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Hands On

Check out the slideshow See the slideshow for more admin interface shots and internal photos

If you were to look at the Media Hub just as a traditional NAS , you’d quickly conclude that it’s a very basic device, with only a few configurable options. However, this is by design, according to Cisco, since the primary audience for the device is general consumers, not networking-savvy geeks.

Media Hub Configuration

Figure 9: Media Hub Configuration

You can’t, for example, set up users or groups or even create new shares. There is no file security either—all files are viewable by anyone who points a web browser at the NMH's IP address. By default, all services are enabled except Remote Access and the FTP server.

Remote Access setup is extremely simple – you merely give the Media Hub a remote access name and you’re done. (If your name as already been registered, you'll be prompted to enter a new one.) To access your Media Hub remotely, you merely point your web browser at www.CiscoMediaHub.com, type in your remote access name along with the Media Hub’s administrative password, and you’re connected. The user interface looks just like it does when you’re connected locally. The only difference is that you don’t have remote access to the device configuration menus. Note that since the web GUI is heavily Flash-based, you won't have a satisfying experience if you try to remotely access the NMH using an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Since you remotely access the NMH via a subdomain of CiscoMediaHub.com, dynamic DNS is at play to keep the domain name pointed to your router's WAN IP address. But you don't have to mess with opening any ports or even registering with a dynamic DNS provider—that all happens automagically behind the scenes.

I was curious to see whether Cisco was providing the dynamic DNS itself so did a “whois” lookup on CiscoMediaHub.com. The registration information showed that the domain was pointed at TZO.com's nameservers, so it looks like Cisco has partnered with TZO to handle dynamic DNS duties.

Note that your browser may throw a security warning due to the self-issued certificate for secure HTTPS remote access. You'll need to accept the certificate in order to get connected.

Initially, I had some problems with the Media Hub and went looking for the option to update firmware. As I scrolled through the options on the LCD screen, I discovered a “Firmware” menu entry. When I pressed the OK button, the current version of firmware (2.17.8) was displayed and then, using the active Internet connection, the NMH “phoned home” to check for a later version. The NMH found a later version, 2.17.13 and offered to download and install it. I accepted, and a few minutes later the Media Hub rebooted with the updated firmware.

You don't need the LCD screen to get new firmware, however, which is good since the NMH305 doesn't have one. All Media Hubs automatically check for new firmware weekly and will pop up a notification when they find it. You can then either download it from the front panel, or use a button that appears in the Firmware Update section on the System Configuration page. Note that you won't find firmware updates posted on the Media Hub download page because Cisco says that the features described above remove the need for manual download and installation.

Since the automatic process doesn't display a revision history file, I don’t know what bugs were fixed in the update. But after reboot, the Media Hub discovered .M4V video (iPod) files that it previously hadn’t found.

Playing Media

The home page of the Media Hub shown in Figure 10 is an attractive user interface. There are large icons for Music, Photos, Videos and the File Browser. As you mouse over each of the icons, they magnify slightly – much like icons in the Mac OS dock. Under each of the three media icons, there are four automatically-selected “recent” thumbnails.

Linksys by Cisco Media Hub Home Page

Figure 10:  Linksys by Cisco Media Hub Home Page

Under the File Browser icon, there’s a summary of your disk usage as well as icons you can click on to get information for either attached Flash drives or inserted memory sticks. I'll run through each of the three media players.

Music
When you click on the Music icon, you land on a page of album thumbnails as shown in Figure 11. Across the top of the interface, you have options for viewing by Album, Artist, Recent or by Song title. Highlighted letters in the alphabet indicate matches, and if you click on a letter, you are taken directly to the corresponding entry. At the bottom left corner of the screen, there are icons that toggle between thumbnail and list view.

Music Thumbnail View

Figure 11: Music Thumbnail View

When you click on an icon, you are taken to a page that displays the songs for the corresponding album. From this page, shown in Figure 12, you can add the album or individual songs to a playlist, play an individual song, or play the song in an external application. You can have only one playlist and it can’t be saved. But the playlist can be played by networked media players. Product specs also indicate that M3U, M3U8, PLS and WPL playlists are supported. But the instruction manual doesn’t tell you how to access these playlist types.

Individual Album showing the playlist

Figure 12: Individual Album showing the playlist

The default file formats are .MP3 and .WMA and other file formats are supported by external players. However, I received an error message when I tried to play .M4A files. My default media player, iTunes didn’t launch, nor did it play when I tried to play it with the external application.

Bottom line:  The music player works well with .MP3 and WMA files, and has limited built-in playlist support. But playing other file types will depend on their having browser plug-ins.

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