What do you do when your media files are on your home computer, but you're not at home? Sure, you could print out your photos, put your videos on a DVD, and transfer your music to a portable player, but that's a lot to carry around. A new, free Internet service called Orb lets you access your digital media from any Net-connected device--even your cell phone. Orb has some steep technical restrictions: it currently works only on PCs running Windows XP Media Center or Windows XP and equipped with broadband connections--but that stands to reason given the nature of the content involved. If you want to stream your media files anywhere, even to your cell phone, we suggest you give Orb a try. First, download the free software, then install Orb. A setup wizard asks you to indicate which files or folders of your photos, songs, videos, and recorded TV shows you want to share. It also asks which television channels you get--broadcast, cable, or satellite--and displays their listings so that you can record current shows.
To access your media files while on the road, you'll need to leave your host (home or office) computer running. Orb doesn't store your files on a central server, so there's no size restriction on how much you can share. When you log in to your account from another computer, handheld, or cell phone, Orb pulls the content from your host computer, adjusts it to the size of your screen and your connection speed, and streams the music or video file to any Web-enabled computer with a media player.
Besides serving media, Orb has a few other tricks up its sleeve. You can access the software remotely to display your local television listings while you are away, then tell Orb to record a particular show. You can also watch the program while it's being recorded. In addition, Orb lets you view your photos as slide shows or share them with other Orb members. If you use Orb's camera application on your cell phone (rather than your phone's built-in camera app), you can send the pictures back to your home PC. Orb works with Pocket PC or Symbian-enabled handhelds (not Palm OS devices, however) and data-enabled cell phones with either RealPlayer or Windows Media Player installed.
In our tests, Orb worked well, though there were a few hiccups. For example, while accessing our content from a remote broadband-connected PC, Orb worked well. But streaming video to a handheld or a cell phone left us frustrated. While Orb streams video content at speeds appropriate for your connection, we were unable to watch more than a minute of video on our PCS cell phone before it had to stop and rebuffer the stream.
Orb's support options are decent, though not generous. Subscribers can access its support pages to read through the knowledge base and forums or send an e-mail request. We received a response to our e-mail request within 24 hours, as promised. Still, we would rather have free phone support.