Using the iPod Nano 6th gen with Ubuntu

440x330-ipod-nano6gen-frontToday I spent 3 hours wrestling with a secondhand ipod Nano, 6th gen (the “6” is the killer) for a friend, trying to make it work happily with Ubuntu.

Having never actually owned an iPod myself, only iPhone and iPad, it was a vaguely educational experience too. I found nearly no useful information on dozens of fora – all of them only reporting either “it works” without checking the generation, or “it doesn’t work” with no resolution, or “it should work” with no evidence. Yay Linux!

There were two issues to address – firstly making the iPod block storage device visible to Linux and secondly finding something to manage the unconventional media database on the iPod itself.

It turned out that most iPods, certainly early generations, work well with Linux but this one happened not to. Most iPods are supported via libgpod, whether you’re using Banshee, Rhythmbox, even Amarok (I think) and others. I had no luck with Rhythmbox, Banshee, gtkpod, or simple block storage access for synchronising music.

It also turns out that Spotify one of my other favourite music players doesn’t use libgpod, which looked very promising.

So the procedure I used to get this one to work went something like this:

  1. Restore and/or initialise the iPod using the standard procedure with iTunes (I used iTunes v10 and latest iPod firmware 1.2) on a Windows PC. Do not use iTunes on OSX. Using OSX results in the iPod being formatted using a not-well-supported filesystem (hfsplus with journalling). Using Windows results in a FAT filesystem (mounted as vfat under Linux).Having said that, I did have some success making the OSX-initialised device visible to Linux but it required editing fstab and adding:
    /dev/sdb2 /media/ipod hfsplus user,rw,noauto,force 0 0

    which is pretty stinky. FAT-based filesystems have been well supported for a long time – best to stick with that. Rhythmbox, the player I was trying at the time, also didn’t support the new media database. It appeared to copy files on but failed every time, complaining about unsupported/invalid database checksums. According to various fora the hashes need reverse engineering.

  2. Install the Ubuntu Spotify Preview using the Ubuntu deb (not the Wine version). I used the instructions here.
  3. I have a free¬†Spotify account, which I’ve had for ages and might not be possible to make any more. I was worried that not having a premium or unlimited account wouldn’t let me use the iPod sync, but in the end it worked fine. The iPod was seen and available in Spotify straight away and allowed synchronisation of specific playlists or all “Local Files”.¬†In the end as long as Spotify was running and the iPod connected, I could just copy files directly into my ~/Music/ folder and Spotify would sync it onto the iPod immediately.

Superb, job done! (I didn’t try syncing any pictures)

 

Thoughts on the WDTV Live Streaming Multimedia Player

A couple of weeks ago I had some Amazon credit to use and I picked up a Western Digital TV Live. I’ve been using it on and off since then and figured I’d jot down some thoughts.

Looks

Well how does it look? It’s small for starters, smaller than a double-CD case if you can remember those, around an inch deep. Probably a little larger than the Cyclone players although I don’t have any of those to compare with. It’s also very light indeed – not having a hard disk or power supply built in means the player itself can’t have much more than a motherboard in. I imagine the heaviest component is probably a power regulator heatsink or the case itself. It doesn’t sound like it has any fans in either which means there’s no audible running noise. I’ve wall-wart power bricks which make more running noise than this unit.

Mounting is performed using a couple of recesses on the back. I put a single screw into the VESA mount on the back of the kitchen TV and hung the WDTV from that. The infrared receiver seems pretty receptive just behind the top of the TV, facing upwards and the heaviest component to worry about is the HDMI or component AV cable – not a big deal at all.

Interface

The on-screen interface is pleasant and usable once you work your way around the icons and menus. The main screens – Music/Video/Services/Settings are easy enough but the functionality of the coloured menus isn’t too clear until you’ve either played around with them enough, or read the manual (haha). Associating to Wifi is a bit of a pain if you have a long WPA key as the soft keyboard isn’t too great. I did wonder if it’s possible to attach a USB keyboard just to enter passwords etc. but I didn’t try that out.

Connecting to NFS and SMB/CIFS shared drives is relatively easy. It helps if the shares are already configured to allow guest access or have a dedicated account for media players for example. The WDTV Live really wants read-write access for any shares you’re going to use permanently so it can generate its own indices. I like navigating folders and files rather than special device-specific libraries so I’m not particularly keen on this, but if it improves the multimedia experience so be it. I’ve enough multimedia devices in the house now, each with their own method of indexing that remembering which index folders from device A need to be ignored device B is becoming a bit of a nuisance. I haven’t had more than the usual set of problems with sending remote audio to the WDTV Live from a bunch of different Android devices, or using it as a Media Renderer from the DiskStation Audio Station app.

The remote control feels solid, with positive button actions and a responsive receiver. It’s laid out logically I guess, by which I mean it’s laid out in roughly the same way as most other video & multimedia remote controls I’ve used.

Firmware Updates

So normally I expect to buy some sort of gadget like this, use it for a couple of months, find a handful of bugs and never receive any firmware updates for it ever again. However I’ve been pleasantly surprised. In the two weeks I’ve had the WDTV I’ve had two firmware updates, one during the initial installation and the most recent in the last couple of days to address, amongst other things, slow frontend performance when background tasks are running (read “multimedia indexing on network shares” here). I briefly had a scan around the web to see if there was an XBMC port and there didn’t appear to be although there were some requests. I haven’t looked to see what CPU the WDTV has inside but it’s probably a low power ARM or Broadcom or similar so would take some effort to port XBMC to (from memory I seem to recall there is an ARM port in the works though). The regular firmware is downloadable and hackable however and there’s at least one unofficial version around.

Performance

Video playback has been smooth on everything I’ve tried. The videos I’ve played back have all been different formats, different container formats, different resolutions etc. and all streamed over 802.11G wifi and ethernet. I didn’t have any trouble with either type of networking so I haven’t checked to see whether the wired port is 100Mbps or 1GbE. I haven’t tried USB playback and there’s no SD card slot, which you might expect.

Audio playback is smooth although the interface took a little getting used to. I’ve been used to the XBMC and Synology DSAudio style of Queue/Play but this device always seems to queue+play which is actually what you want a lot of the time. I don’t have a digital audio receiver so I haven’t tried the SPDIF out.

Picture playback is acceptable but I found the transitions pretty jumpy, at least with 12 and 14Mpx images over wifi.

Conclusions

Overall I’m pretty happy with this device. It’s cheap, small, quiet and unobtrusive but packs a fair punch in terms of features. My biggest gripe is that it’s really slow doing its indexing. I thought the reason could have been because it was running over wifi but even after attaching it to a wired network it’s taken three days solid scanning our family snaps and home videos (a mix of still-camera video captures, miniDV transfers and HD camcorder). It doesn’t give you an idea of how far it’s progressed or how much is left to go so the only option seems to be to leave it and let it run. I did also have an initial problem where the WDTV didn’t detect it had HDMI plugged in, preferring to use the composite video out. Unscientifically, at the same time as I updated the firmware I reversed the cable so I don’t know quite what fixed it but it seems to have been fine since.

If I had to give an overall score for the WDTV Live, I’d probably say somewhere around 8/10.

 

Bookmarks for July 20th through September 15th

These are my links for July 20th through September 15th:

Bookmarks for January 29th through February 3rd

These are my links for January 29th through February 3rd: