FreeWare Review: Orb Media Server

Orb Media Server – Great Freeware!

Today’s nugget of tasty freeware is something for, perhaps, the slightly more advanced user. Now, for a site that’s all about Nerdy Stuff, that shouldn’t present a problem for anyone reading this. Even so, a fair word of warning is in order: this one will require a little patience.

Orb Networks. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe not, but what they do primarily is provide the free Orb Media Server software. Now, in theory this is an amazingly cool piece of software, but in practice it’s actually only pretty darn cool. Yes, cool has levels.

Anyway, the software. Orb is pretty slick; what it does is fairly simple in premise: install it on your PC, configure it to point to your folders full of music and video clips, and it will stream all that media to your mobile device, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, cell phone, iPhone or pretty much anything else with a web browser. In cases where the target device doesn’t support the media in its native format Orb will transcode it to something a little more universal, notably Flash FLV format (as you’d find on YouTube or similar sites).

For mobile devices, this software is, to put it plainly, freaking awesome. Torn between the $300 iPhone 16GB and the $200 8GB models? Don’t be-get the 8GB and save yourself the $100. Add Orb to your computer at home and have access to as much storage as you can afford there, and let’s face it: for that $100 you just saved you’ll get a hell of a lot more than the 8GB extra you will from Apple. I’m currently streaming the entirety of my MP3 collection (which itself wouldn’t even fit on my 60GB regular iPod) plus a good 30ish DVD’s I ripped for the iPod. Suffice to say, my chances of getting all that content on the phone alone are well below zero.If you don’t mind spending $10, Orb even offers a nice little app on the iTunes App Store that will stream into a nice interface, but if not that’s fine-you can stream from Safari with no problems in most cases (Disclaimer: it doesn’t work for me, but it does work for the other person on my Orb account, streaming from the same server. Of course, my phone is now Jailbroken, so that may be related).

But Orb is not perfect. I’ll background this for you a little by telling you that I’m running Orb on a Quad core AMD Phenom 9600 with 4GB of DDR2 memory (PC6400), with most of my media streaming from a RAID5 array (4x320gb 7200RPM 16MB cache). When I stream videos to my Xbox 360 they look awful. This is not the fault of the 360-the same video files played natively from a USB hard drive or streamed through another app look fantastic (they’re all DivX format and some are in HD 720p) It streams the music to 360 just fine and I enjoy that functionality, but the video is simply awful. I suspect this is as a result of Orb’s default settings for transcoding, but unfortunately the software doesn’t give you any granular access into those settings to allow you to tweak them for yourself, and the defaults clearly don’t take into account a robust multicore CPU/memory system with decent GPU.

Further into Orb’s list of weaknesses is the fact that you can only add 3 users to your account, though for many people this will be no problem. For me it doesn’t really matter at all as I only have 4 people who use the server and rarely does more than person at a time access it, but if you’re looking to share your media with a lot of heavy users simultaneously then Orb might not be for you.

All in all Orb is a good, solid piece of software that just about anyone should be able to wrap their heads around, and unlike many of its contemporaries it’s fairly reliable. You’ll get your best experience on your mobile devices, but if you can get around the fact that streaming quality to a console isn’t that great you might enjoy that experience as well.

Final Judgment: Orb Media Server is good software for streaming to a portable device with limited local storage, but has some problems with more capable devices

Website and Download: Orb Media Server

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