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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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