Remote Control Lighting

2-pack-gateway_LRGFor the past couple of years I have gotten interested in home remote access devices and methods. Initially I started with inexpensive remote-access IP cameras. I next moved on to getting the original Nest thermostat, which I still have and has been worth every penny. You can read about my experiences here.

Lately I’ve been wanting to be able to remotely turn lights on and off. Let’s say I come home after dark. It would be nice to be able to turn on a porch light from my smartphone. How to accomplish this?

My initial thought was a Belkin Wemo light switch. However, this presents some problems. The current Belkin Wemo light switch only seems to come in a single switch format, so it would be unusable in a 3 switch in one setup. Additionally, Belkin Wemo light switches and wall-mounted plugs only work with wiring schemes that have a so-called “neutral” wire as part of the wiring mix. I know nothing about home electrical wiring, preferring to leave that to the professionals, so I’m not sure it would work with my home wiring.

My next thought was the Phillips Hue lighting kit. The Phillips Hue would certainly work for what I was trying to accomplish, but it seemed to be rather expensive overkill. The Phillips Hue kit of 3 bulbs and the controller sells for $200, with additional Hue bulbs priced at $60 each. Sure, the Phillips Hue can display up to 16 million colors, as well as connect to really cool services such as If This, Then That, but that really seemed a waste for exterior deck lights.

I continued to look, and I ran across an even better solution on the Home Depot website. Home Depot currently sells the TCP Connected Smart LED Light Bulb Starter Kit with (2) A19 LED Light Bulbs for $79.97 which is substantially cheaper than the Phillips Hue 3 bulb kit. They also sell the TCP Connected A19 bulbs sell for $16.97 each on their website. The TCP controller which must be plugged in to an Ethernet port on the home router can handle up to 50 bulbs each.

Initial setup of the TCP light kit is a breeze. I installed the TCP LED light bulbs into the external deck light fixtures. They are the same size and shape as a traditional incandescent bulb so there was no problem making them fit in the fixtures. They initially perform exactly the way you would expect a light bulb to perform, turning them on and off with the wall switch. Next, I simply plugged in the TCP controller bridge into an unused Ethernet port on my router with the supplied Ethernet cable, and plugged the controller bridge into power. Next, I downloaded the TCP Lighting app to my smartphone (there are both Android and iOS versions). Making sure my phone was connected to my home WiFi network, I ran the TCP Lighting app.

TCP Lighting AppThe first time the app is ran it will pop up with a login screen. You initially click past this screen leaving the fields blank. The app then quickly finds the TCP controller bridge and the TCP LED light bulbs.

Next, I was able to name the lights. During the individual light naming process with the bulbs turned on, they will automatically dim to let you easily identify which bulb is which.

The final step was creating an account on the TCP server, right from within the app. It asks for an email address and a password and quickly creates an account. This allows remote control of my TCP lights anywhere I have a data connection literally anywhere in the world.

I installed the TCP Lighting app on another mobile device, and all I had to do to get it to work was to enter my TCP account credentials into the initial app login screen.

The app also includes the ability to schedule the lights to automatically be turned on and off. The bulbs can also be dimmed from within the app.

The TCP A19 LED bulb produces a warm color temperature similar to conventional incandescent bulbs. They also put out about 800 lumens which is close to what a conventional 60 watt bulb produces. They are rated for 25,000 hours of use.

From an external network, the bulbs will respond to on and off and dimming commands with about a half a second delay which is more than acceptable.

Also of course, the wall light switch must be left in the “on” position in order for remote access to function.

So, problem solved at a more reasonable price than either the Phillips Hue kit or 2 Belkin Wemo WiFi wall switches which wouldn’t have worked anyway since I need a 3-in-1 wall switch version.

 

Roku Streaming Stick Review

This is Gonna Be FunRoku‘s streaming media boxes have been around since 2008, arguably taking the #2 spot behind the Apple TV. This is an impressive achievement considering the absence of a major brand behind the product line. Here in the UK, set-top boxes like Apple TV, Roku, and Google TV have a relatively low-profile: the BBC’s iPlayer catchup service is massively popular, but as the app is widely available on satellite decoders, cable boxes, games consoles and laptops, there is little demand for an additional streaming device. The latest generation of low cost, plug-in streamers from Roku and Google may well change this. Let’s take a look.

Roku Box

What I have here is the UK edition of Roku’s Streaming Stick, a thumb-sized streaming device that plugs directly into a TV’s HDMI port, bringing Roku’s wide range of content and 450+ channels to a British audience. We’re used to a high quality TV service from the likes of the BBC, so the content has to be there, and we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s get it out of the box first.

Roku in Box

The Streaming Stick is presented in Roku’s trademark purple with neat packaging that promotes “This is going to be fun”. In the box is the Streaming Stick itself, a remote control (including decent batteries) and the power supply, which is actually a USB charger, connecting to the Streaming Stick via microUSB.

Streaming Stick and Controller

The remote control is slightly different to the previous generation – there are no game buttons, motion controller or headphone jack, and it uses WiFi Direct rather than Bluetooth to communicate with the Streaming Stick. Admittedly of little consequence unless you are an existing Roku owner expecting those features.

Getting started is easy – plug the Stick into the TV’s HDMI port, power it up with the microUSB cable and put the batteries into the remote control. Switching over to the HDMI channel, the Roku Streaming Stick initially asks for the password to a local wifi network. Once connected to the wider internet, existing Roku owners can can login with their credentials or new owners can sign up for a user name and password. Apart from having to use the remote control rather than a keyboard to do the finger work, it’s painless.

Roku uses the metaphor of channels to deliver media and content. For the smartphone generation, these are more easily thought of as apps which mostly deliver video content. In addition to programmes, there are games, weather forecasts and picture viewers. From the hundreds of channels available, you add favourites to your account to build up your collection. Some channels / apps cost a few pounds, but the vast majority are free.

My Roku Channels

From a UK perspective most of the major players are on-board with apps for BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5 and Sky Store. ITV player is noticeable in its absence. There are apps too for Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Flickr and the Roku Media Player which does what it says, playing locally available pictures, music and video. There are lots of other apps and channels to choose from, categorised by type to help you find what you want.

Channel Categories

Many of the channels are US-centric and there’s a ton of faith-based programming, mostly Christian with a smaller number of other faiths. Local US TV stations are also present, which can be fun if you are going to be visiting an area on holiday or business.

US Local News on Roku

Of course, there are plenty of independent content producers as well. GNC is right at home on the Roku….

Geek News on Roku

To complement the content, there’s also an app for smartphones, which lets your device replace the remote control, both at a simple button pushing level and for more advanced features such as choosing new channels.

Roku App Remote Control Roku App

But the real trick is the “Play on Roku” feature which pushes content from your smartphone to the Roku, including music, photos and videos. All you do is select the content on your phone and, bang, it’s up on the big screen in glorious HD. It’s a great feature and a fantastic way to review photos and short videos on a larger screen, especially after a holiday. If you take a lots of photos with your smartphone, it’s almost worth getting a Roku for this feature alone.

One final thing…as I mentioned, the Roku Streaming Stick is powered by microUSB via a provided USB charger. I found that the Streaming Stick wasn’t terribly fussy about the power source and that you can easily run the Stick from other sources, such as a USB battery pack or even the TV itself, if equipped with a USB port. Could be handy to know if you are travelling or simply want a tidier entertainment unit.

MicroUSB Roku

Overall, the Roku Streaming Stick is a great little gadget that provides loads of extra content for UK viewers. It might be a more expensive at £50 than the Google Chromecast at £30, but there’s more content and the Roku has a remote control, which I think is a plus point. It’s handy too for a second TV that perhaps doesn’t have a satellite or cable connection, and can now use iPlayer or Netflix. It’s a neat, plug’n’play solution that is about as simple as it can be.

Thanks to Roku for the review unit.

ReSound LiNX Hearing Aid at The Gadget Show

Danish firm ReSound launched their iPhone-connected hearing aid, LiNX, at the Gadget Show. The world’s first “Made for iPhone” hearing aid uses both the technology and usability features of the Apple iPhone to bring hearing aids to a generation of users who expect more from their technology than the current generation of aids.

The hearing aid itself is discrete and fits neatly over the ear and pairs with the iPhone much like any other Bluetooth headset.

