This Week’s Tech Adds Explained

This week there have been a lot of ads for smart TV services which simply plug in to the back of a TV via the HDMI port, turning it from a run-of-the-mill TV into a smart TV.

We look at the differences and similarities in NowTV and the Amazon Firestick, including charges, functionality, adaptability and choice of services.

If you want to get all the services that a smart TV has to offer, all you need to do is plug in a smart device into the back of your TV, configure it and BOOM! The world of NetFlix, Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Catch-Up and Spotify, right? Well, in theory. The reality is it’s a little more complicated than that.

Amazon Prime Fire Stick

The Fire Stick is a simple plug and play device which slots straight in to the back of the TV and allows you to watch TV from myriad sources, gives you voice control, Alexa functionality and immediate access to your home network. It also comes with a handset which allows you to scroll through shows, services, controls and settings. From the homepage you can find all the apps and recently watched shows, boxsets you’ve started and recommendations based on your viewing habits.

It also anticipates your budget, ie, if there is a show for free on one platform, such as NetFlix, and it’s a paid event on another, it will go to the free option as a default, but also let you know about the other options, if for example you can only stream it for free, but you can buy it to keep on the other channel. The Fire Stick is fast, so less buffering and freezing, and it has a strong receiver too, so if your TV is a distance from your wireless router, you’ll find the service better than with some other devices.

With the handset you can control like a normal remote, or talk to Alexa by pressing a button and speaking, meaning that she doesn’t start doing things or answering back in the middle of a show because she misheard or someone on screen said ‘Alexa’! But of course you can link up to your home hub, Echo, or other smart speaker if you want that kind of access.

The Fire Stick is capable of delivering Full HD up to 1080p, so if you want 4K Ultra HD or HDR then another device is for you, but as an entry level device, the Fire Stick is the device for you.

Pros:

Fast, stable connection to your WiFi and home hub

Easy to use controls and interface, handy recommendations.

At £40, it’s a very reasonable price, although this doesn’t include further subscriptions to additional services.

Cons:

Geared to Amazon services and products.

No 4K Ultra or HDR capacity

Search sometimes gives erroneous results

Now TV

The ad for Now TV makes it look like a simple solution that you can just plug and play, just like the Fire Stick. However, when you visit the Now TV website there are a number of different devices at different price points, all offering different functionality and services.

The Now TV Smart Stick, like the Fire Stick, offers HD TV and voice search, starting at about half the price while the Now TV Smart Box offers 4K. When you’re on the website you choose whether you want a stick or a box, then you have to choose which stick or box you want. This means choosing the ‘TV Passes’ you want bundled with your package. If you choose a sports TV Pass it’s not immediately clear whether you can also add an entertainment Pass. Click on the ‘Get Offer’ button and you’re taken to the purchase page, but besides a voucher code field you get no other options. But presumably because there is a stick option that has no TV Passes, and the devices themselves appear identical, it must be possible to increase your options.

While this, strictly speaking is a website/customer satisfaction issue, it bodes poorly for the customer. But ignoring the multiple TV Passes it’s possible to try for free for 14 days before starting a subscription, let’s look at what the devices actually do.

The stick itself is a simple plug and play device, plug it into the HDMI port and start watching TV instantly. After clicking around I found it’s possible to increase the number of channels you can watch, you need to buy further TV Passes via the website. Passes include 1000s of movies, hundreds of boxsets and live Sky broadcasts including sports. It also offers On Demand, Sky Store, UKTV Play and YouTube. Again, you can operate the search facility via the remote, however, looking at community pages and discussion forums, it looks like you will have problems if you want to synchronise it with your home hub without additional equipment or changing WiFi providers.

The Now TV Smart Box offers all the options that the stick does, but in 4KHD. Plug it in and make your options, including Sky Cinema, Sports, NickToons, Atlantic and many many more. Again it’s a plug and play device which is contract free, just plug it in, synch it with your WiFi, and add or delete TV Passes as you want. The website doesn’t actually say anything about whether the box connects to your home hub, whether there is voice control. You’re simply encouraged to buy the box, plug it in and add TV Passes.

