Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to set-up an AV Receiver

A good AV receiver is the hub of your home theater system. It connects and manages all of your equipment. You will plug in speakers, your TV or projector, tv set-top box, xbox, playstation, apple tv, blu ray player, dvd player, etc....all into one box.

AV receivers have come along way in recent years with the development of technologies such as hdmi and wifi internet connections. But the basic function of the av receiver is the same. It collects all of the incoming audio and video signals from your equipment and converts and relays those signals to your speakers and video display. Pretty simple.

Here are a few of the top manufacturers of hifi Audio Video receivers:

  1. Denon 
  2. Yamaha 
  3. Sony 
  4. Pioneer 
  5. Onkyo 
  6. Marantz 

I'm going to go over a very common set-up of an AV receiver to give you a basic idea of how to set it up. Here is the equipment list:

LG LED 55" television
Pioneer AV receiver
LG Blu-ray player
Xbox 360
Apple TV
Directv DVR
Klipsch 5.1 speaker system

The pioneer AV receiver is the hub of this system. The incoming signals will come from the Xbox, Apple TV, blu ray player, and Directv satellite DVR box. This signals will be output to the Klipsch 5.1 speaker system and the LG television.

The easiest way to connect your input signals is via HDMI. Most modern receivers will have 3-5 hdmi input connectors. This set-up will need 4 HDMI inputs. If you don't have enough, you have a couple of options. You can either buy an HDMI switcher to add more HDMI inputs. The downside to this is that you have another box you have to use to switch through the incoming signals. The other option is to use component video input cables and either optical or RCA audio inputs.....if your system supports these connections. My preference would be to get and HDMI switcher to give you the added benefit of HDMI....including superior quality picture and sound.

Once you connect the 4 incoming components, you will then need to connect the outgoing signals to the display and sound components. Lets start with the television. Ideally, you will only need 1 HDMI cable to connect your AV receiver to your television. This will send both sound and video to your TV. The sound is only necessary if you will be using your televisions built in sound instead of stand alone speakers. I highly recommend a set of great speakers. Even inexpensive speakers will dramatically increase your sound experience.

The last step is to connect the speakers. Typically, 16 gauge speaker wire will be adequate to connect your speakers. This system is 5.1 meaning you have a center channel, front left and right channel, and rear left and right channel, plus a subwoofer (which is the .1). The subwoofer will normally require a special subwoofer connecter cable rather than typical speaker wire. Your AV receiver should have a connection on the back labeled subwoofer for this cable.

That's it...everything is plugged in. Each receiver will vary in the ways to cycle through the various input channels. Some have a dial, and all will allow you to select this via remote. See your manufacturers manual for further details on this. But essentially, if you want blu ray, you will turn on your blu ray player and then select the appropriate input channel on your remote. The receiver will automatically take that signal and send the sound and video to your speakers and tv.

You will probably also want to calibrate your speaker system. Many of the newer receivers will come with a microphone and an auto calibrate system that is very easy to use.

Advanced settings are a whole other topic and will vary by manufacturer. But if you follow the above steps, you should have a basic idea of how to set up and audio video receiver.

MyMagic+ - Taking Disney tech to the next level

I'm really excited about the new Disney MyMagic+ system that is being launched this year at the Walt Disney World resort. This new system will allow you to book guaranteed ride times before you even get to the park. This will improve on the current fast pass system that requires you to visit a kiosk near the ride of your choice and use your park admission card to get paper fastpass tickets for a specific time window later in the day. Disney is calling the new system fastpass+, and it will use the disney mobile magic app or website to allow you to make reservations in advance for dining or rides times and show times. You can even use your smartphone app to make changes to your advance plans during the day while you are in the park, allowing for some spontaneity.

Finally, you will also get a mymagic+ wristband that will serve as your park ticket, room key, photopass and fastpass+ ticket, eliminating the need to carry around multiple credit card like keys.

Disney has always been the best when it comes to enhancing the guest experience. This new technology promises to make your Disney experience even better. I'll continue to follow this technology as it progresses.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

iTunes Match is fixed

The latest IOS update 6.1 has brought back a feature that debut with the original iTunes match release: the ability to download individual songs from itunes match. This feature was eliminated with the release of iTunes 6, and that caused quite a headache for those of us who had come to rely on the feature. This was particularly noticeable when creating playlists. I have a playlist for my daughter that contains all of her favorite songs. Many of these songs come from multiple albums. When iTunes 6 was released, I was forced to download the full album for each one of these songs, rather than just download the individual song.

