remote

All posts tagged remote

(L & R images link to the pictured TTM pages, Middle is the Roku app on my smartphone.)
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Here’s yet another post related to both sides of this website (vintage local TV and cord-cutting).

The middle image is a screenshot from the Roku app on my wifi smartphone. All of our Roku channels are shown as a channel changer. Touch one of the channels and your Roku will present it.

The 1st and 3rd images are from the Tulsa TV Memories site, created late 1998 on Geocities(!) I used to present site subjects as “channels” until it got too unwieldy.

The “buttons” on all these changers are in the 4:3 aspect ratio, same as TVs had before 16:9 widescreen became the standard.

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(Click for larger view)

Here is an image of a “Java toy” changer I created for TTM on 10/25/1999. When displayed on the original page, the buttons move, audibly click, and take you to the relevant page.

Browsers tend not to use Java these days.

To make this work, you would have to download the Java add-on for your browser (Chrome doesn’t even have one.) Then you would need to add this page (http://tulsatvmemories.com/java/index3.html) to the Exception Site List in the Java Control Panel.

It’s not really worth the trouble except as something to do.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting that the design ideas were the same.

Google Chromecast with HDMI extender cable, microUSB to USB cable, USB power supply.

We didn’t need the Chromecast device since we already have several Rokus to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, YouTube, Crackle, Plex, etc. (Chromecast can handle all these except Amazon; Google doesn’t like to accommodate their competition.)

We still don’t really need it, except for one purpose (so far).

After cutting the cable TV cord, I was still able to watch msnbc’s “Morning Joe” program on the Roku’s Plex channel. (The video podcast, found on a special Plex msnbc “subchannel”, typically became available in the afternoon, or the next day.)

But ten days after cutting the cord, up popped a message from NBC that the video podcast would be discontinued ten days hence. What a kick in the head.

There was and still is an audio podcast of the show, and it can be listened to on Roku’s “iTunes Podcasts” channel. But it’s not quite the same.

I then discovered a European website that streams msnbc International 24/7 in an embedded Flash player. It has the same content as the cable channel, which is very good. But it has no commercials, which is very bad. Say what?! Yes, commercials are preferable to the repetitive, horn-tooting show promos which appear instead of commercial breaks.

Still, the entire “Joe” show can be watched in real time on a web page.

I considered buying a Mohu Channels device as a way to get the page onto a bigger screen, but was put off by the cost, and the need for a special remote to move the cursor around. I didn’t need its other features, having settled on the TiVo Roamio OTA for my wife in the den. and Windows Media Center/Raspberry Pi/Roku for me/us in the theater room. I was also unsure it would work well enough for this purpose.

For awhile, I watched the show in a browser window on the side of my laptop’s screen. Not ideal, but better than an audio podcast.

Next, after my wife moved up to an iPhone and iPad, I inherited her Android phone and tablet. Both devices did a good enough job going full screen on the Flash player, and the tablet’s case doubled as a stand. So I could now watch the show on a separate device. But the promos still drove me crazy, since muting is inconvenient with a small device.

It finally dawned on me that the Google Chromecast might be the simplest and cheapest way to get a web page up to the big screen. Since we had gone with Roku quite awhile back, I had forgotten that the Chromecast is capable of casting a tab from the Chrome browser to the TV. I checked, and Chromecast could handle Flash.

The mailman soon brought one.

The little dongle plugs directly into an HDMI slot on your TV (or if you have as many devices as I do, into an HDMI switch.)

The Chromecast is powered by AC adapter, or by USB if you have a USB port handy on your TV or other device (I plugged into the powered USB hub I use with the Raspberry Pi, which is both powered by the hub and connected to other devices by it.)

Download the free Google Chrome browser on your PC. Once you have it, install the free “Google Cast” extension (see Chrome’s Settings/Extensions/Get More Extensions).

Then go to the page you want to cast, and click the little “cast” icon on the upper right to send the page up on the big screen.

