Tag Archives: Network

Philips Hue Android Apps



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



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.


The Internet is a Utility



Router and CablesLast week, I moved to a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). Nothing particularly unusual about that except that I had been with my old ISP, Demon, for nearly twenty years. That’s almost the whole of the my adult life and I’m sure it’s the longest customer relationship I’ve had. To be quite clear, I didn’t leave Demon as a dissatisfied customer and on the contrary, I would recommend them to anyone. So why did I leave?

To answer that, we’ll have to take a little trip down memory lane. Back in the early 90s, the 486DX2 was the CPU of choice, 8 MB was a lot of RAM, 120 MB hard drives were huge and dial-up modems were specialist items. JANET, the UK’s university network was the closest thing to the Internet, and it was email, ftp, telnet, Usenet and gopher. I imagine that some readers will be thinking, “gopher?” Never heard of that.

In 1992 and in an early example of crowdsourcing, Demon ISP was setup by persuading 200 people to pay in advance for a year’s dial-up access. I wasn’t part of that group but after publicity in the leading UK computer magazine at the time, Personal Computer World, I signed up for their £10 a month dial-up service. You had to buy your own modem in those days – no freebie wireless router – but it came with unlimited email addresses, 10 MB of ftp space and Usenet newsgroups.

Demon provided their own email package called Turnpike as this was all pre-Outlook, and a certain level of skill was needed just to get on-line. The connection software was a command line program called KA9Q that was originally amateur radio software. Winsock fortunately arrived shortly afterwards, which made life considerably easier with Windows 3.

One of the great things about Demon in the early days was that the support staff were technical folk too and quickly got the measure of the caller. If you said to them that you were having problems with DNS resolving, they’d understand that you had a reasonable grasp of the problem and work with you, rather than blindly follow the procedure written in the training manual.

Since then there have been many changes in the world of technology, not least the arrival of ADSL broadband, which single-handedly changed the web from geek toy to consumer product. In the end, two things conspired against Demon. The first was free web email such Gmail and Hotmail which meant that I no longer needed my ISP to provide me with an email address. The second was video-on-demand which had the twin impacts of volume and speed. My new ISP, Sky, offers twice the speed of Demon and no data caps for less money. Bit of a no brainer, as they say.

Demon provided a great technical service for geeks 20 years ago, but as the web has become a consumer product, the need for technical features such as ftp space has faded. All that is needed is the connection. The Internet has become a utility like water, gas and electricity, always there and always ready. No understanding of the technology is needed to use it, just as turning on a light doesn’t need knowledge of volts and amps.

I’ve no doubt that Demon has a successful future working with business but I think that the future of the independent ISP in the consumer space is bleak. People will choose consumer brands linked to utilities or telcos – Sky, BT, Virgin, Orange – and get one bill for multiple services at a reduced price…as I did.

Routers and Cables 2” image courtesy of BigStock.


Diamond Wireless Range Extender and Set-Top Box Preview



Diamond Wireless Range Extender WR300NI remember building a PC many years ago and at that time, Diamond Multimedia was one of *the* graphics card companies. I even seem to remember that it was VL-bus card, so that dates it to a pre-Pentium era. Anyway, it’s great to see that Diamond is still around when so many others have fallen by the wayside. Todd interviews Louis Kokenis from Diamond Multimedia on the latest products.

The Diamond Wireless Range Extender has three functions in one. First, it’s a wireless repeater that eliminates deadspots in wireless coverage. Second, it’s a wireless bridge that will connect a wired network device to the wireless network and third, it’s a standalone wireless access point, creating wireless hotspot from a single network point. With regard to the last mode, the WR300N’s small size means that it’s great for travelling and creating a wireless network in a hotel room. On-sale now for around $60.

Diamond will be introducing an Android-based TV set-top box that combines web browser, media player, ebook reader, game console, anything that can be downloaded from the Android Market. It won’t be tied to any particular media provider as it will either be able to download an app, e.g. Netflix, or else it will be able to browse to any website and play media directly. Sounds cool, especially if it runs ICS.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Steve Lee of NetCast Studio for the TechPodcast Network.

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UPnP Forum and How Your Gadgets Stream Music



UPnP Forum LogoIf you’ve ever wondered how your gadgets talk amongst themselves to successfully play music from your PC through a media streamer, you’ll be interested in this interview with Dr Alan Messer, President of the UPnP Forum.

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is the standard by which IP networked gadgets advertise their services and intercommunicate. Formed in 1999, nearly all the big vendors are signed up with over 1000 members, the notable exception being Apple who tend to do their own thing. Think Intel, Samsung, Nokia, Philips.

The most common example of UPnP (AV spec) is DLNA-certification which governs media management, discovery and control and this effectively determines how music is streamed from one device to another. Set-top boxes know how to use different router ports based on UPnP techniques. Almost any consumer device attached to the network in the home will have some element of UPnP built-in.

(No, Andy, it’s not the ISA PnP but thanks for the trip down memory lane.)

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Trendnet Compacts Powerline Adapter



At CES, TRENDnet has launched the world’s smallest 500 Mb/s Powerline adapter with the new TPL-406E model. Look at the picture below to see the difference in size between a standard Powerline adaptor and the new model on the left. When trying to get all the modern gadgets plugged in and networked, this will certainly help where there is limited space or close electrical sockets.

TPL-406E Trendnet Powerline adaptor

“Consumers are looking for solutions to help connect their TVs to the Internet and TRENDnet Powerline products couldn’t be easier-with no complicated CD installation required,” stated Sonny Su, technology director for TRENDnet. “The TPL-406E defines a new category of ultra-compact high performance 500 Mbps Powerline adapters.”

More and more audio-visual equipment needs to be networked. In my living room, I think there are three ethernet devices (TV, satellite decoder and Bluray player) and I use a 100 Mb/s Powerline device to take the network to them. For this kind of equipment, Powerline is much more convenient than trying to setup a wireless bridge.

Available from April at all good retailers, the TPL-406E will be $60 on its own or $100 in a twin pack, TPL-406E2K.


Global Caché Controlling Your World



Andy McCasky spoke to Josh of Global Caché.  Global Caché creates modules that connect to the local network. They can send an IR blast , RS 232 signals or close contacts to control devices. They allow you to control electronic products from a smartphone, tablet devices or laptop.

Global Caché  uses an open architecture and an open API so developers can easily design applications that work with it. They have already partner with several companies who make the applications that can be installed on a smartphone, tablet or computer that use the Global Caché.  Josh showed some smaller single purpose units that run around $170.00 for wireless devices and $100 for wired. They also offer rack mount multifunction units that start around $400.00. They have a line of sensors that sense voltage, video, contact closure and give you feed back. The units have a discovery beacon, so you can just plug it into the network and it will show up. You do need to know computers and how a network works to install it correctly. Because of this Global Caché works mostly with professional installers, one of their biggest projects so far was when they were installed in the Miami Dolphin Stadium.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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