Nexlud LED Strips for TV Backlight and Home Automation (Magic Home)

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My desire to integration visual notifications into our home automation setup has remained, despite taking the color-changing LED bulb out of the setup when we moved. I recently begain toying with the same bulb and in the process I realized it might be fun, and useful, to find an LED strip that I could place behind the TV. It would add a nice atmospheric effect and also provide another source of visual indicators. I have started working on using the bulb for washing machine notifications and other events, but those notices are suppresed after 10 pm at night, and that light spends most of it’s time simply functioning as a normal lamp in the bedroom.

With any home automation setup it’s always best to ensure that a device is compatible with your controller, before purchase. Fortunately, someone had developed the FLUX LED plugin to make certain Magic Home devices available to Indigo. I decided to order a wifi and IR controlled Nexlud LED Strip Lights set, which only cost about $30.

It’s taken some work, and I had a color value conversion issue that I’ll mention in another post, but it appears to be working great. My next step is to set it to automatically turn on when the TV is powered on, and to turn it off when the TV is powered off. I’m not sure, yet, if I can accomplish this via Indigo. I test the Harmony Companion plugin, but I think it is only aware of Harmony interactions initiated within Indigo. I could be mistaken, which I’ll find out of for certain. If that doesn’t work, I’ll train the Harmony itself to interact with the device (Harmony didn’t automatically recognize this device in its database of codes).

Updated 2018/08/08: I also have it setup to be controlled via the Harmon Hub. This just required training the device to recognize the remote commands, which wasn’t difficult but did take some time to program most of the color modes. I also added control via Alexa, though now I only control the on/off state through the Hue Bridge emulation between Indigo and Alexa, instead of using the Magic Home skill.

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IR Controlled SPDIF Optical Audio Switch (TNP Toslink)

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I continued dealing with some audio problems after replacing the TV that our son destroyed. The audio output, when routed through the TV from different devices, often had a significant delay when playing via the soundbar. The soundbar received the audio signal over an optical cable from the TV. I tried adjusting numerous audio settings on the TV itself, as well as the connected devices, but no configuration would ensure that all devices worked without a delay (in some cases one device might be good but others experienced problems).

It’s likely that simply using the TV’s speakers would have resulted on no audio lag but that’s simply not why I have a soundbar in the first place. In order to test this problem I grabbed an old optical audio switch out of the closet and set it up with each input running into the switch. It has a single output that I connected to the soundbar. This was a manual switch, so in order to change inputs one had to turn a large dial on the device to physically change the active connection.

Sure enough, it worked without any problems. I decided to order something more modern, that could be controlled via infrared (IR) in order to allow the Harmony Companion system to handle the audio switching.

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After reading through several reviews on Amazon I settled on theĀ TNP Toslink SPDIF Digital Optical Audio Switch with Remote Control and ordered one. We’ve had this in place for a while. The product itself seems to work great but I’ve had some issues with using it in the Activities. Specifically, it doesn’t always change the source input. However, I don’t believe this is a problem with the unit itself but simpy the fact that the IR receiver for the optical switch often becomes slightly misaligned relative to the Harmony Companion IR blaster. I suspect this is the result of my son moving the soundbar from time to time. It may also be in need of some tweaking within the Activity setup as it usually works when I manually change the source via the Harmony Companion app.

Overall, I think it works well and it’s much better than the manual switch I was using. I think it will work perfectly once I take the time to rework parts of the Harmony Companion setup, including the physical location of devices.

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Using USB-Powered Fans (AC Infinity MULTIFAN S5) to Cool Entertainment Devices (Comcast X1 DVR)

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Our X1 DVR simply can’t handle any heat buildup. This is probably largely due to the fact that it lacks any fans and several comments on the Internet seem to indicate that the device is underpowered and thus works harder to handle high-quality audio and video (and as a result it generates more heat). I’m undecided on whether or not the box needs to be replaced. The features are fine and when it isn’t having issues it works very well.

Lately I’ve started to experience the same symptoms of the box overheating even though it’s still outside of the entertainment cabinet and the air conditioner is usually on. This may have something to do with using a different TV, which is directly above a small part of the DVR’s case and perhaps restricting airflow in that area.

