Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Boosty Your Broadband at The Gadget Show

Posted by Andrew at 2:31 PM on April 14, 2014

Boosty BoxWhile many of us are fortunate enough to be served by fibre connections to our homes, many of us are still stuck on copper ADSL circuits with single digit download speeds. This isn’t great, especially with the rise of on-line gaming, movies-on-demand and second screening. Most of us have a another high speed data connection in our smartphone and this is where Boosty comes in, seamlessly adding a 3G / 4G mobile data connection to your home network.

I talk to Paul about how easy it is to add the box to your network and the accompanying service which lets you control who uses the mobile data and how much data is used. The Boosty box can use a WiFi connected smartphone or a 3G/4G USB dongle.

Boosty will be available in the next few weeks for £69.99 which includes the cost of the Boosty box plus a year’s subscription to the service. Pre-order at the Boosty site now.

D-Link NVR and Low-Light Webcam

Posted by Andrew at 12:16 PM on January 24, 2014

D-Link LogoAt CES’ Digital Experience, Ken from D-Link tells Todd about their new network video recorder (NVR) and low-light webcam.

The NVR can record up to 9 IP cameras at once, storing the images on the SATA drive. The feeds can be viewed either via an attached HDMI monitor or else viewed remotely via D-Link’s mydlink solution which securely connects from the Internet back to devices in the home, using a web browser or a smartphone app.

The low-light web camera works down to 0.01 lux light levels and can still pick out colours. In complete darkness, a white LED provides illumination for up to 50 feet. As you’d expect, it’s 802.11ac wireless.

Both the NVR and the webcam will have an MSRP of US$379 when they go on sale in April ’14.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Lantronix Prints From Android and Chrome at CES

Posted by Andrew at 8:16 AM on January 7, 2014

Lantronix LogoThere are times when only hard copy will do but anyone who has tried to print from a tablet will know that it’s not always easy. The main ecosystems from Apple and Google have their own printer strategies with AirPrint and Cloud Print respectively but support is spotty at best. Several printer manufacturers have gone so far as to create their own printer app which really is a pretty poor state of affairs.

Into this gap steps Lantronix with their xPrintServer Cloud Print Edition, the first Google-certified Cloud Print server which lets Android and ChromeOS devices print wirelessly to network and USB printers. Sweet.

xPrintServer

The unit is about the size of a smartphone and requires no additional software downloads or printer drivers. It’s simply a case of connecting the device to the network and it automatically finds the printers on the network, making them available to users. The xPrintServer Cloud Print Edition supports any device running Google’s Chrome browser, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, PC or laptop. Apparently there are over 310 million active users of Chrome, so that’s quite a few people who might want to print. Business users of Google Apps are supported too. Details of the printers supported are available from Lantronix’s website.

This new xPrintServer joins the existing Home and Office Editions which provide print services for iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

The Cloud Print Edition sells for an MSRP of US$149.95 and will ship at the end of February 2014. Pre-orders are being taken now and potential customers can sign up at lantronix.com for more information and availability. Of course, if you are at CES, you can pop round to their stand for a quick demo.

Gigabit Powerline from Trendnet at CES

Posted by Andrew at 8:37 AM on January 5, 2014

TRENDnet LogoNetworking over electrical power lines has come a long way since the first HomePlug specification back in 2008 which was was rated at 14 Mb/s. Today network specialists Trendnet have announced a gigabit class, Powerline 1000, with the launch of the TPL-420E2K adaptors.

Trendnet Powerline 1000Based on the HomePlug AV2 standard and using MIMO techniques originally used in wireless data transmission, Powerline 1000 doubles the speed of the previous implementation.

Zak Wood, director of global marketing of Trendnet said, “Trendnet’s TPL-420E2K is designed to easily handle multi-HD streams in a busy connected home.

For the first time, Powerline products use all three electrical wires: the live, neutral, and ground (earth) wires. MIMO technology sends information over the fastest two out of the three available electrical wires. If a user lives in an old home which is not cabled with ground wires, the maximum throughput is reduced from 1,000 to 600 Mb/s.

The TPL-420E2K connects over electrical lines for distances of up to 300 m (a little less than 1000 ft), which is roughly the size of 5,000 square foot home. Powerline 1000 is compatible with existing Powerline 500, 200 and HomePlug AV rated products but when connected to a lower speed adapter, speeds are reduced to the lower rated adapter.

