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

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iStock

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.

When David Bowie Launched His Own Internet Service Provider

Scott Barbour, Getty Images
Scott Barbour, Getty Images

There was a surprise waiting for Canadian buyers of The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979, a greatest hits collection by the musician that was released in the summer of 1998. Inside the package was a notice announcing the arrival of BowieNet, a major undertaking spearheaded by the legendary musician that promised a unique portal to the internet. For $19.95 a month, users could access BowieNet in the same way that they logged on to America Online, signing on via a dial-up connection to gain access to the web, email, and a variety of perks for devoted Bowie fans.

The news was a little premature. The Canadian version of the album had been released too early, and BowieNet wasn’t yet up and running when fans first read the news. But by September 1 of that year, Bowie had launched a pioneering effort in the intersection between music, the internet, and fandom. In many ways, BowieNet anticipated the concept of social networking five years before MySpace debuted and six years before Facebook came into existence. It was a fitting accomplishment for an artist who spent his entire career looking for revolutionary ways to share his work.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

Bowie, who first rose to fame during the 1970s glam rock era, had long been fascinated by the promise of digital connectivity. He was reportedly using email as early as 1993. In 1994, he released a CD-ROM of his single, “Jump, They Say,” that allowed users to edit their own music video for the song. In 1996, he released one of the first digital singles, "Telling Lies," and sold 375,000 downloads in just two months. In 1997, Bowie presented a “cybercast” of a Boston concert, which ultimately proved to be too ambitious for the technology of the era (viewers of the live stream were confronted with error messages and frozen feeds).

Clearly excited by the unexplored possibilities these cutting-edge efforts offered, Bowie decided to stake out more digital real estate right around the same time he released "Telling Lies." In 1996, two internet marketers named Robert Goodale and Ron Roy approached Bowie with the idea of building an online fan club that would double as an internet service provider (ISP). In essence, Bowie would be offering online access via a dial-up number using a turnkey web design system from a company called Concentric Network Corporation. The site was developed by Nettmedia, which had worked on web content for the women-centric Lilith Fair music festival that had caught Bowie’s attention.

While users would be free to access any part of the internet, their default landing page would be DavidBowie.com, a place to access exclusive Bowie photos and videos, as well as a unique @davidbowie.com email address and 5 MB of storage space so that they could create their own content. If they wanted to remain with their current internet service provider, they’d pay $5.95 a month for membership.

Bowie liked the idea and became the first investor in UltraStar, Goodale and Roy’s company. More than a figurehead, Bowie actively helped to conceive of BowieNet as having a unique identity. Whereas America Online was a little sterile, Bowie’s aesthetic was more experimental. There were 3D-rendered environments and Flash animation sequences. The CD-ROM sent to subscribers included a customized Internet Explorer browser and music and video tracks, including encrypted material that could only be unlocked online.

More significantly, Bowie used his branded portal to interact with fans. Posting as “Sailor” on the BowieNet message boards, Bowie regularly logged on to answer questions, debunk news reports, or comment on ongoing conversations. He also hosted online chats in real time. In 2017, Newsweek shared excerpts of one 2000 session:

gates asks: "do you gamble in casinos Dave?"
David Bowie answers: No, I only do cartwheels—and don't call me Dave!

queenjanine asks: "Is there anyone you haven't worked with (either dead or alive) that you wish you could?"
David Bowie answers: I love working with dead people. They're so compliant, they never argue back. And I'm always a better singer than they are. Although they can look very impressive on the packaging.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

In his loose interactions with fans, Bowie and BowieNet anticipated the explosion of social media. It was an area that interested Bowie, as he often spoke of the idea of art being unfinished until an audience provided their reaction.

“Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here—the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the gray space in the middle,” Bowie told the BBC in 1999. “That gray space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.”

With BowieNet, the artist was helping to facilitate that response, in one instance even soliciting a co-creator relationship. In 1999, Bowie took lyrics from an online songwriting contest to help create “What’s Really Happening,” which he put on an album released that same year. He also planned on having a working webcam that peered into his recording studio (though it’s not quite clear whether he achieved it). Ultimately, it was the advancement of internet technology that led to BowieNet's downfall.

With the dissolution of dial-up, BowieNet went from a high of 100,000 subscribers to becoming largely irrelevant in the early 2000s. In 2006, UltraStar’s assets were sold to Live Nation and BowieNet was quietly shut down—though it would take another six years for Bowie to actually announce that fact, via his Facebook page of all places.

But for the 10 years it lasted, BowieNet was the artist's strange, revolutionary predictor of the growing importance of fandom online.

“At the moment,” Bowie told CNN in 1999, the internet "seems to have no parameters whatsoever. It's chaos out there—which I thrive on.”

L’Oréal’s New Wearable Sensor Keeps Track of Your Daily UV Exposure

L'Oréal USA
L'Oréal USA

Anyone who has ever suffered a sunburn knows that too much exposure to UV radiation is bad for your skin. But in the moment, it can be hard to tell when you’ve gotten too much sun—especially during the winter, when you might not think you need sunscreen. (In reality, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV light, so you may end up getting hit with the same rays twice.) A new wearable sensor spotted by Wired aims to make understanding your sun exposure a whole lot easier.

L'Oréal’s new La Roche-Posay My Skin Track UV sensor pairs with a smartphone app to alert users when they’ve had high levels of UV exposure. Developed by L'Oréal’s Tech Incubator in collaboration with Northwestern University engineering professor John Rogers and Swiss designer Yves Béhar, the sensor measures UVA rays (which are associated with skin aging and skin cancer) and uses an algorithm to calculate UVB exposure (which is associated with sunburn and skin cancer).

The UV sensor
L'Oréal USA

At only half an inch tall and 1.3 inches long, the waterproof sensor is designed to be discreetly attached to your clothes, watchband, or sunglasses. The sensor's LED detector measures UV rays as sunlight passes through a small window in the device, then transfers the data to your phone via a near-field communication (the same technology in some hotel key cards). It stores the photons from the UV rays in a capacitor, eliminating the need for a battery.

Based on this data, the My Skin Track app can tell you how close you're getting to the maximum limit of UV exposure doctors recommend per day. It also provides updates about the air quality, pollen count, and humidity wherever you are at any given moment. Based on this information, as well as data about your specific skin type and skin tone, the app's Skin Advice feature will provide customized tips for keeping your skin healthy. It also recommends specific products—La Roche-Posay items can be bought directly through the app, should you desire.

The sensors are exclusively available through Apple stores. You can order one online for $59.95.

[h/t Wired]

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