Day 253 – Chromecast Rocks

But first… it sucks.

It sucks that Google aren’t officially selling it in Australia yet. In the US you can buy the Chromecast home-delivered for US$35. And it’s a no-brainer from what I can tell.

A Chromecast is a small Linux computer inside what looks like a USB stick. But instead of a USB connector, it has a HDMI plug on it. You stick the Chromecast into your televisual device, set it up to connect to your wireless network (I found the Android app the easiest way to go through this process). First thing it’ll do then is connect to the internet and download the latest firmware updates, and then you’re set.

Chromecast is basically a multi-media front-end PC stuck right into your television. And all your Google-based devices and apps have the potential to become a remote that can control it.

When I’m in YouTube on my Android, I can hit the Chromecast button, select the TV device by the name I’ve given it, and it’ll playback the YouTube videos that I select and control on my Android.

When I’m in Plex on my Android, I can hit the Chromecast button, select a movie, or a television program, or a music track/playlist that exists on my Plex server, and the TV will start playing it… again with my Android continuing to act like a remote control.

When I’m in Chrome on my laptop (with the Chromecast plugin installed), I can hit the Chromecast button and display my current webpage on the TV to share with everyone in the room.

It’s the cheapest media PC I’ve ever had in the living-room, and it’s by far the most satisfying. The way to use it is so simple and transparent… and from what I understand, the API is fully public, meaning that any app-developer can add a Chromecast button to their Android app and define the behaviour for the Chromecast device to follow.

I had to pay about AU$50 on eBay to buy a Chromecast from the US, but it’s easily worth it.

Heartily recommended!

Day 250 – Shouldered Burdens

I’m glad the state I woke up in was not indicative of the remainder of the day to come. I’ve gone from extremely uncomfortable, to almost bearable. If I don’t move my neck too fast and sit nice and upright I could almost fool myself into believing everything is fine.

I will however be a good boy and take it easy a little while longer. I’m itching to get back to the gym, but if anything Saturday has shown how fragile this recover is so far.

Today I’ve kept to easy tasks. My main accomplishment for the day was to clear off my entire desk and re-organise my technology so that it all fits nicely. Now I just need to get rid of the QNAP TS-409 that has done faithful duty for 7+ years. Even though it was in no way failing, it was no longer living up to my needs and expectations.

The 870 PRO so far is doing a great job at impressing. I’ve installed the latest version of Plex on it, as well as on my laptop and my phone. And I’ve started ripping some of my media onto the drive to have a play with it. I’m impressed with how slick the integration and interfaces have become. Last time I considered Plex was 2-3 years ago, and I moved on to XBMC for the living room. It probably was the right choice at the time, but now… this is so much better.

I can’t go too far overboard with the ripping yet though, because I only have about 3TB of usable space in the 870 at the moment. I purposely only got the bare essentials space-wise so that I can wait out any price-drop in 4TB drives later this year when the 5TB models will finally arrive. Once that happens I should be able to load up the 870 and start filling 28TB of storage with all our media for instant-on access from all our devices. It amazes me a little how long it has taken for this particular future to arrive in a ready-to-go product.

I guess with all the tech-stuff out of the way, I can get back to making a dent in my reading; Ice and Fire has waited for my return for too long, and I have a Matthew O’Reilly waiting for me since Christmas. I am current with all my Podcasts at the moment, except for one Nerdist that I paused because they were going into Bioshock Infinity spoilers… which is the other area I need to re-invest some time in; I have a truckload of games waiting for my attention. I’m only halfway through Bioshock I. And that’s the only embarrassment I’m prepared to admit to right now.

Oh god, and software development.
I have long in-depth posts that have been rattling through my brain for too long.
And an intense itch in my fingers to make a dent in my Web Development projects.

My next break is over Easter.
I think I should plan to stay home and Do Things.

Day 248 – Upgrades and Installs

I completely lost track of time. And I was almost about to go to bed without posting. So just a quick update…

Two more parcels arrived today; one containing 16GB of SO-DIMM memory and one containing an external USB3 BluRay player.