Itunes 6.1 has fixed this.

itunes match

Now, each song contains a cloud icon to the right of it with a down arrow. Just click the cloud and the song will be downloaded to your device. If you scroll to the bottom, you still have the option to download the entire album as well. Thanks for bringing this feature back Apple. 

Disney World Map: How to use your phone to navigate Disney World

A Disney World Map can be found for free just inside the entrances of each of the parks at disney including the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. 

However, for those of you who carry a smart phone, the best way to navigate disney is via the free Disney Mobile Magic app. The advantage to using the disney world map on your smartphone is that you can use GPS to navigate your way around the parks. This can be very helpful because disney parks are huge and sometimes difficult to navigate if you've never been there before. 

In addition, you can click on various attractions within the app to get wait times and Fastpass availability. The fastpass is basically a ticket that allows you to jump to the front of the line during a specific time window later in the day. You can also search by Character to find times and locations to visit your favorite disney characters during the day. 

The app has a separate page for each park, that will also show "today's events" for the park. For example, today at 5:40pm you can participate in the move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! Street Parade. This is an interactive parade that stops so that you can dance in the streets with your favorite disney characters around their parade floats. 

Finally, use the disney mobile magic app to find restaurants and make dining reservations at your favorite Disney restaurants. 

Disney provides a fantastic app to enhance your vacation, and those of you who are tech savvy will find your selves one step ahead of those using the old fashioned paper disney world map. 

Sync your Google Account with Chrome

Tech tip of the day:

Syncing your google account with Google's Chrome Browser comes with a number of advantages. It allows you to sign into any Chrome browser on any computer and get access to your bookmarks, extensions, apps, theme, and other browser preferences.

If you have a gmail account, just go the the Chrome browser settings and click sign in with sync. Enter your email address and password and you are good to go.

This is a great way to keep a work laptop and home pc synced up. If you add a bookmark on your laptop, you will automatically see it added to your bookmarks on your home pc. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Logitech Selling Harmony Remote Business

Logitech has experienced a growth problem in their business, and their latest plan is to sell their Harmony line of remote controls and grow other areas of their business.

Harmony remotes are a favorite product here at techstructions. Lets home the new owner continues to invest in the platform.

Universal Remote Codes: A thing of the past

Universal remote codes are typically provided by the manufacturer of the item you are trying to control remotely. It is a code that allows a universal remote to map its controls to that particular device. Typically, when you buy an AV receiver or a set-top television box, you will have the option to program that remote to control your other devices using a universal remote code.

However, modern technology has made the option of controlling your other devices much easier. Logitech is a leader in remote control technology with its line of Harmony remotes. These remotes can be programmed by plugging your remote into your computer. You then simply enter the name of the product you want to control, and Logitech will program the remote automatically to control that device. You can even program certain scenes that would allow you to turn on multiple devices with the push of a button.

Wifi remotes are also very popular. Sound and vision covers four wifi remote apps here. These apps are coupled with an IR blaster that sends out the infrared signals to your devices. You can then use your smartphone as a universal remote.

Many wifi enabled devices such as tv's and set-top boxes also have their own exclusive apps that can allow you to control that device directly. Directv has executed this very well with their dvr app that allows you to change channels, research shows, and program your dvr directly from the app.

So say goodbye to those pesky universal remote control codes. Programming your universal remote has gotten a lot easier.

Tech Tip of the Day: Update your Facebook Privacy Settings

Facebook privacy settings

Facebook's privacy settings can be confusing and they do periodically change. Its good to check them occasionally to make sure that they are set in a way that you expect. 

In the upper right of your main facebook page, you will see a little lock icon. Click it and it will pull down the privacy shortcut box shown above. From here you will see these options: 

  1. Who can see my stuff?
  2. Who can contact me?
  3. How do I stop someone from bothering me?

You will also see a "see more settings" link at the bottom of the window. 

Under each shortcut box is an additional drop down that will allow you to update the settings right from the drop down box. For example, you can lockdown your future posts so that only you can see them, or you can customize this so that you can choose only specific people that will see your future posts. 

If you want to totally block someone, you can click the "How do I stop people from bothering me?" link and enter their name or email in the drop down box. 

