Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Casting photos and videos from your mobile device to any device with Allcast

My HTPC setup is built around Windows 10 on the Intel Compute Stick so I was looking for a way to send photos and videos taken with my Android phone directly to the TV connected Stick. What I didn't realise was that I already had an app for that named Allcast for Android and iOS.
Allcast supports the widest variety of devices and OSs and it also has a Chrome Extension that is key to my setup. If you have a Chromecast, Apple TV, XBOX, Roku, Amazon FireTV, any Smart TV or PC running Chrome you're covered. 
One thing to mention if you have Windows is that you have to open port 53515 on your Windows firewall as mentioned on the Chrome extension page "Firewall notes:
Can't find your receiver (Chromebook, Windows), adjust your firewall settings to allow UDP/TCP ports 53515". After you've set that up you're good to go. Just fire up the Allcast Chrome App on your machine 

The Allcast window on Windows, you can maximize it for full screen goodness
Open your Allcast app on your Android or iOS device

Just click to select the playback device, in this case Chrome
and finally select what you want to watch

If the above setup works for you and you are happy with the result you'll have to buy the premium version of this app to have playback time limits lifted. I have to mention that playing back 1080p video recorded with my phone was almost buffer free on Windows and flawless on Chromecast.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Activity Indicator is an HDD activity light for your Windows device that is missing a physical one.

One of the things you don't get with a minimal computer like the Compute Stick is a Hard Disk activity indicator light to know when the machine is busy reading some stuff and wait for it to finish. Well there's an app for that of course appropriately named Activity Indicator found over on Sourceforge. You can see it in action (or lack thereof) on the image below and you can access it's full potential by right clicking on the icon and selecting Show Window to get to the main menu. It also has logging features that I don't use cause frankly I don't need them and they seem to crash the app sometimes.
The little green dot that is currently off shows the activity
and this is the on state..
There are other functions like logging available through the menu

Sunday, October 25, 2015

How to get the best YouTube experience on your TV.

I've been enjoying YouTube content for quite some time now and there's no better way to do that than on a big screen. A little known feature of YouTube is it's laid back UI made for TV that you can access on your desktop browser through https://www.youtube.com/tv#/ .

You navigate the UI with the directional keys on your keyboard along with a couple of shortcuts like "G" for Guide and "S" for Search along with the help of "Enter" to skip ads once you can and F11 for full screen since you are viewing this on your browser.

If you are an active YouTube user with a Google account you can sign in by hitting "Sign in" on the menu and visiting youtube.com/activate to get a code that you then apply. Apparently this UI made for TV is very similar to the one used on Android TV so you get a similar experience on your Intel Compute Stick or any PC that you have connected to your TV. You can also use your phone as a keyboard while searching if you are connected on the same network.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Booting a different OS on the stick is tricky..

I had an experimental mood this past weekend and wanted to try alternative OSes on the Stick but couldn't manage to start any of them with various degrees of failure. The main contestants were "CloudReady" by Neverware (ChromeOS for all computers) and Android X86 (yes that Android).
CloudReady managed to boot but it wouldn't recognize the wifi on the Stick, for an online OS that's a showstopper. The Android X86 5.1 build that I tried didn't have any success in starting up. Funny thing though is that both started and played just fine on my wife's old HP laptop so I settled for that.

Yes this is Android 5.1 on a laptop and yes it works great.

The Android desktop in action

This is CloudReady and I love it.

Chrome runs just fine on older hardware and everything is snappy.

The main OS on this laptop is Linux Mint and it runs smoothly.

1080p desktop on your TV makes fonts hard to read? Change dpi.

Having a 1080p desktop with the Compute Stick is great but if you are sitting a bit far from your TV then reading dialogs and menus gets kinda hard. That's where the DPI settings on Windows come in handy. You get the full 1080p resolution while your desktop apps scale up and are easier to read from afar. Simply right click on your Windows desktop and select "Display Settings"

Set the slider of the size of text and apps to 150% or as you prefer.

If on the other hand you don't want such a permanent change you can always start Windows Magnifier that pops a dialog where you select zoom level and then conveniently turns into a magnifying glass icon that gives you the menu when you click it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

ePSXe video settings for some Intel Compute Stick gaming

I've been tweaking ePSXe 1.9.25 to an extent and so far I've managed some decent gaming with these video settings :

(Click image for larger version)
Notice I'm using the "P.E.Op.S. PSX OpenGL" Renderer. Look for ePSXe Starter Pack  that conains most of the popular plugins.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Gaming frontend Launchbox is amazing.

If you happen to use your Compute Stick for retro gaming on Windows and you have it plugged in to your TV than a good looking gaming frontend that collects all your emulators and Roms along with DOS and PC games is something you might be looking for. I happily stumbled upon Launchbox that not only gathered all my games in one central place, it also scraped information and covers from multiple sources and to top it all off it has Kodi integration with a mode called Big Box so that you get a game launcher that behaves well and compliments your Kodi setup.

