Monday, February 22, 2010
Clearance sale of second-hand PC from our workshop. This Dell 4700 has been freshly reinstalled with Windows XP SP3 and all updates. It comes with OpenOffice , Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, Google Chrome and Avast Anti Virus. The unit has 512MB RAM, 2.8GHz Pentium IV CPU, 8 USB ports, Ethernet socket, 80GB Hard Disc, Integrated Video and CD/DVD RW. Comes with 6 months hardware warranty. A lovely quiet machine ideal for all home duties (not suitable for playing games - apart from games included with Windows XP). Price without monitor is €205. Price with 17" monitor is €295. Free delivery to Dublin's Southside. Call 086-8178678 and mention blog deal. Mouse mat not included in the price but available from here!
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The SlingBox is a gizmo that allows you to access TV media from your own TV hardware across the internet. And why might you want to do that I hear you ask. Well, consider someone who has a second house in Spain and wants to watch Fair City live and not miss an episode of the Late Late Show while they are away. Or, indeed, if you are going on holidays to Italy for two weeks but can't bear not cheering your team on in the Sunday Game live then a SlingBox might be for you.
I was aware of the SlingBox from reading reviews of it in the past but had never been up close and personal to one until a customer recently asked if we could set one up with his Sky system. Yesterday I dropped over to the customer and picked up his SlingBox and brought it home to familiarize myself with it's setup.
We have a UPC HD cable box at home that has a SCART socket with composite video-out. I connected the supplied SCART to RCA adapter to the UPC box and connected this to the SlingBox with the supplied Composite A/V cable. Next step was to connect the supplied remote control IR cable to the SlingBox and position the LED to shine on the UPC box IR receiver. Before powering up the box all that remained was to connect the SlingBox to my Netgear router via the supplied ethernet cable. So, everything we needed to make the physical connections is supplied in the box.
Once the hardware is installed it is a case of logging onto Slingmedia's dowload site to download the most up to date version of their SlingPlayer software - this is the application that allows you to watch your TV remotely - I downloaded it onto a Dell netbook running XP on an Atom processor.
When the software is installed it's time to create a SlingBox account and configure your SlingBox to talk to your cable box and your router. This is handled through a step-by-step wizard and I had no problem finding my cable box and router in the configuration options. The only slightly technical step is setting port forwarding on the appropriate port on the router, but the step-by-step wizard holds your hand for this.
Once completed I was able to receive all my TV channels on the laptop and had access to a virtual remote control that mimicked the real one, even down to volume, on/off and programme guide. I tested the picture quality when streaming within my local network and via the internet and there was a significant difference in picture quality between the two, with internet streaming being significantly poorer. This may in part be due to the fact that my upload bit rate is max 256 kbit/s - a higher upload bit rate may provide a better picture. If the picture was viewed in a small window, as opposed to full screen a sharper smoother picture resulted.
During setup I had a couple of issues that held me up. Firstly, positioning the remote control LED was problematic and I finished up using both supplied control LEDs instead of a single one in order to get the virtual remote working properly. Secondly, the UPC cable box we use is connected to our tv with a HDMI cable and, for reasons I don't fully understand, you cannot have HDMI and SCART output simultaneously. This necessitated disconnecting the TV from the cable box while I was using the SlingBox - not SlingBox's fault but less than ideal nonetheless.
The SlingBox is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £105 and does what it says on the box. However, I feel that this is version 1.0 of this type of media extender and that in a few years we will probably have the type of features offered by the Slingbox built into our TVs and or routers. Until then, Coronation Street on the Costas anyone?
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Word on the forums is that the Logitech Squeezebox Classic is being discontinued to be replaced by the Squeezebox Touch. As a Classic user I will be very sorry to see this very stable incarnation of the Squeezebox discontinued and might just pick up another while they are still available on Amazon.co.uk
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
A lot of our customers who purchase a new PC want to get Microsoft Office at the same time and normally pay in the region of €90 for MS Office 2007 Home and Student Edition. In many case MS Works 9.0 is already bundled with the PC but customers feel that they must have Word for their word processing and Excel for their spreadsheets (most home users don't use Powerpoint).
What you should be aware of is that MS Works 9.0 now allows you to open Word and Excel .doc and .xls files and also allows you to save documents and spreadsheets in those formats. So why do you need to spend an extra €90 when you have all the software you need bundled with your PC? The answer, in most cases, is you don't unless you need advanced features like macros and pivot tables.
So before you rush out to buy Office give Works a run around the block. It may be all that you need. And if you do need more horsepower in your office productivity software, there is always OpenOffice.
Monday, February 08, 2010
We recently deployed a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo (NAS = Network Atttached Storage) in our workshop for general data backup duties. The unit is equipped with 2 x 500GB SATA drives set up in a redundant X-RAID configuration (more information on X-RAID here). The reason we have configured the unit in X-RAID rather than RAID 5 is that we also use the unit for media streaming, which X-RAID is particularly efficient at doing.
Data backup is handled by the open source Cobian Backup 9 program running on the various network computers. We like Cobian because it is free, flexible and allows backups in native file formats with or without compression.
The ReadyNAS Duo is particularly adept at media streaming as it incorporates Logitech's (formerly Slimdevices's) Squeezecenter music streaming software, as well as iTunes Server software. Note that this NAS is really a stripped down computer with 256MB of RAM running Sparc Linux. Access to Squeezcenter is via a web browser on any attached network computer. The only downside is that the web browser is relatively unresponsive, but this does not impact on streaming performance. The NAS is serving music to two Squeezeboxes and a Squeezebox radio and response time via the Squeezebox interfaces is only marginally slower than a PC-based Squeezeserver. The ReadyNAS Duo can happily serve different music to each Squeezebox or synchronize the music on any two or all three units.
We're big Squeezebox fans so more on that anon.
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Santa was good enough to bring me a very cool device to allow me to hear my music on the move and good goods do come in small packages. The item in question is the X-mini mark II. This is a speaker smaller than a pool ball that screws apart to reveal, believe it or not, a bass unit. Suffice to say that it is the best mobile speaker unit that I have found to date, and at a great price. Details here. If you are in Ireland you can get it from pressieport.ie.
For various reasons it has been difficult to keep up this blog over the past months and you can see that there has been a significant gap since my last blog. I hope to rectify that and, as they say in the TV industry, "normal service has been resumed". I look forward to sharing with you some of the cool things that we have come across over the past while as well as our usual commentary on what's happening in the world of home computing. Keep in touch.