Monday, July 30, 2007

Pandora on Pocket PC

I probably shouldn't tell you this, but if you're a Pandora (customizable internet radio...lets you design personal "stations" that ONLY play songs you like), and are frustrated at the lack of support for Pandora on portable devices, there IS a way to listen on your PocketPC, Smart Phone, or "internet pad" (whatever those things from Nokia are called). In fact, it's possible to re-encode ANY audio playing on your home computer in a format that will play on a portable device. Yes, I'm aware of services like Orb. These DO NOT allow you to reformat streaming audio from stations that are incompatible with portable devices. But YOU can do it. Here's how.

Download the free Windows Media Encoder from Microsoft available here

In XP double-click on the speaker icon in the system tray (or go to "programs/accessories/entertainment/volume control", couble click, and open the system, volume control. Click "options", "properties", and "recording". Under "show the following volume controls", choose "stereo mix". A second box will open with "stereo mix". Click the box in it as well. Then click "properties", and "exit".

Now open the Windows Media Encoder. Under "New Session" choose "broadcast a live event". Click "ok". In the next screen, choose "audio" only, no video. By your audio device, select "configure", and in the next screen, under "pin line" select "stereo mix". Click "next".

In the next screen choose "pull from encoder". and click "next".

Open your word processor. Copy and paste the URL for "internet connection", and "lan connection" too if you want to also connect just on your lan, but not on the internet. Save these urls into a word document (or whatever word processor you use. The "notepad" in Windows will work fine).

Back in Windows Media Encoder, choose "next". By "audio" choose "cd quality audio", which will show "70kbps". Make sure that's checked (these settings can be changed later if you want to bump up the bitrate). Click "finish".

You can now simply click "start encoding", or if you want to adjust bitrate you can click on "properties", then "compression". Click "edit".

In the next screen, click the "70kbps" tab, and in the drop-down by "audio format", select the bitrate and sample rate you want. Bump it up for better quality, down if you have trouble streaming on your device (some supposedly "broadband" connections on portable devices can't support a sutatined bitrate of 70 kbps (64kbps actually). 48kbps still sounds good with Windows Media, and 32kbps isn't terrible. Hint...if dropping down to a lower bitrate, also choose a lower sample rate. This will prevent the codec from wasting precious bits encoding the least audible octave...the one between 10khz and 20khz. For slower connections, I'd recommend 32kbps, 22khz (22.05khz, actually). With lossy codecs, especially at really low bitrates (below 48kbps), every time you drop the bitrate, also drop the sample rate, and you'll help minimize audible artifacts. Click "ok", then "apply", then click the "x" on the top of the "system properties" box, to go to the main screen.

Click "start encoding". Stat the source you wish to stream to your portable device (such as Pandora). Nothing much will happen. Relax, remember you chose "pull from encoder"? Nothing is happening, because no devices are connected. Open "Windows Media Player", and copy and paste the internet URL you saved in your word processor under "open" and "open URL". BANG! You're streaming. Now save that stream as a "playlist" file. Choose the "m3u" extension, because it's more widely supported than the "wpl" extension. Save the playlist in a place that's easy to your desktop.

Close Windows Media Player, but leave everything else running. Open the Volume control in Windows again, and adjust the "wave" slider until the meters in Windows Media Encoder aren't going into the red. This will give you clean audio, with no distortion.

Now transfer that playlist file to your portable device (PDA, Smartphone, etc). Use whatever removable media is available. If your device has no removable media slots, e-mail the playlist file to an account you can open on the portable device (it's a tiny file, don't worry), and download it to your device. Open your media player on the device (connected to the 'net, of course), and open the playlist file. SHE-BAM! You're streaming Pandora (or your chosen audio from your home 'puter) to your portable device, anywhere in the world. You can even share the URL with a friend or two, but not MANY friends. Broadband download speeds may be as high as several megabits per second, but UPLOAD speeds are usually on the order of 256kbps, or 512kbps. Not a big problem, as the free version of the Windows Media Encoder will only allow five simultaneous connections anyway.

When finished, SAVE THE "session" before exiting Windows Media Encoder. Then you won't have to to through all those setup setps next time.

I know, it sounds complex, but once you've done it a couple of times, it'll be as easy as tying your shoes, and YOU get to decide what you want to hear (or see with a tuner card) on your portable device!

By the way, you can also use this method to stream ANY audio (or video, with tuner card) device connected to your computer. Perhaps there's an FM, AM, or HD radio channel you can't receive where you'll be traveling. Connect it to your computer's "line in" jack (with appropriate adapter cable), and select the "line input" in the Windows Mixer (Volume Control). Follow the above instructions for level adjustment, etc. ANY audio source you can get into your computer can be streamed. Like to listen to a scanner or shortwave? STREAM IT from home!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Something to listen to

HD Radio is great. Vastly improved sound quality (on fm, anyway), and more important...more VARIETY (with "multicasting"...allowing a single station to simultaneously broadcast multiple programs...known as "channels", or "streams"). But if none of those extra channels interest you, it's just so much background noise.

I often tell my wife that there's not much on radio that I enjoy listening to (despite 33 years in the business). I enjoy soft music, primarily instrumental. Go ahead, use the "New Age" label if you like. That's cool, as Windham Hill has stayed in business the last few decades largly due to my contributions "to the cause". Last night I discovered something on the radio in my area that I really love. WFAE Charlotte (90.7 FM) has a Sunday evening show called "Nightscapes"...three hours of instrumental, "new age" music. I freakin' love it! Perfect music to soothe the soul! It's even in HD, and sounds very good. Not perfect, because WFAE has THREE HD streams, and consequently divides their data-stream three ways. Still it was bright, crisp, "full" soundinding...clearly better than analog fm, and the music was GREAT. I'll be listening next Sunday, and on the Sundays that follow! If you're ever in Charlotte (or HIckory...where it's simulcast on 90.3 WFHE), check it out!

This joins "The Shuffle Channel" on WLYT (Charlotte, 102.9) as my co-favorite HD offering to-date.