Plex – My new favourite way to stream

Plex (software)

Plex (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previously my streaming needs were met by streaming from my NAS to the XBox… But this comes with it’s limitations, mainly the codec support although the standard UPnPUI is pretty basic too.

I’ve been given a Roku on trial (which I can’t discuss about just yet) and this was an ideal platform for me to look at creating a home media system with a bit more emphasis on usability, interface and being smarter than an average UPnP setup.  As such Plex was the obvious choice (it was between Plex and XBMC, but lack of native XBMC support on the Roku made it an easy choice)

So what is Plex?

I’ll only go top level here, if you’re interested then I recommend reading more on the Plexapp website. In  essence, Plex is a streaming solution based on the popular XBMC platform. It comprises of two parts; Firstly, Server software which sits on the device which is connected to your media and the second piece of software sits on the receiving device and is like the navigation dashboard.

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What’s really cool is you can set the Plex server software to run on Windows, OS X, Linux & NAS drives. This server software will monitor your folders for changes, and will fetch the metadata for the movies, music, tv shows you have on your drives from the internet and show it as a nice interface for you to choose what you want to watch and see more details about it. It also records what you watched (so you can sort by unwatched) as well as what you last watched so it can recommend the next program in a series to watch, or remember your location so you can restart a film from where you left off.

Movies, TV Series, Music etc are all organised into their relative groups and offered as per the above picture, when hovering over an item or selecting it you are presented with more information about the particular item such as synopsis, fan art, actors, year of release, director, quality of the file etc.

I really love the interface and functionality. It makes choosing a film to watch so much easier and actually an enjoyable experience, I now just scroll to my unwatched list on the Plex client for the Roku, and then just have a flick to see what I fancy. When I want to put a movie on for my daughter (who’s not so fussed whether she’s seen it or not as she’s only 2), I just scroll to categories and select Family or Animation and then let her pick what she wants to watch. You can easily search by groups of; unwatched, genre, year, director, actor, quality (i.e. SD, 720, 1080 etc), even compilation such as select ‘James Bond’ and all my Bond films show up.

TV is similar, you can search the program in a multitude of ways and then it’ll break it down by series… and even fetches the TV theme tune to play when you have it selected. Great touch!

I highly recommend anyone take a look at this FREE streaming software (I was so impressed I’ve become a lifetime PlexPass subscriber which gives you a few more features and early release). If you have a device which has your media on, then it’ll most likely work, and you can stream to a multitude of devices from the same PC as the server software is on, to Roku’s, Android phones, IOS, Windows Phone, Windows 8, Google TV and also some smart TV‘s from Sony, LG or Samsung. I also hear they are looking to stream to ChromeCast in the future which is what I’ll probably get when the Roku has to go back.

Did I mention this is free software? Why not check it out, from the below link. You have nothing to lose except maybe some time, but I love it and if you have a large unorganised media database this makes it so much easier to navigate around.

I’ve only really touched on the base of what Plex can do, there’s so much like automatic synchronisation to mobile devices, transcoding media automatically to work on the device being streamed to, remote play etc. Just have a look, I assure you it’s great!

 

Links:

Roku – http://www.roku.com

Plex: http://www.plexapp.com

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Review: HTC One Screen Protector

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A few initial points to note:

A) There are 2 protectors included in the pack

B) There is no application card or cleaning cloth – despite what is advertised on Amazon.co.uk

Application:
You can use any micro-fibre cloth you may have handily available to clean the screen. As for applying the protector, I would recommend getting a credit card (or something similar) ready. Then Remove the top part (maybe 1cm) of the backing cover on the protector and carefully attach this to the top of the phones screen. Now work your way down the screen slowly pulling the backing cover up and applying pressure in the fold with the credit card to push any air bubbles out the way and ensuring a clean and full application.

Take your time! It may take a few minutes to apply, but done right this will ensure you have no dust/dirt or air pockets in between the screen and protector and will make this seem like an invisible protection. There are plenty of visual guides to applying these protectors on YouTube if you want to have a visual aid.

As for the product itself, after following the guide above I’ve found that the protector does not stick fully in the corners. Whilst in the most part your screen will be protected it doesn’t look like a clean fit against the screen and to this I have removed it. I’m afraid to say that for an official product this doesn’t quite meet the mark.

Quick Review: QNAP TS-210 SOHO NAS

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I love it, this NAS forms the base of my Home Media/Networking setup. All my files, media, programs etc are all saved on here with individual access for each user. There are so many benefits that I can’t go into them all, however would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a NAS to build a home network. The only thing for me is the CPU & RAM are a little low, but then I guess you get what you pay for and higher specced models are a big jump up. This is perfect for light to moderate usage and streaming media over a wireless N network.