ReSound LiNXReSound LiNX In-Ear

Once this is done, the benefits of having a smartphone-connected hearing aid become apparent. Starting with the obvious, phone calls can be re-directed from the phone to hearing aid, again just like a Bluetooth headset. Similarly, audio from music and video apps will play through the hearing aid, giving the wearing a much better experience than they’re used to.

Moving on, an iPhone (or iPad) app lets the amplification level be adjusted from the iPhone without fiddling around the ear. Who thinks anything of anyone using their smartphone in a public place now? The frequency response can be adjusted too, suiting both the wearer and the environment that they find themselves in, whether at in the quiet at home or a noisy restaurant. Background noise can be filtered out and speech enhanced.

ReSound LiNX

This is where it starts to get really clever. By using GPS and geo-fencing to locate the user, previously saved settings can be automatically selected based on location. For example, if the wearer frequently goes to a local bar, the GPS location and hearing aid settings are saved so that the next time the wearer goes to the bar, the settings are reused.

ReSound LiNX app

David from GN ReSound takes me through the features of the ReSound LiNX in more detail. After the interview I had an “ears-on” trial of the LiNX and it was impressive with a well-designed app. I’m not hearing-impaired so can’t comment on the audio enhancing features, but I could hear the effects of the different frequency responses.

Payleven Mobile Payments at The Gadget Show

Payleven Chip and PINOne of the common problems facing start-ups and small businesses are the costs associated with taking credit card payments. The transaction costs can be high for small turnovers and point-of-sale machines are expensive with a monthly rental fee. To counter this problem, Payleven offers a low-cost mobile payment solution for European businesses using a Chip’n’PIN card reader that uses Bluetooth to communicate with both Apple, Android and Amazon smartphones and tablets. The Chip’n’PIN unit costs only GB£60 (ex-VAT) with a transaction charge of 2.75%. Payleven have partnered with GoTab to offer a complete solution for around £250 including a tablet and the card reader.

The approach is similar to US-based Square, but as Chip’n’PIN is only beginning to be required across the pond, Square’s reader unit is a simpler card-swipe device that plugs straight into the smartphone. Having a full Chip’n’PIN card reader in Europe is a necessity but the independent unit makes the transaction look much more professional anyway.

Simon from Payleven tells me about their solution and takes me through some of the features.

DJI Multirotor Copters at The Gadget Show

Quadcopters and multi-rotor copters were very much in evidence at the Gadget Show, from the Parrot AR.Drone to tiny nano quadcopters. DJI had one of the most impressive ranges at the show, along with a flight demonstration area on the stand.

The newly launched Phantom 2 Vision+ is a quadcopter with a digital video camera payload and the capabilities are impressive. It can stream video from the camera to your smartphone while in flight using wi-fi, record 1080p HD video to a microSD card, hold position above the ground in winds up to 25 mph and fly for around 25 minutes. The batteries can easily be swapped, so a spare battery will get the quadcopter flying again immediately. The remote control unit lets you clip your smartphone to the handset so you easily see what the camera is recording while flying the aircraft. What you get for your money is incredible – an entry level model is GB£349 and the Vision+ is £915.

DJI Phantom

Four rotors not enough? DJI has six and eight rotor variants for professional users.

Six Rotor Copter

Eight Rotor Copter

Andy takes me through the features of the new Phantom 2 Vision+ at the Gadget Show. I want one!

Optoma Pico-Projector at The Gadget Show

Optoma specialise in digital projectors with a range going from personal pico-projectors all the way up to professional stacking projectors for large-scale installations. Here at The Gadget Show, Optoma were showing off their  ML750, an ultra-compact LED projector about 12 cm square and 4 cm deep. The picture below doesn’t get over how small the unit is.

Optoma ML-750 Projector

James from Optoma runs through the features of the ML750, which with the addition of a small wireless dongle (the little white object in the top left of the photo) allows presentation and streaming directly from the tablets and smartphones over wi-fi to the projector. The feature works with both Apple and Android devices using a downloadable app.

The native resolution is 1280×800 but will show 720p and 1080i video sources. It’ll even do 3D with additional active shutter glasses, though I’m not sure anyone is interested anymore. Still, the feature’s there.

I’m not a big projector expert, but at the event the ML750 was showing a series of film clips and it was very watchable. Obviously nothing like an HD monitor but for a portable device showing a 32″ display, it was impressive.

