One day, hopefully soon, it will be a whole pile easier to play any media on any device. Until then, there are devices and drives and cables and wireless and applications galore.

Because it’s not easy, and because there is more than one way to skin this particular proverbial, I find myself frequently describing how I play stuff in my home. I am writing this so I can send a link instead of explaining things repeatedly.

The current situation:

  • 2 x Apple TV 2
  • 2 x Panasonic Viera TV’s
  • 1 Apple Time Capsule used for backup 
  • 1 Seagate 1TB hard drive networked via Time Capsule. This hard drive contains movies, TV and a backup of my music library.
  • iPad (2) 
  • iPhone (4) 
  • MacBook Pro (aging! 2008)
  • The Time Capsule can be a router, but I use an extra Linksys one 

How it all works? Well, that’s too complicated so that’s what the diagram’s about.

The best part had to be discovering Air Video. You set up your computer as a server, and tell it where to find your media library (in my case, the external drive delightfully named “Glossy”).

Then, using the iOS app on iPhone or iPad I can browse that library and play any of my media with “live conversion” – Air Video converts the media to a format appropriate for playback via Apple stuff. Using Airplay, I send that video (and audio!) to Apple TV.

There are a heap of things working together here, seven different gadgets all just so I can watch a movie.

When I set up the bedroom TV and Apple TV, I decided to try it without wiring. My Lounge ATV is connected to the internet and network via ethernet and it’s pretty snappy. Charmingly, it works just fine over wifi and I could download and play a movie from the Apple store without any lags.

Problem – I stream TV on my computer (Gossip Girl!), and can’t stream it to my Apple TV’s as yet. Mountain Lion will hopefully solve that one.

I could also hook another computer up to my TV(s) and control it via iTeleport for iPad – I do this sometimes but my MacBook Pro is old enough to still go through VGA, and it’s a pain to set up.

This is the best arrangement I’ve had so far, I once went so far as to reformat an old Dell computer with the intention of installing Boxee or something. It was a pain. 


Question from AdrianwithaW:

This is awesome. I’ve got an Extreme, 2 x Express’, an Apple TV and a Hard Drive… so question: how do you find the streaming from the Hard Drive plugged into the Time Machine going to the Apple TV? Is it solid…? If so, I may have to try it again.

Thanks Adrian! It’s completely fine. Plays seamlessly.
If you set it up and it struggles though, I’d probably go through the usual checks on whatever machine is running Air Video Server just to make sure that it doesn’t have other apps chewing memory or something. My computer only has 4gb ram and I can still use it while it’s playing media via live conversion, and I’ve never had a problem.

Are we the worst kind of web user?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a web snob I am.

Bad website design? Tweet about it. Difficult user interface? Toss hands in the air and refuse to proceed (probably Tweet about it). A friend’s recently released site not “up to standard”? Snigger quietly and feel superior.

I’m not the first, or the only guilty party. You only have to float around the Twitter streams of other online or web professionals for moments before you find criticisms and complaints.

But are we the only ones? Does our expert knowledge of the medium make us “bad” users?

Expert Infotech here in New Zealand have a shopping cart which gives you a “confirmed” message before the order process is actually complete. I bought a scanner through them recently and completely missed the final button in the process because I thought I was at the end – and the button wasn’t where I expected.

Expected is the key – as someone who analyses and provides feedback on design for interaction on a daily basis, I expected the button to be in a particular place and I missed it because it wasn’t there.

In another experience with a “bad” website design (by my standards) I struggled to find the “Contact” information for a company – I looked for something big, something in the footer, something on the right hand side, all in frustration.

It only took my “non-web” friend a glance to spot that the Contact link was actually near the top left of the page – the last place I would expect to look for that information.

Those outside our industry seem to persevere a whole lot more when dealing with a website, they’re not clouded by the judgements and expectations we have of a website – and lead perfectly fulfilling online lives.

These experiences serve as a reminder:

  1. Is “Best Practice" really best? Who says so? Do they apply for your user? Are you using your own preferences or assumptions? Challenge the rules.
  2. We all know how important user testing is – and how surprising the results can be. Don’t make assumptions about needs and habits, others may see the web differently. You are not your user.

As a web professional you’re likely to frequent many carefully and well designed websites so it can be a shock to stumble across something outside that bubble, it’s grounding to realise how small your web bubble really is.

A Gmail nerd moment

If you have a Gmail account, did you know that you receive email to your account regardless of whether there are fullstops in your username? will also receive email sent to, or even – Gmail essentially ignores the full stops.

I discovered this when someone sent an email to me without the usual fullstop between my first and last name, and it’s been really useful when signing up for multiple Twitter accounts (you have to have a unique email address for each Twitter account).

Read more about it in Gmail help, note though that Google Apps does recognise fullstops in your username.