Pros:

4K HD available on the Now TV Smart Box

The stick is cheap, and many of the TV Passes start with a free trial period

No contracts are required, simply buy the stick or box and start enjoying TV straight away

Cons:

It doesn’t appear to be easy to connect to home networks or home hubs unless you’re already on compatible platforms

Subscribing to multiple TV Passes can get expensive, notwithstanding the low entry cost

Trustpilot complaints include poor reception, picture freezing etc. poor customer service, problems with the stick itself and the remote not working properly.

The Wireless World’s Guilty Secret: Wires!

Start Living Your Life Clutter Free

When you’re thinking about installing your Smart Home WiFi, entertainment and security devices certain things make themselves annoyingly apparent. Cables.

Every electronic device naturally needs its own power supply, notwithstanding the application is ‘wireless’. Wireless speakers still need to be connected to the mains, even if they don’t need to be connected to the amplifier or TV. To keep up with the power supply demands means using all the available power points or littering your home with extension cables. And suddenly becoming ‘unwired’ is looking like more and more of an impossibility.

If we look at the case of wireless speakers a good deal of the problems with going ‘wireless’ come to a head. Despite the fact that the drivers don’t need to be connected to the device which is playing the sound, they do still need a power supply, so they need to be located near a power point, or have a long extension cable running to them. Wireless speakers also have a certain range. Take them too far away and they start to show a reduction in sound quality. They can also experience interference from microwaves, phones, and other wireless devices. None of these problems exist if there is a cable running to the speaker, although the wire can be unsightly, and pose a potential trip hazard.

With the advent of flat screen TVs it’s been possible to hang the screen on an interior wall. They take up almost no space and are easily located out of harm’s way. The down-side is that this means having several cables running up an otherwise blank section of wall. Read more

Horrify Your Home at Halloween

Halloween has always been one of my favourite holidays. I love horror movies, the dressing up, the sweets and tasty treats as the leaves turn, and then it’s just a week to Guy Fawkes night and all the fun that fireworks and bonfires bring. What could be better?

But it just occurred to me how much more fun you can have with a wireless home hub haunting your home.

Let’s face it, when you think about it, a home hub is a little bit like being haunted by a really helpful ghost. You shout out the name and a disembodied voice calls back, answering your questions and doing things, moving things about, turning lights on and off, even making the temperature drop, if you tell it to turn on the AC!

Scooby Doo-ify Your Home And Garden

Let’s take a walk through the gates of your GeoFence and look at what can be done to make your home automatically spooky. Many brands of security cameras and wireless access systems allow you to have a conversation with callers at your door, and motion detectors will turn security lights on as soon as anyone approaches. If you have ‘If This Then That’ (IfTTT) enabled devices you can create a light and soundscape using switches to turn on any number of Halloween tricks. They don’t need to be smart themselves, just activated by a smart plug. Smart speakers can be set to come to life, screaming, moaning, or playing spooky sounds as your visitors walk up the garden path.

Once your Trick or Treaters have made it past the first line of defence, they are free to press on your doorbell. Greet them with compliments or curses regarding their costumes. If they’re guests to your Halloween party, unlock the door remotely, with a chilling creak (pre-recorded if you don’t happen to have a squeaky door on hand) and invite them in…

Once they’re over the threshold they can experience your home of eerie chills while you let them stew. Turn lights on and off, play music or sound effects, even create different playlists to play in different rooms, creating different moods for each area. Your interior security can identify not only movement, but whether that movement is a person or a pet. Use IfTTT to set off different events such as animating skeletons and giggling witches if anybody dare move.

You can set the lights to come on and off automatically as people pass through the house, and light activated switches can turn anything on and off, such as spooky smelling air fresheners, (I don’t know, mouldy pumpkin?) and electronic spooky Halloween shower curtains. (no, I’m not making that up!)

