Apple, Gadgets, Google, Microsoft

Project your device screen to TV

Video Projectors in conference rooms and Televisions are two equipments which have 98% unwanted user controls and features. In my view the job of a projector or a TV is to simply show the input it gets. There is no need for 200 buttons on them and in their remote controls. In every presentation I have done in last two decades there has been only a handful of events where I could effortlessly show my laptop onto the big screen. The sad truth is that it need not be this way and Steve Jobs with obsession over simplicity proved it.

In my living room I have been using Apple TV for last four years. To throw the display from any Apple device (say iMac or iPad) to a big screen, Apple TV is still the simplest. Thanks to Apple’s AirPlay technology and their Remote App.

Life was never meant to be easy, especially technology gadgets. My world is not Apple exclusive.  In my house & work there are Windows PC, Windows Phone, Android Phone apart from iMac & iPad. So what’s is out there that can help me. When I started searching on the subject I was prepared not to find a single device that will work across all platforms. Before I write down what I found, time for a disclaimer. I am yet to try out these gadgets on my own, what I have given below are my armchair observations. 

Teewe

We will start with a Bangalore (India) product. It’s called Teewe, this device is probably the cheapest you can get in India,  costing INR 1999 ($32).  It’s a small USB dongle like gadget that has just two ports, one Micro USB for power input and the second a HDMI port connects to TV/Projector to output video/audio. Teewe allows you to play content (Music, Videos and Pictures) from your local device or from YouTube, on to a big screen (TV/Projector). Teewe gadget has no controls on it (I like this). You control it remotely from an App that’s available for Android, iOS, Mac OS X & Windows PC (no Windows Phone). It requires an existing Wi-Fi Network to which both your device (Phone/Laptop) and Teewe gadget can both connect to.

One missing feature for me was Teewe not supporting screen casting. This means Teewe can’t mirror your entire device screen (say Android phone or Windows laptop) on to the big screen. This means you can’t project your Powerpoint slides or Excel spreadsheets or Internet browser.

If Music/Video/Photo/YouTube is all you want to play on a big screen and your device is Android, iOS, Mac OS X or Windows PC, you should try out Teewe.

An HDMI dongle which plugs into your TV.

Teepee – An HDMI dongle which plugs into your TV

Google Chromecast

In this HDMI dongle, this is the widely familiar product – Google Chromecast, costing $35 in USA. This week Google India that Chromecast will be coming soon to India for Rs.2999 ($49). This too looks like Teewe, has a HDMI and Micro USB Port (for Power), has an App for Android, iOS, Mac OS X and Windows PC devices (again no Windows Phone). It allows you to play any media (Video, Picture, Music) and YouTube content. Apart from this you can screencast what’s on your Android device (this works only for Android) and Google Chrome browser tabs. There is currently an “experimental” mode to screencast your entire desktop (PC screen) using Chromecast as well.

This gadget is a widely supported one across many apps and platforms, apps including Plex.TV support Chromecast.

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast

Update 12/Dec/2014: Google updated screen casting to work with any device running Android 4.4.2 or higher with the Chromecast app, which can now share screen to Chromecast.

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

You know it’s a Microsoft product because of the uncool name it has – Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter. Its available only in USA and it costs $60.

This is also a USB dongle like device with HDMI and MicroUSB port for power. It has apps for Android & Windows 8 that allows you to play not only media but entire screen including presentations from your Windows PC or Android devices. This is the only device that I could find that supports Windows Phone. It’s a Miracast supported device. Microsoft’s device uses Wi-Fi Direct which means even if you don’t have a Wi-Fi network your mobile device and Wireless Display Adapter can work together.

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Windows 7 Screencasting

If your device that you want to project is not an Android/iOS/Mac OS/Windows 8 but old Windows 7, then you need to buy any one of the 3rd party gadgets out there. I found this one called Actiontec Screenbeam costing $70 or so.

Others

Apart from the above products, I noticed there are two other popular gadgets. First is Amazon Fire TV Stick costing $39 and supports voice commands. Second is Roku Streaming stick costing $50. Both come with convenient remote control as well.

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Google, Microsoft, Miscellanous

USB to Ethernet Adapter

I have a  Surface Pro that I use when I am travelling. When you are travelling (I do little of it nowadays) you will find yourself in locations (strangely) that still has an Ethernet port available but no Wi-Fi. In some hotels Wired (Ethernet) Internet may be free, but Wi-Fi  chargeable. So it’s good always to be able to connect one of your device to wired ethernet. Surface Pro, just like MacBook Air or iPad doesn’t have an Ethernet Port. To connect you will need a USB to Ethernet Adapter. I was having one inexpensive one when I was using MacBook Air few years back, that I seemed to have misplaced.

I went to my local electronics shop and bought the below device. It was a Chinese made device called “Live Tech USB 2.0 LAN Adapter” that costed Rs.390 (USD 6) . Plugging it in Surface Pro, Windows 8.1 immediately recognised the device and installed the necessary drivers. I was up and running in few minutes. Speed was good for normal usage that I tested on.