To view an embedded video (Flash player, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) on the page, click the fullscreen icon on the video. You will now see the video fullscreen on your TV.

On my first try, the video was very choppy. I suspected this was due to the fact that it had to be transmitted from the laptop to the wifi router, then again by wifi from the router to the Chromecast device. (We have an old 802.11g router.)

So I tried casting from the office computer, which is Ethernet-attached to the router. With only one wireless hop to the Chromecast, it worked much better. The video only occasionally was not perfectly smooth, though I have seen a freeze or two.

The video quality is about that of the Cox analog channels, which only this month disappeared for good. Very decent quality for a talking-heads news show.

Sometimes, the audio is not in perfect sync, though acceptable to me. This happens on the PC even when not casting. Further Googling leads me to believe that Flash player sync has been a problem for years, and mainly has to do with settings on the server side. So, nothing more I can do about it.

I figured that if the Chromecast were connected to the router by Ethernet (or by Powerline as we have it set up), the occasional stutter might be cured. There is a $15 Ethernet adapter for Chromecast, so I ordered one. Just got it today. So far, no stuttering.

One final hurdle: who wants to get out of the Laz-E-Boy and go into the office to change channels? (CNN and CNBC are available online, too, though not as is Fox News.)

My solution: Download and activate the free TightVNC server software on the office computer. (I already had given the PC a fixed IP address, which is needed to run the software.) On phone and tablet, I downloaded the free Remote Ripple app, which is TightVNC’s client software.

Smartphone screenshot: office PC remote-controlled from smartphone. Hmm, stock market tanked. Time to buy!

After I set it all up, I took over the office PC’s desktop with the smartphone. Using Remote Ripple’s virtual mouse, I brought up the PC’s Chrome browser and clicked my bookmark to the webpage. Then I clicked the tiny little cast button on the browser to get it onto the TV.

Finally, I clicked the fullscreen icon on the Flash player. Voila! The show is on the big TV.

So I now need a smartphone in the theater room to control the office PC, but I typically have one close by, anyway.

My other remote (Logitech Harmony 890) makes it easy to mute Joe’s many mind-numbing, promo-laden breaks.

There are more conventional ways to use Chromecast, to be detailed in a future post.

(PS, another way to use the new setup is get Alan Lambert’s new radio show, “Big Band American Songbook”, onto the big sound system. Listen Saturdays at 8 pm on The Grid, TCC Student Radio online.)

(PPS, yet another use: after I finish a workout accompanied by a smartphone plugged into a boombox, I can go to the theater room and cast whatever music program I was listening to onto the big sound system, from exactly where I left off.)

My den coffee table

My den coffee table

Here is my small coffee table in the den. (I bought a couple of these probably twenty years ago from a furniture warehouse that used to be a bowling alley, Harvard Lanes.)

Harvard Lanes souvenir

Harvard Lanes souvenir

I can do quite a lot with those two devices.

First, the X10 Universal 5-in-1 Learning Remote ($15):

It has 5 main buttons: TV, VCR, CBL, SAT, and X10. If you push TV, then the rest of the buttons will control your TV. If you push VCR, you have the VCR controls, etc.

I wouldn’t inflict the following system on my wife or anyone else, but here is how I set it up for myself:

5-in-1 X10 learning remote

TV button: Selects controls for our 36″ flat tube TV. But there were enough buttons left over to teach them the Roku box’ controls as well:

REW/FF/PAUSE/PLAY do what you would expect.
A/B/C/D became Up/Right/Left/Down buttons for the Roku screen (tricky, since the built-in directional buttons are for the TV).
ENT became the Roku Select button.
REC was repurposed as the Roku Home button.

VCR and SAT buttons: Allows control of the VCR/DVD combo player (rarely used now). The VCR and DVD functions are effectively two separate devices, so the VCR button selects the VCR controls, and the SAT button selects the DVD controls.

