QNAP TS-459U-RP Turbo NAS Reviewhardnrg - July 22, 2010
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The Applications section marks a departure from settings to usage. The applications included within the NAS provide file management, a media centre, BitTorrent downloading, IP camera CCTV, iTunes and other media serving, and a growing number of add-on applications (QPKG), all through a browser interface.
Starting with the Web File Manager, you essentially only have the option to enable/disable it, and choose whether or not to show it on the login page.
Upon clicking the icon at the login page, you are presented with a login dialog box.
The file manager window is well laid out, with a folder tree pane at the top left, a details pane for the currently selected file or folder, and a file listing pane to the right. There is a toolbar above the file list, including a search function, and right-clicking on a file reveals operations that can be applied to it. Notably, you can extract files from archives, and mount ISO images to shared folders, as well as standard file operations. You can change the permissions on a per-file basis, including execute as well as read and write access.
A NAS is an ideal storage device for multimedia files, and the TS-459U-RP makes it easy to view these files without the need for extra software. Again, you can enable the Multimedia Station and display it at the login screen.
At first, the Media Center does not show any files, as it is in anonymous login mode, and therefore only shows public folders. You have to first click on the Control Panel at the lower left of the window, and create a new user. The user list is separate to the regular user list on the NAS. Logging in as a Multimedia Station user reveals the available folders.
When you reach a folder containing supported video files, they will be overlaid with a conversion icon. You can click the icon on a video to initiate a conversion to Flash Video (FLV) format. During the transcoding process, the video will have an animated progress circle over it to show it is being processed. At the end of the conversion, the new FLV video file appears with an overlaid play icon.
A media player view opens up when you click on the newly created FLV file. Sadly, there is no full-screen option available, but you can scrub over the playback progress bar to skip to any point in the video, as well as play, pause, stop, and change the volume. I should mention that I got pretty annoyed when using the Multimedia Station as the back button on a web browser (one of the thumb buttons on my mouse) causes the WebUI to go back to the login screen rather than the previous view of the Multimedia Station, so I had to navigate back to the folder I was previously in, due to my instinctive use of the back button.
If you switch from Thumbnails to Details view, you get the options to open, rename, delete and download each file. If there are sub-folders listed, you can open, rename and delete them.
Not all formats are supported, so some folders will not show all the files within it. In this example, there is supposed to be an Ogg Media (OGM) file. You therefore cannot view or transcode it.
The next application really took me by surprise. The Download Station lets you manage BitTorrent and FTP/HTTP downloads on the NAS without the need for a computer. I really wouldn't have guessed a business NAS would have support for BitTorrent, but with Linux distros growing ever larger you can quickly see how instructing the NAS to download a torrent to itself could prove very useful for an IT/network admin on the move. Once again, in the WebUI you can enable it and make it visible on the login page.
The Download Station initially shows the Run List, which displays the torrent currently being downloaded. In Set Config, you can set the maximum number of simultaneous downloads, set maximum download and upload rates, the BitTorrent port range, UPnP NAT port forwarding, protocol encryption, and a daily download schedule (with one or two time slots per day). Clicking on Add New FTP/HTTP Task pops a window up, asking you for the source URL, optional username/password for FTP/HTTP server, and destination folder on the NAS (only top level folders). Clicking on Add New BT Task causes a window to pop up, prompting you to browse to a torrent file (which you should have already downloaded).
A what file? A torrent file. You can find torrent files for legally free software, music and videos at sites like clearbits.net. You save the torrent file to your computer, and then you can load this into a BitTorrent program so that it can download the file package of the torrent. In this example, I'm downloading a collection of MP3 files.
You can pause a torrent while it is still downloading; this places the torrent in the Pause List. Resuming the torrent at a later time returns it to the Run List. Finally, when the torrent is complete, it is placed in the Finish List.
The Surveillance Station further expands the use of the NAS to include CCTV surveillance using IP cameras on the network. Unsurprisingly, you only have the option to enable/disable it and show/hide it at the login screen.
All the WebUIs so far had been accessible through Firefox and Chrome, so I was a little shocked to see the error message stating that only IE 6 or higher is supported for the Live View. I even checked to see if it worked through Safari, and it doesn't. I guess it's really quite common for any business workstation or server to run Internet Explorer, but with many laptops and home computers running Mac OS and Linux variants, I really saw this browser requirement as an unfathomable limitation.
