Skifta (free) turns your Android device into not only a media player, but also a remote controller of multimedia players. The app allows Android users to traverse media files stored on any UPnP or DLNA enabled devices— such as smart TVs, Windows media servers, game consoles, and so on— located on a remote or local network. Those files can be streamed to the Android device, or devices can stream media from the Android. This capability is deemed “media-shifting” by Skifta’s developer, Qualcomm, Atheros.
A media app made by a company known mostly as a chipmaker seems odd but the app is a component of the Skifta Platform announced by Qualcomm earlier this year. This platform consists of consumer-entertainment products all designed to interoperate for easy media sharing and management.
If the Skifta app gives any indication how the Skifta platform works on the whole, then indicators are good. However, some performance issues with both the app running on Android (at least on my Droid 2) and with the desktop companion software running on a PC leave room for improvement.
Skifta is available from Google Play. Setup involved selecting a local media source (a device where your multimedia files are stored) and then selecting the destination device to stream those files. You then can browse and play those files from the destination device.
I have a network with a Windows laptop, an Android phone, and a Synology D712+ NAS device. I have DLNA and UPnP enabled throughout the network, features you need to use Skifta. I selected the Windows laptop as my local media source and my phone as the destination device. I was able to browse through the Windows Media Player file library and stream content.
Some Skifta Snafus
I ran into a couple of issues. I received the error message “Unable to locate compatible media player for item format” when trying to stream a simple .MPEG file.
I streamed a high-definition .MP4 file, but the lag was enough to detract from viewing the movie. It seems that Skifta may have some issues with supported codecs or transcoding. I had no issues with the images or audio files I tested.
The error message, according to Skifta developers, is because the app relies on the Android phone’s own media player to supply codecs and support various playback formats. The way to resolve is to add some third-party video player to the phone. Which is OK, although it would be better if the app could handle a relatively basic MPEG file or have a more helpful error message indicating what the phone is missing.
I wanted to test streaming from the Synology NAS to my Droid 2. Qualcomm makes a Skifta add-on for Netgear Ready NAS Ultra NASes. To stream from the Synology, I just had to ensure DLNA was enabled on the NAS and that folders containing files I wanted to stream were accessible by other devices on the network (these steps vary depending on the model of NAS). Streaming from the Synology NAS was easy to set up and worked well, although, again, I ran into issues with some video streaming the same .MP4 file.
To access my data remotely, I connected my Droid 2 to a different network from my Windows PC. Next, I installed the Skifta desktop software. It’s a service that turns the PC into a media server and lets you specify which folders you want to remotely access. The install was quick but loading the service on Windows 7 took a surprising amount of time! At first, the service got frozen at six percent of loading. I quit it and restarted and finally it fully loaded, but it took a good three or four minutes. Rarely have I seen such lethargic performance on a relatively small, third-party app that only runs as a service in the Windows 7 System Tray.
Once the Skifta software is installed and running on the desktop side, I selected “Remote” as a media source option. I was prompted to setup a Skifta account—a cloud connection is made though this account from the mobile device to the PC running the Skifta software. As soon as I logged in I saw my Windows PC online. I was able to stream my files while connected to a separate network, so the app does provide good remote access.
“Channels” is a feature that allows you to play specific Internet content to another device such as a DLNA-enabled TV. Channels include Facebook photos, Flickr, RSS feeds, and more.
Trendy, but Needs Tweaking
Skifta surely meets want customers increasingly want from their devices, that is, anywhere access to data, especially data they desire most to share with others; pictures, videos and music. Skifta, with its concept of media shifting—data staying put while the device to access that data can be just about any device—is a great idea and is the trend, but the app itself needs tweaking, in particular when it comes to video streaming and performance. It’s a good choice for control over your content, but don’t expect a flawless experience.
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