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Web Access to Your Media Center PC Content...for Free

This may sound too good to be true, or at least too good to work well, but it's for real.  If you have a media PC, go to http://www.orb.com, create an account, then download the client (really server) software onto your Media Center PC.  It downloads and installs pretty quickly, asks you a few config questions and then starts up.  You'll see a small, green Orb icon in your tray, and your media machine will feel a bit sluggish, but after a few minutes that will dissipate.  At this point, go to your router and open up outbound TCP ports 82, 85, and 86 (in your router's port triggering menu) for your media PC's IP address.  (You did give it a static IP, didn't you?)

Next, go to any PC with Windows Media Player and IE or FireFox (preferably outside your home network for a decent test), point your browser to http://my.orb.com, and login.  You now have access to all your media: music, home videos, photos and, yes, recorded TV (not just the ability to schedule recordings)!  You even have the ability to watch live TV from your media machine's tuner (though I found this to be glitchy), delete recorded shows and program new ones. 

Oh, and for music, Orb recognizes your already-created playlists.  And my understanding is that Orb works with any PC, not just Media Center gear. 

I used my Verizon EVDO cell modem to test an "oustside" connection that varies between 600Kbps and 1Mbps. The music came in at a crisp 128Kbps stream and sounded great; the video definitely had digital artifacting, but it was very watchable and the sound was great, as was my ability to seek to different parts of the recording without totally messing up the buffer.  Orb's software streams your content in Windows Media format, and does so at a bitrate that is optimized for what it has determined your host and client connection speeds to be.

Did I mention this ain't from Microsoft, and the site appears to use Java Server Pages?  Hey, I'm not implying anything, I'm just reporting the facts.

One more test you might want to try: try logging in to your Orb account from your SmartPhone!  The UI is nicely optimized for SmartPhone screens; I tried it on my Samsung i600 which runs the mobile edition of WMP 9 and recorded TV shows worked quite well the first time I tried it.  They also worked very badly when I was trying to demo it to my friend the next day.  Mind you, I don't pay for any kind of fast Internet access on my phone...I just get Verizon Wireless's Quick2Net "1G" service that, if I'm lucky, gets a 56K connection.  The speed tests that Orb performed during my failed demo told me I have a 14K connection...so I can't blame the unimpressive results on Orb.  The fact that it worked well the first time is impressive in and of itself.

And again, all this is for free.  Apparently, some syndicated content from Sony Pictures and others, which you will see injected in the UI's menus is what pays for all this.  We'll have to see if it lasts.  And if the live TV feature ends up creating legal hassles.  If not, I hope and expect to see something similar and "official" from Microsoft on MSN or WindowsMedia.com soon.  With broadband connections available in many hotels, this may really catch on with road warriors who have media PCs.

It also may end up causing some bandwidth problems for those hotels, but fiber optic to the curb connections should take care of that!



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