Basically, if you can plug it in, you can use technology to make it come on and stop again remotely, seemingly as if by magic. But if you’re getting into the party spirit, a smart home hub can be incredibly helpful with that too.

Doing your research. I didn’t know about electronic spooky shower curtains until I googled Halloween gadgets, and you can do that kind of research from your armchair with a smart tv. You can not only look up the recipes for seasonal food and drink, but look up uncommon treats too, and when you’ve found them, order them to be delivered to your door, all the while getting on with other more fun activities such as carving Jack-o-Lanterns or whipping up a wicked witches outfit.

These are just a few ideas we came up with to make Halloween a little bit spookier this year using wireless smart home technology. If you can think of any others, let us know on Twitter or via our Facebook page. We can’t wait to hear your ideas!

WiFi Security. Keeping Your Data, Privacy And Property Safe

CCTV From Anywhere In The World

We keep hearing about how cutting public spending on police and the reduction of police numbers is having an effect on crime throughout the UK. The news is full of stories of crime, antisocial behaviour and neighbour-disputes spilling over into harassment and worse. And while we don’t want to be harbingers of doom, or profit from fear or anxiety, it’s always wise to protect your home, no matter what.

While a CCTV security camera doesn’t directly lead to a reduction or discount on your home and contents insurance, home security cameras are becoming increasingly popular among home owners as a deterrent to opportunist criminals. According to cardoe martin, witness expert, if you and your neighbours successfully avert crime in your postcode area it’s considered safer, and consequentially has lower premiums.

Wireless CCTV cameras, intercoms, access controls and doorbells are all available in many high-street electronics retailers and offer a good deal of reassurance. Because they’re wireless, they’re incredibly easy to install and can send images and alerts to your TV, laptop, or phone, meaning you can see who’s on your property when you’re busy, away from home, or simply not in the mood to open the door to people. Wire used to be one of the greatest barriers to entry when investing in access control and CCTV for the home. If the wire was damaged, accidentally or deliberately, or there was an interruption in the power supply, the camera was useless. Wireless cameras run on batteries or solar cells, and can be triggered by motion detectors (which can also trigger lighting). The cameras will also send you a text or email when the batteries are running low or there’s a problem with the cell drawing power from the sun. Many security cameras also come fitted with speakers and mics too, meaning that you can converse directly with anyone you see outside your house.

A smart access system allows you to talk to visitors, or intruders and trespassers, remotely without having to come to the door. Brilliant if you’re out but you’ve been made aware of a stranger on your property, or you’re not able to take a delivery. If you’re elderly, have mobility issues, or you find that the delivery guy ALWAYS wanders off before you can get to the door, then a wireless intercom will be life changing! If you can ask people what they want before you answer the door you can let them know it will take you time to get to the door, you can ignore them, or ask them to come back another time. You could be in the bath, at work, or on holiday abroad, they’d have no way of knowing. Read more

This Weeks’ Ads, The Latest WiFi Gadgets Explained

Our new, and hopefully regular update of the latest ads, with explainers and insights. Every week a new ad appears on TV, via social and on web pages, making the latest tech look life-changing. You didn’t know how you lived without it and now you know it exists, you’ve got to have it. At least according to the advertising. We take a look at what’s being offered, judge how useful it really is and the kind of use the regular householder will get out of it. #MythsBusted #ThatsActuallyBrilliant

Hive View indoor camera

Hive have released a new indoor home surveillance system called View. It’s designed for use inside the home, with stylish, good looking cameras which also have mics and speakers so you can use them to communicate with the home. Kids acting up? Tell them off via the security system. Dog chasing the cat? Yell at it over wifi! The cameras come with livestreaming so you can see what’s happening as it happens in your house, and person detection, so pets won’t set it off, but people in your house will. As well as livestreaming straight to your tablet or phone, you can record and keep footage for review later. The cameras are small, sleek, and come in a range of colours and finishes which should fit in with any home.

