Turn any TV with an HDMI port into a smart TV/fully functional computer

Turn any TV with an HDMI port into a smart TV/fully functional computer-

One of my daily rituals is to search my favorite tech hardware sites and news outlets for the newest tech toys that are the next big thing. The other things I look for are the best deals on old tech, and ways to best complete projects that have been pitched, but I couldn’t come up with a cost effective solution to implement.

I was looking at one of my favorite sites Newegg and something caught my eye. The image promised an all in one desktop PC that plugged directly into a television via HDMI, and running full Windows 8.1. Intrigued, I clicked on the link and found this.

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The Intel Compute Stick Average price: around $135.00

Purchase on Amazon


The Background-

Remember the netbook craze from about 10 years ago? Intel Atom processor, limited ram, tiny screen, tiny everything. Meet the new netbook built in the form of a stick. There are a few different flavors of this hardware. 8GB, 32GB, Windows 8.1, Linux OS’s. Direct audio and video output via HDMI. Externally powered via a micro USB port fed from a USB wall wart similar to the one that charges your cell phone, (non apple devices of course.) Micro SD slot for expanded storage and a USB 2.0 port for your input devices. It has a quad core Intel Atom processor, Intel HD Graphics that are 4K capable with a compatible display, and 2GB of ram. Last but not least, the important part… built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Hands on with the device-

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I had a project I was working on for my day job that required a low profile computer capable of hooking to existing televisions in the building for a few purposes. This seemed like the perfect piece of hardware for the project. I took the plunge and bought 3 of them. I purchased the 32GB Windows 8.1 version. Here’s why… the thing to remember about PC’s like this is that the OS will occupy a chunk of the onboard SSD. The 32GB version has about 20GB free with the OS installed. This leaves room for programs and updates to install without having to worry about adding a micro SD just to run simple tasks.

After unboxing the PC I took a quick inventory of what’s in the box.

1: The Intel Compute Stick

2: HDMI Extension Cable

3: Micro USB Cable (For Power)

4: USB AC Power Supply

I was immediately glad to see the HDMI extension cable because I was unable to find a “What’s in the box” listing anywhere on the web. The extension allows you to use the device with a wall mounted television with rear space limitations. I hooked the power supply up, plugged the HDMI extension in, and plugged it into the TV. I also hooked up a wired all in one keyboard and mouse combo I had on the shelf in my office. I hit the power button and the device started to boot. I was presented with all of the normal Windows 8.1 setup options, set the language, the date and time, joined my Wi-Fi network. After about 10 minutes it downloaded some updates, rebooted a few times, then asked for my Windows Account. I had created a generic account previously for this purpose to use with all 3 of these PC’s. I was immediately presented with a free Windows 10 upgrade. I opted to pass on this as Windows 8.1 will work fine for my project.

The computer was a little sluggish getting to this point but after all of the normal setup it seemed pretty quick.  I immediately downloaded Start Menu 8 from IOBit. It is a nice 3rd party start menu that fills the void left by Microsoft leaving out the start menu for people wanting to use it without a touch screen. After disabling windows updates to avoid it running in the background and slowing things down, then modifying the registry to Auto Login, I was ready to start playing.

Amazon Prime video, Netflix, YouTube, all in full HD and very responsive, very little buffer time if any. Audio sounded great, video looked even better. After setting up the other two PC’s the same way it was near the end of the day so I took one home to play with. At home I added a backlit Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo and hooked it to my 55″ TV. I have this model from Amazon. I also have one that is the same size but runs off an RF link instead of a Bluetooth RF link. The range is crappy due to localized interference, (the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other things like the high voltage backlight on LCD TV,) so stick to Bluetooth if you want the best results.

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Bluetooth Keyboard from Amazon Average Price: around $22.00

Further testing-

After testing it through the weekend I decided I am going to have to have one for home. The PC did run off of the USB port power built into my TV, but use CAUTION with this method. If you do not shut down the PC before turning the TV off, you basically crash the computer off, as most TV’s lose USB power when the TV is powered off. This PC is for light duty gaming and streaming any vendors media. You can also use the Windows store and download apps like Netflix and Hulu for a non-browser experience. You can also use the Miracast function of Windows 8 to throw your smart phone or tablet up on the screen. A USB hub can be added to add other accessories like external hard drives and other input devices. This fully functional PC plays HD MP4 video files off of an external USB powered hard drive with no problem.

Other thoughts-

The entertainment factor is great, but don’t stop there. Install Office, or use Google docs to edit or create documents. Make a photo slideshow to display during parties, turn your TV into an aquarium or a roaring fireplace with a screensaver. The sky is the limit with this one. Add a USB hub and webcam with microphone and use it for video calls. If I do anything cool or out of the ordinary with mine I will try to share via a later post.

