Wireless Media Shenanigans

This is a two part post. The second part was written several weeks after the first. They describe my attempt to get video playback of iTunes movies and TV programmes using a wireless hard disk.

Part 1: Pre Holiday

I wrote about the Seagate Wireless Plus just over a year ago. Since then I’ve used it occasionally, and on the whole, it has performed well. Problems of dropped connections and occasional flakiness seem to have been fixed by various firmware and software upgrades… Until IOS 8, which has somehow interfered with the playback of DRM content from iTunes. The selection of a film or TV programme from within the media manager correctly opens Safari for playback, but loading never completes and the movie never plays.

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Seagate Wireless Plus

I love my iPad. It has lots of stuff on it — apps, photos, books, music videos, … … So much, in fact, that there’s not a lot of spare space (next upgrade will be the 128 GB model) for movies and TV shows that I’d like to watch when I go away. I just got the HD version of The Hobbit from iTunes: it’s 6 GB and wouldn’t fit on the iPad without some drastic surgery.

A possible solution seemed to be the Seagate Wireless Plus. It has a 1 TB disk and generates its own wireless network to which the iPad (or any other suitable device—Android and Kindle have their own apps) can be connected. Apparently, up to 3 separate, simultaneous broadcasts are possible. It certainly worked with my iPad and iPad Mini with no obvious degradation of performance.

Conclusion

I haven’t used the Wireplus+ in the wild yet, but after a couple of days messing about, the bottom line is that this seems to be a pretty nifty gadget. When you switch the thing on, it broadcasts a wireless network (the range is supposed to be up to 150 feet/45m). Select this network in the iDevice settings, start the Seagate Media app and you’re away—ready to play whatever content you have loaded. Content that is not DRM-protected plays inside the app, films/videos from iTunes play in the Safari browser, provided the iPad is authorised on the relevant iTunes account. The Wireless+ is only 254 gms plus cable and charger.

Set-up

Set-up of the Wireless+ was pretty straightforward:

  1. Turn on to start the wireless network.
  2. Download the Seagate Media app.
  3. Connect to the Seagate wireless network in IOS settings.
  4. Run the app and configure the network. At this point, you can change the network SSID and set a password. You can also now specify your normal wireless network (inside the Seagate app), so you have normal Internet connectivity when using the Wireless+.
  5. A final step for Mac users, is to plug the drive into USB port (USB 3 downwards-compatible with USB 2), and run an installer that is supplied on the drive.

Operation

To use the Wireless+, just turn it on to start the network. A blue LED flashes while the network initialises; it takes several seconds for the blue light to become solid. My experience has been that this time can vary quite a bit.

You must change the IOS settings to choose the Seagate network each time. Possibly, the iPad might connect automatically, if there are no other networks around.

Run the app and play content. The app has display options to change how the available files are displayed. Different media types can be filtered, and can be shown by folders. After loading a few dozen TV episodes and a few films, this seems to be an easier way to find what you are looking for as the media display is a bit overwhelming.

The Wireless+ has a battery; 10 hours usage is claimed. I haven’t checked this, but this means you could have your own film library on long-haul flights.

Loading Content

The simplest and quickest way to do this is plug the drive into your computer and copy files to it. I found that for iTunes stuff, it was best to use copy rather than drag-and-drop, so as not to risk messing the iTunes library. The wireless network does not broadcast when plugged into a USB port.

The Wireless+ does appear as a shared device in Finder on my iMac. It’s possible to copy content, but I wouldn’t advise it: sloooow.

I discovered that it is possible to manage the Wireless+ content using FileBrowser on the iPad. This makes it easier to reorganise your content, if you choose to. This also means you can copy from other sources, such as Dropbox. It does work, but it’s not for regular use—slower than paint drying.

