Netgear Stora brings RAID to the rabble

Like some sort of mildly advanced superhero, Netgear is swooping in with its new Stora network drive to bring serious RAID backup to the average PC user who is only slightly more terrified of network settings than they are about error messages containing the word ‘fatal’.

In a world where houses seem to have netbooks and laptop strewn all over them, network drives offer a useful backup solution. However, as anyone who’s ever had their backup drive fail on them will tell you, one backup is less safe than you might hope.

Netgear Stora

What Netgear is offering is a drive designed to avoid being intimidating wherever possible. The styling is, unsurprisingly, pretty close to wireless routers from the same company and features a jet black exterior with curved edges and those blue lights that have become so fashionable.

The USB port on the front lets you transfer files from a USB drive, but more interesting is the ability to attach a printer for sharing over the network. Considering how difficult it can be finding a simple way to get your printer onto your network, this is a seriously welcome bonus.

Software-wise, the Stora is suitably stocked. There’s UPnP/DLNA-certified media streaming for sending compatible media to just about everything these days (TVs, Blu-ray players, games consoles, PCs… you get the idea). There’s also a premium service that offers remote access and playback of your various media, social networking compatibility and access from smartphones.

Around the back of the Stora you’ll find the hard drive bays. One is already filled with a 1TB drive for your file-storing delectation with the other sitting empty. Pop a second hard drive in and the Stora will take on the task of setting the two drives up in RAID 1 for you – meaning that you don’t get any extra storage, but everything is stored on both drives.

The cloud may be the next big thing, but this type of network drive offers a great halfway house for those who want to work wirelessly, but aren’t ready to entrust all of their files to the great ether.

Video delivery service for PS3/PSP hits UK

Over on the other side of the pond our American cousins have had the pleasure of being able to download movies at their whim straight to their PS3 or PSP for well over a year; today, finally, Sony’s Video Delivery Service launches in the UK.

So what’s it all about? Well, by logging into PSN you’ll now have the option to browse and download over 800 movies. Sony hopes to increase their library via weekly updates – they’re already promising a whole slew (or should that be sleigh?) of Christmas movies in the coming weeks.

PlayStation Store

Users can take their pick of SD or HD and also opt to either rent or download and keep, with prices starting as low as £2.49 for a rental and £6.99 to permanently buy a movie. If you choose to rent you’ll have 14 days to watch the movie and, once you’ve started watching it, 24 hours to finish it.

Bigger releases available at launch includes Angels and Demons; Bruno; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; Crank 2; The Dark Knight; Dead Space: Downfall; Gran Torino; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; National Treasure; Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; Public Enemies; Star Trek; Terminator Salvation; Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen; Valkyrie; and X-Men Origins: Wolverine ­­– phew!

Early trials of the system show download times to be swift and video quality to be high enough to keep all but the most discerning resolution junkie happy. The biggest complaint is with the price of the more recent movies, particularly those in SD, with prices of as much as £8.99 causing plenty of complaints on Sony forums.

If the Video Delivery Service is to prosper then surely they have to bring their prices into line with the likes of Blockbusters and other rental outlets. Even better, Sony should be looking to provide a range of subscription services to allow users to pay for a set number of movies per month. Until then it might be worth checking prices elsewhere to make certain the same film isn’t available on to buy on DVD for less.

BBC and commercial radio’s “RadioPlayer” coming soon

The BBC and Commercial Radio have unveiled plans for a unique online streaming system that will give users access to radio stations all over the country.

Tipped for release next year, the new software will be called the UK RadioPlayer and  will allow listeners to access every licensed radio station in the UK, including BBC-owned radio stations. Users will be able to stream on-demand and listen live to their chosen stations.

BBC RadioPlayer

The screen shots above were provided to Latest Gadgets by the BBC along with the following statement “These images are mock-ups, designed to illustrate the concept of a UK Radioplayer. They do not reflect the eventual feature-set or design of the Radioplayer, nor the brands within it.”

Not only will the player give listeners far more choice in the number of radio stations they listen to but they will also have the chance to search through channels for the specific subjects, music genres and even song titles. Although the interface will be the same for each station, radio stations featured on the player will be allowed to add their own content. This could potentially include features like weather updates, travel alerts, adverts, track listings and shopping links that will allow listeners to purchase the music they are hearing.

The player also comes with a pre-set feature that will allow listeners to save their favourite radio stations and access them at the click of a button.

The BBC’s move comes after the success of streaming software such as Spotify and Last.fm, which have given internet users access to millions of songs online, free of charge. Once the PC version of the UK RadioPlayer is launched, it is thought that plans might also be unveiled to adapt the service for Macs, phones and IPTV.

