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.

Ninja’s Hot & Cold Brewed System Is the Only Coffee Maker You’ll Ever Need

Amazon
Amazon

Update: The Ninja Hot & Cold Brewed System is on sale for $120 ($40 off) for Sam's Club members until May 19.

For people who just want a cup of joe to help them get out the door in the morning, the French presses, Chemexes, Aeropresses, Moka pots, and other specialized devices that coffee aficionados swear by probably seem more overwhelming than appealing. Ditto the fancy cappuccino machines at local cafes. That’s where Ninja’s new Hot & Cold Brewed System comes in: It was created to give coffee addicts a myriad of options with minimal fuss, not to mention minimal equipment. And it makes tea, too!

“Coffeehouses are known for having an endless selection, but current at-home brewers haven't given users the vast variety of choice we thought possible, and certainly not all in one product," Mark Rosenzweig, CEO of SharkNinja, said in a press release. "The Ninja Hot & Cold Brewed System changes the category entirely. This innovative system is more than just a machine you use in the morning; it's your all-day brewing partner.”

The Hot & Cold Brewed System comes with two baskets: one for coffee and one for tea. It knows what you're making to make based on the basket you insert, and the available options for that basket will light up. The machine allows the user to make six different sizes of coffee or tea, from a single cup all the way up to a full 50-ounce (10-cup) carafe.

And of course, as the name suggests, the system can make both hot and iced beverages. For coffee, it has five brew options: classic, rich, over ice, cold brew, and specialty (a concentrated brew for milky drinks like cappuccinos). If you’re making tea, you can choose between hot and cold brews optimized for herbal, black, oolong, white, or green tea.

When you select an over ice or cold brew, the machine automatically doubles the strength of your beverage so it doesn't get overly diluted by the ice cubes in the carafe. Even better, the Ninja can make cold brew in just 10 to 15 minutes, whereas other systems and methods typically take hours. (Hot coffee is brewed at 205°F, while the cold brew is made at 101°F.) And the system has a hot and cold frother that folds into the side so you can make barista-level lattes, too.

These bells and whistles sound impressive on paper, but how do they perform in real life? Ninja sent me Hot & Cold Brewed System to test for myself.

Ease of Use

Though it might look like something developed by NASA, the Hot & Cold Brewed System is designed to easily work with the twist of a dial and the push of a button, and it delivers. From loading in the correct amount of grounds with the system’s “smart scoop” to picking what type of brew you’d like, it’s simple enough to use even while bleary-eyed in the morning. It’s also easy to schedule a delayed brew so you can do the rest of your morning routine while your coffee brews. (Here’s the only drawback I can think of about this machine: When it starts brewing, it’s kind of noisy—loud enough to make my cats jump. It’s not a dealbreaker, but if you live in a small apartment and plan to brew coffee so that it’s ready right when you wake up, it might be something to consider.)

The system even tells you when it needs to be descaled. The “clean” button will light up, at which point you simply fill the water reservoir with descaling solution and water and press the clean button. A countdown lets you know how much longer the clean cycle will last.

Taste and Flavor

I swapped out an old, cheap coffee maker for the Hot & Cold Brewed System, and the difference was immediately noticeable. Whether hot or cold, the coffee made by the H&CBS was a better, smoother cup of joe. That’s due to what Ninja has dubbed Thermal Flavor Extraction automated brewing technology, which, according to a press release, “knows the precise temperatures, correct bloom times, and proper levels of saturation for every possible beverage combination to ensure a great taste every time.”

Whatever tech they use, it works. The coffee I make in this machine is consistently tasty. The rich brew setting works exactly as advertised, too, providing a richer, bolder flavor than the classic brew.

Features and Accessories

One of the best things about the H&CBS is the fact that it cuts down on waste significantly. Unlike other machines, it doesn't require any plastic pods or paper filters. Instead, it comes with two permanent filters, one for coffee and one for tea.

And the cold brew function is a game changer if you prefer iced coffee to hot. Not only does it brew quickly, but it eliminates the messy cleanup that comes with making cold brew yourself.

Typically priced at $230 for the thermal carafe version (or $200 for the glass carafe), the Hot & Cold Brewed System is significantly more expensive than a simpler drip coffee machine. But if you’re a cold brew addict looking to treat yourself, it’s worth it. Consider springing for the slightly more expensive thermal carafe model, which will keep your java hot or cold for hours. (I’ve left ice in it overnight and found cubes the next morning.)

You can get the Hot & Cold Brewed System on Amazon, Walmart, Macy's, Sam's Club, or directly on Ninja’s website starting at $160.

Springer Nature Has Published the First AI-Written Textbook

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iStock.com/PhonlamaiPhoto

The first AI-written textbook is here, and its tech-heavy subject is exactly what you might expect from a machine-learning algorithm. As Smithsonian reports, the book, published by Springer Nature, is a 247-page guide titled Lithium-Ion Batteries: A Machine-Generated Summary of Current Research.

While it doesn’t exactly make for light reading, the fact that it was written entirely by Beta Writer—an algorithm designed by researchers in Germany—is a game changer. Sure, AI has dabbled with writing before, helping journalists pen articles and even crafting entire chapters for the Game of Thrones and Harry Potter series. (We highly recommend the riveting tale of Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.) But this is the first time AI has authored an entire research book, complete with a table of contents, introductions, and linked references.

The information was pulled from Springer Nature’s online database. While the grammar and syntax are a little clunky, the book manages to get the point across. (Here’s one sample sentence: “Respectively, safety issue is apparently challengeable till now even after the first commercialization of lithium-ion battery.”)

With the exception of an introduction to the book that was written by Henning Schoenenberger, Springer Nature's director of product data and metadata, the finished product was left unedited and unpolished. This was done “to highlight the current status and remaining boundaries of machine-generated content,” according to Schoenenberger. The publisher hopes to experiment with AI-powered textbooks on other subjects in the future.

Artificial intelligence has certainly come a long way in recent years, and algorithms have been trained to carry out a number of oddly specific tasks. They can design beer, figure out the ingredients in your meal, find Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo” picture, and remake the music video of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” In one of the more meta developments in tech news, Google’s AI even learned to make its own AI in 2017.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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