As you’d expected, the communication between the adapters is encrypted and to reduce energy consumption, the TPL-420E2K units go into standby mode when not in use.

The MSRP is US$169 but the Powerline 1000 units are not expected until June 2014. I’m looking forward to testing these already, especially if Trendnet produces an adaptor which incorporates a fast wireless access point.

Philips Hue and IFTTT

Posted by Andrew at 3:48 AM on January 2, 2014

Hue Personal Wireless LightingIn my first post on Philips Hue, I referred to “The Internet of things” where normally dumb devices such as fridges and washing machines are connected to the network. Having a washing machine with an IP address may mean that I can check whether the spin cycle has finished without getting out of my chair, but the real value of the internet of things comes when the devices start communicating among themselves. Not in a nefarious SkyNet way, but in a more practical sense: the washing machine counts the number of washes and when the soap is getting low, automatically orders your preferred brand from your preferred grocery service.

Obviously, it’s going to take a little while until this is a reality, but the web site IFTTT is beginning to show what is possible as more and more services are on-line and cloud-based. IFTTT is an abbreviation of “IThis, Then That” and reflects what IFTTT can do. It automates “If something happens, then I want that to happen”. In IFTTT-speak, a trigger on a channel generates an action on another (or the same) channel. A channel is typically an on-line or cloud-based service such as Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail, Evernote or Weather. An example of what could happen is, “If I get a tweet on Twitter, copy it to Evernote” or “Every morning at 7.00 am, text me the weather forecast”. These are recipes, as IFTTT calls them, and there’s a large range of them already cooked up on the IFTTT web site.

It’s at this point in the story that Philips Hue comes in as a channel on IFTTT, which means that the lights in your home can be controlled by external events via the recipes on IFTTT. Here are some examples of recipes already available; at sunset, turn on the lights; when it’s freezing outside, turn the lights blue; when you receive an email from a particular person, blink the links; when the stockmarket closes down, turn the lights red. Some recipes are perhaps more useful than others, but the range of channels means that there’s tremendous flexibility. There are currently 77 channels on IFTTT and you can browse by channel, so it’s easy to see all the recipes that involve Philips Hue.

Setting up your Hue to work with IFTTT is two step process but it only has to be done once. The first step is to register with the Philips Hue website and allow the site to access the bridge unit within your home. Once you’ve done this and have a username and password, you can control your lights from outside your home using the Hue app on your smartphone too, so it’s probably something that most Hue owners have already done.

Back at IFTTT, the second step is then to activate your Hue channel. You’ll need to supply your Hue username and password, and authorise IFTTT to access your account.

Activate Hue

Now I’m going reuse a recipe that someone else has already created. In this instance, I’m going to flash the lights when I receive an email with the latest GNC podcast. I’ve already activated my Gmail channel.

Gmail to Hue

All I have to do is put in the email address - geeknews at gmail.com - and any time I get an email from Todd, the lights flash. This is the basic recipe; there are others that use keywords or other information likely to be in an email. If I want to, I can choose one particular light or all of them. Once the information is typed in and the recipe has been activated, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the latest podcast email to come in. Blink, blink.

That’s it. All pretty straightforward. If you are more adventurous, you can delve deeper into the recipes to customise them to your needs but there are plenty on IFTTT to get you started and provide inspiration. Philips Hue aside, the insight into the possibilities of the “Internet of things” is incredible.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of articles on Philips Hue. It’s the first time that I’ve done this kind of short serial, so I’d welcome feedback in the comments on whether to actively search out similar opportunities.

Thanks again to Philips for the loan of the Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System.

Philips Hue Chrome App

Posted by Andrew at 7:00 AM on December 29, 2013

Hue Personal Wireless LightingWhile researching the Philips Hue Android apps, I discovered that currently there is a single Hue app for Chrome. It’s called Hueful and while it’s fairly basic, it deserves a mention as (a) it’s the only app on Chrome but (b) it shows that Chrome can support this kind of hardware-oriented app. Previously I would have discounted Chrome from being an option but Hueful works fine on my Chromebook.

Hueful isn’t a very advanced Hue app, being limited to setting colours of selected lamps and colour cycling. Sometimes lamps need to be told twice to take on a setting but they usually get there in the end.

Hueful

 

Hueful is free from the Chrome store.

Philips Hue Android Apps

Posted by Andrew at 6:14 PM on December 28, 2013

Hue Personal Wireless LightingLast week, I had a first look at the Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit from Philips. As I mentioned in the review, Philips has opened up the lighting system to developers via an API and this week, I’ll take a look at some of the apps available, both from 3rd party developers. As you’d expect, they run the gamut from “could do with more work” all the way through to “brilliant” but broadly fall into two categories, firstly those that are primarily concerned with setting the colour of the lights, and secondly those that do more interesting things. This review covers the apps that are currently available from Google Play and there are many similar apps available for iOS.

Hue Limited Edition, Colorful, Light Control, Speedy Hue and LampShade are all variants on the “set the colour of the lights”. All offer grouping of lamps into sets and the saving of colour combinations into favourites or presets. Here are a few screenshots, showing the main screens from each. As you’ll see, they pretty much do the same thing in different ways.

Hue Limited Edition

Hue Limited Edition

Colorful

Colorful

Speedy Hue

Speedy Hue

LampShade

LampShade

Light Control

Light Control

All worked as advertised, but I found that in this instance, less was often more. If I wanted to run an app with favourites or presets, I tended to use the Philips Hue app to set all the lights at once. However to quickly set the colour of a single light, I used Hue Limited Edition, rather than anything else. Light Control came a close second and Speedy Hue gets an honourable mention for the inclusion of a scheduler which will turn the lights on and off at specified times.

Speaking of alarms, Hue Alarm Clock takes waking up to the next level. Instead of an incessant beeping, Alarm Clock gently fades in a colour of your choice to wake you from your slumber. The screenshot is from the limited free version, not the paid version which has more options.

Hue Alarm Clock

There are two apps which purport to support voice recognition, and like “Star Trek”, you too can walk into a room and say, “Lights!” and the illumination comes up. Hue Talk takes an almost canned approach to the voice recognition with the user able to predefine the voice commands for  around 20 features, from turning all the lights on, turning the lights up and down, and changing the colour. The suggested voice commands are memorable phrases, such as “Yellow Submarine” and “Purple Rain” turning the lights the respective colours. You can change the commands to whatever you prefer so there’s no real intelligence here but it works well.

Hue Talk

On the other hand, SpeechHue, looks like it supports natural language but I could never get the app to work in the way that I imagined it should work. Some of the comments in the Google Play store say that it’s good once you work it out. Sorry, if I need to work out how the app works, it’s failed. Zero stars.

SpeechHue

LampShade and Colorful (after paid upgrades) work with NFC to set the lights. In theory, each room could have an NFC tag (or tags) such that when the tag is swiped by the smartphone, the app sets the lights just for that room or mood. It’s a neat idea but I wasn’t able to test the NFC features as I don’t have any NFC tags. I’ve ordered so I may report back later.

I’ve been saving the best until last and we come to apps from IJS Design who make the best Hue apps on Android bar none. Currently, there are four IJS apps, of which three – Christmas, Halloween and Fireworks – link holidays into Hue. So for the Christmas app, which includes New Year too, you get sound effects linked into Hue colour changes and effects. Think of it as a soundboard with lights. The apps also have moods which are longer music pieces with light effects and are more atmospheric, which are especially good when the sound is passed through a hifi.

Hue Christmas

Huey New Year

And finally, IJS Design’s Hue Disco is the single best Hue app on the market (IMHO). Simply, you play music on your hifi, place your smartphone or tablet nearby and Hue Disco changes the colour of the Hue lights in time to the track. There’s loads of adjustment possible, including microphone sensitivity, transition speed, brightness, colour temperature and strobe effects. For something more subtle, there’s Mood Control which cycles the lights on themed colours, such as sunrise or Christmas. All-in-all, totally brilliant and money well spent.

Hue Disco

A screenshot can’t show what it’s like in action, so here’s a video showing Hue Disco in action. You really can have a disco in your front room and it’s fantastic when paired with a music service like Spotify. I’ve been playing Christmas tracks non-stop.

That summarises the state of the Android Hue app space which appears to be growing healthily and similar apps are available for Apple devices. For me, the keeper apps are Hue Limited Edition and Hue Disco with Hue Talk close behind needing a bit of polishing. Have fun.

Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Review

Posted by Andrew at 12:51 AM on December 16, 2013

Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “The Internet of Things” back in 1999, but a decade later most of the on-line gadgets in my house are still recognisable as being technology. My fridge is still a fridge, my front door still needs a key and my house doesn’t talk to me.

That was the situation until a couple of weeks when I received a Philips Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit which lets me control the colour of light bulbs from my smartphone, both in the house and from outside across the internet. That’s the Internet of Things.

I can imagine that a number of GNC readers are going, “Huh? Why would I want to control the colour of my lightbulbs from my smartphone?” Until you see in action, you can’t believe how much fun and how cool it really is. Not only can you turn your house lights on as you drive up the road, you can co-ordinate the lighting with your mood or your decor. Want a Christmassy green and red? Not a problem. We’ll see exactly how it works a little later on.

So let’s take a quick look at what’s in the box of Philips Hue in more detail.

Philips Hue Box Exterior

Opening it up reveals two of the three main components, the wireless bridge and the bulbs themselves.

Philips Vue Interior

The bridge connects to your network via an ethernet cable and communicates with the light bulbs using Zigbee.

Hue Bridge

The bulbs are standard ES bulbs and there are GU10 and GR30 (SES) variants available as well. There doesn’t seem to be any bayonet cap versions (BC) so if you only have BC light fittings you might have to get some converters.

Hue Light Bulb

Setting up the system is very easy. Screw the bulbs into the lights. Connect the Hue bridge to the network with the ethernet cable and plug in the power adaptor. Load the Hue app onto your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Job done. It’s that straightforward. The first time the app runs, it looks for the Hue bridge on the network and once it’s found, you authorise the app to access Hue by pressing the button in the middle of the bridge. It’s a layer of security that stops unauthorised people or apps from accessing the Hue.

The Hue app lets you control all the lights connected to your bridge mainly via “scenes” which act as presets for each light’s colour settings. Here’s the main screen. Each mini photograph is a preset for a number of lights and it can be just one or all three.

Main Screen

Typically the settings are based on colours picked out from the picture associated with the scene. The screenshot below shows that lamp 1 will be orange and lamp 2 will be magenta.

Colour Scenes

It’s all a bit abstract until you see it in action, so here’s a short video of my controlling one lamp using a series of the scenes to run through some colour changes. It was filmed with my smartphone, so don’t expect too much! Remember too, that this is just one light  and try to imagine all three lights working together to colour a single room.

Philips have opened up Hue to developers and are steadily building an ecosystem around both their products and other apps developed by third parties. If you are already have a Philips TV with Ambilight, Hue can further enhance the experience with additional colour lighting. Light strips and Philip’s Living Colors Bloom can take the lighting effects beyond lights and lamps.

There’s a solid community behind Hue with people contributing their own scenes and I’ll be taking a look at some of the 3rd party apps in a follow up post next week, along with a further look at the main Hue app.

Philips Hue is available from the Apple Store and the starter kit used here costs a little under £180, which isn’t cheap, but compared with the costs of some of the custom solutions in this space, it’s a bargain. Note that although it’s sold through the Apple Store, it works with both iOS and Android devices.

Finally, Philips are running a Facebook competition to come up with inspirational ways of using Hue, if you want to win some Hue goodies.

Thanks to Philips for the loan of the Hue starter kit.

TP-Link WiFi Powerline Extender Review

Posted by Andrew at 5:35 AM on December 9, 2013

From smart TVs to DVRs and games consoles, many items of consumer electronics now expect a network connection to download media or to upload hi-scores. Most homes don’t have ethernet cabling as standard and surprisingly few of these gadgets actually have wireless connectivity. Even then, it’s rare to have good signal throughout the house.

TP-Link Wireless Extender Box

This is where the TP-Link 300 Mbps AV500 WiFi Powerline Extender can come in, solving two problems at a stroke. First, for those who aren’t familiar with Powerline, it’s a technology that uses the mains electricity circuits to transmit network signals and as most homes have power sockets in every room, it’s ideal for spreading the network round the house. This kit (TL-WPA4220KIT) from TP-Link has two adaptors, one of which connects up to the broadband router and the other goes into the otherwise network-free room.