Sales pitch-

If anyone reading this would like assistance purchasing and setting up one of these computers to meet their needs, contact me direct or email me through my website. Contact Eric Parker IT Consulting & Service

Thanks for reading!

Eric

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Want your computer to boot in 20 Seconds or less? SSD is your answer.

Solid state drives… more commonly referred to as SSD’s in the computing world, have finally arrived in practical sizes that are affordable for everyone. They are a direct replacement for your current laptop or desktop’s hard drive, and you don’t have to start from scratch. Your current operating system installation is cloned to the new SSD and with a few tweaks, it is optimized for the SSD and your computer is ready for use. Now for a little history, and why this wasn’t possible 10 years ago.

For years, the size and cost of an SSD prevented them from being used in real world applications. 16 and 32 GB drives have been around for a while, but we are trying to run operating systems, not put a memory card in your grandparents digital camera. Do you remember the cute little netbooks that premiered with 10 inch screens and solid state drives? They were tiny, barely enough space to install the operating system, let alone let you install any programs. They were a fad that everyone had to be a part of, then a few years later tablets killed them off. There are a lot of pros, and very few, if any cons to using a solid state drive as your system drive. Let’s take a minute to reflect on the cons of traditional magnetic spinning disk drives.

A traditional spinning disk drive uses round platters for the magnetic storage with read heads that spin at various speeds ranging from 5400 to 15,000 RPM. They are very sensitive to shock, heat, and cold. If you were to drop a laptop, the laptop itself may get banged up, but it will probably survive. The hard drive has a very high chance of crashing, which has been a problem for years. In a laptop configuration, traditional drives are power hogs that drain your battery and limit your mobility. Seek time is a big factor of the speed of traditional drives. Seek time being the time it takes the read head to locate the file on the platter and access it. Lastly, because of all the moving parts and seek speed, the read/write speed of a traditional drive is on average between 50-100 MegaBytes/Second. This is between 4 and 5 times slower than an SSD, which has a read/write of 400-500 MB/Sec. Enough about the old, lets get to the new.

SSD’s don’t have read heads, platters, or any moving parts. This makes them very durable and while they aren’t bulletproof, they are very shock resistant. Since they have no moving parts, this makes seek time virtually non-existent, and power consumption very low. Files load faster, and your battery lasts longer on your laptop. They only come in 2.5″ size (Laptop size). For use in a desktop, they require a 3.5″ tray adapter to allow them to fit the standard cases that traditional desktops accept. The adapter is less than $10 dollars for most applications. They have very long life, usually rated in the 30 year range depending on the type of solid state memory chips that are used.

Size and cost per GB are still a slight limitation as a 250GB SSD is around $110 and a 512GB is around $200. In a desktop configuration, after cloning the system drive to the SSD, the best use for the old drive is to use it as a secondary storage drive. Store the stuff you don’t use often on the bigger traditional drive, and run all of your programs and store frequently used files on the SSD. In a laptop configuration, I have found that in most cases, 250GB is more than enough space to run and store everything.

Bottom line, I have installed a ton of these as direct replacements for traditional hard drives. It doesn’t matter if it is a low end laptop you purchased on black Friday, or a high performance desktop you built from scratch. An SSD is going to make it boot completely into Windows in the 15 to 20 second range. This means from completely powered off, to booted and ready to run programs. All SSD’s are not created equal, there are low priced and high priced ones. I have experimented with both, and they will all blow you away when you switch from a traditional drive. If you use your computer for everyday web surfing, shopping, email, etc., then a lower end SSD would most likely work for you. Gamers and video/audio editors might want to spend a little extra for maximum performance.

Thanks for reading, if anyone is interested in making the switch to an SSD please contact me via phone, social media, or through my website http://www.ericparkerconsulting.com. The process doesn’t take long and the end game is amazing.

Like me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ericparkeritconsulting

Office supply chain store epic fails… perhaps Circuit City had it right.

Today I had a piece of equipment fail due to a faulty hard drive. No big deal, its a common item, I will just run down to my local Best Buy, Office Max, or Staples and pick up a new one. I try to shop local when I can, but I quickly remember why online retailers like Amazon are making these chain stores dinosaurs when it comes to logic and reason. I was in search of a 2 TB 3.5″ internal SATA hard drive, super common, shouldn’t be a problem.

