireless speakers which play music via Bluetooth, a Smart Radio that connects to internet streaming radio and other services, earphones and headphones.

But what of Squeezebox? Here is the nearest I can find to an official announcement:

We’ve just announced our new brand, Logitech UE, and with it merging the design/engineering capability of Logitech and the Squeezebox product with the music know how of Ultimate Ears. We are positioning this new brand to serve music lovers across a wide range of music listening device, and amongst them the Logitech® UE Smart Radio.

Important for you to know, The UE Smart Radio can play alongside your Logitech Squeezebox products, but will operate and be controlled separately and will no longer receive updates. The team is working hard on releasing in a few weeks an optional software update for existing Squeezebox Radio users. This update will allow Squeezebox Radios to upgrade to the new Logitech UE Smart Radio experience.

Rest assured that the Squeezebox platform you’ve been enjoying over the years will continue to provide you access to a rich world of music and we’ll continue to address any questions or troubleshooting on our Logitech.com support page.

The news is sad but not surprising. Logitech is struggling with declining revenue and losses, and there are various reasons why the Squeezebox system no longer looks strategic. It works alongside iTunes but does not fit all that well with Apple products, it has always been a little bit too techie, and the era of filling huge hard drives at home with your music is probably in decline, thanks to internet streaming. I have been meaning to post about the good results I get from Google Music on the Nexus tablet, and of course there is Spotify.

I still love Squeezebox. If you want the uncompromised quality of lossless audio combined with multi-room support, where each player can play something different, it is a fantastic and cost-effective system. The Squeezebox Touch, reviewed here, is appreciated by audiophiles for its high quality audio.

Squeezebox might still be a viable for a company like Slim Devices, the original creator of the system, but makes less sense for a mass market company like Logitech, which acquired Slim Devices in 2006.

My thanks to the Squeezebox team for transforming audio at home for me and thousands of others.

Update: if you are wondering what is the future for Logitech Media Server (LMS) see this thread which has comment from a Logitech engineer. There is a new media server called UE Music Library (UEML) which is simplified compared to LMS and has no player control: the UE Radio can simply select music from the library and play it. No random play in UEML. UE Radio will not play music from LMS as far as I can tell. LMS is not going to receive major updates but will be supported with maintenance fixes for the time being.

Review: Broadway 2T network TV streamer for PC and iPad or mobile device

If you feel like watching TV on your PC or mobile device, there are a host of options, including live TV on the internet, or add-on TV cards or USB devices that attach to a PC or Mac. Once you have TV playing on your computer, there are apps which will let you stream it to a mobile device such as an Apple iPhone, iPad or Android tablet.

Another option which I saw at the recent Digital Winter event in London is Elgato’s eyetv, which attaches to an iPad port, and the portable tivizen which streams TV over wi-fi.

Lots of options; but also plenty to go wrong. Most of the devices use DVB-T digital TV, which in the UK enables all the Freeview channels, but getting a good enough signal from a portable aerial is a challenge. Installing a PC card works well if you connect it to a rooftop aerial, but it does mean messing with drivers and application software; and then further hassles if you want to watch elsewhere in the house.

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Broadway 2T, from pctv systems (part of Hauppauge Digital Inc) takes a more flexible and potentially hassle-free approach. This is a TV card (not HD) with internet streaming software in a wi-fi connected box. Plug-in, and you can stream TV on any device round the house, or even over the internet when you are out and about.

That is the idea anyway, and I put it to the test with a review unit. It is a box about the size of a stack of 4 CDs, with twin aerials for wi-fi connection.

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On the back are a range of ports, including wired ethernet, TV aerial, inputs for analog CVBS and S-Video and audio, two USB ports and an IR blaster connection.

There is also a USB port on the front; but all the USB ports are documented as “for future use”. It would make sense if in some future version you could connect directly to a PC over USB; but why three ports will be useful in future is something of a mystery.

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There is also a collection of cables: power, internal aerial, ethernet, IR blaster marked “For future use” but now enabled, and screws for wall mounting.

I have what is probably the ideal setup for Broadway 2T: a rooftop aerial connection and wired ethernet with a wi-fi access point. The internal aerial is unlikely to be much use unless you live in a area of particularly strong signal.

I connected the unit and fired up a web browser. If you browse to http://distan.tv/ the remote web site runs a script that detects the local PCTV, so it is no trouble to find on the network. I ran the setup wizard, including a channel scan and setting passwords for admin and TV access, and was rewarded with 44 channels found.

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Next, I browsed to the page on iPhone, iPad and PC and was able to select a channel and watch straight away. No drivers needed; and the Flash video on a PC is replaced by an iOS-friendly H.264 stream automatically when needed.

Here it is on an iPad; PC is similar.

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and on iPhone

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Of course there is a full-screen view.

You can also get at all the settings from any web browser.

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So far so good; but one flaw is that there is no program guide in the web view. You have to discover what is on elsewhere.

The next step was to install the PC software (Windows only) which adds features including a program guide, pause/resume and recording. This involves installing an application called TV Center from the supplied CD.

At this point the hassle-free experience disappeared. The software installed but while it detected the Broadway 2T, it could not find any channels. I also puzzled over the settings. Did my unit have an Antenna, or an Aerial system? Why was the Antenna Configuration option disabled?

The CD also installs a driver for Windows 7 media center, and I tried that too. Again, the unit was detected, but no channels found.

Eventually I discovered that you need to install a patch from the PCTV web site before the PC software or Media Center will work with Broadway 2T firmware above 2.5. After that, the TV Center application worked, but I still found it unpredictable and not much fun to use. Sometimes it opens as a transparent window, and has to be coaxed into displaying TV by twiddling with the settings.

Microsoft’s Media Center software is nicer to use, though it is really designed for use with a remote. A bonus though is that if you do not mind keeping your PC on, you can use the Media Center nicely from an Xbox 360.

The Broadway 2T has dual DVB tuners, which is meant to mean that you can record one channel while watching another, or watch different channels on different devices. This does work, but I found the unit reluctant to let go of a channel even when not actually playing, which causes errors.

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I feel that the application could handle this better. For example, why not show a list of which channels are in use and give an option to turn one off? On occasion I resorted to rebooting, which you can do through the browser.

Overall the software is indifferent in quality and lacks polish.

If you want to view over the internet while out and about, you can do this by forwarding a port on your router to the Broadway 2T box. It would be best to reserve its IP address or use a static IP before doing this. The port is 80 by default, but can be changed. Remote viewing works fine provided that you have a good wi-fi connection. If you succeed in watching over 3G, beware the high data transfer as well as poor quality if the connection is weak.

The IR Blaster lets you use Broadway 2T with a set-top box such as satellite TV. Connect the output from the box to the input on the Broadway 2T, then connect the IR Blaster cable so that the Broadway 2T can control the set-top box by emulating the commands of a remote control. I did not try this feature.

Summary and verdict

I enjoyed having live TV available on any network-connected device around the house, and this combined with easy setup of the browser-based streaming is the main advantage of the Broadway 2T. Viewing TV remotely is a bonus.

The poor quality of the Windows-only software counts against the unit though, and I would have preferred a better browser-based app and to forget the PC application.

It is easy to imagine how this could be improved. Attach some USB storage, improve the server app, and there is no reason in principle why this box could not handle PVR (personal video recorder) functions as well as supporting an EPG (Electronic Program Guide), though I have no idea what PCTV has in mind for those spare ports.

Nevertheless, this is a useful device even with its current limitations.