Review: Anker High Precision Programmable Laser Gaming Mouse with 8000 DPI

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First off, I’m not a gamer. However I have Anker products and this is a brand I trust, so getting this mouse as a replacement to my ‘dumb’ mouse was really an easy decision and I would recommend this to anyone.

While slightly larger than my old mouse it fits perfectly into the palm of my hand. The grip point by the thumb is a nice addition to ensure your thumb sits nicely in the right spot with the customisable buttons neatly resting above (the middle button above the thumb also has some ridges to help easily identify which button is which without looking). The mouse glides well over any surface and doesn’t seem to collect grime on the pads as easily as my old mouse. As mentioned in TdHD’s review the Anker logo light is completely customisable to be off or have different breathing speeds and colours. The other lights can only change colour (scroll wheel & DPI lights). While the mouse to me was a little light, the addition of a few supplied weights helped tailor this mouse to be just right for me which is a welcome option. Overall a well built, well designed quality mouse which has already raised a few glances and comments in my office.

As mentioned, I am not a PC gamer… But, I do use a PC a lot for Spreadsheets, VBA, all sorts of other stuff. Sometimes I demonstrate what I am doing and it’s not easy to have the keyboard at hand. By changing the defaults of some of the button clicks I now have direct access to all of my needed tasks directly by my hand, i.e. highlight the text, click a button on the mouse – text is copied. Click a cell somewhere else, click another button – pasted. Fantastic! While I have no real use for the macro record button (hence why I changed the behaviour) I can see that this would be an excellent option for gamers to easily record a melee attack or any other multi-key stroke behaviour which could give an upper-hand in a game.

Installation was a simple plug and play, then off to the ianker website to download the latest drivers in order to customise the mouse. Once installed it’s very intuitive to navigate and select what you want to change.

Ideal users – Obviously gamers. But I will add that anyone who uses keyboard shortcuts, precision software (i.e. photoshop for fine editing thanks to the higher DPI) or just anyone who wants to stand out a little more with a funky mouse sat on their desk will benefit from the features on offer with this mouse. Also of note is that you can have 2 different profiles, so whilst it’s not a quick fix to change the weight of the mouse it’s simple to setup a profile for 2 people who use a computer and each have your own personal settings configured. Another option would be to say have one profile setup for Windows general (copy, paste, windows button etc.) and another profile for Photoshop with buttons set for shortcuts to certain tasks (or for gamers, a Windows profile, and a WoW etc. profile).

Overall for the price this is on offer for I really don’t think you could get much better… Even if you don’t need the higher DPI rate (which other mice in this class are much more expensive), it’s a useful ability to have. Especially with the toggle button to quickly go between 4 customisable made variables. I’ve used the word customisable a lot in this review, and this mouse is exactly that. With the ability to change the weight, lighting, button press functions, DPI, scroll speed/acceleration it really means you can do what you want,when you want. Kudos to Anker for the quality of the product in a price range that needs no second-thought on purchasing. Seriously, if you are reading this then you must be interested in the product (or looking for a mouse of sorts). You won’t find anything better in it’s class and I would suggest the ‘Buy now’ or ‘Add to basket’ button should be the next one you click.

This Anker Mouse is currently available for £25.99 on Amazon.co.uk

Review: Anker® Uspeed USB 3.0 to HDMI / DVI Adapter

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OK, so I have an older laptop (must be about 6 years old now). As such I do not have HDMI out or DVI Out, if I want to connect to the TV I have to use VGA…. But my TV doesn’t support an audio-in as well as VGA. Problem!

So while I don’t need to connect the Laptop to the the TV regularly, Media streaming is accomplished through a NAS and X-Box360 combo. It is still handy to be able to connect the laptop for watching videos with encoders that cannot be played through the X-Box directly such as mkv.

All you need to do is visit the DisplayLink website to download the latest drivers (I decided to just do this direct and not use the pre-packed driver disc to ensure I was running the latest from the start). Once done, plug the device in and let the drivers install, then I plugged it into the TV a violla. Perfect picture and sound on my TV either as an extension to my homescreen or as a duplicate.

I could not be happier, it was so easy to do and the adapter in itself is not huge to become an annoyance if taking it away with you. The added DVI adapter would come in use for those with HDMI ports already taken up on your TV and do not want to unplug, or want to permanently set your PC to the TV as you can just use DVI port instead of HDMI for not much sacrifice in quality.

The only negative I could have for this (and this is more a personal issue) is the length of the USB cable could be a little longer for me to save pulling the pre-existing HDMI cable a bit more out from the cable tidy. But this is really my own issue, so is not impacted on my score for the product.

Nice product, well thought-out and excellent quality as always. Thanks Anker!

Review: Telldus Tellstick NET

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I got this product and have to say that it’s great for a low-cost Home Automation setup. The availability of receiver products is quite wide, although not many are offered through the Amazon website. There are lots of websites which offer receivers such as plugs, light switches/dimmers, temperature sensors, door locks etc.