Last weekend I attempted to use a very inexpensive USB fan to cool the box. It was very basic; little more than a USB plug and a fan motor. It did actually work but it was on a flexible arm, which generated a lot of vibration and thus a lot of noise. Even though it only cost about $5 it simply wasn’t going to work. I also suspect the fan wasn’t intended for continuous use as I noticed the motor was warm when I removed. I dropped it into a box of unused devices and decided to look for something specifically made for this purpose.

That’s when I found theĀ AC Infinity MULTIFAN S5 on Amazon.com, which appeared to be a much better device for cooling the DVR (and indeed, it is). It features two fans that work from a single USB connection. In addition, more fans can be chained together though I don’t have a need for this capability. They truly are very quiet. The fans have a single switch that can be used to turn them off or to a low, middle and high speed. The highest speed isn’t very loud and the set is much, much quieter than the first fan that I had tried.

At $16 it looks like a good deal and even if I replace the DVR with something better, down the road, I can still reuse the fans with other devices. So far I’m extremely pleased with this purchase.

Updated 2018/08/08: These fans have given me the ability to place the Comcast DVR inside a the entertainment center. One fan is sitting directly on the cabinet vents, behind the shelf where the DVR is located, and the other is sitting directly on the DVR itself. So far, the DVR appears to be staying cool. I may order another set for my Xbox One as it generates a lot of heat when it is powered on.

Logitech Harmony Companion All in One Remote Control

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Last year, after we moved, I grew tired of having to hunt for all of the various remotes every time we wanted to watch one of the two main TVs in our home. Our toddler had a habit of tossing the remotes under the couch, beds or various nooks and crannies. Finally, I decided to consolidate by researching the current Logitech universal remote systems.

After some basic research I determined that the Logitech Harmony Companion would be a good fit for our needs. I would have preferred to get a Logitech universal remote with an embedded touch screen but those were well outside of our price range. The retail price of about $140 is still a bit pricy but the features made it appealing to me.

It’s capable of controlling up to eight entertainment devices; the TV with the most devices in our home has no more than five connected (including the soundbar). The system is composed of a hub (controller) and a Logitech remote. It also provides a remote IR blaster and a mobile app. The app is required to configure and update the system so you need to have a compatible phone to manage it. The mobile app also functions as a universal remote, which can be handy when our toddler has managed to hide the Logitech remote as well (or on very lazy days when you’re tired of getting up for the hundredth time and the remote itself is way, way over there on the kitchen counter).

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Saving TVs from Angry Toddlers (Vizomax TV Screens)

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Last summer I purchased the largest TV we’ve had in our house; a 55-inch LCD. In addition, it also supported 4K HDR. Over the course of a few weeks we eventually picked up a couple of 4K movies including Planet Earth 2 and I already had some games that could take advantage of the TV’s high quality. I splurged on this TV and spent $600. Granted, one could easily spend much more but for us it was a stretch.

We were able to enjoy the TV for several months, until one day in late November or early December. On this day our toddler became angry about something that was probably very insignificant in the grand scheme of things (at the time he was almost two and a half so, as with most toddlers his age, anything could upset him). I don’t recall what it was though he probably wanted to go outside to the playground. If that was the case then I wouldn’t have let him because it was dark outside or because we were preparing to eat. He didn’t mind using the word “no” but he did not like to have it said to him.

I turned around and went back to the kitchen where I was preparing some food and putting up dishes. I just happen to be looking his way when I saw him angrily pickup a Christmas decoration from our coffee table. It was a wooden, triangular Christmas tree-shaped piece. He threw it at the TV. Hard.

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Comcast X1 DVR Experiencing Distored Video and Audio Problems

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Our run as cord-cutters has come to an end after several years though it wasn’t by choice; the apartment complex where we live has made a fee mandatory that includes the cost of cable and since there’s no point paying for cable and not using it we decided to cut some of the online streaming services that we’ve been using and get a DVR from our cable provider.

Living as cord-cutters for over six years worked great but that’s a post for another time.

I opted to get an X1 DVR from Comcast so we could record shows (we chose to drop Hulu and HBO) that we would have watched via Hulu as well as some other series that we’ve been purchasing through iTunes over the years.

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