Monday, April 4, 2011

Twonky Media Server and Western Digital TV Live Plus

I've written a couple of times about my WD TV Live Plus media player, growing to like it a bit more all the time. The biggest breakthrough in usability was installing the Mediatomb server software on my home media server.

After being pointed at the Western Digital MyBook Live World family of products (why are these names so long?!), I had two thoughts: first, those look really cool and could easily have replaced my media serving hardware, especially with the online instructions to turn it into a webserver. Second, what is this TwonkyServer and how does it compare to Mediatomb?

Fortunately, TwonkyServer has a free trial period and is Linux friendly, so I was able to download it and play with it. Basically it's just another UPnP server and doesn't do anything fundamentally different that Mediatomb. But it does have some nice features and it's cheap, just $20. So bottom line is, I will be buying it. Here's a rundown:
  • It should go without saying, but this is not free or open software so if this matters to you, it's not an option
  • TwonkyServer serves up .m3u playlists just fine. For Mediatomb, it didn't do this in my Ubuntu install. There was some discussion of recompiling with JavaScript support and suggestions that this might be improved in future versions of Ubuntu, but it wasn't something I wanted to mess with.  TwonkyServers playlist support is good enough that it actually generated playlists out of .m3u files that didn't have the correct prefix on the paths.
  • TwonkyServer has an ArtistIndex menu selection that gives things like "ABC" "DEF" etc.,  meaning less scrolling to find what you want if you have lots of artists. I do, so I found this useful.
  • Even more useful, it deals with "Various Artists" albums in an intelligent way. I have a lot of soundtracks, collections, and especially five years worth of South By Southwest collections, so I have hundreds of artists in my collection with just a song or two. One simple configuration on Twonky's configuration web page, and all these spurious artists disappear and those files are accessible by Album or other metadata, but not by Artist.
  • Twonky lets me access my songs and photos by rating (1-5 stars). I don't have ratings set on my songs yet but I do on my photos, so this is useful. It also understands my keywords from Lightroom (subject of a future post).
  • Twonky does some transcoding of things like YouTube and various radio streams, etc. I haven't explored this a lot as the WDTV Live Plus provides a lot of this through it's dedicated applications.
  • Finally, Twonky treats a file "folder.jpg" in a music folder as the cover art for an album. It may be that Mediatomb does this too, but this is handy.
So, bottom line, TwonkyServer gives enough advantages over Mediatomb that will by buying it. I couldn't find anything that I liked about it less. It also seems quite stable. I had music streams running for days without incident.

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