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REVIEW: Using ASCII Express WebGuide4 with Windows Mobile
Posted by Arne Hess - on Wednesday, 28.02.07 - 15:46:40 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 25403x
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Following my previous WebGuide4 review, in this review I will to focus on the mobile components of WebGuide4, which is best used with Windows Mobile Pocket PCs or Smartphones. WebGuide4 is a client/server solution which is installed on Windows XP Media Center or Vista PCs and allows you to remotely stream live and recorded TV programs as well as to remotely schedule and manage your recorded television programs and music. With WebGuide4 installed on your Media Center PC, you can access it virtually from any Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone as well as from any PC that has a web browser.

Like the desktop browser version, the mobile browser version of WebGuide4 works on the web server, which is installed on your Media Center first and right after the initial setup, the mobile version of WebGuide4 is ready to use from your Windows Mobile device.

However, because WebGuide4 is accessed from a mobile device, it's not supporting all features the desktop version supports but the feature-set is reduced. Nevertheless, Doug Berrett, the developer of WebGuide4, included the most important features including remotely streaming live and previously recorded TV programs as well as to remotely scheduling and managing TV recordings and music.
Another interesting feature is remote controlling the Media Center right from the Pocket PC or Smartphone Internet Explorer Mobile:

Like the desktop version, also the mobile version features the Guide, an EPG (Electronic Program Guide) which is transferred from the Media Center to the mobile device which shows you what's currently on air as well as what's next airing shows. It's also possible to select a different date or time to see what's on air in the future:

If you tap on a currently airing program, WebGuide4 offers you to Record the single program, to record the series (if available) or to stream the current program:

A recorded program is indicated with a red dot in the Guide as well as in the detailed view, which also lets you cancel or stop the recording:

Unfortunately, the mobile version of WebGuie4 misses a search option as available in the desktop version. Therefore you have to scroll through the Guide, in case you want to schedule a future recording.

Stream Program
Maybe one of the most interesting new features of WebGuide4 is the possibility to stream live TV as well and therefore place shift your home TV to your mobile device. Like the desktop version, also the mobile version supports TV streaming for all currently airing programs.
Tapping the Stream Program button opens a new page where you can select the bandwidth from and therefore define the stream quality. The selected bandwidth depends on your downstream speed and therefore it depends on the used technology you use to access the Internet - like EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA or W-LAN (GPRS isn't fast enough) - as well as it depends on your upstream (keep in mind that a Hotel W-LAN as well as HSDPA downstream is in most cases faster than your Media Center PC's DSL upstream):

After, the Windows Media Player Mobile opens, connects to your Media Center PC and starts the live TV stream:

Depending on the network quality it might happens, that the Media  Player automatically adjusts the quality. The stream can be stopped by tapping the Media Player stop button. However, it cannot resumed from here again but the WebGuide4 interface has to be used again, in case you want to watch the same program again after you've stopped it. Also pausing a stream isn't possible (to time shift the current stream).

Recorded TV
If you have recorded any programs on your Media Center, all recordings are also accessible from WebGuide4 mobile and the recorded programs are listed behind the Recorded TV menu and includes the program name as well as the date of recoding:

By tapping a title, the next page offers some more information, including the short explanation - taken from the Guide at time of recording. In addition, this view also offers the option to stream the recording back to the mobile device:

Streaming a previously recorded program works the same like streaming live TV. First you have to select the bandwidth you want to use for the stream and after, the Windows Media Player Mobile opens to playback the stream:

Also recorded TV shows cannot resumed but the WebGuide4 interface has to be used again, in case you want to watch the same program again after you've stopped it. Also pausing a stream isn't possible but you always have to start from the beginning again.

This item provides a fast and easy overview about scheduled recordings, with the option to cancel a single recording:

By the way - three red dots symbolize, that this is a series recording and therefore WebGuide4 offers to either cancel the single recording or the whole series.

While WebGuide4 offers access to your music library, this function is pretty basic and by far not that optimized as the whole TV features are optimized. It only provides an overview by artists in one long listing and it's not possible to change to a sorting by albums:

However, if you tap on an artist, the next overview provides you a list of all albums from this artist:

From the album overview, which lists all titles you can either select Play album or play single title by tapping left of the title name. However, the problem is, that WebGuide4 isn't preprocessing MP3s as a stream but rather uses progressive download.
Unfortunately is MP3 not designed to progressive download, means starting the playback while the download is received. Therefore, playing music over a cellular network isn't working too good, if the files are encoded in the MP3 format.

Remote Control
Pretty fancy is the Remote Control feature, if enabled in the configuration on the Media Center. WebGuide4 simulates a Windows Media Center Edition remote control (right in the web browser), with all buttons and shortcuts a standard Windows Media Center remote control has as well - including the green Media Center button (which is best used in Internet Explorer Mobile full screen mode):

Whatever you tap on the Windows Mobile device, you will see the result immediately on your TV screen and this works even over cellular networks like UMTS as well as over your local W-LAN network.

From here, you can remote control your Windows Media Center, right from your Windows Mobile. Well, I wouldn't say, that it is replacing a standard Media Center remote control but good to know that you have a fallback solution in your pocket.

Final Conclusion

Initially I've used WebGuide3 to schedule recordings only and that solution worked great already - especially because WebGuide3 was already optimized for Windows Mobile devices by offering a sleek and simple to use interface. However, the new streaming functionality of WebGuide4 makes the use on a Windows Mobile phone even worthier. Doesn't matter where you are, as long as you have coverage, you can schedule recordings anytime and anywhere and if the bandwidth is broad enough, you can even stream to your Windows Mobile device - doesn't matter if it is a Windows Mobile Pocket PC (Phone Edition) or Windows Mobile Smartphone. All it needs is either a W-LAN connectivity or UMTS.
Maybe this at its own is a unique selling point already but keep in mind, that you also get the PC interface as well as a Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget.
WebGuide4 is pretty unique at the moment and the only other working TV streaming solution are the SlingMedia Slingbox or Orb Network's MyCast. However, the Slingbox isn't available everywhere around the globe but on sale in dedicated countries only. If you are located in a different country, it can becomes hard to get a Slingbox imported. The other competitor - Orb Networks - needs dedicated TV tuners for its current Orb 2.0 MyCast solution and while many North America TV tuners and set-top boxes works, the European DVB-T standard is supported in a Beta only (and not all DVB-T TV tuners works) while DVB-S isn't supported at all yet. Nevertheless, with the latest Orb MyCast 2.0 version, I got TV streaming finally working again but it's currently missing a EPG and therefore I have no clue what's on air at the moment. On the other hand, Orb's MyCast also offers access to your pictures (like the desktop version of WebGuide 4 also offers) as well as it offers music streaming capabilities, WebGuide4 fails to provide yet. Basically Orb is processing every media type it supports as a stream. WebGuide4 only processes TV related media as a stream while music is transferred as it is.
So a combination of both might be the perfect solution, but if you are looking for something TV and Media Center centric anyway, WebGuide4 is the solution to chose.

Unlike WebGuide3, which was a free application, WebGuide4 costs US$ 18 which are worth anyway, even for just a remote scheduler but with all the extra features, it's even worthier now.
Webguide4 is available in two versions: one for Windows XP Media Center 2005 and one for Windows Vista Media Center Editions. A time limited trial version can be requested for free.

Cheers ~ Arne

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