For SOHO customers, many of the changes could be best described as incremental upgrades. I'll highlight a number of these changes below and point out a couple of new features that benefit SOHO consumers.
New features were added to several of the mobile apps. For the most part, the mobile apps and myqnapcloud.com remains mostly unchanged from QTS 4.0.
QFile - the mobile file browser/manager got several new features. The new features include Zip/Unzip support (shown below), a music playback bar, and file/folder sharing.
One of QFile's new features is support for zip files (click on the zipper for options)
QMusic - QMusic got a much needed feature - Search. You can search by artist, name or title. In the screenshot below, I searched for "summertime" in all fields.
QMusic's update added a much needed Search feature
Notes Station - The Notes Station is a new app lets you create notes using text, voice images or web pages. There are 26 training notes to get started, so it looks like there will be a bit of a learning curve. You can share notes directly on Facebook, or create a public link for sharing.
The Notes Stations lets you create and share notes
HD Station - I didn't cover HD Station in the QTS 4.0 review, but it's worth mentioning here. HD Station can display you photos, play music and videos on the HDTV screen attached to the HDMI port on the QNAP NAS. HD Station is essentially the third party open-source XBMC media center that we most recently saw when we reviewed the ASUSTOR ADM 2.1 OS.
XBMC on the QNAP is version 12.2 compiled 5/22/2013. The ASUSTOR NAS was running a newer version - 12.3 compiled 5/30/2014. XBMC gives you very basic playback capability with none of the sorrting and categorization features found in DLNA servers/clients. Like the ASUSTOR, the QNAP HD Station has XBMC and a Chrome browser. There are also shortcuts to YouTube and to the NAS management login page which run in Chrome. The gallery below shows a few screenshots of the user interface.
Several of the previously existing "Station" apps got a refresh with some interesting new features added.
File Station - There are several nice feature updates in File Station. First, Thumbnails are provided for photos. If you have a lot of files, you'll appreciate the new smart filters for file searching. Also included is VLC for multimedia streaming and shared links.
Photo Station - One of my favorite features on the TS-470 Pro is the Photo Station. I have tens of thousands of photos. I dumped about 16,000 files onto the server, and the Photo Station when through all of them and created a timeline. While I have photos categorized (sort of) using folders and sub folders, the time line made for an interesting way to look back at old photos. Though the timeline isn't new, it's a great way to automatically catalog a lot of photos. The new features include a personal photo wall using your photos on the login page. You can now create albums using drag and drop. Smart Album allows you to create "This day in history" - a historical look back at your photos using the current month and date. There's also a journal history on Google maps, and you can login using Facebook.
Video Station - Based on assigned directories, you can automatically classify your videos. New features also include video tags and smart collection.
I've included a short gallery below to hightlight some of the new features found in each app.
DLNA and Transcoding
Important components of any SOHO server are the DLNA media server and video transcoding capabilities. QTS 4.1 has made some improvements in both areas. The gallery below covers both. If you look under Control Panel ->Applications-> DLNA Media Server menu, you'll see that by default, QNAP's media server, currently marked (Beta) is enabled. In fact, the content that shows up in the Music Station and the Photo Station is the content scanned by this media server. You also have the option of enabling the TwonkyMedia DLNA Server. Don't worry - both can run concurrently. Each will show up as a separate server in your DLNA client.
The default media server is managed under Control Panel ->Applications->Multimedia Management. From there, you can enable real time scans, schedule a scan, manually scan, scan now, or deactivate the media library. You can also add folders to be included in the media server's scans. The TwonkyMedia server is managed on port 9000 of the QNAP's IP address (e.g., http://192.168.1.27:9000)
Initially, I noticed that the default media server apparently hadn't completely scanned all of my music. I was missing quite a few tracks when I went to look for them in either the Music Station or in several DLNA clients. I disabled the server, re-enabled it and rescanned, and 8201 tracks were indexed on the second try. Both DLNA clients as well as the Music Station now had the tracks that I was previously missing.
QNAP also added Transcode Management to the list of applications in the control panel. By default, the QNAP NAS automatically scans and transcodes video in the Multimedia share. This is a batch transcoding, not real time. So this feature comes at the expense of some of your storage. You can choose the output transcode options for each Auto Transcoding Folder. By default, transcoding outputs 360p, 480p and 720p. You can also add 240p and 1080p if you desire. You can add additional folders, such as home folders to the Auto Transcoding folder list. The transcoded output is in .MP4 format.
QNAP told us that QTS 4.1.1 supports both real-time and batch transcoding. QNAP also said its dual-core Celeron powered TS-251 and TS-451 actually support transcoding multiple HD streams simultaneously.
QNAP is sending one of the TS-X51s so that we can take another look at transcoding.
For each transcode resolution, a separate .MP4 file is created in a hidden sub directory named @Transcode that resides under the directory that contains the original source video. You can see the hidden directory and manage the files using the File Station application. It was interesting to note that the default DLNA server did not enumerate videos in the hidden @Transcode subdirectories, but the TwonkyMedia DLNA server did include the transcoded files.
The screenshot below of the Transcode Task page after transcodes were done provides an idea of how long transcoding takes. Granted, the files were short clips, but transcoding to three target formats for each file was done in under a minute.
I had some interesting experiences connecting with various DLNA clients - especially on my iPad. I used 2 clients: 8 Player and HipServ +. Since I had had some problems with .m4a files on another product, I decided to see how the players handled those files. On the HipServ + player, I first connected to the QNAP's default DLNA server. When I found a track that I knew to be a .m4a file, it appeared with a .aac extension. When I switched to the TwonkyMedia server running on the QNAP device, that same track had the appropriate .m4a extension. I checked two other DLNA servers on my network (Segate and WDMyCloud), and like the TwonkyMedia server, the .m4a file extension appeared correctly. The .m4a track played through this client on all four servers.
On 8Player, when connected through the QNAP's default DLNA server, while the same track played properly, the elapsed timer never moved from 00:00. When connected to the TwonkyMedia server running on the QNAP, that track both played properly and the timer incremented as expected. So while the Music Station and the Photo Station depend on the default media server, for streaming content to my iPad, I would also enable the TwonkyMedia server and stream from that server. Since the default DLNA server is still in beta, perhaps some bugs still need to be worked out.
QNAP's QTS 4.1 upgrade adds a laundry list of new features to what was already a good NAS OS. The most significant changes to the OS are "under the hood" and relate to features added to make the QNAP's products attractive to enterprise customers. The Flexible Volume Management with its four layer architecture is sure to appeal to enterprise storage managers as is the upgrade to SAMBA 4.0 with support for Active Directory. The Virtualization Station as well as a new version of Surveillance Station will also undoubtedly help expand QNAP's potential enterprise customer base.
QTS 4.1 offers some nice enhancements on the SOHO/consumer side as well. Some of the "Stations" such as Photo, File and Video, receive some new features that make them either easier to use or more useful. Several of the mobile apps also receive some minor tweaks. If you're heavily into video, probably the best new feature is Transcode Management. It lets you effortlessly transcode folders of video into a standard .mp4 format in multiple resolutions ranging from 240p up to 1080p.
Not all QNAP NAS products will be able to upgrade to QTS 4.1. Older QNAP devices, like the TS-409 in my closet, aren't on the compatibility list. But if your QNAP can be upgraded, I'd recommend that you do.