12 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Your Streaming Devices

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With the emergence of streaming devices, getting your favorite content from the internet to your TV is getting easier every day. Although Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV dominate the market, even regular users aren't always getting the most out of their electronics. Here are 12 things you didn’t know you could do with your streaming devices.

1. ACCESS SECRET CHANNELS ON ROKU. 

While there are thousands of streaming channels available through Roku’s channel store, there are hundreds more available through private channels, which are streaming apps that Roku doesn’t make available publicly. Installing private channels isn’t as easy as getting channels from Roku directly, but there is an easy workaround for those who want more streaming options. 

First, look for a private channel you would like to install. There are a number of databases online like MKVxStream and StreamFree.tv that have lists of private channels that are worth your time and attention. Once you've found one you want, log into your account on Roku’s website. Under "Manage Account" look for “Add Channel With a Code.” Each private channel has a special code to enter.

For example: “Nowhere TV” is a great resource to watch videos from the Internet Archive and select podcasts on your Roku. Its private channel code is “H9DWC.” Enter the code and within 24 to 36 hours, the private channel will be added to your homepage on your Roku player.

2. MIRROR YOUR CHROME BROWSER OR DESKTOP TO CHROMECAST.

There are a few ways to cast your browser on a big screen TV, but the easiest is already built into Chrome and YouTube. You just have to set your computer and Chromecast to the same internet network. Go to Chrome’s menu options and select “Cast.” After you select the device that you want to cast, select “Tab” or “Desktop” to cast on a TV. If you’re using YouTube, just look for the Chromecast icon in any video’s control panel. This feature is great for presentations and parties, or if you just want to show a friend a funny cat video.

3. CONNECT TO APPLE TV VIA BLUETOOTH.


Apple

Unlike most streaming devices, Apple TV has accessible Bluetooth connectivity built in out-of-the-box, so you can connect a wireless keyboard, headphones, speakers, or game controllers. Simply pair a device under the “Settings” option and “Remotes and Devices.” It comes in handy for quicker searching, or if you don’t want to disturb the people around you while you’re watching a loud movie. Check out a list of quick keyboard shortcuts below:

F3: Switch apps

F4: Go to Home screen

F7: Rewind

F9: Fast forward 

F8 or Spacebar: Play or Pause

F11: Decrease volume

F12: Increase volume  

4. ENABLE INSTANT REPLAY ON ROKU.

Huh? What did he say? You know when you’re watching a TV show or a movie and you just didn’t catch the last line a character said. Well, you can easily go back a few seconds and have the closed caption subtitles appear on the screen with just one click on your remote. To enable instant replay, go to “Settings,” then “Captions,” and then “Instant Replay.”

5. GIVE HOUSEGUESTS ACCESS TO CHROMECAST.


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If you’re having a party and you want your guests to play music or a video from their device, they can access your Chromecast without having access to your home’s Wi-Fi network. It’s a feature called “Guest Mode” in Chromecast that you have to enable, so your guests can keep the party going. 

Here’s how to turn it on: Fire up the Chromecast/Google Home app on your smartphone, then select the device you want to enable. Go to “Settings” and tap “Guest Mode” to turn it on. Now your guests can cast media from their smartphones to your TV without a Wi-Fi password. 

6. WATCH LIVE TV ON AN APPLE TV.

There are a few ways to watch live TV through your Apple TV. If you have a cable subscription, you can sign into your account to watch channels via app with “Single Sign-on” built-in to Apple TV. Once signed in, you can ask Siri to tune in live by saying “Hey Siri! Watch ESPN Live.” Apple TV will then load a live stream of ESPN. “Live Tune-In” works with a number of channel apps, such as CBS, Disney Channel, FXNOW, and CNN Go. You can also use your Apple TV to rewind and pause live TV with HDHomeRun, a flat HD antenna to pick up over-the-air channels, and the Channel app.

