At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: apple tv

How to Pack your Streaming Apps for your Next Vacation Movie Night

After a fun vacation day on the slopes, my family settled in for a movie on our hotel room TV. Here’s how we did that using my existing Apple ecosystem.

I recently returned from a little skiing vacation with my family at Mount Bousquet in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. We hadn’t been on the slopes for a couple years due to the pandemic, so it felt great to practice some downhill again. (That’s our son having fun on a snowboard in my above photo.)

Pack your Apple TV for your Next Vacation
During our time in the hotel room, I tried using a particularly useful vacation tech trick I’d learned a while back. I had brought our Apple TV puck with us with the intent to jack it into the hotel’s WiFi network. This would allow me to access our entire arsenal of streaming apps and create movie nights using the room’s big TV screen. (Doing this effectively sidesteps having to purchase anything additional from a hotel as long as the base-level WiFi can handle streaming.)

Sadly, the streaming apps on my Apple TV didn’t work this time, because the hotel’s WiFi required a multiple-step login process, which the Apple TV couldn’t access beyond the password step.

Fortunately, I had also packed a lightning to HDMI adapter for my iPhone. (It’s always good to have a backup plan, when vacation movie night hangs in the balance.)

Using this dongle, I was able to substitute in my iPhone as the streaming source and connect it directly to our hotel room’s HDTV via its HDMI cable. Then, my iPhone effortlessly served up the Disney movies we wanted via its Disney+ app.

Tech Ethics
You could say my streaming strategy unfairly took advantage of the hotel’s WiFi network, possibly slowing down WiFi speeds for others. But my iPhone ended up tethering to its cellular connection using its AT&T wireless data plan. So I don’t have to debate tech ethics here (not this time).

I pay for unlimited data on my AT&T account. So, in a sense, I’m already paying full price for my movie tickets while streaming. That said, I’m very happy not to be concerned about blowing through any data limits while on vacation!

Ensuring that Screen Time = Family Time
And why all my effort to project a movie onto a hotel room’s TV? Can’t an iPad or iPhone screen suffice during vacation? Not for me and my family. If you’re also a parent with kids, I imagine you might agree that screen time is a complicated topic.

The last thing I want to do is generate more opportunity for little eyeballs to stare at little screens, separate from the larger family focus.

If there is to be movie screen time on vacation, it’s great when it’s part of a larger family activity…experienced together.

Vacation Tech Joy
When bringing extra tech with you to create your family movie nights on vacation, please don’t forget to pack up all of the pieces before you leave. (Adapters have a way of disappearing if you’re not careful.)

And do put the hotel TV cabling back together. The next family may just want to turn on the TV without ‘Frankensteining’ together their own mini movie theater.

Nevertheless, I do enjoy screaming “It’s alive!” whenever I get my vacation TVs to work. A little tech joy always adds to my overall vacation experience.

In fact, I highly recommend it.

How a Roku will Make Your Old TV Shine Again

If you need an inexpensive way to upgrade your HDTV to be able to stream YouTube TV, I’ve got just the thing. And it’s hiding in plain sight…

So, as you may have heard… I’ve cancelled my cable service from my longtime cable TV provider. Instead, I’m now streaming my cable channels via the YouTube TV app for $40/month using my Apple TV in the family room.

That’s right…
I’ve joined the Dark Side.
Or perhaps I’ve finally left the Dark Side.

Either way, I loved this disruptive tech moment in my life.

I told my story to a work colleague, and he congratulated me and then commented how ‘freeing’ it must feel.

It certainly does.

Next, it was time to bring the freedom back to my older HDTV in my home office….

My Bat TV will Rise Again
Once designed as a compact media screen on the left side of my Batcave-like IKEA desk console, this little Sony TV has sat mostly dark over the past couple of years. It lost its cable box companion in the Lester Cable-Plan Purge of ’16.
(Yes, I’ve been on this path for a while now.)

In an attempt to keep feeding my Bat-TV a signal, I attached a Roku streaming puck to bring in a few streaming cable channel apps that I could still access via the existing cable subscription.

But it was a limited solution…

Find the Right Streaming Solution for You
Now, with the glow of YouTube TV permeating the Lester household… I was eager to activate another streaming device with no additional Google charge and no extra cable box to rent.
(You can actually run three simultaneous YouTube TV streams!)

