Review: Griffin Beacon Universal Remote Control (iOS version)

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The Griffin Beacon uni­ver­sal remote con­trol is an inter­est­ing device. It’s a little bit lar­ger than an Apple TV2 (or a hockey puck if that’s closer to your frame of ref­er­ence) but it’s got an odd, Zen-like IR ‘stone’ on the top that’s where the con­trol sig­nals come from. Not your every­day IR blaster.

On Paper
Using Bluetooth to talk to your mobile device (iOS or Android) it uses the smarts of your device to man­age your home enter­tain­ment sys­tems. All well and good, but wait, there’s more! It’s not just the Beacon alone doing the work…

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Well, actu­ally a very cool app called dijit does the heavy lift­ing. The dijit — Beacon pair is quite power­ful, with dijit not only bring­ing list­ings and man­age­ment to your mobile device, it also brings social to your TV view­ing with con­tent dis­cov­ery and social shar­ing. The duo:

  • Trans­forms iPhones and oth­er iOS devices into an easy-to-use, nev­er-lost remote for home enter­tain­ment sys­tems
  • Con­verts Bluetooth sig­nals from iOS device into infrared sig­nals required to con­trol AV com­pon­ents
  • Beacon con­nects com­pat­ible iOS device via Bluetooth with Dijit’s free Uni­ver­sal Remote App
  • iOS device’s Mul­ti­T­ouch screen dis­play becomes the remote with Dijit’s Intu­it­ive Pro­gram Guide, allow­ing users to change chan­nels, volume, input, pro­gram DVR and much more
  • Dijit App uses a con­stantly updated device code lib­rary to make set­ting up con­trols for TV, set-top box, sound sys­tem, media play­er and more, simple and intu­it­ive
  • For com­pon­ents not yet included in Dijit’s lib­rary, the App also includes an integ­rated learn­ing fea­ture
  • Beacon’s low-pro­file design blends unob­trus­ively with any cof­fee table décor
  • Powered by 4 AA bat­ter­ies, elim­in­at­ing messy wires and power cables

In Prac­tice
Get­ting the Beacon setup and run­ning is a pretty simple job of installing the included 4 AA bat­ter­ies, par­ing the Beacon with the Bluetooth on your mobile device, and installing and run­ning the dijit con­trol soft­ware.

Then it’s a simple mat­ter of let­ting the dijit soft­ware know which com­pon­ents you want to con­trol, and bind­ing those com­pon­ents to activ­it­ies.

For example, to watch TV, I need to turn on my receiv­er, my set top box, and my TV. I had to con­fig­ure those devices in dijit, then bind them to an activ­ity (Watch TV). You also can con­fig­ure the lay­out of your ‘cus­tom’ mobile remote con­trol in your mobile device — redu­cing the num­ber of but­tons to just the crit­ic­al ones needed for any spe­cif­ic activ­ity.

A sim­il­ar pro­cess is used to define oth­er activ­ity and device com­bin­a­tions. Pretty simple once you get the hang of it, and I like the abil­ity to cus­tom­ize the lay­out of the remote con­trol but­tons.

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I had the iOS unit to review, and it eas­ily hooked up to my first-gen iPad as well as my iPhone 4s. On the iPad, I really appre­ci­ated the extra screen space to dis­play TV pro­gram­ming inform­a­tion and social media con­tent.

Since the Beacon runs on AA bat­ter­ies, it’s port­able, which means you can move to vari­ous rooms if you have more than one enter­tain­ment centre.

The unfor­tu­nate down­side is that the Beacon doesn’t have an AC adapter, which means that every so often, about as often as a hand­held remote, you’ll be repla­cing 4 AA bat­ter­ies when the Beacon fails to respond. Which may or may not be a big thing for you.

Watch­ing TV
In the end, this is a pretty cool unit. I must admit, it took a bit of retrain­ing for me to start look­ing at my iPhone or iPad for TV pro­gram­ming inform­a­tion, rather than using the device as a remote to con­trol the set-top box’s menu sys­tem. But once I got over that niggle, using the Beacon and dijit soft­ware is actu­ally quite nat­ur­al.

So if you’re look­ing for an inex­pens­ive mas­ter / uni­ver­sal remote con­trol unit for your home enter­tain­ment sys­tem, you may just want to check out the Griffin Beacon and dijit com­bin­a­tion.
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Review: Logitech Harmony 900 Universal Remote Control

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All things in life, as with the Force, have a Light Side and a Dark Side. The Logit­ech Har­mony 900 Uni­ver­sal Remote Con­trol has both.

A bit of a back­ground
I have a his­tory with Logit­ech Har­mony remotes and cur­rently own a Logit­ech Har­mony 720. I’ve always found them chal­len­ging to pro­gram and set up. As well, in my exper­i­ence, Logit­ech has nev­er really suc­ceeded in pair­ing ‘Activ­it­ies’ (watch­ing TV, listen­ing to streamed music, etc) with my devices or com­pon­ents. My wife sets up and main­tains our cur­rent Har­mony remote — I get frus­trated with it. :smileyvery-happy:

So, when I was offered the chance to take a look at the Logit­ech Har­mony 900 I was curi­ous. Has Logit­ech been able to address my con­cerns? Let’s find out… Con­tin­ue read­ing “Review: Logit­ech Har­mony 900 Uni­ver­sal Remote Con­trol”

Using your Android or iOS tablet as a second monitor

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As we’ve seen pre­vi­ously (The more screens, the bet­ter — Our guide to mul­tiple mon­it­ors ), hav­ing more screens to dis­trib­ute your desktop across can be a huge bene­fit to your com­put­ing exper­i­ence.

