Skifta DLNA Controller Application for Android Devices
As more intelligent devices begin to fill the home, the desire and need to be able to centrally control your home content is an ever present one. Skifta aims to bridge that gap as an Android-based DLNA controller as well as a player for any Android based phone or tablet. In addition to supporting local browsing and playback, Skifta also can remotely control your local files across the internet.
In order to understand just how Skifta works, let’s take a moment to briefly explain what DLNA is--as having it setup in your home is a requirement and is how Skifta communicates between your media files to your media devices. You can click on the link above for detailed explanation, but essentially DLNA is a standard network language created so that any network server that uses it can communicate with any network media player from any manufacturer. It does take some getting used to if you are not a regular DLNA user, as there are some permission and configuration settings needed to enable playback. The benefit to DLNA however, is that once the server is properly configured, it will now be a quick setup process for any new devices you introduce to the home environment.
Setting up Skifta itself is a snap, assuming the aforementioned DLNA has already been set up and configured properly in your network. Downloading the app from the Google Play store is quick and painless, and if you are using a home server such as Windows Vista or 7, then you must install the Skifta application to allow the phone app to see and play your files. It’s a quick, small application that runs in the system tray and allows you to leverage the DLNA player of Windows Media Player in order for Skifta to play media on it.
To test Skifta, we used the following devices, all DLNA capable players or servers: Windows 7 Professional as the host server with all the media files, WD Live TV network media player, Sonos music player, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet, and an HTC Evo 4g Android phone.
Upon launching the Skifta application, the application is very simple to follow. First, you select your “Media Source,” which holds all of your media files. Next, is the “Player”, which will play the device--here you can choose any DLNA enabled player on your network, or you can also select the phone or tablet running Skifta as well--remember, the Skifta app also acts as a DLNA player. The limitation we encountered here, however, is that Skifta can only play media files which the device itself is capable of playing--there’s no transcoding being done. With our testing device being a stock HTC Evo 4g phone, this range was somewhat limited. You can install additional players and codecs to the unit to increase compatibility, but it’s something requiring more preparation.
The same holds true for other network media players--they can only play media files they have included support for--an obvious point, but worth mentioning. The Sonos will play any compatible music files on your network. For a device like the Sonos, which already has a quite capable phone app, the need for Skifta is somewhat limited. But the app did as expected and there are some other perks about Skifta we’ll cover shortly.
The WD Live TV media player is the most ideal player for Skifta as it offers support for all the types of media supported--video, music, and photos. The beauty of the app is that the interface remains identical no matter which player you are connecting to, which makes learning how to use it easier. After you navigate to a media file you want, clicking on it allows it to play on your screen. You can continue to use the phone or tablet device without interrupting playback. You can also pause and skip to the next file from the device.
Initial testing was fraught with issues such as compatible files not playing back, or empty directories where files existed. After communicating with Skifta support engineers, the latest 1.5 version was released which in addition to resolving these issues, also offered an overall speed benefit from previously tested versions.
The beauty of Skifta can also be shared while you are visiting family members or are in the office, as you can still connect to your home Skifta network of media sources and play those files on devices in other locations. In our instance, we were able to play home music files to a DLNA compatible music player when visiting people’s houses.
In addition to being able to play your locally stored files, Skifta also offers a number of different plugins, or “Channels” which provide numerous internet source content at your fingertips. If you’re familiar with Roku, the Channels allow you to connect to sites like Facebook Photos, FlickR, Revision 3, and Shoutcast - the list goes on.
Once you add a channel, it shows as an available media source where you can then send the content to any connected player. As the app continues to evolve, we would envision the list of channels to continue to grow. It’s a nice benefit and makes sending online video to your television very simple, and wireless of course.
After some initial hiccups with earlier versions were resolved, the Skifta application turned out to be really quite usable, and best of all, it’s free. By allowing the app to control the media being played on any UPNP player, it essentially removes the need or issues from the interface of those players. As long as the user understands that Skifta is a controller/remote application and not a software player, then there should be no disappointment. In the future, it would be great to see the app evolve into a one stop shop, which solves the transcoding issue we experienced with filetype incompatibility.
As the channels for 3rd party content providers continues to evolve, we see that as being the most special piece--since that would not force the user to rely on plugins or updates for the WD Live TV player or other device. Combine that with the ability to have your local content remotely, and it really becomes a common sense installation if you have an Android device--and there’s the rub--this is available exclusively on Android based devices, sorry to you 100+ million iPhone users.
- Simple interface
- Leverages UPNP
- Stream local content when at remote locations
- Android only
- Software still working out bugs
- No transcoding done by the app, so filetype compatibility is limited to the device
Thanks to Skifta for providing the test equipment.