Available online for GB£400.

Canon Legria Mini at The Gadget Show

I have to be honest, I was completely unaware of the Canon Legria Mini digital camcorder until I spotted it at The Gadget Show. Canon describe it as a “Digital Creative Camcorder” and it’s very much designed for bloggers, artists and the selfie generation who want to record themselves doing what they love. It’s different from a normal camcorder as the Legria Mini is designed to be setup and used by the subject of the recording: the 2.7″ flip-up touchscreen is clearly visible by those being recorded and the wide-angle lens captures more of what’s going on. There’s a flip down stand on the bottom as well to help get the Mini perfectly positioned.

Canon Legria Mini

Obviously the Mini can be used as a normal camcorder and specwise, it’s full HD at 25p 1920 x 1080. There’s streaming to smartphones and tablets via wi-fi, with a complementary remote control app on both iOS and Android. Still photos run to 12 megapixels (4000 x 3000)

There are two variants, the Mini and the Mini X. The latter is a “pro” version with CD-quality sound, AVCHD recording in addition to MP4 and SD cards instead of microSD.

Canon Legria Mini X Streaming

I’m sold and Eno gives me a demo at The Gadget Show. Available now on-line at around GB£200 for the Mini and GB£350 for the Mini X.

Libratone Speakers at The Gadget Show

Danish audio specialists Libratone are relative new kids on the block, being established in 2009/10, but they’re making a strong impression with their colour co-ordinated hi-fi wireless speakers. I took the opportunity to learn more about Libratone’s range from Tom at The Gadget Show.

Libratone Speakers

Libratone ZippLibratone works with both Apple and Android devices supporting a range of protocols, including AirPlay, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA, Libratone has four models in the range;
– the Lounge, a soundbar to go below a flatscreen TV
– the Zipp, a cylindrical speaker which is both AC and battery powered
– the Loop, a freestanding or wall-mounting round speaker
– the Live, a freestanding three-sided dipole speaker

All the speakers have removable covers that can be changed to suit the decor, either fitting in discreetly or standing out as a feature. Although it’s difficult to assess the audio quality in an exhibition hall, the demo I heard was suitably impressive and if you are in the market for this kind of product, I would definitely give them a listen.

Sony Xperia Z2 at The Gadget Show

Xperia Z2The Android smartphone market leaders have all been refreshing their top-end ‘phones, with Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and HTC’s One (M8) already available. Sony’s previously announced Xperia Z2 will be available in the UK very shortly and I chat to Laura about what we can expect in the latest offering from Sony.

At The Gadget Show, I had a chance to play with the Z2 and its 5.2″ full HD (1920×1080) “Live Colour LED” screen looked really good. The handset was responsive, animations were smooth – everything that you’d expected from a top-of-the-line phone. There’s a 20 megapixel rear camera which ought to produce the some excellent photos too given that the Z2’s predecessor had one of the best Android cameras. The Xperia Z2 also has a big battery at 3200 mAh, which is larger than both the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Galaxy S5. But the “pièce de résistance” is that the Xperia Z2 is waterproof to 1.5 m for 30 minutes (IP55/58). If you don’t believe me, here’s a scuba diver with a Z2 in a tank.

Xperia Z2 Underwater

Hopefully, I’ll be getting a review smartphone to give the Z2 a more thorough examination.

Mogees Makes Music at The Gadget Show

The Gadget Show has all kinds of tech on display, from mainstream suppliers with latest tablets to niche fun products that bring a smile to your face and Mogees is definitely in the latter camp. Many of us will have seen those vibration speakers that turn any surface into a speaker….Mogees does the reverse, converting any surface or object into a musical instrument. Here’s a Mogees on a bicycle.

Mogees Microphone

Mogees on a Bicycle

Developed on the back of Kickstarter funding, the Mogees microphone connects into an iPhone running a Mogees app that converts the vibrations into musical tones and with a bit of skill, a tune. The app does a great deal of audio processing to help produce the music in a tuneful way so learning to play your chosen object is fairly easy, however bizarre the instrument is.

The Mogees will be available towards the end of the year and I interview Bruno about the development of Mogees: there’s a demonstration of the instrument in the audio too.