By now, most people have at least heard of “cloud computing” and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), even if they’re not entirely sure what it is and how it works. Now, I’m not the most integrated circuit in the chipset. But we wanted to test this Tony Stark-level technology on someone who is more in line with the level of technical ability (“techtitude”) you could expect from the average consumer. Over the past week, I got to explore this new horizon, and I gotta say: it was a mostly painless and enjoyable experience.
Using a Samsung Captivate, Sonos ZonePlayer S5 and WD TV Live Plus HD media center, I tested Qualcomm’s Skifta project app for Android. The idea behind Skifta is that it allows you to turn your Android device into a DLNA remote control, integrating and transferring your media between your laptop, TV, game console or speaker system.
The UI is simple and nice to look at. It helps make navigating an intimidating new technology nearly effortless. But like most new technologies, Skifta is limited in that compatible devices are not prevalent in the wild. By downloading and synching with their desktop app, you’re able to take your media with you wherever you go… so long as you have a Wi-Fi connection available. However, if there are no DLNA appliances around, you’re limited to accessing your media on your handset. That’s nothing ground-breaking, but it is nice. It basically removes the middle man by eliminating the necessity to transfer the media you already own to your device. There is some lag when loading or changing songs, but it’s negligible. (It’s in no way reminiscent of RealPlayer, God have mercy on its soul). Something of note here: when trying to access files, the app returned “No media found” when attempting to list “All Music.” However, it had no problem returning results when I viewed my music via “Genre,” “Artist,” “Album,” etc.
Skifta also allows you to stream media directly from the cloud via “channels” included with the app. Unfortunately, the selection here is rather sparse. And the functionality of the channels is really nothing to write home about. As best I can tell, each music channel provides roughly 35 hours of listening time. While you are able to fast-forward and rewind, the ability to skip through individual tracks is painfully lacking. (This is a problem we haven’t had to deal with since the extinction of cassettes!).
Another shockingly outdated aspect of Skifta channels is their partnership with Napster. Like most people, I don’t have a Napster Music account. I was tempted to sign up for a free trial in order to test this part of the app, but there was no way I’d consent to give Napster my credit card information.
Other channels also include Picasa and Facebook Photos, which let you view your photos on your TV via DLNA connectivity. Personally, I would have liked to stream any online content to my television, but I didn’t see anything that would let me do so.
All this aside, Skifta really shines when you have the proper environment for it. In my living room, amidst the HD media center, Sonos wireless speakers and my trusty ASUS laptop, I was a media god. With the press of a button, bam! We got tunes from the PC on the wireless speaker. Oh? You wanna see my vacation videos from my trip to Florida? There they are, on my HD-TV.
But once the newness wore off, I realized that, in order to stream a strange underground techno song (confusingly titled “Dog Butt”) through one tiny-but-powerful speaker in the corner, I had to pause Spotify, which had been streaming a vast library of songs I don’t even own (not titled “Dog Butt”) through my Onkyo 7.1 Digital Surround Sound via my laptop and a VGA cable.
If you’re looking for an app that lets you access the media on your home devices while on the go, this isn’t it. But if you’ve already gone DLNA (or plan to do so soon) and want a handy and simple way to control your set up, this app is worth a look. Or if you’re looking for a way to impress your less tech-savvy friends and family, play around with Skifta a bit. It definitely has some “wow” factor.
Unfortunately, sometimes when you’re first to market, you have to wait for the market to come to you. As DLNA and the cloud expand, Skifta could really see some possibility for growth. Are any of you DLNA-friendly? How do you control the experience?