The benefit of the net is it works with X10, HomeEasy, Nexa and lots of other products using the 433Mhz frequency. All of which can be controlled from anywhere in the world using the Telldus.Live website or Smartphone apps which are built using the API. iPhone users have an official app available, while for Android I recommend the third party app: RemoteStick. You can also easily schedule devices to turn on/off so for instance you can set your Kettle/Coffee machine up the night before and time it to come on before you wake. Or Save power by plugging things like TV’s into a switch so that at night it’s completely shut off instead of in standby.

As for the device; The main unit is small and plugs into your router via an ethernet cable (supplied). Power to the unit is supplied through USB either directly from a socket, or if your router has a USB you can power it from this also (again, relevant cables/plugs provided). My BT HomeHub3 has a USB and this is used to power the transmitter directly.

Once plugged in, you need to go to the Telldus.Live website to authorise the device (all communication goes through the Telldus web servers, this is one of the only downsides to the Tellstick-NET as if you lose Internet connectivity in your home or the servers go down then you cannot control any receiver units until communication is restored). I believe this is something the developers are looking at to see if they can achieve local transmission.

Once done you are good to start adding receiver devices to your home. I initially had 3 plug sockets from Nexa and an Wireless Temperature Sensor THN132N to setup. The Temp sensor just needed batteries and to be placed, the Tellstick picked this up straight away and started receiving readings.

The Nexa plugs I placed 1 on our Kettle plug, 1 on the multi-adapter for the TV/Entertainment setup and the last in the bedroom for things like hair straighteners etc to be plugged into (reason for this is so that if my wife leaves the house and is unsure if she unplugged them, we can just use an app on our phones to remotely turn the switch off – Or if you have Android, you can use a combination of the apps Tasker, AutoRemote & RemoteStick to automatically turn off any plugs when everyone is out the house. Which is what I have done).

The Nexa units again were easy to add to the Tellstick Live account. And all in all setup took about half an hour. I have since added a HomeEasy light dimmer to our bedroom so that I can a.) Turn off the lights in the bedroom without getting out of bed. And, b.) In the morning I have the lights start to dim up in stages starting from about half an hour before my phone alarm is due to go off. Mimicking sunrise to try and make waking up in the morning easier. This is quite an advanced scheme, again using Android apps Tasker, RemoteStick and AutoAlarm. Another setup I had at Christmas time was to turn the Christmas Tree lights on when we were at home, and as soon as we left (i.e. both mine and my wifes phones disconnected from the Wi-Fi) or my tasker night profile became active the lights would turn off.

Summary:
Some of the setups I have are a bit more advanced. However if you are looking to start low-cost Home Automation it is easy to install the tellstick and some plug switches so that you can easily control devices from your phone or while out of the home using smartphone apps or the Telldus.Live website. I would highly recommend anyone consider this as a good option for starting in Home Automation as there are a good range of compatible devices (you can see what on the Telldus website) and these devices are relatively cheap. A set of 3 Nexa plugs come in at around £15.

I love this and am looking at ways of further extending what I can do with it including Heating Control, motion sensors, door opening sensors etc.

Review: HTC In-Car Smartphone Cradle for HTC One

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Packaging & Contents:
Great packaging and just the right size for the product itself. In the box you get the Car Holder with suction mount, a separate disc with sticky pad so you can stick this to your dash/interior and can then use the suction mount against this if window mount is not feasible. A Car charger (for cigarette lighter) and USB cable which is specifically designed with clips so the to secure it to the mount. Lastly, a user guide with multi-language instructions detailing how to fit the carkit and operation.

Products & Fitting:
The main bulk of the car kit is a great quality plastic and looks very good. I like the fact that the suction section is twist-to-stick as opposed to most previous mounts I’ve had which have a tough clip to secure the suction which looks unsightly. This gives the mount a clean look with no unobtrusive parts. The overall size is 9.5cm from base of the suction section to the outside edge of the phone cradle. The phone holder is 7cm in width and 10cm in length, so when adding the phone in you’ll need a space of about 12/13cm lengthwise.

There are 2 ball joints with a connector rod about 2/3cm long. These parts are made from polished silver to give that expensive feel to it. One ball joint is in the suction section and the other on the rear of the phone cradle. This is to enable you to easily swivel the direction of the phone to pretty much any angle you wish… Out of all car kits I’ve had this is a great feature and much better than any previous clip/unclip angle finders which are far more limited than this ball joint mechanism.

The joints are fairly stiff to manoeuvre, but easy enough that it won’t cause any problems angling the phone to how you want it. This means that there should be no worries about the angle moving as you drive or hit bumps. In my opinion this is the perfect balance between stiffness & maneuverability.