If you click see more settings, you will be taken to the page shown above. Click through all of the links on the left to review your settings for each category. 

One setting that I like to lockdown is who can see posts that you are tagged in on your timeline. This prevents an potentially unflattering or embarrassing photo to be posted for everyone to see. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tech Tip of the Day: Update your iPhone to 6.1

Apple released its latest update to ios with version 6.1. You can download this by going to your settings -> general -> sofware update - then select download and install.

Here's what you get:

  1. The ability to buy movie tickets via siri
  2. The ability to download individual songs via itunes match in the music app.

While you are at it, go ahead and update all of your apps after you do this. Just go to the app store -> updates -> and hit the update all button in the top right corner. 

This will update all of your apps on your phone to the latest version. If you are curious and have time, expand the description for each app update to see what changes and additions may have been made. 

Thanks for reading today's tech tip. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Earn a Million Dollars in One Year Using Your Smartphone

Ohio Classic Lotto ticket

Lately, I've been thinking about the idea of making one million dollars in one year using just a smartphone. Its based on a fantasy I have of living on a beautiful beach and earning a living from my iPhone. This fantasy tends to rear its ugly head every winter when the temperature drops to unacceptable levels....currently 19 degrees as I write this.

This list below contains 3 potential money-making careers that require nothing more than a good smartphone and a reliable internet connection. In fact, you could probably get a way with even using an ipod touch and free wifi from your local starbucks.

1.  Write a blog - Yes, you can write a blog from your smartphone. Its not the easiest way to type, but its certainly doable. I use blogger, which has its own iphone app for publishing your blog. The same type of app exists for wordpress. Most bloggers make money via advertising. Its easy to put google adsense ads on your page. These are contextual ads that pay you each time someone clicks on an add. Other options include the amazon affiliate program, which pays you a commission each time someone purchases from Amazon.

Writing a blog is one thing, making a million dollars writing a blog is a totally different task. Its very difficult. For some advice on boosting your blogs traffic, is a great source. There is a lot to learn, but persistence is key. Many bloggers give up too early because it can be frustrating to pour your effort into an article that only 3 people on the Internet will ever read. 

2. Make a youtube viral hit video - Anybody can make a video and upload it to youtube via a smartphone. The challenge is making a video that everybody wants to watch. A viral youtube video can generation millions of visits. But rather than trying to hit the viral video lottery, you may find more success recording videos regularly and attracting subscribers to your content. Are you funny? Do you have a skill that you can teach people? Regular how-to videos on youtube can attract subscribers who will be notified every time you post new content. If you are successful, you can eventually build up a regular audience. 

Enable your youtube account for monetization - All those youtube visits are great, but if you monetize your videos, they will be even better. If you already have a google adsense account, you can enable monetization on youtube and link it with your adsense account. That way you can track all of your ads within adsense and get paid via adsense. 

3. Write a book and self publish to Amazon's kindle store - Self-publishing is becoming a legitimate business. Writers can now publish directly to Amazon's kindle store and earn money directly from sales. There are some great writing apps out there on the apple and android app stores that turn your smartphone into a pretty good writing platform. Check out iA Writer or apples pages app. 

Technically, you will need to use a pc to turn your text into a kindle formatted book, but there is no reason why you couldn't theoretically write an entire book on your smartphone. This guy does it and makes six figures a month

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wifi remote control

Wifi is becoming the new standard for remote controls. Its becoming more and more common for devices to include built-in wifi. In addition, these devices also come with free apps that allow you to control the device over a wifi network.

The advantage of wifi is that the range of your remote is equal to the range of your wifi network. You do not need a direct line of site like you do with an IR remote. For some devices, you do not even need to be anywhere near your house to control the device via wifi.

The best executed wifi remote currently is the apple remote app. This app lets you control multiple apple devices using the single app. You can control multiple apple tv's, as well as itunes software on a mac computer. It even pulls up an on-screen keyboard to make searching for specific titles less painful.

Other devices such as roku, and smart tv's such as LG and samsung also provide free wifi remote apps. Most of the higher end AV receivers also include this feature. For whole house audio, the sonos system allows you to control multiple devices with one wifi app, and gives you the ability to change songs, control volume, and even play different songs in different rooms.

