Monday, July 29, 2013

Samsung Tec Tiles. Necessary? No. But damn cool.

I'm constantly impressed by my Samsung i9305 (or S3 4G if you will) Android Smartphone.

Whether I'm firing up sudo commands within the terminal emulator to do some external access testing or using my Qi charger on my desk to power the sucker up again, I'm constantly impressed with what you can do with this unassuming looking device.

I was having a conversation with someone the other day along the lines of "wouldn't it be great if you could just get in your car and your phone would turn on its bluetooth radio automatically?".

While you're at it, why not fire up driving mode and either the music player or Google nav?

I said "yeah - I remember something about Samsung selling programmable NFC stickers" and the inner geek in me thought I'd better have a look...

After a bit of Googling around I found the stickers in question and remembered they were marketed as "Tec Tiles" by Samsung.

For the reasonable sum of approx. $3 a sticker I ordered a pack of 5 off eBay and am well chuffed.

The setup was literally as easy as install the app on your Android phone from the Play Store and select what you want the sticker to do.

You then "write" to the tag (will have to look into this as I suspect the phone actually just reads a sticker ID or something and associates that with commands in a database or something - or it could actually program the sticker - who knows?) and that's it!

I've now got a nifty little Samsung NFC sticker in my car that I simply tap my phone against and I'm in (what I like to call) driving mode.

Necessary? No.

But they're damn cool :)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Best HTPC Remote Control (Hand Held) Setup

It was a sad day when my official Microsoft MCE remote (1039 model - picture below) packed it in.

Official MCE Remote = Awesome.
Sadly no longer in production.

I'd gotten very used to this remote with its nicely functioning and highly responsive buttons and the way it "just worked".

As this remote is no longer in production (and there is no updated version) I was left with the option of getting the closest thing to an official MS remote which was the Happuage MCE Remote Kit which runs for about $50 in Australia or a cheap ebay generic kit which ran for about $20.

I ended up going with the ebay generic version which worked but was quite frustrating in that buttons didn't register properly and was very unresponsive (as in lots of delay) when buttons did actually register.

So - if you're new to the Media Centre game and want a good quality remote setup, what's your best option?

If I was doing it all again (or had to start from scratch right now), my recommendation would be to buy the cheap ebay MCE kit and throw away the remote but keep the USB IR receiver.

Next, go out (or stay in I guess these days...) and get yourself a Logitech 
Harmony remote.

There are various models ranging from $20 - $200 depending on the level of fanciness you feel you need :)

Cheap ebay Generic Kit =
bad remote performance but a
good way to obtain a USB IR receiver.
I purchased a bargain clearance model Harmony 200 for $15 from JB HiFi and am super impressed with it.

I simply signed up via to access the configuration service and fired up the browser based plugin which then let me start configuring up my remote.

I used the software to configure the primary profile (as you can see there are three profiles - tv, cable and DVD which can be mapped to any device you desire) as a Microsoft 1039 Media Centre remote and waited for the config to sync to the remote.

I then thought - it can't be that easy.

I walked into the lounge and pressed the power button and the HTPC woke up straight away.
Logitech Harmony. Get one. Now.

Am very impressed at this point.

I then proceeded to give all the other buttons a whirl and everything worked perfectly.

All commands were mapped as I expected and the buttons register first time every time.
As a bonus the interface is nice and responsive.

This is all using the original USB IR receiver from my Microsoft MCE remote kit (which is the same what's included in the ebay kit mind you).

I then took it a step further and loaded the profiles for my TV and Stereo Mini System on and was further impressed with the setup.

The only thing I had to do in addition to this was manually configure a button for use with the stereo mini system profile so that I could scroll through my input selects.

This was as simple as using the Logitech configuration software and pointing the original remote at the new remote, pressing the desired button and then dragging and dropping the newly learnt command to the relevant button in the configuration software.

The ultimate party piece is when you've setup the special "Watch TV" button at the very top left of the remote correctly.

By default this will turn on and off your media centre and TV simultaneously.
Spending 5 minutes more with the software will allow you to also make it include your stereo / amp in that process which is just awesome.

Very impressive stuff :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Minix Neo X5 Mini Android Media Center


An Android based media center device that is small, powerful and has a decent remote control and keyboard option.

Minix has just released the Neo X5 Mini and it looks bloody good.

Spec wise it's very similar to it's previous incarnation but got shrunk in the wash and now has a better remote.

The device is orderable from Deal Extreme for the very reasonable price of $89 (AU).

For that you get a tiny little media center that's capable of running XBMC with hardware acceleration (using the MX player trick), HDMI output, SPDIF output, 802.11n 2.4GHz support as well as 2 USB ports, an  ethernet port (think it's only 100mbps) and an SD slot.

Inside the SoC it packs a Rockchip RK3066 Dual-Core 1.6GHz processor (Cortex A9 architecture) and a Quad-Core Mali 400GPU.

That little GPU will more than take care of 1080p decoding :)

Full specs are available at the official Minix product page.

It comes with a small remote that is meant to better than the one included with the standard size Neo X5 and also supports the mini keyboard / wii-mote style thingy / accelerometer controller (available from Deal Extreme for $40 AU).

This pricing is not great at the moment due to the over-inflated US dollar (waiting for imminent crash...).

There's an XBMC release (Neon XAF build) compatible with the Neo X5 mini over at including instructions.

I highly recommend changing the theme to Confluence :)

Check out the youtube clip below for a great full review and to see XBMC in action.