Logitech Harmony Companion All in One Remote Control

Standard

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).

Continue reading

Kwikset 910 Z-Wave SmartCode Electronic Touchpad Deadbolt

Standard

 

A while back I decided to purchase a Kwikset 910 Z-Wave SmartCode Electronic Touchpad Deadbolt for one of our properties so I could remotely lock and unlock one of the doors there, which is very useful when you’re trying to sell a house or if Terminix decides to just schedule a day for an inspection without actually confirming that you can be at the property on that day. The 910 currently retails for about $130 though you can find less expensive ones, typically used, on eBay (make sure that it includes the Z-Wave radio module).

Continue reading

Accessing a Remote Network with a TP-Link SafeStream TL-ER604W Router

Standard

Back in December I started using a TP-Link SafeStream TL-R600VPN Gigabit Broadband Desktop VPN Router to be able to login to the network at a remote property. It provided most of the functions I needed but unfortunately the client/server mode of the VPN service only supported PPTP. While not every secure it would have been fine for my purposes but unfortunately Apple dropped support for PPTP VPN connections from the newer Mac OS and iOS versions. I was able to purchase a program called Shimo to use PPTP from the Mac but there wasn’t really a good solution for iOS and being able to access the network from my phone was a critical need.

Frustrated that I couldn’t use my phone to connect to the network I eventually purchased a TP-Link SafeStream TL-ER604W Wireless N300 Gigabit Broadband Desktop VPN Router, which provides PPTP, L2TP and IPSEC client/server connections and so far it has worked great.

Both routers have, on at least one or two occasions, each hung up and required a manual power reset. The NetReset device I purchased recently seems to have eliminated that infrequent problem.

Updated 04/18/2018: I continue to be very pleased with this device. Combined with the NetReset device I’ve had zero problems connecting to to this VPN.

Philips Sound Bar (CSS2123)

Standard

Philips-Sound-Bar-01

In additional to a new Blu-ray player, last weekend I also purchased a Philips Sound Bar (CSS2123) for our living room HDTV. The speakers included with the 32″ HDTV are OK. They’re not the worst. The ones in my smaller HDTVs are so bad they must be connected to external speakers to be tolerable.

Still, we like to watch movies in the living room. I didn’t want to deal with full-surround sound. That would require a heavier investment of money and space. Instead, I decided to add a relatively inexpensive sound bar.

Audiophiles may not care for this set but we both have enjoyed it. Music, movies, and television sound really good though movies that I have ripped from DVD to an Apple TV format do not (This was done using Handbrake. I’m not sure why – the quality may have not been good before but it’s only become apparent with the use of better speakers – my next test is to rip to a slightly different format or to try movies purchased through iTunes).

The set cost $99 at Wal-Mart. It includes the sound bar itself, a wired sub-woofer, and a remote. During the first movie that we watched I had to turn the sub-woofer down. It was actually much deeper than I was expecting and I didn’t want to annoy any of our neighbors.

I haven’t experienced any major problems though when I tried to use a coaxial digital connection only the sound effects from the Apple TV came through. None of the audio for Netflix, or from our Tivo, worked. I suspect this has more to do with the different audio formats (stereo versus true surround) and for now I only have it connected to the TV via the headphone jack, which is split out to RCA adapters that go into the sound bar inputs (stereo only).

Updated 05/22/2013: So far so good. We haven’t had any problems with the sound bar.

Philips-Sound-Bar-02

Remotely Solving a Windows Problem Using Two Macs

Standard

My wife’s grandfather recently ran into a problem with his new laptop. At some point he had to restart his laptop but wasn’t able to login Windows (Windows 7 Home Edition). We’re not sure if someone changed the password without his knowledge or if he forgot that he had a passwords (it’s possible that he simply hadn’t restarted his computer since it was given to him).

The simple solution is to download a Windows password reset tool. There are many free tools available for download from the Web. In this case, I chose to use the Offline NT Password and Registry Editor.

However, the plan was to have his laptop for only a short window. My wife picked it up last Sunday and planned to return it the following Friday. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue, except I was out of town and my wife had not used this type of tool before.

Fortunately, we both have Macs. Specifically, MacBook Pro systems. By using FaceTime and Screen Sharing we were able to burn the tool to a pre-built ISO, run it on the laptop and successfully clear the password.

I used Screen Sharing to see and chat with my wife. I also used it to view the display of the Windows laptop (from the camera on her Mac) and inform my wife which options to select. Screen Sharing was useful because I could guide my wife through downloading and burning the ISO image for the tool.

You certainly don’t have to use Macs to remotely diagnose and provide assistance. Combinations of devices, such as an iPhone and an iPad or even a mix of Windows and Macs can be used, though Windows to Mac setups will require cross-platform tools to replace FaceTime and Screen Sharing.

The point of this article is simple to serve as a reminder that remote diagnosis of a computer can often be done using built-in or free tools.

Acoustic Research ARi3G Remote and Apple TV (2nd Gen)

Standard


The Short Version: I don’t think the ARi3G remote is worth buying, not even as a backup remote. You’re better off paying more for an original Apple TV remote, which you’ll be more satisfied with.

We’ve been having issues with the range of the Apple TV remote when used with the X10 IR repeater in the bedroom. It seems to work fine in the living room but in the bedroom the remote range is probably about half of what it should be. I think the main cause of this problem is actually the IR repeater. However, the other remotes that we use do work better than the Apple TV remote.

I decided to purchase an Acoustic Research ARi3G remote, which is made to work with an Apple TV. My assumption was that it would have better range since it uses two AAA batteries, instead of the watch battery the factory remote uses. It only cost about $10.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be any better. The range is exactly the same. In addition, the main “play” button doesn’t seem to function consistently, which makes it a pain to use when fast-forwarding. The motion-activated back-light is too sensitive. Any movement on my bed would trigger it on even though it was sitting on a separate nightstand. Granted, it only cost $10 but it wasn’t worth purchasing.