The project involves partnerships between the BBC and the Guardian Media Group, Radio Centre and Global Radio (the owner of popular radio stations like Classic FM, Capital FM and Heart 106.2). The developers are still in talks with the BBC Trust and the RadioCentre board but it is hoped the player will be released in early 2010.

Ashley Tabor, Global Group Founder and CEO, made the following comments about the new plans: ‘Radioplayer has been developed with the listener in mind and is a big step forward for the radio industry as a whole, providing further cohesion between commercial radio and the BBC as we drive to Digital.’

Bid insomnia goodbye with the new LightSleeper

Sleeping might seem like one of the easiest things to do in the world, yet getting a decent night’s kip at the end of a long day is surprisingly hard to come by. Even rarer are practical solutions to sleep deprivation that don’t involve sheep, lavender oil or watching TV until the early hours.  Despite the name, the LightSleeper isn’t yet another product designed to wake us up but instead is tapping in to the gap in the market as the new bedtime buddy to help tackle insomnia.

Light Sleeper

LightSleeper works by projecting a light onto the ceiling oscillating in a controlled, circular motion.  Following it with your eyes encourages the mind to relax and gently drift off to sleep in the same way that reading lines from a book might make you drowsy. It also claims not to disturb anyone else sleeping in the room though I’m not too sure how it could not.  LightSleeper then turns itself off after 30 minutes to conserve energy though it can be reactivated by tapping it gently.

Research by its makers has shown that a massive 64% of us suffer from a bad night’s sleep at least once a week, with nearly one in five having sleep problems every night of the week.  LightSleeper offers an alternative solution to sleep clinics or prescription drugs and relieve the brain from over-stimulation from mobile phones, computers, TVs and MP3 players.

The LightSleeper is a neat design that is small and compact enough for any bedside table, it is easy to use with adaptable brightness and two different modes of constant or pulsing.  It retails at £125.

Packard Bell released first-ever “Freeview Certified” PC

Rock god Alice Cooper might be asking us to throw out our TVs for a new Sony Bravia, but now it’s PCs and games consoles that are taking on the telly’s job – Xbox 360 users can access Sky TV, the Wii is set to get the BBC’s iPlayer, and now there’s Packard Bell’s latest offering.

The latest piece of technology to do two jobs for the price of one (more on that later) is the Packard Bell OneTwo series, the first PCs to be Freeview certified.

These all-in-one PCS are slim and stylish, with a glossy black finish – not bad for a company that had been considered less fashionable than Susan Boyle before her makeover.

Packard Bell Freeview PC

Forget the old days of TV cards, the oneTwo PCs have a built-in Freeview digital TV tuner alongside the new Windows 7 operating system. All you have to do to have the benefit of all your usual computing tasks, PLUS up to 50 free-to-air channels available through Freeview in your spare room, kid’s room or wherever you want, is to plug the PC into an aerial socket, follow the set-up steps in Windows Media Center and you’re good to start watching.

You also have the facility of a hard drive recorder, so you can record shows or complete series direct to the hard drive to watch later, and pause live TV (a huge bonus for parents of small children, who rarely get to see TV without any interruptions, or just for popping out to put the kettle on).

A touch-sensitive screen means you don’t even need to use a keyboard or mouse if you don’t want to. Handy if space is tight. But that glossy finish will soon be covered in smears, as it allows the user to utilise all the touch-screen functionality of the latest Windows 7 OS. To complete the multimedia options, it is possible to have a Blu-ray drive pre-installed.

Prices start at around £599 for the 20in screen and around £899 for the 23in screen.  The smaller sized all-in-one – the oneTwo M – has a mainstream 20in HD display (1600×900 resolution). It’s based on the Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 CPU and equipped with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4500 GPU.

The 23in machine – the oneTwo L – boasts an advanced full HD 23in screen with a resolution of 1920x1080an Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 CPU, an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4670 GPU with 1GB of GDDR5 and support for DirectX 10, E-SATA, optional Blu-ray drive and and 5.1-channel surround sound via the integrated 5 Watt stereo speaker.

If you think it sounds a little pricey, just do some maths.  Factor in the cost of a separate hard drive recorder and Freeview box (around £180) and a portable TV, and it doesn’t seem so bad.

With its slim design, and a single power cord to avoid a spaghetti junction-like situation round the back, it looks like the Packard Bell oneTwo series All-In-One PC going to be the space-saving all-in-one solution for a lot of bedrooms this Christmas.

Sling your Nook? The battle of the e-readers heats up

E-readers have definitely been one of the hot gadgets of 2009 and whilst many people are planning on purchasing the Kindle for a Christmas gift, a new kid on the block is about to be launched. At the end of November Barnes and Noble are set to unveil a shiny spanking new e-book reader called a ‘Nook’ which can hold up to 1,500 e-books.

