Tip o’ the Week 309 – Streaming media to Xbox One

clip_image002When the Xbox One was launched, one of its early ambitions was to be a home media hub, with TV and non-gaming content being a big part of the original brief. Things have changed somewhat, with a bigger focus being put back on the games – but Xbox One has all the hardware to support other entertainment uses too.

One of the strengths of the Xbox 360 was its built-in support for Windows Media Center – even if you didn’t want to use it to watch TV via the console, it was a brilliant way of streaming media, showing pictures etc on the telly in the living room. Xbox One came out without WMC support, and now that Media Center is no more, fans have turned to other ways for streaming of content.

One is to sit at your PC and “Play To(or “Cast To” in Windows 10), by right-clicking on your media file and choosing the Xbox as the place you’d like to play them to. Not bad, but it’s quite slow to get going, and you wouldn’t want to trot off to the PC to browse your media when sitting on your sofa. If you’re sitting at with a laptop, it may be OK, and there are other ways you might be able to send content to the big screen – via Edge, or by using wireless projection. Xbox One will eventually get the ability to receive Miracast streams, so you could use it to play back whatever you’re doing on a plethora of other devices. That said, it’s a feature that’s been in preview for a while, so it could be taking longer to complete than hoped.

clip_image004It’s possible to stream content to Xbox One using DLNA, but while the Media Player app is functional, it’s a little sparse and DLNA itself has a habit of throwing in random errors just to keep you on your toes. A better solution has been around for a while, but required shelling out for, previously – PLEX.


Plex on Xbox One now free

clip_image006And here’s the thing – PLEX has now ditched their paywall and allowed all Xbox One users to play media back on the console for free.  Huzzah!

So, if you have a home NAS box, a PC or Mac that stays on most/all of the time, or even another walking-dead product, WHS2011, then you can install PLEX server on it and stream content to your Xbox One.

The Plex server console is configured and available via the web (and can be controlled remotely, depending on your home network) and can be set to scan ‘n’ serve photos, music, movies, home videos and recorded TV shows.

There’s a Plex app for Windows (PC and Phone) too, and if you subscribe to the Plex Pass premium service for £4/month (which was previously required to use Plex on Xbox), you can take media offline as well as get other content and features.

Find out more about Xbox One Plex app, or even get the newly-released Sky app and you’ll have a few other streaming options too.

This is the last Tip o’ the Week until the New Year. Have a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year, everyone!

Tip o’ the Week 308 – Home WiFi tuning

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom clip_image002recently gave out some warnings about how poor home WiFi could be responsible for users thinking their home internet speeds were bad; a seasonal twist even said it might be your fairy lamps that are causing your network to go south. They also launched an app to help check your WiFi quality, though predictably it’s only available for mainstream devices. Don’t worry, Windows users – it doesn’t do a lot anyway. No great loss.

The Ofcom app is actually developed by Samknows, a very useful website which might help you sort out issues with your line speed more than your WiFi – UK ADSL users can search for the telephone exchange you’re connected to, and see what services are offered – here’s an example – and you’ll see if there are LLU options that maybe would give you better/faster service than the default BT package.

The gist of the Ofcom advice is that other stuff in your house might be nuking your WiFi, so don’t go blaming rubbish performance on your network provider. That’s quite sensible, to a point – there are lots of domestic devices that might interfere with WiFi, though if you see poor conditions when wired in, it’s a different matter.

In the early days of WiFi networks, there’s a story of one company which was flummoxed by the fact that their network kept blowing up at certain times of the day, until they realised the next door company had a kitchen with a couple of microwave ovens for staff to heat their lunch, on the other side of the party wall… Here’s why.


Doctor, Doctor

First thing’s first, if you think you have a problem – check the health of your network connection. ToW #199 gave some ideas a couple of years ago, that still hold true – try the WinMTR tool, and the advice for using Resource Monitor to see what’s using your network in particular. SkyDrive Pro OneDrive can be a hog these days, especially if it’s uploading a lot of stuff: you might see speed tests where the “ping” is measured nearly in seconds rather than ms, and the download speed will be a fraction of the norm (as the connection is being swamped by uploads).

clip_image003Windows 10 users can download the excellent Network Speed Test app to get an idea. Try running it on a wired connection if you can, thereby ruling out WiFi as the cause of any gremlins at first. Move your laptop around and try on WiFi – you’ll see a table of the previous results for comparison.

Other speed testing tools are available. Lots of them.


Dude, it’s your neighbo(u)rs

Fact is, though, the guy next door is probably your biggest enemy for home WiFi. If you live in a built-up area with lots of people using networks called NETGEAR3415 or similar, this may tell you that:

  • They never bothered to change the default network name. That’s not very good. Have some fun instead?
  • They probably haven’t changed their default router password either. That’s very, very bad.
  • They almost certainly left the router on its default channel, and that could mean it’s overlapping with yours.

It’s quite easy to get paranoid about home network setup & security (see here, for example) but a few golden rules should be applied – give it a name that neither ties it to your name or address, nor makes it obvious how to break into it. DEFINITELY change the default password, and ideally, the name of the admin account used to configure the router. Modern routers might be able to find a suitable WiFi channel to put themselves on, but the kind of junk you might have got from your company IT department or from your ISP, might not.