Stop #1 I walk into the first store @BestBuy, navigate over to the hard drive section. I see 160GB, 250GB, and the place where 1TB and 2TB drives should be. They are out of stock on the shelf, I go to the counter and inquire about stock in the back. The clerk quickly informed me that if there is nothing on the shelf they have no reserve stock. You may be wondering why I mentioned the 160GB and 250GB hard drives… well they had a fair amount of dust on them and were nearly the same price as the 1TB drive. If shelf space is a problem, maybe it’s time to take a look at your inventory and clearance out some items to make room for more modern technology. We are up to 4 TB drives! Come on! #SMH #Strike1

Stop #2 was @OfficeMax which was right across the street. I walk in and a store employee greeted me and offered assistance. I asked them to point me toward the internal hard drives. I was quickly informed they didn’t sell internal drives anymore. I’m ok with that. I would rather you have none at all then have poorly stocked shelves or antique parts. @OfficeMax you get off easy. #Strike2

Stop #3 was @Staples, which was also in the same couple block radius of @BestBuy and @OfficeMax. I walk in the door, the funny thing is, there is another customer I am following in that I have seen at each of the stores I have been to. He is looking for an ink or toner cartridge… I wished him luck and trudged on. I walk back to the hard drive section. To my delight, I see 2 TB hard drives. Even two different brands. This must be my lucky day! Remind me to buy a lottery ticket on the way home. 🙂 Also on the shelf, 1 TB, and 500GB hard drives. Also 2 different brands to choose from on each size. Wow… too good to be true! I would actually purchase any of those sizes at any time. They are all dummy boxes, but a sight for sore eyes none the less. I make my selection and walk up to the service counter to retrieve my hard drive and complete my purchase. I am quickly informed that they are out of stock on the drive. Ok no problem, there is another brand, at this point I didn’t care what brand I got just as long as I got one. This had now become a quest. I asked for any 2 TB drive they had, and was quickly shot down again. He informed me they only had (1) 1 TB drive left and no 2 TB drives to speak of. I asked a logical question. Why do you have the dummy boxes out there if you have no stock? He didn’t really have an answer and that was that.  #Really #SMH #Strike3

Defeated, disappointed, and angry, I drove back to my office, got on @Amazon and ordered the drive. It was the exact brand, style, and specs that I wanted. Even with tax and shipping it was cheaper than any of the prices that the two stores that actually sold drives had and that was next day shipping. I will literally have it at 10:30AM tomorrow because @Amazon is very good at what they do. Which is giving people what they want without ridiculous markups in price. Apparently, @Staples @BestBuy, this is what I should have done in the first place.

Just for grins, I went to staples.com and bestbuy.com in search of the drive and pricing. @Staples had no 2 TB drives on their site for sale except for some SAS drives which are more of an enterprise thing. @BestBuy had 2 TB drives that were decent price but only one brand and availability was 2 days. If you office stores want to stay in the game and continue to exist, you should work on your websites and make them run more like amazon with competitive shipping pricing and a wide selection. There is no reason you should only have one brand of something and it still have the same markup as the store when you are doing 80% less work.

CircuitCity.com still exists but it redirects to tigerdirect.com. Tiger Direct is another story for another day and I in no way endorse anything they do, but Circuit City saw the writing on the wall and closed their doors before they became the poorly stocked, staffed and managed establishments that we are presented with today. So thank you Circuit City for being responsible.

 

TVU Backpack Launch at WTHI-TV

Today we launched our new TVU Backpack at WTHI-TV. This little baby was not cheap, but it has, and will, revolutionize the way we do things at WTHI-TV. We have been limited by terrain, landmarks, and distance for conventional live shots since we started doing them many decades ago and long before my time. We are too small of a market to have our own satellite uplink truck. You could easily dump 250-500K into a sat truck then you have to pay for the satellite time and a skilled operator. Not in the cards for us unfortunately. The backpack uses the internet and up to (15) 4G cell cards to deliver crisp HD video and audio back to the station with the push of one button. If you can operate the cameras and mics that we currently have, you can go live from anywhere in the country as long as there is cell service.

We have used Skype and other internet delivery for years with moderate success, but what a pain that is and it is very unreliable. Things got considerably better with the debut of 4G, but still unreliable. We still have two fully functional live trucks, but they take time to setup and tune in. When breaking news happens, we can deploy the backpack immediately, then dispatch the live trucks at our leisure. A wise man once told me, “the TV station with the biggest data center wins.” I have never looked back. I am proud to be able to continually keep WTHI-TV #1 every hour, of every day with technology that is “Leading The Way.”

Stay tuned Wabash Valley, we’ve got you covered.

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New blog

Hi all-

I decided to start this blog to cover a little bit of everything in the technology world of Terre Haute, IN. Sometimes I have ideas that aren’t really Facebook post worthy, I thought this might be a better spot so that people don’t hide me in their news feeds.

Remember it’s a wild web out there. Backup early and often. More to come.

-Eric