Now that everything from your HDTV to your washer, dryer, and refrigerator features a network connection, the notion of a truly connected home is finally becoming a reality. Televisions, Blu-ray Disc players, tablets, smartphones, portable radios - all of these devices now have the ability to leverage your home network and spin up your favorite tunes, your video library, or even your family photo collection. Put simply, the methods and avenues for accessing your personal media library are more plentiful and more user-friendly than ever. However, one big question remains: where is that media coming from? Where is it being stored? And most importantly, is it safe and secure?
Netgear's answer to these questions comes in the form of their ReadyNAS line of home and "prosumer" Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. And one such beauty is Netgear's ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Plus. If your personal media library is important to you, and the idea of centralizing and securing that media is appealing, read on.
What is a NAS and Why Do I Need One?
If "RAID configurations" and "disk striping" has you thinking about bug spray and Sharpie markers, then an advanced "prosumer" model like the Ultra 2 Plus may not be the best match for you. If your primary goal is a big hard drive that can be shared on your network, but you don't fancy yourself a computer whiz, Netgear's consumer-friendly ReadyNAS Stora product is probably a safer bet. Now, back to the Ultra 2 Plus...
Installing my pair of 2TB Seagate drives was a piece of cake, though it should be noted that I wasn't left with 4TB of storage as some might expect. Like many NAS devices, the Ultra 2 Plus uses disk mirroring to essentially create a redundant (i.e. backup) copy of Drive A on Drive B. This means that instead of two separate 2TB drives giving me 4TB of total storage space, I was actually left with two identical copies of a single 2TB storage space.
iTunes Streaming Service
After enabling the Ultra 2's "ReadyDLNA" streaming service, I first checked out the unit's music capabilities. There are three things to note here. First, the ReadyDLNA service essentially turns the Ultra 2 Plus into a DLNA media server, and any compatible device should be able to browse its stored media content over your home network. This worked smoothly in my setup and I was easily able to access my "Music" folder from remote locations around the house. Secondly, if you happen to be running any Logitech SqueezeBox devices, the Ultra 2 Plus features a service called SqueezeCenter, for hassle-free streaming of music to those devices. I wasn't set up for this, so I couldn't really test it.
Last but not least on the music front is the Ultra 2's iTunes Streaming Server. This service makes use of an open-source media server called Firefly, which was designed to stream music to Apple iTunes and Roku's Soundbridge product. It's not actively being improved these days, but it does the job and seems to work smoothly. After setting it up and scanning the music files on my NAS, my iTunes client presented this new network resource in the left side source chooser. I was able to stream music from multiple clients simultaneously without a hiccup.
ReadyNAS Photos II
As mentioned earlier, the Ultra 2 Plus can hold any type of file that you'd normally store on your computer's internal hard drive. When it comes to photos, Netgear takes things a step further with their impressive Photos II application. The nutshell here is that you can share your photos with friends and family, but you don't need a photo site such as Flickr or Facebook to do it; they're hosted right from your NAS. The nice thing about sharing photos this way is that you're not uploading massive image files over the web to an external site. Chances are, they're already on your NAS, and if they're not, it's a quick operation to "upload" files from your computer to your NAS when it's all done on your home network.
ReadyNAS Photos II makes it easy to set permissions for public and private use, the slideshow function is easy and slick, and you can easily add background music and attractive photo captions. All told, what you get here is as feature-rich as popular photo sharing services such as Flickr and Picasa Web Albums. What sets it apart is the fact that the photos live on your NAS and in your home, so you have complete control over the installation.
As with any piece of software Photos II is not without its quirks and drawbacks. Contacts (photo sharing recipients) cannot be imported or synched with an external list, so they must be manually added and maintained. Also, in-application help is minimal at best and several error messages haven't been given intuitive, consumer-friendly translations, so it's not always obvious what has gone wrong. That said, Photos II is slick, fun to use, and puts you in complete control of your photo sharing.
If you're like me, your computer hard drive is overflowing with home movies, web videos, and movie trailers. Thanks to the Ultra 2's DLNA service, those videos can easily be streamed to networked devices such as your family room HDTV or Blu-ray Disc player. To test this functionality, I used my Oppo BDP-93 and had great success streaming numerous HD movie trailers from the ReadyNAS in my basement office to the Oppo in my home theater. Videos loaded quickly and navigation was quick and responsive.
The only thing to note here is that not all DLNA clients are created equal. Some devices support numerous file types while others support only a small handful. To illustrate this caveat, I played with a few Apple Quicktime movie trailers, downloaded and saved to the NAS as .mov files. The Oppo had no trouble browsing and playing these files, but my Panasonic plasma refused to play nice. If you're planning to stream a particular file type using DLNA, make sure the DLNA client you're using will cooperate with the format in question.
As we said earlier, there is so much more to a NAS device than its DLNA media streaming capabilities. And Netgear's ReadyNAS machines serve as a shining example of that fact. As a result, it should be noted that an advanced prosumer model such as the Ultra 2 Plus does require a fair amount of computer savvy and networking know-how if you're planning to manage multiple backups, remotely access files from outside the home, and the like. However, if you're comfortable around computers, there is little you can't do with Netgear's awesome ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Plus. Built like a tank, it runs quiet and responds quickly when anything is asked of it. Highly recommended.
Company Contact Information:
350 East Plumeria Drive
San Jose, California 95134-1911
On the web: www.netgear.com