Yesterday I received a voice message via Yahoo! Messenger from Ian, one of the mentors over at BigBlueBall. In his message, he pointed out that Skype provides voice mail, but at an extra cost, where Yahoo! Messenger (and Gizmo Project, and others) provide it for free. Literally minutes later I got an email announcing V4S, a free service that provides voice mail for Skype.
My curiosity appropriately piqued, I clicked install, and discovered that V4S is actually just a plug-in for Orb; a free tool that lets your access live TV, photos, music and videos from any web-enabled device. With the V4S plug-in, not only can you add voice mail to Skype for free, but you can retrieve it from anywhere with web connection, including your web-enabled PDA or mobile phone. This sounded really interesting.
Of course, I’m already placeshifting my satellite signal using Slingbox. But Orb lets you do some of this (if you have a PC equipped with a TV tuner card) but it adds the ability to access MP3s, photos, videos and other media on your PC.
I gave it a try, and it works fairly well. I was able to access all my photos, music and videos on my home PC from my laptop and a remote Internet connection. Performance was excellent, although I had trouble streaming MP3s. I switched to my iPAQ hw6515 PDA and it worked like a charm.
Once you’ve authenticated, Orb does a network speed test to determine the optimal stream rate for media. You can retest or hardcode a bitrate, but if you set it too high you’ll get more buffering. You could also use Orbit to allow someone you trust to access your media, although there are some obvious risks. Orb helps mediate some of those risks; only one remote user can connect to your PC at a time.
The V2S plug-in that provides Skype voice mail was the feature that drove me to originally try Orb, and there are a few other plug-ins that come with it. One lets you view your favorites or bookmarks, another lets you access your contacts (from Outlook, Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, Opera, Gmail or Outlook Express). Neither of these plug-ins are especially useful to me since I already store most of my favorites on del.icio.us now, and my PDA phone syncs my contacts automatically. Even so, it’s a nice touch, and it could be useful.
Because of the TV tuner requirement, Orb won’t replace my Slingbox. But Orb is cool, and if you’ve ever wanted to remotely access your media, it’s worth checking out.