Meet Your Maker: Hi-Fi+ Interviews Jerome Rota of PacketVideo about Twonky

Music servers and computer audio,
PacketVideo Twonky Beam
Meet Your Maker: Hi-Fi+ Interviews Jerome Rota of PacketVideo about Twonky

PacketVideo is the company behind Twonky, a range of software solutions that are core to music and video content delivery. It’s a product range that is at the core of many audio systems that are beginning to move past the ‘man cave’, and may just be as intrinsic to tomorrow’s audio system as a CD player was to the system of the 1990s.

We have seen an across-the-board increase in interest in streaming audio solutions, as brands like Audio Research, Bryston, Chord Electronics, Cyrus, Krell, Linn Products, Magnum Dynalab, Naim Audio, Sonos and more developing products that can be used as ‘media renderers’ in a Digital Living Network Alliance (DNLA) system. That’s potentially only the start of a revolution in the way we store, access and even listen to our music.

I spoke to Jerome Rota, Senior Vice President of Consumer Products & Services at PacketVideo about the way Twonky is helping to shape the future of entertainment in the home.

Alan Sircom: Twonky has traditionally played in the DLNA ecosystem. Options like Twonky Beam extend the functionality beyond DLNA, but puts some Twonky's other applications outside of the DLNA framework in the process. Is this functionality gap closing or widening?

Jerome Rota: This is definitely closing the gap; DLNA is a great standard that played a key role in the early adoption of connected devices and technologies. Unfortunately DLNA has also suffered from some of the drawback of being a consortium based on their less common technology, lack of mandatory codec and format and overall slowness to incorporate changes and innovation.

Our current strategy is to aggressively expand the boundaries of our ecosystem to include proprietary and closed devices, like AppleTV, Xbox360, Roku or AT&T Uverse, as well as upcoming standard like Miracast or DIAL. Our goal is to bridge the gap between all these proprietary ecosystems and empower the end users to choose the best device for their individual needs rather than being stuck within one manufacturer solution.

As we expand our audience, we do not limit or compromise the current Twonky features, we expand it, to support open web content discovery as well as local or NAS content and premium content services in Japan. We also are bringing support for online storage services and content feed from social sources. Our goal is to put the user at the centre of their own digital entertainment, across an open-architecture which allows them to access a breadth of content.

AS: The increased functionality of Twonky is driven by video content. Where does this leave audio-centric consumers?

JR: We will not abandon audio-centric users, as many people have large libraries of audio content which they have spent years aggregating and care deeply about, making audio playback a strong part of the connected home. We support a member of audio only devices, including Sonos, Sony, Linn and B&O.

So, while we are still supporting our basic Server/NAS local sharing solutions, we are building upon our Beaming technology and open web discovery to enable the beaming of podcasts and audio-based web content directly from the Twonky Beam mobile application.

AS: Twonky Server used to be a commonplace inclusion on NAS drives, but is less common today. Why?

JR: As this product category matures and is under higher pricing pressure, manufacturers are aggressively looking for a way to reduce their costs. In some cases they believe an open source or cheap commoditized DLNA stack will be enough for their users. Unfortunately, most of the low cost solutions available do not have the level of performance or light memory footprint that our stack enables, meaning that the NAS struggle with large content libraries. Our stack also provides access to devices beyond DNLA, offering an improved user experience with beaming or online feed access and, perhaps in the near future, online storage services.

AS: Is there room for a more ad hoc Twonky (in the manner of Apple TV)?

JR: No, our strategy is to bridge the gaps between all the proprietary ecosystems, not to add another device to the mix, as we do not want to compete with our partners and add complexity to the users.

AS: Are ad hoc solutions a threat?

JR: On one hand they are, as Apple is building a strong ecosystem, with iPads, iPhones, AppleTV and iTunes, while Microsoft has had tremendous success with the Xbox360 and the media services they are bundling with it. Google is also aggressively building their GoogleTV into as many devices as it can and has a very strong content store attached to it, not to mention the tremendous search capabilities that they are leveraging from TV scheduling. All these services and ecosystems are finding an audience and, as such, they present a potential threat to us.

On the other hand, every manufacturer thinks that their model is strong enough to drive brand and service adoption, thereby trying to lock you into their own ecosystem and service. However, this presents a huge opportunity for us as many end users possess devices from various manufacturers, which cannot talk and interact with each other.

In a typical American household, the family might own a connected TV, which was purchased in the last 2 years, an iPad, as the “must-have” tablet, an Xbox360 for the kids to play on, a combination of iPhone and Android smartphones and perhaps even a Roku or AppleTV device for that old TV in the den. In this mix, we have 4 or 5 ecosystems that compete with each other and do not allow content exchange. However, thanks to Twonky technologies and the Twonky Beam mobile app, users can now tie all their devices into the same ecosystem. With their smartphone or tablet, individuals can find and discover content from local or online sources and beam that content on connected device at home, whatever the manufacturer is from iPad to Google TV, android Tablet to AppleTV, and anything in between. So for us, the more segmented this space becomes, the greater our opportunity to solve interoperability issue for the end users.

AS: People appear to be moving from an 'owned' solution to a 'loaned' solution, thanks to Netflix and Spotify. Where does this leave Twonky?

JR: We believe that the tablet or phone, or the “second screen”, is the best way to interact with content and we are already supporting a Netflix-like premium service in Japan. Twonky users can access the Beaming app on their tablet or phone to navigate the service website and from there content can be played on connected devices around the home, or even copied locally for disconnected playback. We also support a premium audio service similar to Spotify, which will be available within Twonky Beam in a future release. It is just a matter of time before we expand the supported premium services to more geographies as our business relationships grow.

AS: Do you see people moving away from NAS as a media hub, and toward NAS as simple storage?

JR: Honestly, I see people moving away from NAS and into Online Storage Services. NAS is a relatively advanced solution, which requires some technical skill to setup and use, and will continue to exist for a niche of users that value their privacy more than their access to content. However, as Facebook shows us, most people value access to information more than their privacy.

AS: The latest version of Twonky does not support custom trees. This is proving problematic for Linn users, who are staying with v6, and using QNAP NAS drives, or even looking to alternate solutions. Has Twonky switched off the customization option forever?

JR: The customisation option was never supported as an end user feature in v6, even though some forum users figured out how to do it. Packetvideo are aware of the special customised views provided in the forum for Linn devices, even though Linn devices had not claimed to support this feature.

Nevertheless, these forum communities are great, and raise some important issues for manufacturers to develop. Take the extraordinary Phibertron breaking down the new server v7 structure here so that people can customise it:

While we can’t be sure that ideas, like those offered by Phibertron here will solve the Linn issue, they certainly point towards a valuable direction of investigation for manufacturers like Twonky.

AS: Jerome, thank you for your time

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