WhaleTech: Smarten up your old HDTV

When we called for some people to help with the blog, one of the people that responded was Donovan Jackson.  You may know a little about Donovan already as he’s a Blubbergeddon participant as well as a regular in the Comments Section.  Donovan is also in the professional business of words, running his own New Zealand Copywriting company.

This is his first post for WhaleTech, which will appear under my name, but the future ones will be posted under his own name as we will trust him with a key to the blog.

Welcome  aboard Donovan!

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Smarten up your old HDTV

Love your smartphone? Of course you do. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get your old or even new TV to do just half of what your handset does? Of course it would, and you can with an Android TV box.

While most of us are familiar with the Apple TV (and its limitations – no browser, really?) and some of us are aware of Smart TVs that cost thousands of dollars, an Android TV box is a simple and pretty cheap way of turning any TV with an HDMI port into a fully functional ‘smartphone-like’ computer.

The little gadgets are typically about the size of two matchboxes placed end-to-end. I’ve got three of them, one for each screen in my house; the most recent addition is a Rockchip CX919.

Hooking it up

The gadget connects to the TV via an HDMI port; it also and has a Micro-SD slot for expansion and can connect an external hard drive via a USB On The Go port. Power is supplied via a wall adapter (slightly annoying, would be nice if it could have drawn power from the TV’s USB port). An essential extra that you will want and need is a wireless air mouse; the size of a traditional TV remote control, this is a 2.4GHz directionless device that delivers a full QWERTY keyboard and, when you wave it around like a wand, controls a mouse pointer.

Before we get into any technical specs, let’s look at what this thing can do. The CX919 is supplied with Jelly Bean (Android 4.1.1) so fire up the TV and you’re presented with a screen which resembles that of a smartphone. If your ancient TV supports it, output is 1080p.

App time

The first step is to hit the Google Play store.

Since your TV is now essentially a pretty powerful computer, the Play store means getting whatever you like from the million-plus apps available. The usual suspects are the Chrome browser (which syncs with all you other devices, if you’re a Chrome user), YouTube, a multimedia player like MXPlayer or Vplayer, a file browser (ES File Explorer works well) and whatever your heart desires.

About those specs. The CX919 has a quad-core 1.6GHz processor, 2GB RAM and 8GM ROM. It also has a Mali 400 GPU. Techies will recognize this as a powerful setup; non techies just need to know that this means a fast, responsive device. While the built-in Bluetooth isn’t that big of a deal, what is, is the WiFi b/g and especially n. Couple the gadget with a Wireless-N router (mine’s a Belkin N300) and a media server (mine’s a Western Digital MyBook Live 2TB) and you can stream your music and movies to your screen.

With several TVs in the house being fairly typical these days, putting your media into a central location then having the ability to watch it where you want to is pretty handy.

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What makes Android a winner?

Now, I’ve tried an Apple TV and while a great device, it is severely limited. As mentioned, no browser. Worse than that is the fact that it has to be coupled with iTunes if you want to stream stuff – and then you can only stream the file formats that Apple thinks you should use.

The Android TV boxes have none of those limitations. If you find a file you can’t play, chances are you’re just an app away from solving the problem.

Want a smart TV today? Look into Android TV boxes. They’re cheap, deliver far more power and capability than you’ll find on even the latest Smart TVs (which tend to carry price tags north of $2000) and with an air mouse, deliver way more control than you’ll get from a Smart TV or Apple TV remote.

Cost: Google is your friend. TradeMe is your other friend. Search Android TV box. The CX919 wholesales at around US$73 and retails in NZ at around NZ$200 (it is a ‘top of the range, latest greatest). An Air Mouse (Measy MC11) retails for around NZ35.


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