And as you’ll have noticed in the title, if you’ve got a tab­let, you can even bring it into the mix, as long as you’ve got access to a WiFi net­work and have installed a few pieces of soft­ware. Lets take a look.

Apps
There are quite a few apps out there for Android and iOS, on both Win­dows and OSX. This post isn’t really about all the vari­ations avail­able, so to keep it simple, I’m using Air Dis­play by Avat­ron, which is avail­able for all four con­fig­ur­a­tions (Android (OSX/Win), iOS (OSX/Win)).

It’s a simple mat­ter to set up, just install a serv­er applic­a­tion on your desktop, and a cli­ent applic­a­tion on your tab­let. Con­fig­ur­a­tion took a minute or two and then I was shar­ing my screen.

MacAndroid.jpgIt’s about the net­work
The way these desktop-extend­ing apps work is they basic­ally fool your oper­at­ing sys­tem into think­ing you’ve just con­nec­ted anoth­er mon­it­or to the sys­tem. To your oper­at­ing sys­tem, the tab­let looks just like a mon­it­or, and is treated as such.

You can drag win­dows on to it, launch your computer’s applic­a­tions from it — it’s just anoth­er screen.

Screen with bene­fits
Ok, it’s not really just anoth­er screen. This new mini-mon­it­or also becomes a touch screen. Yep, you can tap on your screen, and the computer’s curs­or imme­di­ately snaps to the loc­a­tion you tapped. Which means all your mouse func­tions are also now avail­able on the touch­screen tab­let.

Port­able
For me, one of the best uses of a tab­let as an exten­ded desktop is when I pair my iPad up with my Mac­Book Pro when I’m on the go.

Ima­gine pulling up to your favour­ite table at your loc­al cof­fee shop, setup up your laptop, and next to it, your tab­let. Extend the screen onto your tab­let and poof! You are now über pro­duct­ive while being extremely port­able.

Refresh­ing
Since you’re actu­ally get­ting an exten­ded desktop sent through the net­work to your tab­let, don’t expect blis­ter­ingly fast screen updates. Depend­ing on the app and desktop, you can make Flash anim­a­tions appear on your device. In my case, I man­aged to get just under 60 frames per second in my highly un-sci­entif­ic HTML5 Fishtank fram­er­ate test :smileyhappy:

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Draw­backs?
No sys­tem is per­fect. Using the tab­let as a second screen requires a WiFi net­work con­nec­tion. This can be a bit tricky in some loc­a­tions where you’re only allowed one WiFi con­nec­tion per per­son.

Also, if there are mul­tiple WiFi net­works in the same build­ing, say at a uni­ver­sity, you must make sure that your devices are all on the same WiFi net­work.

Why?
Well, I like using the extra mon­it­or provided by my tab­let as a news desk, tweet mon­it­or and ref­er­ence desk. Yep, just a pass­ive dis­play that I can occa­sion­ally glance at that means I don’t have to Alt-Tab to check on stuff. Much less dis­tract­ing that way, I find. And it’s a port­able solu­tion to my mul­tiple mon­it­or addic­tion.

Thoughts?
Got a favour­ite com­puter and tab­let con­fig­ur­a­tion you want to share? Tell us about it and we’ll all learn some­thing!

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New smart Wi-Fi Router review part two — Linksys EA3500

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This week we’re going to look at the second router in my three-part series on the latest offer­ing from Cisco / Link­sys, and for this post we’re going to step it up a notch with the Link­sys EA3500, tar­geted at folks with slightly more soph­ist­ic­ated net­work needs.

If you haven’t read my pre­vi­ous post on the EA2700, take a moment and do that now. It’ll give you a good frame­work to build upon, because that’s what Link­sys has done with this router series and the EA3500 in par­tic­u­lar; taken everything that’s great about the EA2700 and made it bet­ter while adding a few new fea­tures, at a slightly dif­fer­ent price point, of course. Con­tin­ue read­ing “New smart Wi-Fi Router review part two — Link­sys EA3500”

Guild Wars 2 Open Beta Weekend Overview

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There are those who eagerly anti­cip­ate online gam­ing events. And then there’s the rest of the world. I kinda fall into the first cat­egory.

This past week­end I par­ti­cip­ated in such an event — the first Guild Wars 2 open beta test. Basic­ally it was two and a half days of fresh Guild Wars good­ness! But first a little back­ground.
Con­tin­ue read­ing “Guild Wars 2 Open Beta Week­end Over­view”

New smart Wi-Fi Router review — Linksys EA2700

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Since the last time I looked at home Routers, home net­work­ing has got­ten more com­plex. These days, folks are hook­ing up almost everything to their home net­work, either wired or wire­lessly: game con­soles, audio sys­tems, tab­lets, hand­held gam­ing devices… the list goes on. And older routers have occa­sion­ally been cranky when mix­ing brands and types — caus­ing more net­work head­aches.

That being said, home net­work­ing just got much easi­er with the recent intro­duc­tion of the new smart Wi-Fi router lineup from Link­sys.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be look­ing at three mem­bers of this linup — start­ing with the power­ful Link­sys EA2700.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “New smart Wi-Fi Router review — Link­sys EA2700”