So, switching to IE, I could load up the Live View. If you have IP cameras available, you can view them here. If a camera has motorised zoom, pan, focus, etc., you can control each camera to change what the camera is looking at. The cameras, up to a maximum of 4, can be viewed one at a time, or simultaneously, in a selection of window viewing modes.
You would of course have to set the cameras up before they are available to view. In the Camera Settings tab, you can select the camera make and model from a list of supported cameras, assign it a name, and the IP or WAN IP of the camera, along with its port and applicable user name and password.
The Recording Settings tab lets you choose the resolution, frame rate, and compression (quality) level for each camera. In Schedule Settings, you can choose whether to record continuously, or record when motion is detected, over a weekly schedule that can be broken down to individual hours. The last tab under Settings is Advanced Settings and provides some automatic maintenance of the recordings. You could set up a rolling 10-day recording archive, or have the recordings over-written when the storage space is running low. A pretty cool feature here is that you can have the recorded file being from a number of seconds before an event, so that you could see the actions leading up to an intrusion, for example.
The need for an IE browser is revealed with an embedded Windows Media Player window in the Playback tab. I really think an alternative file format and player could be chosen to eliminate this browser restriction. In any case, the recorded videos can be played and downloaded at this screen. The final tab, Log, displays a list of the Surveillance Station events.
An application clearly intended for the home market is the iTunes Service. This lets machines running iTunes access the songs in the multimedia folder. You could therefore have a centralised iTunes library instead of a per-machine song library, eliminating duplicate songs across your computers. The Smart Playlist feature allows you to set up rule-based playlists, e.g. Album Title contains "techno", or, Artist is not "Westlife". These quick playlists then appear under the NAS in iTunes. I do not have a Mac and am not familiar with iTunes, so I could not test this feature.
So we've had multimedia serving on PCs through browsers and iTunes, how about other devices? Yep, QNAP have it covered here with the slightly less exciting looking, and oddly named UPnP Media Server, called TwonkyMedia. The initial page of this media browser is very small, which allows you to access it by devices with low-resolution screens, such as mobile phones and gaming devices.
The media browser itself is a no-frills file/folder listing, although the music library has options for selecting by artist, genre, rating, etc. If your music library doesn't have correct ID3 tagging, you'll end up with a bit of a mess when viewing the songs.
In the Settings page, you can view the stats under Server Status. Moving to Basic Setup, you can change the interface language and thankfully change the server name to something more meaningful than "TwonkyMedia". Here you can change the navigation tree to suit different sized libraries and personal preference. In the Sharing section, you can add another folder, and limit the types of multimedia file made available on the server. You can also configure the server to automatically share the media on a removable drive connected to the NAS.
In the Media Receivers section of Advanced Setup, you are presented with a list of devices detected on the network. For each device, you can define it as one of the supported media playback devices if the server didn't automatically detect the make/model of the device. Also, you can define a per-device navigation tree viewing mode.
The Network, Transcoding and Maintenance sections let you manage the background operations of the media server.
Returning to the Website functionality of the NAS, we have a section here to set up a MySQL Server as either the database server for the web server of the NAS, or as a database server for remote sites over the Internet. You can then manage the MySQL database through phpMyAdmin.
In case the list of applications so far isn't quite enough, you can download further add-on packages (QPKG). This is an ever-growing list of packages: since taking the screen shot, 9 additional packages have been added to the list!
These package improve and give extra functionality for web server usage, media serving, and even fun stuff like audio streaming for Internet radio.
Further information on each package, including how to configure 3rd party applications to work with each package, is available on the QNAP forums. Here we can see how to configure the powerful Native Instruments Traktor DJ Studio with the Icestation package. This would allow you to very quickly host your own live Internet radio show with continuously mixed music! Did I expect that from a rack mount NAS? I certainly did not, and was pleased to see that QNAP does not limit their NAS applications to a preconceived target market.
Once you have downloaded the relevant package file, you can browse to and install it, and then it appears in the QPKG Plugins list, where you can enable/disable and remove it.