With a sleek white aesthetic, what tech features makes the Nook superior to the Kindle? Here comes the geek bit. Firstly, the Nook has a multi touch coloured screen which can be used to browse books in a slick cover to cover style. This touch screen can also be used as a keyboard because with access to 3G and Wi-Fi you can even surf the web. The machine is the first to run Android OS; Google’s operating system written for mobile devices and if desired, the Nook has the option to be viewed in black and white.

Nook E-Reader

The nifty gadget has 2GB of internal storage and MP3 player and supports open formats such as EPUB. Nook users also have added features such as bookmarks. Pretty snazzy?

The Wi-Fi ability is definitely a cool feature, yes and the Android OS, certainly. However, the gold factor which sets the Nook above the Kindle is that it allows you to swap e-books with your friends. One of the biggest problems with the current e-books is that you can’t lend or re-sell them and Barnes and Noble really have a huge advantage with the Nook as they are selling e-books cheaper than those available on the Kindle and paper versions, which of course, as an avid reader is a huge incentive.

Once you lend the e-book to a friend (the e-book can also be accessed through PCs or smart phones such as the BlackBerry and the iPhone) they will have access to it for 14 days and then it is immediately reverts back to the original owner – which saves the hassle of bugging your friend to return your books! The only disadvantage is that whilst your friend has access to the e-book, you are unable to read it.

With titles cheaper than those found on the Kindle and a whole bunch of new features which also allow for sharing and interaction with others, at a glance, I’d say the Nook is definitely in the running to kill off the Kindle.

Tweetbox? Twitter, Facebook, Zune & Last.fm on Xbox

Just completed that awfully tedious and awkward mission in Grand Theft Auto? Well, you can now tweet about it straight from your Xbox 360, let your Facebook friends know and listen to some celebratory tunes on last.fm!

It’s the next step in Microsoft’s quest to twist the Xbox 360 into a social media hub, bringing the interactivity of your computer right into your living room.

Xbox 360 Update

But these three services are only available for Xbox Live Gold members, which costs around of £39.99 a year, and are after downloading an update.

Will it work? Twitter is notoriously fidgety, even for the most dextrous of the mind, with its 140 character limit a burden who all those wishing to indulge in resplendent interior monologues.

And it might even irk those of physical flexibility too, with the Xbox’s lack of our old favourite QWERTY meaning that producing that perfect 140 character tweet will never have been quite so difficult.

Or how about traipsing through all your friends’ intimate details, photos and loved-up wall posts on Facebook? Not exactly the most glorious of past-times when you’re sporting hands bathed in sweat after that marathon Pro Evolution Soccer session.

Coming after the announcement in which Sky set about dishing out its services into the Xbox’s of the nation, this marks a truly significant step in the potential abolition of the classic games console, but the practicality of this intriguing but couch-potato encouraging initiative will have to be under question.

And, in a time when Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 can rack up hefty amounts of hype and take over the world for one day, perhaps the archetypal and romantic notion of the enduring qualities of gaming reigning supreme over tweeting from your Xbox about your breakfast is still true today. Try typing that in 140 characters.

Amazon launch Kindle PC application, here soon?

After much publicity and hype, Amazon’s Kindle handset took the US by storm. Although the hardware was slower to take off here in the UK, the new PC software download might tempt those who aren’t convinced by the handset’s price tag.

That’s right, the software is free and it doesn’t sap your hard drive in the way that some downloadable programmes do. It’s also simple enough so that even the most technologically challenged among us should have very few problems getting to grips with it. With just a few clicks, it is installed and ready to go.

Kindle PC Application

Of course, even though the software is free, you still have to pay for the books. However, with titles starting at just $2.30 there are bargains to be found. While the selection of books available doesn’t even come close to that available on Amazon as hard copies, there are still nearly 300,000 titles to choose from. If you can’t decide between Pepys’ diary and Barbara Kingsolver’s new release then downloading a sample should make the choice easier. Samples are free and give you a good idea of the book’s content before you pay anything for the full version.

The downloads are incredibly quick and the text can be viewed on your Kindle screen almost immediately. The selection of different text sizes greatly improves the readability and it is possible to bookmark your page. The contents page is hyperlinked, so you can skip straight to a certain chapter with a mere click of the mouse.

The PC Kindle is great for people who like to read books on the go (or in the office when no one’s looking). However, the major drawback to this free software is that newspapers, magazines, blogs and personal documents cannot be downloaded and viewed. For these, you need the handset and it doesn’t look like that is going to change anytime soon.

Kindle for PC is still in beta and Amazon have already released their plans for upcoming improvements to the software. These include the ability to make notes and highlight certain passages, find certain words or phrases within the text and zoom in on and rotate images embedded within the books.

The software is certainly no match for its big brother handset. However, it does provide a cheaper alternative for those who want the basic functions of Kindle without the $259 price tag.