In the last few weeks the price of the Blackberry Playbook has plummeted further, to £169 in the UK from retailers such as PC World. At that price it deserved some research into what it offers & whether it’s worth a look. The tablet itself is solidly built, with a decent amount of processing power & good multi-tasking abilities. There’s an app store that offers a fair number of apps, including the obligatory Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, and useful stuff like free VNC clients.
The 7″ screen looks crisp & vivid, and isn’t as cramped as I’d imagined it would be. I’d viewed someone’s Samsung 7″ tablet so knew what to expect. Browsing the web on it is slick & fast, plus it’ll play Flash videos, so iPlayer, 4oD and other sites all work on it without a hitch.
The OS is soon to get v2.0, and that’s where things get even more interesting; that opens the Playbook up to the Android Market, allowing it to run a majority/proportion (not sure which yet!) of Android apps. OS2.0 will also offer MKV support, but what codecs are actually covered is unclear.
Built-in storage is limited to what you initially purchase (e.g. 16Gb), and there’s no SD card expansion. However, if you root the Playbook, there’s a method to add USB-host functionality, allowing you to attach USB flash drives.
A micro-HDMI connector allows it to mirror the display to a TV without proprietary adapters & it just works!
Here’s what you need if you want to hook it up to a TV (a few different cable lengths included):
Micro HDMI to HDMI adapter = £3.56
And here’s what you’d need to connect a standard USB flash drive
For the back of the car, I’ve gone for a generic headset mount that can also mount an iPad:
And to protect it from scratches and minor droppage in the house I bought the official faux leather convertible case, which beats the hell out of the horrible case it ships with.
After a few hours of research I knew it was a good deal, bought one & haven’t been disappointed. It *is* a bargain for what you get :)
After the untimely death of my Topfield box, and less than stellar performance of the 3view box, I ended up sending that back & buying the Humax HDR-Fox T2. Since I bought it over a year ago there’s been a huge amount of progress on a custom firmware which enables you to install ‘packages‘ that add a whole bunch of new features, including;
– Web-based interface for controlling the box, searching the EPG, etc.
– Smartphone optimised web interface
– Auto-filing script for placing series linked programs in designated sub-folders
– Remote scheduling interface for setting timers on the box remotely
– Recording trimming to cut off unwanted segments of recordings
– Custom TV portal (offering Sky Player support)
– And loads more!
There are some videos on YouTube that show a lot of these features in action, together with a guide showing exactly how to install it onto your box. It’s a simple, and reversible process & the guys that have worked on it have helped improve the features on the box no end!
I’ve owned a Motorola Milestone for some time now.. but it’s never been the slickest of experiences and since the 2.2 Froyo update things have been a bit laggy. I’d started to look at custom ROMs, but the problem I see with custom ROMs is the risk of bricking the device, and there are a fair number of bugs in the custom ROMs which may mean I’d need to keep on top of the latest releases.
Instead of going all the way & installing a custom ROM, I went part way & rooted the phone using SuperOneClick, carefully reading all the instructions beforehand. I still messed up & didn’t run the app as Admin.. killing the app & re-running it fortunately didn’t have any nasty side-effects :)
Once the phone was rooted, I did very little else until I spotted this nice list of apps on Lifehacker. The one that peaked my interest was SetCPU, but when I ran that it topped out at 550 Mhz, which led me to find Milestone Overclock which allows you to overclock the phone without having to install a ROM that supports higher frequencies (like the official 2.2 update from Motorola).
I’m now running the phone comfortably at 800 Mhz.. but only when it needs it.. SetCPU will scale back the performance depending on what the phone is doing, which really helps with battery life.
The HTPC I’m using is also my download box. It started to get really tedious to VNC onto it & surf for NZB files, and manage things that way. Now I do it all from my laptop and use a relatively simple batch script to get the NZB files onto the server.
Here’s what’s involved;
Automatic Save Folder – Firefox Add-On
This useful Firefox add-on is used to save the NZB files to a specific folder without even prompting me where to put it. Saves a few clicks and having to re-select the same folder all the time.
One I’m done with the NZB files I then use this simple batch script to map a network drive to the server & move them into a specific folder. This script is then pinned into my Windows 7 Programs folder so that it’s simple to run with a few keystrokes.
Rem EXTRACT ALL ZIP FILES c:\progra~1\7-zip\7z x "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.zip" -o"C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs" Rem DELETE ZIP FILES del "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.zip" del "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.nfo" Rem MAP NETWORK DRIVE (TEMPORARY) NET USE T: \\192.168.1.10\htpc /Persistent:No Rem MOVE ALL FILES TO SERVER move "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.nzb" "t:\usenet\nzbs-import\" Rem UNMAP NETWORK DRIVE NET USE T: /DELETE pause
Alt.Binz Auto-Import Feature
The alt.binz client allows you to automatically import NZB files from a speified folder. It does this automatically & can delete the NZBs after it’s done. This is perfect for what I’m attempting to do here.
