HTNB or Home Theater NetBook; a story of being Frugal. A couple of years ago I went to the trouble of setting up a retired PC to a television. One of the biggest complaints my spouse had was the noise, rightly so. After my son got his first smartphone, his NetBook (ASUS Eee 1001P) somehow lost its glamour. We decided to see if we could find a purpose for the NetBook, this is what we came up with.
It should be noted that I didn’t have much confinience that this low end machine would work as a streaming device, but to my surprise it works quite well.
Prepping The NB
Resetting to Factory Settings. This model has no optical drive. I discovered the with 2 steps you can easily reset this device.
- F2 - In the BIOS you will need to turn off ASUS Express Gate.
- F9 – Hitting the F9 key during boot up will start the recovery process.
As I never really cared much for Windows Starter and I have a TechNet membership, I went ahead and used the Instant Upgrade option and upgraded the OS to Windows 7 Home Preimum.
Now it is time for one of the most time consuming operations….Removing the Bloatware. Once this is done you can do a couple of last little items that I decided couldn’t hurt.
- 2GB USB Stick used with ReadyBoost
- Turn off all gratuitous graphics. Set Visual Effects to ‘Best Performance’
These minor adjustments made a significant inprovment in the performance of the NB.
The only additional hardware that we invested in was a: Blue Tooth/WiFi Mouse. I looked at Windows Media Center remotes but realized that I can do 90% of what I need with a mouse. There are of course a collection of apps for both Android and iPhone that will turn your phone or tablet into a media center remote as well.
If you opt for a Mouse, you will want to take a close look at the distance between the mouse and the BT or WiFi transceiver.
Home Media Sever
One of the primary reasons most of us even go down this road is so we can have access to our local content play through our Home Entertainment System.
I have experimented with various media server configurations, but in the end I opted for:
Remote Potato is an Open Source project, it will work with Windows7 Media Center and there is an Android application for mobile access.
RemotePotato brings your media to you, wherever you are. Videos, recorded TV, music, pictures, it’s all instantly accessible over the Internet, streamed live from your home. Wherever you are in the world, all you need is a normal web browser to access your media. Videos are streamed in stunning quality – AVI, MP4 files, Quicktime – most major formats are supported. If you have an iPhone or Android mobile device, we have an app to make things even neater. Never sync your mobile again!
I tested quite a few different media centers; Windows 7 Media Center, XBMC, and Boxee. As one might guess they are all graphic intensive and require a significant overhead. I took a minimalist approach and opted for:
Setting Up Google Chrome as a Media Center
Chrome is one of the fastest browsers available and with the use of a few extensions and apps you can create a reasonable media center.
- SpeedDial Plus: Speed Dial Plus is based on Speed Dial extension with an option to export/import the dials. Export Dials to bookmarks – exports the dial’s URL and its custom icon URL to chrome bookmarks Import Dials from bookmarks – imports the dial’s URL and custom icon from bookmark
- AppJump: AppJump is a launcher and organizer for your Web Apps and Extensions! With AppJump you can put Apps and Extensions into Groups to allow easy management. You can also display specific groups of Apps in the launcher and start them right on your browser toolbar.
|Word Search||Revers e||Bowling|
Click on Images To Expand
Upgrad to 2GB of Ram
Ethernet instead of WiFi
In this episode we will discuss your content choices when it comes to entertainment on the Internet. I want to remind all who may be considering this to be wary of subscription services. Otherwise you may find yourself spending more per month than you were by having kept your cable or satellite service.
Note: I have set up my system with only 1 subscription service (NetFlix). All other investments in this project are one time fees.
Lets Talk Content
There are several hunderds of sites that provide content (Video, Music, and Photos) to your computer. The trick is getting it to your TV. As I have previously mentioned I will be relating much of this conversation to the Roku DVP.
There is basically two types of content: On-Demand and Live Streams. Live Steams are just what they sound like; a live stream of a channel such as CNN or NASA. On-Demand content is a file that you stream to your network that has been pre-recorded. This is the most common type.
- NetFlix and Amazon VOD – Just about every set-top box will include these services. NetFlix requires a subscription, starting at $8 a month and up. Amazon is strictly pay as you go where you can purchase or rent content. Both of these services have movies and television shows.
- Hulu.com (HuluPlus) – HuluPlus is now available on the Roku DVP for $8 a month. I tested this and even though I am a big fan of Hulu.com, I thought HuluPlus was a rip-off. Granted you get some great content, put I have a problem with paying for a service and still having to watch commercials.
- YouTube – I was never a big YouTube user, but recently I have discovered that they have a really great range of content. You will need to spend some time setting up your subscriptions and/or playlists. I have found quite a few PBS, and vintage programs available. YouTube is available for the Roku via a private channel.You can take a look at some of my playlists at: http://www.youtube.com/user/TCGAZ to give you an idea content available.
- TV.Com – CBS News, CBS SHOWS, TV.COM shows. CNET. Various programming.
- Roku Newscaster – Roku Newscaster delivers the news instantly from the most trusted sources on TV — CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and more. Includes full shows from 60 Minutes, Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, and Rachel Maddow.
- JustinTV – Watch your favorite justin.tv channels on your Roku DVP. Includes category browsing, search, and favorites. Live streams of CNN and MSNBC.
- Pub-A-Hub – Classic public domain films, TV shows, and cartoons.
- Pandora – Pandora builds custom radio ‘stations’ based on the songs and artists that you enjoy. Our technologists and musicians have analyzed thousands of songs to create a service that delivers the sounds you love alongside new music you might never have found.