TP-Link Units in Box

But that’s not all….the room unit provides both wired and wireless services. A pair of ethernet ports on the bottom of the adaptor can hook up two cabled devices, say TV and DVR, and the wireless extender can strengthen the 11n network in the room to keep a games console happy. The kit can be extended with additional Powerline units to supply multiple rooms with networking.

TP-Link Side On

That’s the theory…how does it work in practice? Frankly, everything went very smoothly. Out of the box, the two units found each other and paired up across the house. The wireless unit has a clever clone feature where you press the WPS button on your usual wireless box and then the “clone” button on the front of the wireless adaptor. After a few seconds, the TP-Link adaptor then presents the same SSID and password as the existing box, but chooses a different channel to transmit on. To all intents and purposes, it appears that there’s a single wireless network in the area. Clever and very easy. (The configuration can be done manually as well.)

Performance-wise, I did some testing using Totusoft‘s Lan Speed Test. Bear in mind that no two homes will be setup the same, so while the Mbit/s figures are of interest, it’s the relative performance that matters. Remember, no-one gets real-world data transfer rates anywhere close to the headline rate because of the networking overheads. With that in mind, I tested the download speed from a Buffalo NAS to a Toshiba laptop using a 500 MB file. The figures are approx averages of a couple of tests.

  • Wired connection via standard ethernet – 146 Mbit/s
  • Wired connection via TP-Link Powerline – 72 Mbit/s
  • Wireless connection via TP-Link Powerline – 64 Mbit/s

I’m fairly impressed with those figures. Effectively, the throughput over the mains was about half what I’d get from an ethernet cable but 72 Mb/s throughput is pretty good, with the wireless not far behind.

For further comparison, I had a 200 Mb/s Belkin Homeplug system, which is a similar but slightly older technology.

  • Wired connection via Belkin Homeplug – 32 Mbit/s

Again, interesting. The Belkin is rated at 200 Mb/s with the TP-Link at 500 Mb/s. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that 32 Mb/s isn’t far off 2/5ths of 72 Mb/s.

And finally, I tried doing what you are warned against doing, namely plugging the TP-Link Powerline adaptor into an extension lead. I think the figures speak for themselves. Rubbish!

  • Wired or wireless connection via TP-Link Powerline in extension lead – 15 Mbit/s

Overall, the TP-Link Powerline units work well and they’re a good way to provide network connectivity to blackspots, both wired and wirelessly. The wi-fi clone feature makes it especially easy to setup. If you are getting some new gadgetry for Christmas that’s going to need a network connection, give this  Starter Kit a look. It’s available from all good retailers, including Amazon.co.uk for around £70. There is an older 200 Mb/s version that looks similar so make sure that you are buying the right one.

Note, all the figures above are megabits per second. No megabytes here, except for the download file size. Thanks to TP-Link for providing the Starter Kit for review.

Phenomenal D-Link Wireless Gaming Router at CES

Posted by Andrew at 1:01 AM on January 7, 2013

D-Link LogoAt CES today, D-Link will announce a phenomenal wireless gaming router that will support data transfer speeds in excess of 1 Gb/s by combining 11ac and 11n technologies in a single router.

DGL-5500 D-Link Gaming RouterThe D-Link Gaming Router (DGL-5500) uses Qualcomm’s StreamBoost technology offering Gigabit wireless speeds for fast gaming and HD video streaming to multiple devices. The phenomenal wireless speeds of up to 1.3 Gb/s are achieved by aggregating both 11ac and 11n wireless technologies. Using both, 11ac can deliver up to 867 Mb/s and 11n, 450 Mb/s, which when taken together gives the 1.3 Gb/s. In addition to wireless connectivity, the router has four wired Gigabit ports. Obviously the receiving devices will need to support the same standards and there will be data overheads but it’s still amazingly fast.

And it looks pretty cool too.

The Gaming Router represents the ultimate in home network speed and control, offering the ability to fine-tune bandwidth to deliver the high-performance hungry gamers crave,” said Daniel Kelley, Associate Vice President of Marketing at D-Link Systems. “Through the unique Qualcomm StreamBoost technology, this router intelligently optimizes a home network for the games you want when you want, making lag time, buffering and failed downloads a thing of the past. With the new Gaming Router, play against real opponents live, any time day or night, for unparalleled multi-player combat performance and first-person shooting experiences online.

The DGL-5500 will be available from late spring with pricing to be announced.