So, it was time to get my home-office TV back in the game!

Unfortunately, my old Roku wasn’t built to run the YouTube TV app… so I needed to buy a newer streaming box.

Another Apple TV would certainly fit the bill, but the price tag is close to two hundred bucks. What about a new Roku?

Excellent idea….!

Roku Ultra
You can debate the larger issue of the value of an Apple TV vs. a Roku.
But all of the Roku streaming players are so much cheaper than an Apple TV!

For this little secondary TV, a new Roku was the easy choice. The final question was which one…

I decided on the Roku Ultra and picked up one on Black Friday for 50% off at Amazon for $49.99. I saw on Facebook that my old school friend Matt also took advantage of the same offer for some holiday gifts!
(Well done, Matt!)

I connected my new Roku Ultra to my Sony TV using its HDMI cable. Then, I used the Roku remote to guide my Roku towards my home Wi-Fi network. Finally, I downloaded the YouTube TV app… signed in… and BAM!

All done.

Future-Proof Where Possible
No, I didn’t need the top-of-the-line Roku model for my barely-HD HDTV. But I figured it will help to future-proof my purchase if I want to attach this Roku to a 4K TV one day.

Even without a discount, you can still pick up one of the other Roku models for $50 or less.
(The base 1080 HD-only “Roku Express” is thirty bucks!)

The Cost to Stream
I know Roku isn’t the only low-cost streaming solution out there, but for me it’s that darn brand-loyalty thing again.
(My old Roku puck got me hooked.)

Whichever brand you choose, the fact remains that adding streaming capability to your TV costs almost nothing. And if you own a smart TV that can stream all by itself, then this conversation gets even easier!

Easy Access Matters
Now, I’ve got YouTube TV on my…

  • Apple TV in the family room
  • Roku Ultra in my home-office Batcave
  • and the iPhone in my pocket

Now, that feels like real freedom to me!

Don’t Forget These 5 Pieces of Tech on Your Vacation

If you’re staring at your suitcase, it’s probably time for your next vacation. Here are my packing tips to help maintain your tech Zen…

If your next vacation is coming up, you might be thinking about what to pack. Some would say that you should leave the shackles of your technology behind to truly liberate yourself. Only then can you truly recharge and ‘vacate’ from your day-to-day existence.

I say… “No way!”

Now’s the time to have some real fun with all of your home tech!
Here are my top five pieces of gear to bring along…

Portable Bluetooth Speaker
You can’t pack your entire home audio system, but you do have access to many of your tunes via your smartphone… So, taking a portable Bluetooth speaker that can pair with your smartphone will quickly enable you to generate your happy sound bubble wherever you are.

Apple TV
It’s super simple to pop your Apple TV in your bag and then activate it using the Wi-Fi of your vacation location.
(Don’t forget the remote… like I did last year.)

Who cares if your hotel room has ‘HBO?’ You’ve got instant access to all of the content that you’re used to at home. And now, you’ll have a little more time to enjoy it!

Some hotel rooms even have their own Apple TVs these days. All you have to do is log into your account.
(Just don’t forget to log out when you check out.)

HDMI iPhone Adapter
Your iPhone and iPad can actually do the same trick as your Apple TV as long as you bring along an Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter to connect your mobile device to your hotel room TV via the HDMI cable.

Beach-Proof Camera
Water can certainly damage a typical camera, but the hidden danger at the beach is all of the sand blowing about. Even if one grain gets stuck in your retractable lens on your point-and-shoot camera, your lens mechanism could jam.

A smartphone isn’t going to have that problem, but you still want to be careful.
(Dropping it on a rock is a great way to crack the screen.)

A GoPro is made for the kind of punishment beach time can serve up.

A less expensive, waterproof ‘family’ camera like a Nikon COOLPIX W100 ($156.95 on Amazon) is another worry-free solution to taking your action pics at the beach…

Portable Power Stick
Even if you’re not ‘roughing it,’ you might find your smartphone or camera low on power by the afternoon. It’s always smart to carry along a little power stick to help your gear make it through the day.

I’m partial to Anker power sticks.

3 Bonus Ideas
If you have extra packing space and if your vacation activity planning allows, you should consider taking…

Time to Party!
If using your tech on vacation is a stressor, leave it behind. For everyone else in the vacation party, let’s power up and bathe in pixels and bytes by the shore!

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