The Cigarette adapter isn’t the smallest or cleanest I’ve seen with some protrusion out of the lighter unit by about 3cm, adding the extra from the USB cable end you have to allow for at least 6cm before you get to the flexible cable. It may have also been nice to have a dual USB output, but the single output is fine for my needs and the plastic top has a matt finish to it, while the main body is a shiny plastic. Other than that it is a standard USB sized output, so could be easily used for charging any other USB device.

The supplied cable is around 180cm in length so you should have no problems reaching from the cigarette lighter to wherever you decide to place the mount. Excess cable is suggested to wrap around the silver arm, and there is a space in the suction removal pull tab to hook the cable into to keep it neat and tidy. One end is the standard larger USB and the other end comprises of the smaller micro-USB plug protruding from a small clip which allows this to be securely fitted to the phone cradle. As the plug is protruding, it is entirely feasible to use this for any device which uses the micro-USB connector as a charge port and does not limit you to only having this for the specific use intended.

I have fitted mine to the car using the supplied place pad. Suction is really strong and you can move the angle with ease without any risk of it coming loose. One point to note is that if you turn the phone holder clockwise it can detach from the rest of the unit. I’m not sure of the reason for this, maybe so it can be used as a temporary phone case. However, I wouldn’t suggest this be used as it’s not as sturdy as official phone cases. I would like to see this section be offered as an additional accessory in case of breaking as it is just plastic.

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Usage with Phone:
The phone slides snugly into the cradle, sometimes I’ve had to tweak the charging pin slightly to get it to connect. But it’s not too much of an issue, and isn’t too hard to accomplish. Once the phone is in situ it’s easy to manipulate the phone to the right angle if you’ve knocked it out while inserting the phone. Bluetooth is automatically started, a connection to the handsfree made and the Car Home application loads (unless told not to from within the Car Home app settings).

Options available from the Car Home Application Settings screen;
‘Auto launch’ – Start app when my phone connects to my car dock
‘Auto play’ – Resume Music or Radio after launching app (this will load your last played track or radio station)
‘Auto connect’ – Auto connect to my Bluetooth devices (select which device you want the app to connect to by default)
‘Voice call accessory’ – This allows you to switch in app to a different Bluetooth Device
‘Audio-out accessory’ – Same as above, but for Audio out instead of call out
‘Beats Audio’ – Select this to enable Beats Audio to be applied to your streamed music
‘Read out notification’ – Announce incoming calls and new messages and allow voice command to react to them
‘Notification preview’ – Announce caller ID and sender information for new calls and sender for new messages
‘Show disclaimer’ – Show disclaimer every time I use this app

By default the main screen shows you large image of clock and weather – These are non-interactive so you cannot adjust any clock settings. There is a large button displayed to show you the ‘last played/playing now’ track and several buttons for sending you straight to Navigation, Dialer, Music, Speak, People, Settings, Exit and a ‘+’ button to allow you to add a shortcut to any app you have in your drawer. I would have like the option to add widgets to the Car Home screen as you have multiple screens which you can easily swipe to.

Other than that the buttons are clear and easy to access at a quick glance. It seems that HTC have really tried to provide several levels with this app and not just let the buttons take you to the relevant inbuilt application. i.e. when you press “Dialer” you get a dialer with larger buttons to make it easier while driving. Pressing Navigation takes you to a screen with multiple (large) buttons to either go straight to Google maps, Previous Destinations, Appointment locations, Gas stations, Restaurants etc. It even has the option to go by photo, using the location info from the photo’s in your gallery (if available).

Speak is interesting. It’s quite clever in so much that when you press this button it simulates a call to itself so that you actually speak and hear with your handsfree for the voice commands rather than using the phone’s inbuilt mic & speaker. One issue I’ve encountered is if the voice command fails sometimes the call remains active and you have to manually end it.

Other than the few little issues the app is really good. Screen stays on while docked so you don’t have to keep pressing the unlock button on the phone. The app works like a launcher so you cannot press the home button to exit it which is a little annoying if you want to access any other apps while the phone is docked, but I can see the reason for this.

Handily when undocking the phone Bluetooth is disabled, so be careful if you’re in a call on your handsfree and want to continue the conversation while in the car after stopping.

Overall Opinion:
This is a great quality accessory, build is exceptional which is what would be expected for an OEM product. Slightly dearer in cost than some multi-purpose carkits, but you get what you pay for with this. But if you’re getting a One and want to extend that luxury feel to the car environment you certainly would not go wrong purchasing this product. Looks-wise it stands out from the crowd and should have the envy of everyone who sees it.

Only negative is really to do with the charging adapter. I would have liked this to sit as flush as possible in the cigarette lighter unit as is possible with some other adapters. To this end I may purchase a smaller adapter to make things as neat as possible.