Controlling your Entertainment Center with your Smart Phone
We were recently paid a visit by one of our nieces and her children. While she was staying with us she noticed how I used my phone to change movies, broadcast YouTube videos, and show pictures on the big screen.
This post is to answer her question about what I use to make it all work.
I am a Software Architect and Engineer by trade, but my wife is non-technical. Now, simply through osmosis, having lived with me for over 30 years, she does know more than the average person about technology. Although she refuses to acknowledge that fact.
Because of this the goal of my setup is simplicity.
There are much more sophisticated things that can be done. But my setup remains simple on purpose.
Also, I limit the IR remote activity to just a couple of things – turning on the TV and AVR (Audio / Video Receiver). On occasion (rarely) we use a Blu-Ray player. And that is it. Everything else uses WiFi.
This means I can control movie selection, etc. from the backyard or upstairs. Simple. Powerful.
I use just a few devices and phone apps on a regular basis.
My selection of devices is based on compatibility with my entire ecosystem.
My TV is a smart TV but those features rarely get used. On occasion we may want to watch an UHD video. We just use the TV’s IR remote in those moments. The main piece of tech I rely on from the TV is the HDMI inputs.
I have 2 separate devices that are used most often.
Roku 3 – we have 2 of these devices – one upstairs and one in our den. It connects to the TV via HDMI and has a very cool Wifi remote. The remote has a headphone jack that allows for one person to watch a program without needing the A/VR and speakers.
Their smart phone app is really well conceived. See below for more about the app.
The Roku has 100s of channels that can be installed. All the expected channels are available – NetFlix, Amazon Video, YouTube as well as many other channels we frequent such as KCM, Rhema, IHOP KC. Also, several podcasters and local news organizations have channels available for install.
The Roku is our go to device for entertainment.
The Roku 3 is no longer in production. But we chose that model because of its speed, the remote with the headphone jack and HD support.
Google chromecast Ultra – The Google chromecast is a device that exists to do one thing: broadcast video and audio from supported devices. These are things like Android phones and tablets, the Chrome browser, and Chromebooks.
Their premise is that we already have services like NetFlix and YouTube on all of our devices. So the chromecast does not need another instance of those apps. Simply play the movie on your phone or laptop in the Chrome browser and cast it to your TV. This helps keep the cost of these devices way down. As I write this the chromecast Ultra is available for $59. See the link below.
As Misty can testify this is a great way to have a dance party with the kiddos. They already know how to use the YouTube interface on mom’s phone. So they can help select songs without needing to learn a new interface.
You can also cast photos and videos from your phone gallery and mirror your phone’s screen on the TV. That is more useful than it sounds.
The movies that are cast from your phone get delivered with the same high definition and surround sound audio quality that you would get from a connected smart device. Very cool.
I recently converted to Android because of the Google project fi service. But that is another story …
This was the main driver for selecting the chromecast – simple, compatible.
If you are an iPhone user you probably want to explore devices like the Apple TV.
I really do not use a lot of apps. Remember, simple.
Roku – the app provided by Roku is an amazing design. From your phone you can select channels to watch, interact with search dialogs with an on phone keyboard, stop/start/pause video content.
Searching for content in the app is a dream compared to using the on screen keyboard on the device.
Switching between Roku devices couldn’t be simpler. The devices need to be on the same network as the phone. And they are automatically detected by the app and you simply select from a list.
When setting up your Roku you give it a name like Upstairs or Den. Those names are shown when you are switching devices in the app.
YouTube – we use this app on both the Roku and the chromecast. To use YouTube with the Roku simply enter the YouTube Roku channel and then you can manage a YouTube queue from your phone or laptop. Selecting the cast icon causes the video to be displayed in the Roku channel. You can even use the Roku suppled physical remote to pause/play, etc.
Using YouTube with the Google chromecast is equally simple. Select the cast icon and then select the chromecast device name. That’s all there is to it.
Google Play Music, etc. – many Android apps (especially from Google) have built in support for casting. Just use the cast icon within the app to connect to the chromecast.
I have TED, Crackle and a few others installed.
Android has a feature built in to cast a mirror of the phones screen. If all else fails I fall back to this mechanism with the Google chromecast.
What I Do Not Use
There are plenty of options for controlling devices that require an IR remote. These typically have a transmitter that you place next to the window on the device that holds the IR receiver for the manufacturer supplied remote. Phone apps are available to control those. They usually require some programming – unless your device fits one of their built in remote profiles – but once that is done you can store those remotes away.
I do not use them because my wife is more comfortable with the manufacturer remote. But it is good tech. I know a couple of people that use them because their equipment is in a cabinet where line of site with an IR remote is impossible.
So simple, powerful.
In this modern connected world there is no need to continue to be tied to those IR remotes.