Some newer devices even give you control from anywhere in the world. The nest thermostat can be controlled via the free nest app from anywhere in the house. But you can also view and set your thermostat from anywhere in the world where you have a wifi connection. Modern security systems also often include wireless control from a remote location. Frontpoint security provides a free wifi app that allows you to arm and disarm your security system remotely as well as check the status of your house.

Wifi remotes are the future of remote controls, and you should expect to see more and more devices in the future ship with this capability.

What is LTE?

You may have heard the term LTE in the past year or 2 but most people don't really understand what it is or what it does for you. What is LTE? The simple answer is that it is a technology that helps your smartphone download stuff from the internet MUCH FASTER. How much faster? That depends, but typically LTE can be around 10 times faster in everyday usage. Its as fast or faster than your home broadband connection. Its fast enough to quickly stream music or high definition videos with little to no wait time.

How do I get LTE?

There are 2 things that you need to get LTE. A new smartphone with LTE built in, and LTE cellular coverage in the area where you live or work. Apple's newest iPhone 5 has LTE built in. So do many of the newer android phones. For networks, Verizon has the most LTE coverage, but AT&T is quickly catching up. Sprint still has a long way to go to build out its LTE network. And Tmobile is pretty much not an option right now for LTE.

You can also buy LTE hotspot devices to hook up to your laptop, enabling you to have a high speed data connection when you are on the go.

Do I need LTE?

That depends. For music, 3G coverage is typically good enough to stream pandora or spotify. It also works pretty well for most mobile web pages or apps. LTE is most valuable when streaming video. Thats because video files are larger and the speed and bandwidth of LTE allow you to download video very quickly. You will also notice that webpages load faster and your internet connection will be generally snappier.

How much is LTE?

LTE typically costs the same as the old 3G data network. However, because of the speed, its easy to get carried away and download much more video and data than you did with your old phone. This causes you to reach your data plan limits much faster and you risk paying overage charges for data each month. So if you do switch, keep an eye on this and make sure you don't use more data than you really mean to.

Visit your cellular providers website to check availability in your area. LTE is rapidly expanding so if its not available yet, it will likely be available soon.

Get Your TV Online for Free Legally

There are quite a few options these days for getting your TV online for free. However, it can sometimes get complicated to figure out what equipment you need for the content you want to view. There is not one single solution that will give you access to all of the content that you may want. For example, using an Apple Tv and an iPad (or iPhone/ipod touch), you can use the pbs app to stream the latest episode of Downton Abbey from your iPad directly to your flat-screen TV. And its free. You can do the same thing with the NBC app and get the most recent episodes of your favorite TV shows at no cost. Apple's airplay feature allows you to magically stream the content right from your iphone or ipad to the apple TV.

If you don't have apple products, you may want to try a roku box. For example, my wife likes to watch EWTN. This catholic network has a roku app that allows you to view the livestream of this network directly through your roku box, which plugs right into your HDTV.

Depending on your internet provider, you may also have access to watch espn for free. I have Cincinnati Bell Fioptics, which allows me to livestream espn content directly from my xbox. This is a free service provided through my internet provider.

Another option is to use the new airplay video feature built into apple mac computers. This allows you to mirror your computer screen on your apple tv device, and you can get access to content that may not be available in an ipad app or a roku channel.

Of course, you can always plug an antenna in and get free HDTV from your local broadcast channels, and the quality is great if you can get a good signal.

Equipment needed for free online tv:

  • Fast broadband internet connection
  • Roku, or Apple TV, or Xbox, playstation, Wii, smart tv, Mac PC, IPAD
  • Antenna capable of picking up local broadcasts

For just a few bucks a month you can vastly expand your  available content with either Netflix, Hulu, or both. Both services start at $8 a month. Another option is a $79 annual Amazon prime membership which includes access to thousands of tv shows and movies, as well as free 2 day shipping, and other great features.

Netflix has a huge library of Tv shows with episodes up to the previous season.
Hulu gives you access to current tv shows, but it does not carry shows from all of the networks.
Amazon prime is quickly catching up to Netflix in both Tv shows and movies that are available to stream with membership.

If you are a sports fanatic, you may also want to look at season pass subscriptions to the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL. The only downside to these is that you won't be able to stream live broadcasts for your local team. However, its a great option for fans with teams that are in another city. I'm a Pacers fan living in Cincinnati, so I can watch all of the Pacer games using the NBA season pass, and the price is about $30 a month.