Live Tech USB 2.0 to LAN Adapter

Live Tech USB 2.0 to LAN Adapter

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Microsoft

Windows 10 Technical Preview Build 9860

Earlier this month Microsoft announced the next version of Windows, its called Windows 9, its Windows 10. Anyone can download the technical preview from Preview site, after registering for free as a Windows Insider. Last few weeks I was playing with it in a VHD Dual-boot setup (Instructions on how to setup VHD Boot), this way my work PC setup with Windows 8.1 is not messed up as Windows10 is not production ready yet.

Few day sago Microsoft announced an update to Windows 10 Technical preview, its now build 9860. Apart from few tweaks this build introduces early versions of a Notification center. I tried to run Windows update to get this build from my VHD Dual Boot setup, unfortunately it is not supported. There is no updated ISO image of this build as well. The only way to get this build is to install the earlier released Technical Preview build and then run Windows update to get build 9860. This meant, I had to delete the VHD Dual Boot setup.

I decided to install Windows 10 Technical Preview in a virtualized setup. In my Windows 8.1 PC, I use Virtual Box for doing Virtualization, its simple and easy to use for my usage over Hyper-V, which is awesome for Windows Server environment but complex for developer/consumer usage like mine. After installing the Guest OS (Windows 10), Virtual Box Guest Additions didn’t get installed, it was not supported for Windows 10.

After I updated to latest version (4.3.r18) of Oracle Virtual Box, I was able to install the Guest Additions for Windows 10.

Now I could get Windows 10 Technical Preview updated to latest build (9860).

Windows-10-TechPreview-Build9860-under-VirtualBox

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Entertainment, Gadgets, Microsoft

XBOX Live – YouTube and OneDrive

Few months back Microsoft announced to make more services available free for XBOX Live users. This meant without paying for XBOX Live Gold subscription (around $10 per month) you can use popular apps like YouTube, Internet Explorer and OneDrive in your XBOX consoles.

I have two XBOX 360’s in house, I swapped one my son was using (XBOX 360 Halo edition) which broke down today with another one (XBOX 360 White) which was lying around unused. While doing it, I formatted the XBOX HDD, downloaded his profile and added my profile as well. After I adding my profile I downloaded the apps – YouTube, Internet Explorer and OneDrive. All of them worked brilliantly.

Using YouTube app in XBOX 360

Using YouTube app in XBOX 360

Google’s has done a fine job in authenticating and pairing devices like XBOX & TVs with your YouTube account through a code that appears on screen that you need to type in YouTube site from any device. The app in XBOX 360 allowed me to watch my favorites, uploads & subscriptions in YouTube. Once I pair a mobile device with XBOX YouTube app, I could search, select the video and play it from my iPad or Android phone and it automatically plays on the console (TV). Just like Apple TV Airplay but for YouTube. Cool.

Using Internet Explorer app in XBOX 360

Using Internet Explorer app in XBOX 360

Internet Explorer in XBOX 360 allowed me to browse the Internet easily, of course to be effective you need a USB keyboard plugged in the USB port of XBOX. Otherwise entering URLs through onscreen keyboard and controller is a pain. Unfortunately Internet Explorer in XBOX 360 didn’t display Unicode characters particularly my mother tongue Tamil. I guess in the new XBOX One console this should have been addressed as it is based on Windows 8 OS kernel.

Using Microsoft OneDrive app in XBOX 360

Using Microsoft OneDrive app in XBOX 360

Out of the 3 unexpectedly the one that impressed me was OneDrive. I can easily drop pictures or music into OneDrive account from my phone (Lumia 925) or desktop (PC or Mac) and access them from XBOX using this app, impressive stuff.

After setting this console I went back to the broken one (Halo Edition), the problem with it was the Optical Drive (DVD) wasn’t opening. From standing position I kept it flat in the table and voila, the drive opened. Now I have a working backup!!!

 

 

 

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Gadgets, Microsoft

My new Workstation PC

My main PC at work was becoming slow for my usage. It was a Core i7 (Gen 1) with 8GB RAM, 500GB (10000 RPM HDD) with Dual monitors. In the last few months I upgraded the Graphics Card, 27″ inches (dual) monitors and put in a Bluetooth dongle. But there is only so much you can do to an old machine. I went shopping for a new Workstation PC.

The specification I wished for was:

  1. Intel Core i7 (4th Gen) Quad Core
  2. 16GB RAM
  3. 1TB HDD or 250GB SSD
  4. Display for Dual HDMI/Dual DVI output supporting 1080p
  5. Bluetooth 4.0 built-in
  6. Gigabit Ethernet port
  7. USB 3.0 ports (sufficient nos)
  8. Windows 8.1 Pro (please no Mac OS for work)

All the above for a price of less than Rs.1 Lakh (USD 1650). No laptops as I have a Surface Pro 1 and I was not planning to carry this anywhere.