Again, repurposing two unused buttons under SAT, I added control of a remote A|B switch for the indoor and outdoor antennas. (During bad weather, the indoor one sometimes performs better).

The CBL button now selects the controls for the TiVo Roamio OTA. The TiVo’s own remote is mostly used by my wife, and is RF (radio frequency) based. But the TiVo can also recognize IR (infrared), so that’s how the 5-in-1 is able to control it.

The X10 button lets you control X10 home automation modules around the house. The 5-in-1 remote uses radio frequency (RF) for X10. The other four main buttons of the 5-in-1 are infrared (IR) only. None of the X10 buttons can be taught different functions, probably due to being tied to the RF mode.

Since I squeezed in control of 7 different devices, it’s now a 7-in-1 remote!

Sure, I have to remember a lot of stuff, but I did document it all in the 5-in-1’s manual. I use it often enough that I rarely refer to my notes anymore. Now that’s a kludge! (Clumsy and inelegant, but effective.)

Now the phone, a rooted, wifi-only Motorola Electrify smartphone ($0):

Of the top row of apps, the first three are diagnostics for the Raspberry Pi media computer in the theater room.

The fourth one, Remote Ripple, is the app version of TightVNC. With TightVNC software running on the Windows computers, I can use the app to take over their desktops and update software, move files around, etc. Very useful!

Home theater apps on smartphone

Home theater apps on smartphone

The X10 Commander app allows me to control devices around the house over wifi on the home network. I have an X10 ActiveHome Pro Computer Interface Module USB-attached to the office computer and plugged into the AC wall socket. The computer runs the X10 Commander software, which interprets wifi signals from the app and converts them in to the control pulses sent over house wiring to X10 modules for the lights, fans and coffee maker.

The TiVo app can serve as a remote control for the TiVo. More importantly, it shows you a program guide and lets you set up recordings.

(The My Media Center app does the same function for Windows Media Center, but that is for the theater room, not the den. Yatse is a remote control for the Raspberry Pi, also in the theater room.)

The Roku app is a second remote for any of the three Roku boxes in the house.

Puffin is a browser that will play Flash-based video. This was a great discovery for me.

One thing I missed after cutting the cable TV cord was the “Morning Joe” show on msnbc (also the Saturday/Sunday morning “Up with Steve Kornacki”). Free 24/7 feeds of both CNN International and msnbc International are available on the web, but both are Flash-based. With Puffin, I can play either on the smartphone, and better yet, the Nexus 7 tablet.

(Drop me an email for the URLs if you can’t find them. I know of no equivalent web feed for Fox News. Rupert Murdoch is tight-fisted with his cable content.)

I have the TV Listings app set up to show shows a program guide for cable in Tulsa. I only use it for CNN/msnbc, and not much for them, but if you are still on cable or satellite, it could be more useful to you.

There is a Roku Highlights document link on the smartphone. This is my own Google Doc created to remind me and my wife some of all the specific shows we like that are available through various Roku channels.

These channels include Plex (all movies and TV shows on computers in our house), Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Sky News International in HD, Crackle, Shout Factory, iTunes Podcasts, Nowhere TV. I note the shows that either of us might want to watch, but that slip our mind when trying to think of something good to watch.

I am able to update this doc on the smartphone or on the computer. We don’t use this as much as I thought we would, but I still like to have it available as a comprehensive memory jog.

Under the table is a clipboard with a printout of the Roku highlights list. I add items as I think of them for future updates. Low tech is sometimes the appropriate tech.

Anyway, these two devices do it all for me in the den.

We have another two over-the-air stations to watch in Tulsa.

Bounce_us

Bounce is at 2.2, and features original programming as well as series and movies geared toward African Americans ages 25-54. The selection of movies is quite good, e.g., today: “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, “Deja Vu”, “Demolition Man” and “Bowfinger”. It replaces the Living Well Network.

lafftvicon

Laff is at 2.3. Unsurprisingly, their bag is comedy with a mix of movies and sitcoms. It’s targeted at ages 18-49. Some of the current series are “Empty Nest” with Richard Mulligan, “Ellen” and “Spin City”. Laff’s program guide data has not yet shown up on TiVo or Windows Media Center. (Later note: it was out there by 6/15/2015).