The radio spectrum used by WiFi networks is subdivided into 11 or 13/14 channels (depending on where you live) and making sure your router is on the channel that’s furthest apart from the other routers that are physically closest to it, will give you a better chance of avoiding interference from the neighbours.


Channel your strengths

There are tools to scan your network and show you what channels are available – this might then help you set your own router to occupy an appropriate position in the spectrum that’s a bit more in the clear – your results may vary and experimentation (even at different clip_image005days/times) may be required. Some internet folklore says you should use a channel either slap in the middle or at either end of the range – eg 1, 6 or 11/13.

Ideally, you’d like to see all the nearby networks, and by looking at their signal strength and channel, set your router to use the channel that has the weakest network(s) on it already (or preferably, none at all).

  • WiFi Analyser – neat Windows 10 app that displays the basics visually and as a list
  • NirSoft WiFiInfoView – pretty sparse but gives you text info and if you know what you’re doing may be all you need
  • MetaGeek inSSIDer – free – nice tool that gives you a visual graph of what’s around you and lets you drill into a bit more detail
  • MetaGeek inSSIDer v4 – more polished and functional upgrade to the previously-free version, now $20

Run up the tool of your choice, see where your neighbours are, run your speed test app a couple of times, switch clip_image007the channel of your WiFi and repeat the test.

You might not notice any real difference, but it gives you something to do, doesn’t it?

Tip o’ the Week 307 – Skype Meeting Broadcasting

clip_image002It’s been a busy time for the Skype team at Microsoft. At the Convergence EMEA conference, it was recently announced that Office365 had a new SKU: Office365 Enterprise E5.

There are a few headline new things in the E5 package – but for Skype users, maybe the most significant are the Cloud PBX and PSTN Calling capabilities; these basically allow smaller businesses to use Office365 as their phone system, by using an on-premises gateway or eventually by having a cloud-provided service that functions as the phone system (the Private Branch eXchange). Here’s a pretty useful summaries of what’s new.

clip_image003The E1, E3 and E5 SKUs all get a new Skype for Business capability which enables users to do online meetings with up to 10,000 participants: Skype Meeting Broadcast.

You can produce and broadcast online events live to thousands of participants, using a high quality video stream to any device running any operating system without the need for plugins or downloads.  It can be used for internal All Hands meetings, as well as streaming broadcast events to external customers.

Other points of interest include:

  • Participants can join from anywhere, on any device; all they need is an internet connection and the link to the broadcast. Event organisers can restrict entry to only a named list, anyone from your company, or anyone who has the join link. Skype Meeting Broadcast is supported to accommodate up to 10,000 ‘live’ attendees. 
  • If get delayed and miss the beginning of a meeting: no problem.  Simply join the broadcast and rewind to start watching the event from the beginning. You can also take a break without missing a beat by pausing and restarting when you’re ready.
  • Skype Meeting Broadcast limits the real-time audio and video to presenters only, but your audience can join ‘live’ conversations using plugins like a Yammer feed and a Question Answer Manager or provide real-time feedback using Bing Pulse. So, no heavy breathing / dog barking / furious typing from the attendees to distract each other.
  • With familiar Skype controls, it’s easy to switch between video and content and spotlight presenters like a professional producer. Once the event is over, you can publish the recording to your preferred location, plus pull in-depth event metrics and create insightful reporting.

To learn more about Skype Meeting Broadcast, check out the Office.com site

Tip o’ the Week 306 – Remote Desktop at home

clip_image002A computer on every desk and in every home”; sounds like a good idea, right?
It’s quite unusual to have such clarity of purpose in any corporate mission statement today, let alone in something so radical at the time it was written. 40 years ago, it must have seemed like crazy talk. Nowadays, every desk has had a computer (and use of many computers has outlived their desks), and nearly every home has one – in fact, nearly every room in some homes has at least one.

If you have a proliferation of PCs then you might have a need to make stuff that happens on one be accessible from the other(s). What if you could sit on the sofa (post turkey-fest?) and connect to the others? Use your phone or your tablet to control a corporate laptop that’s Direct Access-connected back to base, refreshing a financial report or some such?

If you’ve a Professional or Enterprise version of Windows (like a corporate Windows 10 laptop), then you’ll have the ability to connect to your machine using the built-in Remote Desktop function, a technology rooted in the Terminal Services feature that first appeared in Windows Server back in the late 1990s.

clip_image004Checking Remote Desktop is available and switched on

Firstly, have a look in the System application (press WindowsKey+X then choose System from there, or press WindowsKey+ Pause|Break if you have a full-size keyboard). clip_image006You’ll see if you’re running Pro or Enterprise version of Windows, and you’ll also have the link to Remote settings – have a look in there, and you will hopefully see the Remote Desktop section. Make sure it’s enabled and that you’ve selected the right users to be allowed to connect. Whilst you have that dialogue open, click on the Computer Name tab and make a note of what your machine is called – you’ll need that in a sec. You might even want to rename your machine to something more memorable while you’re there…

