Saturday, July 01, 2006

This Weekends Project

So as you can probably tell I am little obsessed with music especially if it is digital in nature (you can look back the longest article I have written). Well I had a little spare time over the weekend to play around with webservers and specialized music streaming servers. I am going to go into a little indepth of what I played with, pros and cons, and final thoughts.

So let me start by saying I sometimes have a little too much time on my hands, but in reality setting up 3 different streaming servers actually did not take that long. Probably work wise maybe 1.5 hrs. My goal with this was to see the flexability of the technologies, how complicated they were to user and setup, and to see if they would ultimately work to stream music to my PDA to create a WIFI porable audio player. Out of the 3 only one really allowed me to stream music properly to my PDA. Let me start with the first software package
Vibe Streamer.


The Vibe Streamer software was pretty easy to setup and use. It offers pretty strong security which is always a plus when you open up your computer to the public. Actually since I have never setup a public webserver before the most difficult step for me was figuring out how to configure my router to allow access. Once I figured that out the rest was a breeze.

The most basic setup instructions for setting up the vibe streamer would be as follows:

1. install the software to the default location
2. Open the software and go to the User's and groups tab and setup a user. This is as simple as giving it a name and password (always recommended).
3. Next go to Sharing and add a folder with MP3s in it (It should automatically index the directory).
4. In the settings tab you can give the server a name and this is where you setup the port and ip address to access the server. Normally setting the IP adress to (All unassigned) will work.
5. Next go to the security tab and add access to the user you created and the ip address they are coming from. You do not have to restict access, but this is always highly recommended.
6. Finally go the Stream Server tab and click start. Once this step is done it should tell you the status is "Online"
7. Now to access the website from a browser you would do something like
http://your-ip-address:8081
8. This will prompt you with a password challenge box. Once you enter the correct password that you setup for your user in the second step you will now be able to stream music.

Setting it up was simple enough and the I like the fact that you do not have to have any additional software intalled on the client side to play the music becuase it is a complete web based interface. With that said There are some quirks with the software. I found that navigating the playlists to be a bit cumbersome. In order to create a playlist you would first have to add songs to the top play second, go to the playlist tab, create a new playlist, then click save. This is pretty simple until you have to add or remove songs from the playlist. You have to first load the entire playlist song by song to the top, delete or add the music you want, then click save again. If you could easily edit the playlists it would help quite a bit.

The other issue I have with it is that as I said in the beginning in the article the ultimate goal was to play it on my PDA. The web interface although perfect for a desktop just does not work on the PDA even using multiple browsers. This and the play list issue means that I was a bit disappointed overall with the package, but as time goes on I am sure they will make updates and hopefully address these issues.

Next up is Shoutcast from Nullsoft the incredible makers of Winamp (now owned by AOL where customer satisfaction is #1). Seeing as Winamp is one of the polished and complete digital audio players it is not hard to imagine that shoutcast is the same. Where as the previous server was strictly play on demand this server is primarily streaming, but can also handle play on demand. The difference play on demand allows for the individual user to control what songs they listen to. Streaming on the other hand is completely chosen by the person in charge of the streaming server similar to a radio station. The pro is that you do not have to worry about choosing music and a lot of the time you can stream line the broadcast to a certain genre. The Con is that you cannot explicitly choose what you are listening to.

Setup of the shoutcast server was a bit more complex than the last software application.

1. First download the software from
Shoutcast.
2. Run the installation and accept the defaults. This will allow you to work within the GUI rather than the command line version of the server.
3. Next create a shortcut of the following file onto your desktop: c:\program files\shoutcast\sc_serv.exe.
4. Double click on the newly created icon and click on "Edit Config".
5. Really the only thing I changed in this file was the password (again it is always good to change the defaults). There are a ton of options to change, but for the most basic we should not even worry about these.
6. Now since we have the server we have to provide the content. In this case since we will be streaming the content in realtime we will use the Winamp media player for the content provider.
7. Go to
http://www.shoutcast.com/downloads/shoutcast-dsp-1-8-2b-windows.exe. Download, save, and run this file.
8. Open Winamp and click Ctrl-P to go to the Preferences screen. LocatePlugins->DSP/Effect and choose the Nullsoft SHOUT cast Souce DSP.
9. A SHOUTcast Source screen will then appear.
10. Click on the Output tab and choose output 1. Then click on the Connect button.
11. You can leave the address as localhost if the source is on the same machine otherwise you will want this to e the ip address that is running the shoutcast server software
12. In the password bbox please enter the password that you changed in Step 5.
13. Leave Encoder to 1. Then click on the Encoder Tab
14. Make sure Encoder 1 is chosen and it is set to MP3 Encoder. You can set the encoder settings to whatever you want
15. At this point you can now start the shoutcast server or restart it.
16. Make sure ont he SHOUTcast Source you are still connected to the the server
17. Start playing a song in winamp
18. Go to a webbrowser and put in the following path:
http://your-ip-address:8000/listen.pls. As long as port forwarding is setup correctly you should now be able to listen to the song were streaming.

While a little more complicated to setup and maybe a little more overhead to run it still did not take that much longer to setup. This was also the only music server I was able to access with my PDA. I had to user
TCMP to run it because media player is severly crippled on the PDA, but I still was eventually able to get it work.

Finally was another On Demand music server, but this one was a little different because it required a dedicated webserver to run it becuase the program is written completely in PHP. The name of the program is called Radio Toolbox. This program probably took the most technicle knowhow, but it was also one of the most powerful and flexible programs available.

The setup of this program is simple once you have a webserver setup, but those instructions are beyond the scope of this article. Here are the rest of the setup instructions.
1. Setup a webserver such as Apache or IIs on your computer.
2. Install PHP on this server as well.
3. Download the program and extract it to the proper directory which can run PHP programs.
4. Now you will want to edit the "mp3toolbox_conf.php" file.
5. Since we are doing only the most basic installation I am only concerned about the first variable under the Basic Configuration.
6. Change "$source_dir[0] = "path" to be the explicit path to the music you which the user to access for example source_dir[0] = "My Music". This will allow the user to listen to any music that is under this folder. You can add additional directories by adding additional indexes to the array for example: $source_dir[1] = "Your Music".
7. Once this is saved open your webbrowser and go to the following site: http://your-ip-address/path-to-radio-toolbox/index.php. Once this opens you shoudl see a list of folders to open or mp3 to listen to.

Although this worked perfectly fine from my desktop web browser my PDA did not understand how to handle the "listen" or "open" links. Although for sharing from desktop to desktop I almost prefer this over all of the other options.

Overall by installing and running this software I learned quite a bit about webservers, music streamind software, DNS server, port forwarding, php, bandwidth utilization, and PDA issues. Each of the 3 options had strengths and weaknesses depending on what you were looking for, but for my goal the best option was the nullsoft SHOUTcast D.N.A.S. server. What do you think?

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