I created the above Laff icon for our Logitech Harmony 650 remote. The Bounce icon was available at http://www.iconharmony.com/icons/home

Here are the icons I created for the Harmony 690. You’re welcome.
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5-in-1 remote white

X10 universal remote. Click to enlarge.

TiVo "Peanut" remote

TiVo “Peanut” remote. Click to enlarge.

A couple of days ago, I duplicated the TiVo remote on a Logitech Harmony programmable remote (see Cloning the TiVo “Peanut” remote).

Yesterday, it occurred to me that there might be a TiVo remote code for my cheap X10 Universal 5-in-1 Learning Remote. Somewhat to my surprise, there was. TiVo has been around quite awhile, after all.

This is great because the Harmony clones can’t control X10 automation in the den. (They can do so in the theater room due to the presence of an IR543 X10 Infrared Controller, but that’s another post.)

The 5-in-1 universal already controls the TV, Roku, VCR/DVD player, as well as X10 automation (details in the post, The poor man’s Harmony remote). With TiVo replacing cable TV, I can reduce down to just one remote for me in the den.

I did a Mode Reset on the cable (CBL) button. Then I input the TiVo code (0912). Next, I tested each button with the TiVo to see what they would do.

For the record, here is what I found:

The following universal remote buttons were already correct for the TiVo: Channel Up/Down, Volume Up/Down, Mute, Last/Enter, 0-9, directional arrows & Select(OK), and transport (Rewind / FF / Play / Pause / Rec).

The universal’s Menu button was the TiVo (menus) button, and its Exit button was the Clear button. These are close enough in meaning to leave them be.

The universal’s A-B button was TiVo’s Guide (mnemonic: “Guide me from point A to point B”).
The A button was Info. Will repurpose as described below.
B was a duplicate TiVo button. Will repurpose.
C was Live TV, which is a good mnemonic (“See TV”) so I let it be.
D button was the 8-second replay button. Mnemonic: “Do over”.
ENT was a duplicate of Last/Enter. Repurpose.
STOP did nothing. Give it a purpose.

So, using one of my Harmony clones, here is what I taught the learning universal’s buttons:

A became the Zoom button. Why? Zoom changes the Aspect ratio, so a good mnemonic.
B became the Back button, another good mnemonic.

ENT became the Skip-Forward-30-seconds / “-” button for the TiVo. No mnemonic; the logic here is positional: since “-” is the delimiter for digital channels (e.g., 35-2), its location near the 0-9 keys makes it a convenient assignment.

STOP became Info. No obvious mnemonic, nor positional logic, except that if you accidentally push it, you can push it again to get rid of it. It does nothing when you are in the middle of manipulating TiVo menu screens. Good reasons. I suppose a lame mnemonic could be “Stop for Info”.

The Peanut buttons I had no room for: the thumbs-up/down, and the A,B,C,D buttons. Letter buttons are used to change options, sort, and filter. None of them are necessary for typical use.

So now, unless I want to use the left-out buttons, I don’t need a Harmony clone in the den.

If you’ve gotten this far, you see the lengths I will go to have a tabletop uncluttered by remotes.

Gaye still has her Peanut, which includes TV Power and TV Input Select buttons, making it a 2-in-1 remote. She won’t need to use my complex and quirky remote, but I’ll be glad to.

(PS, I just assigned the two buttons of the remote for the RadioShack A/B antenna switch to the A and A-B buttons on the universal, unused under the SAT mode button, which I use to select controls for the DVD side of the VCR/DVD player. Now this remote is a 7-in-1! I documented it all in the universal’s manual, just in case my memory should slip. 😉 )

(PPS, We don’t use the VCR/DVD player much these days, but I still like to have it available.)