7. FIND HIDDEN SCREENS ON ROKU BY USING REMOTE CODES.

There are a few hidden menus buried inside of every Roku player that allow its users to find analytics and other Wi-Fi settings. These menus can be accessed through your remote control with a series of codes. Think of this as Roku’s version of the Konami/Contra Code. Be warned: These hidden menus are for the nerdiest of Roku enthusiasts.

To reboot your Roku, press the Home button five times, and then Up, the Rewind (RW) button twice, and then Fast Forward (FF) twice.

To see your Wi-Fi signal strength, press the Home button five times, and then Up, Down, Up, Down, Up on the D-pad. Now you can see if your Roku player has a strong enough connection for HD streaming. Your Roku should be using 3GB per hour when streaming HD content, according to Netflix.

To access the antenna menu to optimize Wi-Fi, press Home five times, and then FF, Down, RW, Down, FF.

To see or change your streaming bit rate, press Home five times, and then RW three times and FF twice.

To see the channel info menu, press Home three times, and then Up twice, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left on the D-pad.

To put your Roku in developer mode, press Home three times, and then Up twice, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right.

To remove auto-pair for a remote or cycle a banner ad, press Home five times, and then Up, Right, Down, Left, Up.

To factory reset (at your own risk), press Home five times, and then press FF three times, and press RW twice.

8. USING CHROMECAST TO WATCH 3D 'VIRTUAL REALITY' WITHOUT A VR HEADSET.

If you want to experience virtual reality, but don’t own an Oculus Rift, you can use a Chromecast on a 3D TV. Just download the Google Cardboard app, mirror your phone to your 3D TV, and set it to SBS (side-by-side) mode. Now use the 3D glasses that came with your TV to experience an immersive world in your living room.

9. USE A UNIVERSAL REMOTE.


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If your living room is cluttered with a lot of remotes for your TV, Blu-ray player, DVR, stereo system, and Apple TV, you can actually use any infrared (IR) universal remote to consolidate all your home entertainment devices into one remote to rule them all. Instead of programming a cumbersome and long code, your Apple TV can “learn” to sync with your remote. First go to “Settings” on your Apple TV, and then “Remotes and Devices,” and finally “Learn Remote.” Simply press the Up button on the universal remote’s D-pad when prompted until the blue progress bar is full. Do the same action for the remaining five directions, Down, Left, Right, Select, and Menu, and you’re all set.

Alternatively, you can also use an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch as a remote too!

10. USE YOUR PHONE AS A KEYBOARD OR HEADPHONES.

If you own a Roku player, then its companion smartphone app is a must to get the most out of your device. It features voice search and a virtual QWERTY keyboard for any Roku player, so the days of mind-numbingly hunting and pecking through Roku’s built-in alphabet keyboard are over. You can even add or remove channels from your phone, while also mirroring your music, videos, and photos on your mobile device. Just make sure the app and the device are on the same home Wi-Fi network.

The app also features Private Listening, which gives you the ability to use headphones while watching anything streaming on your Roku Streaming Stick, so instead of the sound coming out of your TV, it will just come out of your smartphone. Now you can watch TV at night without disturbing your partner while he or she is trying to sleep.

11. BRING IT ALONG TO YOUR HOTEL ROOM.


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Chromecast is a very portable streaming device that just needs an HDMI port and internet access to work. It’s a good option to bring with you if you’re staying in a hotel. However, most hotel rooms don’t let you access the internet due to the Chromecast’s lack of web browser. There are a few easy workarounds to sign in and allow you to watch Netflix or HBO Now on your hotel room’s big screen TV after you plug the Chromecast into its HDMI port.

A good and reliable travel router can connect your hotel’s internet to a Chromecast via laptop or smartphone. It will create a separate IP address to make it easier to connect, although they do generally require the hotel to have an ethernet port. If you don’t want to invest in a travel router, there are a few free solutions for streaming connectivity.