If you don’t have the Remote Desktop section available, there are other options– see later in the tip.

clip_image008Now, from another Windows machine, you should be able to connect to your PC – type Remote at the start menu to see the Remote Desktop Connection app – or just press WindowsKey+R and enter mstsc to launch the same thing (the executable is named after Microsoft Terminal Server connection, before the technology was renamed Remote Desktop Servicess).

clip_image010If you have multiple machines you might want to connect to, then mstsc /v <name> will jump straight to each one, and the Most Recently Used list for the Run command will offer you previous-used entries. This can be a handy way of remembering the names for the machines you might use regularly, so isn’t as counter-intuitive as you might think.

If you just open the mstsc app on its own and click Show Options then you’ll be able to tweak the settings such as quality of display, whether you want to run full screen or in a window, or even use multi-monitors where available. When you’re happy with the settings for each machine, you could save them out as a separate .RDP file, and you can launch the session in future by opening that file directly.

There’s a Remote Desktop Windows 10 modern app too – here – which is touch-friendly and also keeps a handy list of previously-accessed machines, though it doesn’t offer quite the same level of control of the user experience as its desktop counterpart described above. Some users of the modern app use it to run regular x86 Windows applications on their Surface RT.

Microsoft also publishes Remote Desktop client apps for Android, iOS, Mac and Windows Phone.

Firewall check

If you see Remote Desktop switched on as above, but you can’t connect to the machine from your other client, there are a number of obvious things to check (Are you connected to the same network? Have you got the name right? etc) but there are a couple of Windows clip_image012Firewall related things that might trip you up.

It’s worth checking that the PC you’re looking to connect to thinks it’s on a home network, not a public one – have a look in the Network and Sharing Center clip_image014old-fashioned Control Panel applet, and make sure your PC thinks it’s connected to a Private network. If you need to change from Public to Private, launch the HomeGroup control panel applet, and you can switch from there.

Even if you think everything should be tickety-boo but you still can’t access the remote machine, double-check clip_image016that the appropriate Firewall Rules are enabled – go into the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security control panel app, and under Inbound Rules, make sure the rules beginning Remote Desktop… are all enabled (showing a little green tick).

Remote desktop to a home PC

If your home PC isn’t running Pro or Enterprise versions of Windows then there are still options to allow you to remotely control it – a load of third party software purports to do this, though like any freeware you find on the internet, be careful… when running the setup process, make sure you’re not installing any other guff you don’t need, and maybe even think about removing the software as soon as you’ve used it, if you don’t anticipate needing it regularly.

The most recommended options include LogMeIn and TeamViewer, the latter of which is free for home use and has many client apps, including a touch-friendly modern app.

Another warning, though: the fact that TeamViewer is free means it’s also the favoured tool of the shysters calling people up and claiming to be from Microsoft, so they can access the hapless user’s computer. Make sure if you do install it, you’re getting it directly from the official source, and that you it’s as locked-down as you can make it.

Tip o’ the Week 303 – Windows 10 UI tips

clip_image001Windows 10 is, in some ways, the least WIMPy version of Windows to date. If you’re not familiar with that term, it once stood for Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer, in other words the same thing as a gooey.

Why so? Well, it’s got touch baked in for one, and that means the whole pointer bit is less relevant. And although windows (with a small “w”) are still there, even more so than in Windows 8, icons and menus might also be a bit different too.

That said, there are some good ol’ fashioned UI features in Windows 10 that might not be obvious to some users.

clip_image003Minimising everything – easily done; just press WindowsKey+D like in previous versions of Windows. Only works if you’re not in Tablet Mode, too. There’s another way, too, that was also present in Windows 8, but it’s even more relevant into Win10 – if you’re not in tablet mode, and click (or touch & hold) on the title bar of an open window then shake it from side-to-side using mouse or finger, it will minimise everything else except that window. Repeat the process on the same window to reverse the effect and restore everything else.

Jump to settings by pressing WindowsKey+I – especially handy if/when your PC decides not to show you search results like “windows update”. Launch settings (the new control panel) instead and try from there.

Task Bar icons can be activated quickly – either programs that are pinned there, or just apps that are running. Press WindowsKey+number, where number is the index of the icon along the menu, eg 4 would be Groove (and it’s already running, as indicated by clip_image005the line beneath), while 3 would launch OneNote (which isn’t already running).

Power User menu – another hangover from Windows 8 but still a lot of people don’t know about it – press WindowsKey+X to launch the pop-up menu from the bottom-left (as shown >>). Especially handy if you need to launch an elevated (ie Admin level) command prompt, though you could do the same by pressing WindowsKey, typing CMD then CTRL+SHIFT. It’s horses for courses.

Notifications / Action Center – to jump to the new notifications menu (or Action Center), press WindowsKey + A. Nothing more to see here, really. Move along.

Move Windows around – press WindowsKey and use the arrow keys to move your current window around. Press the SHIFT key as well to flick it between monitors if you have more than one. Simple.