The main Launchbox GUI
The Big Box GUI
The app setup uses a wizard, you select your Roms folder, the platform and the emulator location and you're done, it starts scraping information and presenting your games in the order you prefer along with images. A search bar at the top is helpful for finding games, you can favorite them and sort them according to that and you can change the game information or ask for new through the edit dialog.

The app is free to use but Big Box (big screen UI and Kodi integration) needs a lifetime licence of $20, well worth it if you ask me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Gaming on the Stick

I'm guessing that common sense would prevent you from buying such a device for gaming but then again once you have it there's no harm in trying.

So far I've tested MAME emulation that works great out of the box, but you can run that stuff on your watch nowadays. I've also tried PSX emulation that needs a graphics card to handle OpenGL acceleration but there is a driver called "P.E.Op.S OpenGL Driver 1.78" and it worked like a charm. On the driver preferences I've chosen Fullscreen 800x600 that fills my 1080p screen just fine, color depth 32bit, Texture filtering 4, Gfx Card Vram 64Mbytes. 

The PSX Disney titles I tried with the driver played just fine although some games displayed flaws that I wasn't willing to fix, but that just needs a little tweaking.

On the Windows side of things 
some simple Disney 3D titles that I tested ( Despicable Me and Cars ) played fine, for a five year old gamer (that will be using this setup), that's more than enough.
On my quest for better PSX graphics I tried ePSXe for Android, connected my wireless gamepad with a USB OTG cable, loaded PSX games and since I own a Chromecast I sent them to my TV and everything worked just fine (with a slight lag that is).

All in all you shouldn't count on this stick for any heavy duty gaming but for casual gaming and emulators it is more than enough.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Welcome to my "Adventures with a Compute Stick" blog.

I am the proud owner of a 32gb Windows Intel Compute Stick and so far I've managed to do some pretty remarkable things with such a small device. My future posts will be detailing some of my achievements. Amongst other things I'm using the Stick as a Media Center PC on my TV that offers the following features :

  • 1080p native resolution
  • Windows 10 through an update
  • Cordless headphone listening by connecting a Stereo Bluetooth Headset
  • 1080p high bitrate wifi streaming off a NAS using Kodi (XBMC)
  • MAME and PSX cordless gaming with the use of a Logitech cordless gamepad and emulators
  • Music Streaming and remote control with Spotify and Google Play Music
  • AC3 and DTS passthrough to my Amplifier through my TV's S/PDIF coaxial connection

I've extended the capabilities of the Stick by connecting the following :

  • A powered USB hub that gives 4 connections
  • A wireless all-in-one keyboard that's connected with a dongle on the hub
  • A wireless gamepad connected with a dongle
  • A 32gb MicroSD
  • The aforementioned Stereo Bluetooth Headset

Regarding performance and resposiveness on day to day tasks I can atest that the stick is amazing. Windows 10 performance is snappy considering that you're working with an Atom powered device , you wouldn't load Photoshop on the thing so day to day would be media playback, light gaming with casual games and some children's titles from the Windows Store.

So let's dig deeper starting with cordless audio connectivity..

So, you want headphones with that Stick?

The Intel Compute Stick doesn't come with a headphone jack connector ( or many others for that matter ) but that shouldn't stop you from cordless listening of that movie you're watching late night. Connecting a corded pair of headphones to your TV ( if it provides such a connection ) is one way to go but if your TV is far from your couch or you don't want cords messing your living room you can go cordless using a Bluetooth Stereo Headset.
The idea for the bluetooth headset came to me after reading that the new Apple TV will support such devices. Knowing that the Compute Stick has Bluetooth capabilities I went on to connect my Nokia BH-111 Stereo Bluetooth Headset ( currently retails for 22,00 € on Amazon ). 

The steps needed to connect your headset on Windows 10 are as follows :
1. Make your headset discoverable (usually by pressing the power button extensively)
2. Open windows notifications and select "Connect" 

3. On the top of this window your headset will appear and you hit connect once again and you're done.

Now if you right click the speaker icon on your taskbar (next to notifications) and you select playback devices your headset should be listed. If you choose to playback a movie you can mute your TV's volume now and listen through your headphones.

One flaw to point using this method is that Bluetooth Audio Streaming has some 200ns delay so in order to watch movies or shows without this delay you will need to tweak your video playback software to give the audio stream a head start. VLC does this by going to Tools > Track Synchronization and modifying the Audio Track Synchronization setting. Kodi ( ex XBMC ) also gives a setting while you play back a movie on it's Audio Settings menu by selecting the Audio offset control. After making the adjustment you can hit back for the top mounted audio delay slider to disappear and enjoy your movie.

Since my TV is a fair distance from my couch this cordless solution is a lifesaver. To be fair there were a couple of times that I would have to reconnect the headset after being idle for some time but that was a minor annoyance.