I spent nearly 2 weeks looking around, spoke to local vendors, browsing  endlessly online. I couldn’t find any that fit my requirement. The only Desktop PCs I could find in India were All-In-One Touch PC’s, which I didn’t want for work as I prefer using Dual monitors and I have already spent on two 27″ monitors recently. OEMs like Dell & Lenovo had in their websites highend Desktops listed but when asked for quote, none of them reverted back. For the configuration I wanted I could only see laptops and I disliked the idea of spending for a laptop with a large 17″ display and not using it. Finally my regular vendor suggested I look at Apple Mac.

It looked like regular (non touch) Desktop PC market in India was dead. For Windows choice was only laptops & All in Touch.

With no other choice I looked at Apple Macs, deciding that I can load Windows 8 through Bootcamp and I can try Mac OS Yosemite as well in the sides. I narrowed to Mac Mini, as I both iMac & Mac Book Pro was not what I was looking for.  I got a quote of Rs.124,800 (USD 2070) for latest Mac Mini with 2.6Ghz Core i7, 1TB fusion drive, 16GB (vendor added 8GB), HDMI to DVI adapter & Mini Displayport to Dual-Link DVI Adapter. Mac Mini comes with all necessary ports (Ethernet, Bluetooth 4, WiFi, USB 3, Thunderbolt).

Before I placed the order I wanted to check all the features in Mac Mini works in Windows environment as well. Apple FAQ stated that drivers were available for Windows 8 including for Bluetooth, but the fusion drive will work only for Mac OS (disappointing but understandable). My support engineer suggested we try connecting two displays to a Mac Mini we already had in our office just to ensure everything works as advertised. We didn’t have Apple Thunderbolt to HDMI Adapter but we managed to connect two displays to Mac Mini, one using Mini Display Port & the second with HDMI. The two ports (Mini Display & HDMI) were close to each other in Mac Mini (unlike what you expect from Apple design) and it took a bit of effort and sampling 3-4 HDMI cables before we got the two in and the displays worked.

Connecting Dual Monitors to Mac Mini using Mini Display Port & HDMI

Connecting Dual Monitors to Mac Mini using Mini Display Port & HDMI

Seeing the above somehow I became uncomfortable. Waited for another week, luckily my vendor came back with a good news that HP has released very recently a new Desktop series that might fit my bill. Looking into it, it did match and I ordered it. The new Desktop PC came two weeks back and I am happy with the choice.

The PC I went for is “HP ENVY Phoenix 810-101in” costing Rs.90448 inclusive of taxes and with 3 years warranty.

Windows 8.1 PC with Corei7,16GB,2TB HDD,Blueray

Windows 8.1 PC with Corei7,16GB,2TB HDD,Blueray

Configuration of the PC was:

  1. Intel Core i7 4770 (4th Gen) 3.4Ghz Quad Core
  2. 16GB RAM (DDR3 1600)
  3. 2TB HDD with 16GB mSATA disk caching SSD (similar to Fusion Drive in Mac)c03750320
  4. NVidia GeForce GT 640 having DisplayPort (2560×1600), DVI (2560×1600) & HDMI (1920 x 1080)
  5. Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi (802.11b/g/n)c03784168
  6. Gigabit Ethernet Port
  7. 6 x USB 3.0 (2 each in Top,Front & Back); 4 x USB 2.0 Ports (2 each in Front & Back); Headphone ports in Front & Back; Multimedia card reader (SD and others)
  8. Windows 8.1 (no Windows Pro unfortunately)
  9. BlueRay optical disk (this was bonus but I don’t think I will watch movies at Work)

Added to above, the PC came with wireless keyboard and wireless optical mouse. For bonus the front audio output support Beats Audio for fine Audio reproduction.

Windows 8.1 Device Manager showing HP ENVY Phoenix 810-101

Windows 8.1 Device Manager showing HP ENVY Phoenix 810-101

For Windows OS configuration (not having Windows 8.1 Pro edition), I was worried that I had to format and reinstall Windows which will mean I will loose all HP default drivers and I have to spend getting everything working. It turned out it was easier than I feared. I got a Windows Pro key through our Microsoft Partnership program (you can buy Windows 8.1 Pro in retail) and inputting the key meant the PC upgraded to Pro effortlessly with all drivers and apps intact.

After solving the Windows edition issue, I proceed to uninstall all the crapware installed by default by HP. The main culprit in the list was WildTangent games, which has to be uninstalled from Windows Add/Remove Programs (you need to select manually some 39 check boxes to get rid of all games) and for each user from the Metro UI Start screen. The Cyberlink Media suite turned out to be better than I expected and I need them for Blueray playing and Optical disk writing, so I didn’t uninstall them.

Uninstalling Wildtangent games in HP Envy Phoenix

Uninstalling Wildtangent games in HP Envy Phoenix

 

At work, we have Microsoft Office 365 subscription for all team members. In the new PC, Windows 8.1 had put in a shortcut to Microsoft Office, I just entered the credentials to my Office365 subscription and voilla the copy of MS Office got activated, effortless.

Overall I am very happy with the new PC. Its fast, has all the ports I want, Audio is great and Windows 8.1 runs fantastic. Thanks HP for still producing great Desktop PCs.

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