Sunday, August 29, 2004

AirTunes - Ca Ca?

Apple has a new device that operates both as a WiFi base station and as remote speakers for iTunes. Now, I don't need another WiFi base station. Particularly one from Apple since I have already had 3 Airports die on me and have vowed to not rely on them for my wireless network, but the ability to remote my iTunes playback to speakers built into my house sounded great to me so I figured I would try it out.

I bought the Airport Express at the same time that I bought my iPod. After I had the iPod up and running I gave the Airport Express a try. I installed the requred software on my PC, unwrapped it from about 10 layers of SaranWrap&tm; like plastic, hooked it into my wired network and plugged it in. I launched the Airport Express Assistant and it brought up a dialog saying that Windows is not allowed to manage wireless networks on this computer. Huh? Just not true, but perhaps it was because this PC doesn't have a wireless card. I tried it on my laptop though and it gave me the same warning. It turns out that the dialog doesn't matter, though, because if I kept clicking through the wizard (er... assistant) it did show me the Airport Express but when I tried to have it join my local wireless network, it couldn't find it. Dead end.

I then tried the Airport Admin Utility which did let me configure it so I set the correct network name, gave it the 128 bit WEP key and turned on Airtunes. Then I told it to save the setting and that was the last I saw of that device. From that point, it would not show up in any config utilities that Apple provided, it didn't have an IP address and even if I tried to do a hard reset on it, it never showed up again. Dead. Make that 4 dead Airport devices.

I took it back to the Apple store yesterday and got a new one. After waiting 20 minutes to talk to someone at the Genius Bar, they looked at it for a couple of minutes only to confirm that it was indeed dead. They gave me a new one and I went home. Followed the same steps. It once again disappeared from the radar, but this time it did respond to a hard reset. I tried a bunch of different options but every time I gave it my wireless network name, it just died trying to connect and since it ignored it's ethernet port once wireless was configured, there was no way to talk to it without a hard reset which threw out all settings.

It turns out, though, that I could try to get the AirTunes part working on a wired connection so I turned that option on and plugged the device into a nice power amp that was powering the speakers for my Media Center PC. The result was a very loud hum that would not go away. It wasn't the cable. Perhaps it was because the Airport Express was so close to the power outlet (since it doesn't have a separate power cable, the unit plugs directly into the outlet) but it was completely unacceptable. The pair of speakers did show up in iTunes but even when I tried to play music through it, with the hum and all, I never actually heard music. iTunes was smart enough to know when an audio cable was plugged in but not smart enough to actually make music come out.

While I assume there is a way to disable the wireless networking features of the Airport Express without locking it up, I was not able to find it so even if this wired solution had worked, I would have either had a non-secured wireless access point to my net, or I would have had 2 networks, both secured differently. No thanks.

I returned it to the Apple store. The sales guy suggested I get rid of my current wireless network and replace it with the Airport Express. Yeah, like that's going to happen given that this appears to be my fifth Airport with hardware problems.

So as far as I can tell, with the Airport Express:
1) You can't join it to an existing wireless network with a WEP key
2) It must be a base station, even if you already have one and don't need that part
3) It is unusably noisy (the Apple sales guy says it works fine for him so maybe it is just a coincidence that both units I had were seriously flawed)


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