Due to a clash with a toddler and my Harmony 555 all-in-one remote I bought a Harmony 600 in September last year. In the last month it’s been repeatedly rebooting/restarting. A new set of batteries sorts the issue out, but only for a couple of weeks, and then it starts happening again. There’s a thread on Logitech’s support site which talks about the problem, so it’s not an isolated issue.
The good thing is, that after raising a support ticket on Sunday, it only took a couple of message exchanges before they said it was faulty & shipped a new remote. They don’t even ask for the old one back, since they can de-activate it on their servers so that it can never be updated online.. pretty much rendering it useless, because there’s no way to update it without using their online app.
Kudos to Logitech for sorting this out so quickly! Really impressive.
I’ve been looking to replace my ageing Xbox which has reliably run XBMC for over 7 years with a box that can handle HD content, as well as acting as a NAS & download server. The Zotac ION box caught my eye, since the latest media center apps now support hardware acceleration for video playback & the nVidia ION GPU is supported.
I bought the kit as a bundle from Mini-ITX.com and fitted a 32Gb SSD for the operating system, and a 1TB Western Digital Essentials HDD which would be attached via USB & powers down when not in use. The shopping list looks like this;
– Zotac ION-ITX-A Motherboard with Dual Core 1.6GHz Atom N330
– 2GB or 4GB DDR2 800 RAM included
– M350 Universal Mini-ITX Enclosure
(bundle costing £233 from Mini-ITX)
– OCZ Onyx 32GB SATA II 2.5in Solid State Disk
(about £50 from Amazon)
– 1TB Western Digital Essentials
(about £45 from Amazon)
For the OS I wanted to use Windows 7; that’s what I’m most comfortable writing scripts + code for. The Linux distros for XBMC Live look pretty good, but there was too much of a learning curve involved for adding in the extra features I wanted.
Installing OS From USB
Since there’s no optical drive, I opted to install Windows 7 from a USB key. I actually used a 4Gb SD card from my camera & a SD card reader, and followed these instructions to make it bootable & have the Windows 7 installation on it. Installation went without a hitch.
After installing the OS, I updated with the latest nVidia drivers, and started installing apps like XBMC. The latest Dharma release of XBMC supports hardware acceleration using DXVA2, however I was unable to get it working with 1080p content & gave up after a couple of hours. I then tried Media Portal which worked perfectly with whatever I threw at it. There’s a brilliant guide on how to configure Windows 7 and MediaPortal by Rhys Jones, which is useful to follow if you want to optimise your HTPC setup.
Next up was getting the remote control working correctly. I had a cheapo CyberLink remote, plus a Harmony 600.. I used the Cyberlink IR Reciever & mapped up keys into the Harmony 600. Some of the buttons worked, some didn’t. I ended up re-mapping the numeric keys to certain MediaPortal features using one of the plugins. I also re-mapped the MCE Green Button so that it runs MediaPortal (see this guide.. scroll to the Green Button heading).
The HTPC also acts as a NAS + handles any downloads, so I’ve written a bunch of scripts to handle certain situtations.
– Timed execution of certain download tasks using Windows Scheduler. Making sure that the tasks don’t bring the HTPC out of sleep.
– Execution of scripts when the HTPC is brought out of sleep (like making sure MediaPortal is running)
Keyboard + Mouse Control
For times when I need a keyboard, I’m running Unified Remote on the HTPC and the client on my Android phone. This allows me to control most aspects of the HTPC via my phone, without having to buy extra hardware like a wireless mouse/keyboard.
When I was looking to buy a slow cooker I didn’t find much on specific power usage. I guess it depends on your model, but even general figures were hard to find. Now I’ve got one, here’s the deal;
Morphy Richards 3.6 litre crockpot (bought from Argos in Sept 2010)
The readings I took for cooking a full meal for 10.5 hours (high at the start, the low for most of it, then warm for a while), used 1.23kw of electricity. There’s no thermostat so it idles along at whatever power setting you’ve chosen. At today’s UK energy prices you might be looking at 12p per kw of energy, and therefore about 15p to slow cook a meal.
It’d be interesting to know how much energy it would take to cook this purely on the hob, in some ways I’m guessing it might be cheaper, but the convenience of the slow cooker for some meals is what appeals.. plus 15p isn’t exactly expensive.