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We have a serious media problem in this country. No, not the state of cable TV news—the fact that today’s mobile devices lack the storage to take all our media with us on the go. Even a mighty 64GB iPod touch can only hold so many movies. Enter ZumoCast, a free service that lets you stream videos, music, and more in almost any format from your Mac to other computers and iDevices. While its price for these features is certainly right, ZumoCast left us wanting more polish and stability.
ZumoCast has three components: an OS X server application, an iOS app that plays your content, and a web interface that lets you play and manage files inside a browser window. Setup is easy; just sign up for a ZumoCast account, then install and configure the server on each Mac you want to access remotely. Default settings stream the Desktop, Documents, Movies, and Music folders, but you can easily remove them or add others. However, we weren’t happy that installing ZumoCast also put Growl, the notification window system for OS X, on our Macs without asking permission or indicating the installation would take place. We don’t mind Growl—we just don’t like that kind of surprise.
ZumoCast lets you download your streaming files to any computer.
With the iOS client you can stream DRM-free media to your iPhone or iPad and even download multiple files simultaneously, like entire albums or iTunes playlists, for local playback inside the app. Better still, you don’t have to worry about compatibility. ZumoCast will play nearly any media file, from the beefiest high-def QuickTime trailer to less common formats like OGV, on your iDevice. It’s not magic—ZumoCast transcodes your Mac’s media on the fly to suit your device and bandwidth—and it’s not perfect. Video quality over 3G is significantly diminished compared to higher-quality Wi-Fi streaming, and we ran into occasional crashes, skips, pauses, and unresponsive buttons during playback on either network. But it’s good enough for casual viewing, and ZumoCast’s power to play almost anything anywhere is convenient. We just wish it let us play movies out to a TV to make our iPhone 4 an ersatz Apple TV.
Content in the iOS app is organized into three menus: Files, Videos, and Music (strangely, there’s no menu for photos). Files lets you drill through shared Finder folders and view streamed PDFs, Office files, and other documents. It’s a nice bonus, but it would be more useful if you could remotely share them with others. Videos and Music collect their corresponding media from all your Macs in two menus for easier access, although Videos still tasks you with tapping through multiple folders to find movies. The Music menu offers a much simpler, iPod-like interface that lets you quickly scroll through albums, artists, songs, and playlists. Music playback is definitely where the ZumoCast experience shines brightest.
ZumoCast’s web interface isn’t spectacular, but it offers some handy tricks of its own. Sign in, and you can play your music in a simple iTunes-like player, watch your movies (unfortunately transcoded into mediocre-quality Flash videos), and manage the streaming files on multiple Macs. Here’s the cool part: ZumoCast lets you download streamed files directly from your Macs and upload new files remotely, turning your computers into simplified personal file servers.
The bottom line. ZumoCast offers many useful features that need further refinement. But there’s enough flexibility here to warrant a look from users who want to take their media everywhere and don’t mind dealing with some rough edges to do it.
Intel Mac, broadband Internet connection, Flash, and Safari, Chrome, or Firefox 2 or later for web playback; iOS 3.0 or later for iOS app
Streams media in almost any format for playback on computers and iDevices. Handy file server features.
Occasionally frustrating iOS interface. Some bugs and streaming hiccups. Installs Growl secretly.