Software like Connectify Hotspot or MyPublicWiFi for PC will turn your laptop into a mobile hotspot for free. Just download the software and create a new hotspot. Then connect your Chromecast to the hotspot for access. For Mac, sharing an internet connection is built into Mac OS under “System Preferences” and “Sharing.” Once your laptop is sharing its Wi-Fi, you can easily connect a Chromecast and enjoy episodes of Stranger Things on the road.

12. USE THE TASK MANAGER TO TROUBLESHOOT PROBLEMS.

Much like any iPhone, iPad, or MacBook, apps in Apple TV can sometimes get glitchy or unresponsive. Instead of rebooting the entire device to make it run smoothly again, you can simply use the task manager built into tvOS and swipe away the buggy app. Once you’re on the home screen, simply double-tap the home button on the Apple TV remote to bring up the task manager. Once fired up, you can quickly switch between apps or kill apps with a swipe. Press the Menu button to exit. Now your channel apps will be running more smoothly.

6 Common Fire Hazards Lurking in Your Home (and Simple Ways to Prevent Them)

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Whether you're a homeowner or renter, a house fire can be a costly disaster. According to the National Fire Protection Association, home fires account for more than 2500 deaths and more than 12,000 injuries in the U.S. every year, not to mention billions of dollars in damage. U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 350,000 house fires annually.

The good news is, total fire-related deaths, injuries, and property losses have trended downward in recent years, and that may be due to improved fire-fighting technology at home. Nothing beats the effectiveness of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and a solid fire escape plan, but the newest smart home devices can help you prevent these common fire hazards lurking in your home.

1. UNATTENDED BURNERS

Wallflower stove monitor
Amazon

We’ve all had that moment of panic when we ask ourselves, “Did I remember to turn off the stove?” It’s worth double-checking, since cooking equipment is the leading cause of house fires. Stoves, ovens, and other appliances account for nearly 50 percent of incidents, while unattended cooking is the leading contributor to these fires.

Fortunately, new smart stovetop sensors and monitors will alert you when you’ve left the stove on. The Wallflower simply plugs into the wall with your electric stove, then alerts you when the stove is turned on, when it’s been on longer than usual, and even when you leave the house without turning it off. The crowd-funded Inirv React, meanwhile, promises to be a system of smart stove knobs that use sensors and electronics to detect smoke, natural gas, and motion, while allowing you to monitor your stove remotely.

2. DEAD SMOKE DETECTOR BATTERIES

Nest Protect home smoke detector
Amazon

Working smoke alarms should be placed on every floor of your home, and inside every bedroom: They cut the risk of dying in a house fire by half.

Basic smoke detectors can get the job done, but newer models can also alert your phone if there's smoke in your home, turn off your HVAC system to slow the spread of smoke, or record video so you can check the situation remotely.

Security expert Emily Patterson of independent review site A Secure Life highlights the Nest Protect as one of her favorite devices for fire safety. “It has CO detection as well as heat and humidity sensors, so it has the ability to distinguish between real causes for concern and burnt toast,” Patterson tells Mental Floss. “You can also enable smartphone alerts, which is handy if you’re not home, and set up automated protocols to unlock doors or record video if the alarm goes off.”

The detector is only as reliable as the battery powering it, though. The Roost Smart Battery allows you to retrofit existing smoke detectors with 9V batteries to be managed by your smartphone and alerts you when battery life is running low (after three to five years).

3. SPACE HEATERS

Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater
Amazon

Space heaters keep things cozy when your existing heating system performs poorly, but they can also be extremely dangerous. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 1100 residential fires—and more than 50 deaths—are linked to portable electric heaters every year. Fires often occur when the heaters are left on unattended or they’re too close to flammable materials like paper or blankets.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends purchasing only newer-model heaters equipped with safety features like a tip-over switch and automatic shut-off, which kicks in if the heater exceeds a certain temperature. The Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater uses diffused mode heat to warm rooms evenly while the machine stays comfortable to the touch. For a more affordable option, the Smart Ceramic Tower Heater has infrared heat settings, a sleep timer, overheating protection, a tip-over safety switch, and Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you control it with your smartphone—just in case you forget to turn it off before leaving home.

