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In Use

Initially, I could not get Skifta to work. I double-checked my "shift" configuration, which seemed ok. But with Skifta seeing its own shifts as DLNA servers and naming them all "Welcome to Skifta", it's pretty confusing.

Windows Media Player not connecting to Skifta

Figure 3: Windows Media Player not connecting to Skifta

Deleting and recreating the shift did nothing, so I thought WMP11 might be the problem. So I downloaded XBMC for my Mac. I had been meaning to try it and it's recommended for Mac users wanting to use a shifted DLNA stream. XBMC also saw the the "Welcome to Skifta" stream, but also failed to see any files available. To ensure that the players that I was using could work with the ReadyNAS DLNA server, I verified that both XBMC and WMP11 could play files directly from the ReadyNAS.

I also tried uninstalling the Skifta package from the ReadyNAS, thinking maybe something got corrupted. Well, that just made the ReadyNAS terribly unhappy. Apparently Skifta installs a Java web servlet running on port 9990, and is a main piece of the entire Skifta experience. Getting that to reinstall on the ReadyNAS was a very frustrating experience, and left my Skifta user portal with a "Place" that is never going to come online again.

Last I tried my trusty Xbox 360. While Microsoft is a DLNA member and fully supports DLNA in Windows Media Player, the Xbox360 uses a form of DLNA optimized for Windows Media Center Extender use. The Skifta forums confirm that Xbox 360 doesn't work, which was my experience, too.

Since the forums weren't filled with complaints about Skifta not working at all, something else had to be wrong. So I hit the Skifta forums again and found that Skifta likes to connect over port 80 to the far end server. Since I have Skype running, which is notoriously bad at hogging port 80 and run a fairly tight firewall with Intrusion Prevention services running that I could see interfering with Port 80 connections, this looked promising as a cause.

So I shut the IPS down, turned off Skype, reinstalled Skifta and suddenly had streaming services in Windows Media Player. Unfortunately, the same was not true on the Mac, because XBMC still did not see the stream. I've reached out to the guys at Skifta to see if they can help, but for the meantime, I would say this whole system definitely needs more work.

Other Issues

As noted earlier, Skifta only provides remote access to your DLNA server. So if your DLNA server doesn't transcode media like Orb does, you would be wise to not try streaming HD video media over a 3G or even 4G connection. You might give it a shot if your Skifta-enabled Android phone is Wi-Fi connected. But even in that case, I'd stick with video encoded for low bandwidth use.

No High Def Playback over 3G

Figure 4: Skifta won't transcode media, so good luck trying to stream your HD media over 3G wireless.

I asked NETGEAR about encryption, which I know Orb doesn't do, but wish they would. Skifta does not encrypt its streams either, since the encryption takes a lot of processing overhead, both on the source and destination devices. So encryption isn't well suited to the processing power found in mobile devices and NASes.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, Skifta was frustrating to set up and use. Maybe I was overthinking a product intended for non-technical consumers. But Skifta's extremely poor documentation was of little help while I was setting up and even less help when I was trying to find out why it wasn't working.

Skifta could provide a very interesting way to share media between friends without requiring complicated VPN setups. But if Qualcomm doesn't make setup easier, support Xbox 360 and automatically avoid conflicts with other port 80 services, it could also go the way of its predecessor, FloTV.

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