Pros: The cameras are small, and can be discreetly positioned in any room in the home. You set the time that they are operative, and you can also set them to ignore movement from pets, etc and only start recording, streaming or taking shots of people in the house at specific times of the day.

Cons: Your kids might feel a little intruded upon if they know that you’re watching them at all times. They don’t actually act as a deterrent. If someone has already broken into your home and is stealing your stuff, then gathering evidence is great, but wouldn’t you rather have exterior cameras which put burglars off of breaking into your house in the first place?

Ring Smart Doorbell

Ring produce a wireless intercom which lets you see who is calling, or lurking around your home and property. You can speak to people who call at the door, so if you’re busy, not in the mood, or even away from home altogether you can let callers know you’re on your way, that you can’t come to the door, or even that they’re being watched and should go away. The system has additional cameras available which can be installed anywhere on your property, and these have mics and speakers too, so if someone is in your garden, peeping in the windows or trying the back door you can tell them to leave or that you’ve already called the police.

Pros: the cameras can be installed anywhere, and there is an attractive bell press for the main entrance and the range can be expanded from a simple two way intercom and cam for the front door to an infrared night vision and motion detector enabled, multi-camera security system.

Cons: The hardware comes with a two year warranty, but with any wireless security camera, they’re only effective so long as the batteries are fully charged. A camera will act as a deterrent, but when the batteries start to die the signal will become less reliable. This will mean not being able to see or talk to people, and footage may not be captured in the event of a break in. Also, the intercom feature is all fine so long as you can get to your phone or tablet. If you don’t have reception, you’re busy at work, driving or out of service for whatever reason, you don’t get to enjoy many of the features.

Google Chromecast

Watching something ace online on your phone or tablet? Flip it straight over to your flatscreen TV to enjoy it on your home entertainment system for super sound and picture. All you need do is insert the dongle in the back of your TV, install it into your home hub, synch it up with all of your families’ laptops and phones and you can instantly switch from device to device. When you flip over, you basically ‘tune in’ your TV to the media you were watching on the phone, so you free up that device for other things such as calls, browsing other sites, or tweeting.

Pros: It’s not just video you can cast, many music and other entertainment channels and Chromecast enabled websites can be viewed via your home entertainment system, computer or phone. They don’t need any additional subscriptions and you can apply all the usual parental settings when you add them to your options.

Cons: Using it can be incredibly annoying for other people if they were in the middle of watching something when you flip to the show you were watching. And if you’re RFID enabled the channel will follow you if you’re walking through the house listening to music, which is fine, unless someone’s doing something and doesn’t want to listen to what you’re playing.

Look out for next week’s Ads Explained for more products explained. If you have any questions or an interesting point of view, get in touch. We love to hear from our readers and look forward to hearing from you.

Decoding The Jargon; What To Look For When Buying Your First Home Cinema

Home Cinema InstallationOnce you’ve decided that you’re going to install a home cinema or audio visual system, one of the hardest things to find is information on the best products for your situation. Because of the myriad variables involved, there is clearly no ‘one sizer fits all’ solution, you need to put together your own package yourself. But where do you start if you’ve never done this kind of thing before?

Naturally, your first port of call is going to be to ask the experts, but searching online brings up an awful lot of jargon and system specifications that will mean nothing to you if you’ve not already incredibly savvy with the home AV market. And because your home is unique, and your taste in music, favourite TV shows and movies is something that’s personal to you, the system you end up with will look very different to anybody else’s. If you like to relax to classical music, like wildlife documentaries and watching costume dramas your system’s spec will be entirely different to an entertainment system which has been set up for someone who likes pop, and watches loud Hollywood action blockbusters. So you’ll have to weigh up which HDTV, soundbar, amp, speaker brand, speaker surround format.. And you’re confused already aren’t you? So why don’t we break down some of the tech talk so you know what these terms all mean when you’re trying to decide what to invest your money in. First of all, let’s start by looking at the most common acronyms that you’re likely to hear about when shopping for a home theatre.

