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Hands On

As noted earlier, the Stora is powered by a customized version of the HipServ 2.0 media server from Axentra, which allows you to watch videos, play music and view photos using only a web browser. However, like other media servers that use web browsers to play content, the ability to enjoy your multimedia files is often limited by the codecs installed on your system or the plug-ins installed in your browser.

For example, .WMV content and .AVI files from my digicam refused to play in either Firefox or IE8. But .M4V files played without incident, as did still photo .JPG files.  Slide shows played properly, but you have no control over slide duration and the only transition is a fade out / fade in.  Currently, you can't play music behind your slide show, as the web-based players handle only a single task. 

You can also play your music via a browser-based player. But you may not want to, since you have very little control.  Music plays in album sequence and you can't create playlists. But you can create "albums" and drag your favorites into them. 

A better choice might be to use iTunes, since the Stora has built-in DLNA and iTunes servers.  I tested the iTunes server on both Mac and Windows platforms, and the server worked as expected.  And, iTunes gives you a lot more control to sort on albums, artists, title, genre, etc., than the Flash-based browser player. Note that Axentra says HipServ 2.0 is "fully supported" by the PS3, which means that you shouldn't have any problem using Stora to stream files to one.

As also noted earlier, the Stora supports remote access.  When you set up the Stora and create a name for it, that name is actually used to create a sub-domain on www.mystora.com.  The HipServ software handles all of the tasks associated with opening ports on your firewall via UPnP NAT traversal. But in the off chance that your router doesn't support UPnP or ports won't open, Stora will switch to using a NAT solution that doesn't require ports to be opened.

Whether you're at home or on the road, you just type http://www.mystora.com to get to the login page.  Note that secure HTTPS is also supported. But the Stora doesn't auto-forward you to a secure connection.  Your browser-based experience from a remote location will be the same as if you were on your local network at home, with perhaps some lag if you have a slow or busy Internet connection.

If you click on Media Library from the landing page, you'll land at the Library page (Figure 10).

Media Library page for user Admin

Figure 10: Media Library page for user "Admin"

Here, you have access to your private folders under MyLibrary, as well as the FamilyLibrary if you've been granted access.  You can use the media filter to view all files, or filter by Image, music or video file types. 

The Views menu gives you the option to view thumbnails, a list view, shuffle, and, if installed, view through CoolIris.  Adjacent to Media Sources, the "+" and "-" icons allow you to add or delete a selected item.  The up arrow allows you to upload files through a browser interface, or via a Java-based drag-n-drop applet.  If your total upload exceeds 2 GB, you are instructed to use Windows Explorer or Mac OS Finder to transfer files to the Stora.

Figure 11 shows Library options.  When you select a library folder and click on the right point icon, the option list appears.  You can create a slideshow on the fly, download or upload, add to an existing album or view details. 

Library Options

Figure 11: Library Options

By default, all items in the FamilyLibrary are shared with the built-in DLNA / iTunes server. But you can elect to unshare them.  Similarly, for items in your private MyLibrary folders, you can optionally choose to share them with the FamilyLibrary.  Library options also include the standard, cut, copy, paste, delete and rename functions.

The Stora lets you create albums that can contain content from any folder on the Stora that you can access.  The albums consist of pointers to files, not copies of the files.  As the album creator, you can share it with users on your Stora, selected individuals on the Internet, or everyone on the Internet.  If you choose to share the album with individuals, a secure link is sent to their email address.  For public sharing, you get a link that you can share with everyone.

In the lower right hand corner under Social Networking are options for sharing with Flikr or Facebook. I tested uploading an album to my Facebook page and, after entering my Facebook credentials, the album was uploaded.  Figure 12 shows the album sharing options.

Stora album sharing options
Click to enlarge image

Figure 12: Stora album sharing options

Backup

One of the main reasons to purchase a NAS is to back up data.  The Stora provides a pretty good backup utility for both Mac OS and Windows, Desktop Mirror, that allows you to synchronize folders. On Windows, it synchronizes your "My Documents" folder to the Stora by default. But after finishing the setup wizard, you can choose other folders to include. 

Rather than forcing the consumer to figure out full / incremental / differential backups, Desktop Mirror keeps your selected folders synchronized to folders on the Stora.  Those files appear under MyComputers in the Media Library (Figure 13).  I tested this utility and it worked equally well on my Mac and Windows systems.

Time Machine setup walkthrough with Time Machine backing up to the Stora

Figure 13: Time Machine setup walkthrough with Time Machine backing up to the Stora

The Stora can also double as an Apple Time Machine storage device.  A separate wizard, launched from the Stora Desktop Applications folder guides you through a simple seven-step setup process (Figure 14). Once configured, my Mac (Snow Leopard) had no problems backing up to the Stora.  Of course, the initial 66 GB took quite a while, even with a Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Time Machine setup walkthrough with Time Machine backing up to the Stora

Figure 14: Time Machine setup walkthrough with Time Machine backing up to the Stora

A backup feature the Stora doesn't provide, however, is the ability to automatically back up its files to an attached or networked drive. You can, however, attach a USB 2.0 drive formatted in FAT32 or NTFS to the front panel port and it will appear as a device under FamilyAlbums. Figure 15 shows that you can also format the drive via a built-in utility for FAT32 or NTFS.

USB drive format options

Figure 15: USB drive format options

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