4. OVERLOADED OUTLETS

Wemo smart plug
Amazon

Heat-producing small appliances like coffee makers and toasters can pose a fire risk if used improperly—like if you have too many appliances plugged into one outlet. The NFPA recommends plugging only one heat-producing gadget into an outlet at a time [PDF], while smart plugs make it easy to turn off power to small appliances when you’re not home. Some devices even turn off outlets automatically when they’re not in use. There are dozens of options on the market now, from Wemo’s Insight Smart Plug with energy monitoring to the iDevices Switch. Most can be controlled with your phone, and are compatible with smart-home hubs. Be sure to check that the smart plug you choose is equipped with enough power to handle the wattage of your appliances.

5. COMBUSTIBLE LANDSCAPING

B-Hyve sprinkler regulator
Amazon

The landscaping around your home can mitigate fire risks—or multiply them. Any plants that are too close to the house can present a fire hazard, especially when they’re dried out, says Cassy Aoyagi, a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s L.A. Chapter and president of FormLA Landscaping. “Several popular plants, like pampas, feather, and fountain grasses, marketed in the West as ‘drought tolerant,’ are actually quite combustible,” she tells Mental Floss.

A smart sprinkler controller makes it easy to ensure that your yard is moist and as fire-safe as possible. It can regulate and even reduce your water consumption, too. The Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller is equipped with a weather-monitoring system to adjust water use based on the forecast. The Orbit B-Hyve has fewer bells and whistles, but still offers smart scheduling with a smartphone app.

6. INTENTIONAL FIRES

iCamera KEEP home security system
Amazon

Let’s hope you never have to deal with this one, because playing with fire is no joke. The NFPA reports that 8 percent of residential fires between 2011 and 2015 were set intentionally, with 15 percent of civilian deaths happening as a result [PDF].

To keep your home safe inside and out, consider using a smart home security system. The iCamera KEEP Pro from iSmartAlarm has a powerful image sensor, sound and motion detection, event-triggered video recording, and a motion-tracking feature that allows the camera to follow movement around your space. The Wyze Cam 2 is a smaller model with motion-tagging technology and a budget-friendly price tag.

Nothing beats the power of common sense, of course. “Preparedness is the best protection,” Patterson says. “Have the right tools, have an evacuation plan, and know what to do in the event of an emergency. Fires are scary and it can be difficult to act quickly and think clearly in the moment if you aren’t prepared.”

Trulia Now Makes Browsing Neighborhoods as Easy as Browsing Homes

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An online real estate listing can tell you the number of bedrooms, the square footage, and the price of a property, but until you arrive in person, it's hard to know if the location will be a good fit for you. Trulia is looking to tackle that problem with a new Neighborhoods feature, as Fast Company reports, letting you virtually explore your potential home's surroundings before you show up for the tour.

Trulia, a listings site owned by Zillow, already offers all the standard information you would get from any other real estate service. Now, the new Trulia Neighborhoods feature also makes it possible to research various neighborhoods within the app the same way you would research individual houses and apartments.

The Neighborhoods feature includes a slideshow of annotated images of each neighborhood captured by Trulia's team of photographers and videographers. It also has some objective data about the area, like maps of local businesses, as well as first-hand reports from residents. In the "What the Locals Say" section, for instance, you might find that 90 percent of people reported that a neighborhood is quiet, while just 50 percent said it's easy to find parking there. This part also includes personal testimonies from individual users that you can browse by topic, such as "community" or "dog owners." Neighborhoods also allows you to easily access data on schools, safety, and commute times.

Trulia Neighborhoods isn't available for every market yet. For now, you can only take advantage of it if you're house-hunting in one of 300 neighborhoods across five U.S. cities—San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Austin, and Chicago. Trulia plans to expand the feature to more than 1100 neighborhoods by the end of 2018.

[h/t Fast Company]

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