Problems

Files don’t always copy correctly

More than once, I have copied a group of files from my iMac via USB 3. Most files transfer correctly, but occasionally there’s a problem, which isn’t indicated during the copy process. What happens is that the Seagate Media app subsequently refuses to play a video file with an error message about incompatible format. It does appear that these faulty files can be identified because the video icon is generic, whereas normal files have in icon that displays the movie or TV episode information. The solution is to re-copy the files, but I’m not absolutely certain that this always cures the problem.

Quick Start instructions a little too quick

Initial set-up is straightforward, but after I got to the Mac-specific bits, things got a little flakey. I’m not entirely certain what went wrong or how I managed to fix things. At one point, I had to do a paperclip reset of the Wireless+. I’ve since discovered there’s online manual. Since it’s a PDF, it would have been sensible to include it on the disk. Anyway, as I’ve said, every things seems to be OK now.

iTunes Match: the shade of Steve Jobs will be steaming

The introduction of iTunes Match seems like an even bigger cock-up than the introduction of MobileMe – in the UK, at least, which is all I can talk about.

I’ve been an iTunes user for a long time – probably since near the beginning of iTunes on Windows. I was seduced by the iPod and further motivated by running out of storage space for my collection of CDs, which must have been around 1,000-strong by that time. Not a huge collection by some standards, but taking up too much square footage on my office wall. So I ripped ’em and became a slave to the instant gratification of the Buy button.

Match seemed like a no brainer: all music available everywhere, 256 Kbps DRM-free versions and an effective back-up in the cloud. And to be fair, all these things may prove to be true. But three days in, I’m still trying to get my iTunes library matched and sync’d.

After two or three betas, the nightmare of getting everything set up seems incredible. I would have expected Apple to have resolved most of the shit by now. Signing up was bad; it took several attempts to complete the process. Having done that, signing on to iTunes was screwed for, maybe, 15 or 18 hours, because valid user IDs and passwords were rejected. The popular theory was that the Apple’s servers were blitzed. This was a cause of major panic until I realised it wasn’t just me.

Having got past the first hurdle, there are three further steps for iTunes Match: collect information about the library, match tracks against the iTunes catalogue, upload any tracks that couldn’t be matched. The fun really begins here: I have lost count of how many times iTunes has hung during the first two steps. And it is not just iTunes, but the entire machine that locks, requiring a power off-on cycle. This is more of a pain than usual because it’s necessary to watch the restart and catch iTunes to either stop the current step or force-quit the application; otherwise the current Match step would continue and almost immediately the app would hang again.

Of course, every restart of Match begins again at the beginning. And with over 18,000 items to process, this takes a while. Checking on the Apple user forums, I discover that Match tags some tracks with “error” as the iCloud status. It is these errors that cause the hangs. The workaround is to delete and trash the tracks from the catalogue. The deleted tracks can be recovered from trash; so in theory, nothing is lost – but I have yet to confirm that these tracks can be safely reintroduced.

This is major pain, made even worse because not all errors are identified on the first pass. Multiple iterations of steps 1-2-hang-restart-interrupt-delete tracks-recover from trash-start Match are needed. Eventually, I get to the point where Step 3 starts to upload unmatched tracks. But this doesn’t mean an end to the grief because the upload process – some 5,000 tracks to go – hangs as well before more than a few percent have been processed. I’ve now got the stage of of stopping the upload after 200ish tracks, so I can quit iTunes correctly to “bank” the work. I’m still going through this loop with 2,300 tracks remaining.

It’s reported that Steve Jobs was incandescent with rage after the initial embarrassment of MobileMe. Frankly, this seems an even bigger fiasco. I hope it’s not indicative of complacency from Apple.

If you haven’t yet signed up for iTunes Match, my advice is to wait: first, to let the immediate rush pass and secondly, hopefully Apple will make some improvements. In the meantime, here are three links that I have found helpful in addition to the Apple user forums.

Bugs & Fixes: Three essential iTunes Match troubleshooting tips

iTunes Match: What You Need To Know

How to upgrade tracks to iTunes Match, fast

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