The memory is for the QNAP to eventually support running VMs and web servers on the box. It was a little tricky to install; after taking the outer casing off it became clear immediately I was going to need some help finding the memory sockets. They were in fact on what was clearly the motherboard, but they are somewhat obscured behind cables to the front of the device. It is theoretically possible to install the memory by just taking out the drive caddies and going by touch… but I’m not that skilled. With the case off I could at least see what I was aiming for.

With that out of the way, I have moved the unit to a more permanent home in the study, and as we speak about 1.5TB of essential files from the previous NAS is slowly trickling into its new home.

In the mean time I’ve also updated some software packages on the new QNAP, and I’ve added a Plex server. Took me a few tries to get the download to work, but it looks like a really slick solution. And I’ve already managed to connect a Windows 8 app and my Android to the back-end, where I can reach some of the audio files that have already moved across. So far so good.

The BluRay player took a bit of effort too; apparently Windows 8 no longer comes bundled with codecs for DVD/BluRay, because Microsoft is trying to avoid the licensing fees for these codecs in a world that revolves ever more around streaming rather than physical media. I’ve re-installed my trusty AnyDVD HD, and VLC has no trouble playing discs now. So that’s officially sorted too.

I cannot remember what’s next.
Time for bed.

Day 243 – My Media Solution

Today I was stuck in media-land. Consumption, contemplation, cataloguing.

The day looked promising when I briefly opened my eyes to see the sunshine before closing them again to catch some more sleep. Wet’n’Wild was going to have to wait till I woke up properly. By the time I woke up the second and final time the sky was getting a little cloudy, but never mind.

By the time I made it to Michel’s for my coffee the sky had torn itself to pieces and was dumping truckloads of water all over the place. So much for outside, pivot to inside. Cold weather goes well with media consumption, hot food, hot beverages.

I brought a haul from JB HiFi home. I love their stacking discounts. 20% off all media in-store. Added on top of buy-2-get-1-free and buy-GoT-S3-get-50%-off deals. I walked out with a small tower of BluRays and intent to make a big dent.

I’m not entirely sure when the weather changed again into a sunny evening, but it might have been somewhere during Skyfall. By that point I didn’t really feel sufficiently motivated to do anything else with the last hour of daylight left.

What I did do during all this media consumption; lots of research.

As I was driving home earlier in the day an episode of Hanselminutes came on my podcast player. It was an interview with the developer of Plex; multimedia-player-extraordinare. I had played with Plex in the past, but it has come a ways since then and is still growing on by the sounds of it.

The backend server can run on a QNAP. There are front-end apps available for PC, Windows 8, Android, iOS, Chromecast… play can pause and resume between devices; when you start playing on the TV and run out of time, you can pause and then resume on your tablet from where you left off. It keeps track of who has seen what and what they liked. There is a recommendation system between users. It sounds very much like the solution I’m looking for.

And then there is Chromecast… a $35 plug-in HDMI device for the TV that integrates with Android apps and can connect to Plex as well. When you have a Chromecast connected to your WiFi, and your Android is playing a YouTube video on that same WiFi, it will have an additional “cast” button that instantly transfers the playback from the mobile to the TV.

So now I know exactly what I need for my solution:

  • A QNAP 870 Pro (as per previous post)
  • Plex server installed on the QNAP
  • Plex client for Android on my mobile
  • Plex client for Windows 8 on my laptop
  • Chromecast plugged into the TV
  • Investigate moving from Spotify to Google Music

Oh yes, … I almost forgot. Other than the cost per track including the Australia Tax, Google Music will probably do the job I want from a music store as well. $12 a month streaming of any tracks in the catalogue. Purchase tracks that I want to keep for on the QNAP. And for any music the store does not stock, Google gives room to upload 20,000 tracks that I have ripped myself; plenty to supplement tricky artists.

Now I just need to put all the pieces together.