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 decor
  • 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.

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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 uber 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”

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”