Clearing Up The Digital Tech-Speak

• 3.1, 5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound indicates the setup of the speakers you are using with your TV. 3.1 means that you are running three speakers, plus a subwoofer, while 5.1 would mean that you’re running a 5 speaker surround sound setup, with one subwoofer. It follows that 7.1 consists of 7 speakers and a subwoofer. A subwoofer is a bass speaker which handles the low end sounds, going below the audible range, so a powerful subwoofer will make snarling engines, explosions and the growling of monsters reverberate through the body, as well as being heard.

• ATST 3.0 stands for “Advanced Television Systems Committee standard version 3” and is a method of broadcasting TV to an antenna (also known as ‘over the air’ or OTA) which allows for 4k and superior sound. 4k is the latest high definition standard which means that the signal is designed to give high definition to a screen up to 4,000 pixels wide. You will be able to plug an ATST device into your tv which will wirelessly connect to your WiFi router

• DTH or DTHTV simply stands for ‘direct to home’ or ‘direct to home television’ and is the signal your satellite dish picks up.

• DTH splitters are devices which enable you to split the cable leading from your satellite dish to more than one decoder or box, making it possible to watch more than one channel from one dish. If you live in a communal building or apartment block, these devices make it possible for multiple homes to each receive satellite TV without having to have a separate dish fitted for each residence.

• FTA stands for ‘free to air’ and means the basic package of free TV channels you will get with any system.

• HDMI stands for ‘high definition multimedia interface’ and is an interface by which video and audio can be sent to a variety of different compatible devices, such as hifis, digital projectors, TV and computer monitors.

• LNB is a ‘low noise block downconverter’ and is the device that sits in the parabola of your satellite dish, picking up the signals and sending them into your home. The reason why you would consider which LNB is best depends on the TV you want to watch. If you just want a standard TV package there are plenty on the market, but if you want to watch Sky+ or Sky+HD or if you want the ability to run more than one tuner, which will make it possible to watch one channel while recording another, then you will need to carefully consider which LNB best suits your needs.

• LNB Skew isn’t a product or service, it is literally the skew of your satellite receiver. If the dish or LNB are angled even slightly wrong, the picture quality will suffer. Professional service and maintenance will mean that your dish will always be aligned correctly. With the work carried out by qualified personnel, such as those employed by Briant Communications, quality and safety are guaranteed

• PVR or DVR stands for either Personal or Digital Video Recorder. It’s a device which, as the name suggests, allows you to record digital TV. You can record direct to the PVR’s internal hard drive, a USB device such as a memory stick or an SD memory card such as found in digital dSLRs or video cameras, making to possible to remove the recorded programmes and watch them elsewhere.

• SCART is an acronym of Syndicat des Constructeurs d’Appareils Radiorécepteurs et Téléviseurs or ‘syndicat of radio and television equipment manufacturers’ and refers to the cable which connects DVD, DVR, video, computers and games to a TV. A SCART lead will have a 21 point plug on at least one end, the other could have one of many different connectors which will be appropriate to the device you wish to connect.

• Smart TV is a home AV system which is connected to the internet. If you want to watch BBC iPlayer, Youtube videos, listen to internet radio or Spotify and Netflix, you can do it all via your Hi-Def widescreen large Smart TV. Some Smart TVs can even be used as Smart hubs, making it possible to control all of your Smart devices from your TV.

• VSAT or ‘very small aperture terminal’ is satellite technology which delivers not only TV, but data as well. Used by business and domestic consumers, it allows you to watch TV at home, and also connects you to the internet. Because the equipment required is compact, reliable, simple to use, and lightweight, it’s VSAT technology which users such as explorers and search and rescue teams take out into the field to connect with home.