- Tune-In Radio – Free radio stations from virtually anywhere — all live, right to your TV. Tune in lets you find your favorite stations, or browse by geography or genre.
- TWIT TV – Founded by industry-respected former TechTV host Leo LaPorte, TWiT contains more than 15 daily and weekly tech-centered shows.
This is not an all encompassing list, and more channels are being added all the time.
Local Content (Your Stuff)
What about your personal DVD library, MP3′s and Photos? Yes, Roku has various solutions for this as well. I opted for a private channel called: ‘RoksBox (http://roksbox.com)’.
Roksbox is a channel on the Roku Digital Video Player that gives you the ability to play your own videos and movies, listen to your own music, and show your own photographs on your television screen. Your media can reside on your computer’s hard drive, on an external drive, on a network attached storage (NAS) device located on your home or local area network, or on a USB attached device (XR and XD|S models). Although Roksbox requires some initial setup work, once you get your network and media files properly configured, you will be able to enjoy all of your media files on the convenience of the Roku player.
In plain English, this is application allows you to set up a personal media server on your computer and allows you to access your video, audio and image files via the Roku DVP. There is a one time registration fee of $9. You will most likely need to convert your videos, but once that is done, I can tell you this is really a great add-on functionality. All of the software required is supplied for the initial registration fee. You also have a 30 day trial to get it all set up and tested.
Note: As this is hosted locally, the machine you install on will need to be on when you are viewing your local content.
So, What’s It All Mean?
Now that I have done this and am over the ‘Cable withdrawals’, I can say, that I have more if not the same content that I did before. There are certain channels that I do miss, but for the most part the gains outweigh the losses. I should point out that this is not a hands free solution, and will require you to dedicate some time to keeping your channels updated.
I started out this series by saying that I did this primarly to save the $70 a month. After much thought, yes, the money is a great incentive, but not the only one. For me its more about being able to watch: What I Want-When I Want!
NOTICE: None of the information in this article is intended for the use of pirating copyrighted material.
First off, I guess I should make it perfectly clear that I am no lover of Cable or Satellite TV, with all of the packages and tiers. But with all of the on-demand content available on line these services are slowing becoming outdated. It is for this reason I purchased my first Roku set-top box and a $8.99 subscription to NetFlix.
What is Roku: Roku, Inc., is a privately held company located in Saratoga, Calif., and founded in 2002 by Anthony Wood, the inventor of the digital video recorder (DVR). Roku is a leading supplier of innovative and easy to use digital media products. Our best known consumer products are the Roku digital video player and the stylish SoundBridge Internet radio line. In short, Roku; is a set-top box that hooks up to your HDTV and to the Internet to provide a variety of content from NetFlix, Amazon, YouTube and many more content providers.
What Roku has always been missing is the ability to stream or display my own content (Movies, Pictures, Music) across a home network and not have to upload all of my photos, and movies to the cloud.
Roksbox gives you the ability to play your own videos and movies, listen to your own music, and show your own photographs on the Roku Digital Video player (from now on referred to as the Roku player). Your media can reside on your computer’s hard drive, on an external drive, on a network attached storage (NAS) device located on your home or local area network, or on a USB attached device (XR model only). Although Roksbox requires some initial setup work, once you get your network and media files properly configured, you will be able to enjoy all of your media files on the convenience of the Roku player.
How It Works:
Roksbox is a private channel that you add to your channel list. The short of it is that this is not a plug and play setup and requires you to set up a small web server on the machine that you will be storing your media on. Then the channel will give you a list of your content on your TV and allow you to play it.
It took me around 60-90 min. to get everything installed and configured. RoksBox has a very good tutorial that will walk you step by step through the process. I have listed the software that I used which is all included in the tutorial and is Free. Most of the time you will spend will be on converting your media to work with Roku.
|Mongoose Media Server||http://code.google.com/p/mongoose/downloads/list||FREE|
|HandBrake Video Converter||http://handbrake.fr/||PREE|
|Personal Video Database||http://www.videodb.info/forum_en/index.php?action=down||FREE|
Using Windows 7 Backup. Multiple videos explaining the process.
Of late DNS and their associated services has been in the news, with Google now starting their own DNS service (Google Public DNS). This article is to help anyone who is interested in the Who What and How.
What Is DNS
DNS stands for Domain Name Service, Wikipedia has a good definition at: Domain Name System. But in short you can look at DNS as the Internet White Pages. Every website has an associated IP (Internet Protocol) address. IP addresses are in the format of 12 numbers; xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx . DNS takes the domain name that you type into your browser such as: http://tekpedia.net and translates it to the actual IP address and then presents it in your browser.
Its easy to see how this can affect the speed of your browsing. Most of us use the DNS provided by our ISP (Internet Service Provider). This may not be the best choice in many instances.
In deciding what your best options are, the first step is to check the speed of some of the available services. OpenBench is an open source program that will test the 3 primary DNS services (Google, OpenDNS and your ISP’s) to see which is faster. You can download OpenBench from our downloads page:
Once you decide on the service to use you will need the Primary and Secondary IP addresses which OpenBench will provide. You will then want to configure your network settings for your new DNS servers.
You will need to restart your computer for your settings to take affect.
For the most part, you will want to pick the service which provides you the fastest response. I have been using OpenDNS for the past year and its not always about speed but its also about the tools the service provides. With OpenDNS you not only have access to a wide range of reports on your network Internet usage; Great if you have children. You are also provided a customizable content filtering. The filtering will allow you prohibit certain content from ever reaching your browser, such as Porno, Phishing, and Adware. This additional filtering can provide you an additional level of security you didn’t have previously.
OpenDNS is definitely worth a look see before you decide on which DNS service to use.