Affordable ways to refresh your home entertainment hub

New year means new ideas! New ideas mean new gadgets! And with that in mind, new gadgets come at a cost. Not necessarily!

Home entertainment: Refreshing your system

Perhaps one of your new year’s resolution is to do some home renovation in your lounge department? You stare at your TV cabinet and you see a ‘not-as-smart’ TV (Hint idea #1). Most importantly you still have your beloved and amazing home theatre with your speaker towers standing shoulder-to-shoulder next to your cabinets. Too bad it still require wires (unlike those ‘cool kids’ out there with wireless speakers streaming from your favourite music app…hint idea #2).

Both ideas sound fantastic! New smart TV and new set of speakers! Woohoo……wait that requires another load of cash and it’s only the start of the year! More importantly your TV is still working perfectly. Your wonderful home theatre (where you spent loads on) is still the beloved gem in your lounge! Hang on! You don’t need to throw them away! This is just the scenario I experienced. Let me share with you, my two recommendations to update your home entertainment system in a smart and affordable way!

 

Enhancing your TV: Google Chromecast

Chromecast

I’m sure you would have heard of this little gadget or would have seen it at the display stands as you walk in and out of electronic shops. So what is it really? Isn’t it just a little device that connects to your TV’s HDMI port and connect to the internet? Personally I didn’t realise its potentials until I started playing around with it.

There are a lot of Chromecast guides out on the web so I won’t go into details here. But here’s my big take from Chromecast (in case you need some convincing and reasoning!).

Casting your screen with no interruptions

First and foremost, Chromecast allows you to “cast” your Chrome browser tab onto your TV screen. The colour and quality is sharp and (normally) without any lags. One of the benefit is that once you cast a particular tab, you are free to use your computer to browse other tabs or even use other programs without any interruptions to the casted tab on the TV screen. To me that’s a big win! It already gives you one reason to use Chromecast over the traditional way of connecting your computer to your TV via an HDMI / video output cable! It’s especially beneficial for the one computer fit for multi-purpose homes!

Cast your screen as double monitor

Another thing not everyone know is that Chromecast can cast your full desktop screen. Albeit Google still stating this is in their beta mode, I don’t have much problems with it when casting my desktop screen. The only thing is that the audio doesn’t get cast out to my TV. If you want to go all out, feel free to use this method to use your TV as your super humongous second monitor!

Another option is you can cast the screen of your phone or tablet directly onto the TV. Effectively extending your portable device onto the big viewing screen! Quite a nice feature for days when you want to lazily lay on the sofa and be a couch potato!

Cheap way to smarten up your TV

Of course the ultimate goal is to add an extra layer of entertainment to your TV right? Chromecast gives you a super affordable way to do so as oppose to other more pricey options out there e.g. Apple TV or other media hub. It only comes with a price tag of AUD $49 RRP.

Firstly as Chromecast works by casting your chrome tab, this means any videos you find on the web can be shown onto your TV. So if your TV is ‘not so smart’, you can still watch on demand TV by going to your favourite TV channel website e.g. SBS on Demand, Plus 7 catch up etc.

There is also a list of officially supported apps by Chromecast including YouTube, Google Music, Spotify, Vevo (see Chromecast official apps). With these official apps, it means you can cast these directly bypassing Chrome, effectively smartening up your TV (or enhancing the limited number of apps provided by your Smart TV).

For example with YouTube you can either cast from the YouTube app on your phone / tablet. Or if you are on a computer, just browse to a YouTube video on Chrome, and in the cast icon you can cast straight to your TV and then continue to use the same tab for something else (i.e. effectively bypassing Chrome).

Setting up:

Another important factor is its ease of use and set up. All you need to do is setup the wifi settings on our Chromecast. Google has kindly designed this so that as soon as you plug into the TV and switch to the right HDMI channel, you’ll be taken through series of setup steps. After that to cast from your Chrome tab, you just need to install the Google Cast extension. And then you are ready to roll!

 

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WiFi your speakers: Kaiser Baas SoundShift

SoundShift

The next problem is sound. How to stream through your awesome but legacy set of speakers / home theatre system? The answer is of course a WiFi receiver add on. If you search on Amazon or eBay you can find some bluetooth or WiFi audio receivers. There are some particular advantages on why I picked the Kaiser Baas SoundShift over the others.

WiFi and Digital Optical output

First of all sound quality is my top priority. With that in mind I have two criteria. The receiver should use WiFi as oppose to Bluetooth. This is because bluetooth has a limited signal range. But even more important is the fact that WiFi can transfer audio stream without lost in quality.

The other criteria is that the receiver should support digital audio output as oppose to the traditional stereo output. In particular my speakers take in digital optical input, so this was my other important criteria.

Unfortunately a lot of the existing audio receivers out there are either bluetooth or does not support digital optical output. Then I stumbled upon the Kaiser Baas SoundShift which satisfied both of my criteria! Hooray!

Sound quality and support for streaming

Now you might be wondering, can’t I stream my music to Chromecast which will output to the TV and then onto my speakers. However, that means every time I want to listen to Spotify I must turn on 3 different devices at the same time! Not very green I thought!

With the SoundShift I can just turn it on along with my speakers / home theatre and out pops the music. Excellent!

SoundShift sound quality is pretty good too. I don’t hear any lagging or other background noises. The only thing is that occasionally the connection might be dropped or interfered with other signals like microwave. But that only happened once or twice in the 6 months I’ve owned the SoundShift. So no points lost there!

Setup and Support

Setting up of the sound shift takes a little more effort but I got there in the end. Just like the Chromecast you need to first setup SoundShift to your WiFi connection first. You can setup a Point-to-Point connection or connect to your home WiFi network (the latter option takes a bit more effort). It is documented in the SoundShift manual on how to connect to the home WiFi. I just followed these steps and eventually got there.

The little SoundShift is only a box of 8.5cm x 8.5cm with a height of 3.5 cm. So it won’t take up too much room at all. It get its power via a USB cable and comes with an adaptor to plug to the wall power socket.

It supports both Android and Apple devices. So no hook to proprietary products and you are free to change your phone / computer in the future! I like!

Lastly the cost of the SoundShift is about AUD $100 RRP, but there are regular sales you can find on the net and I bought my SoundShift for only AUD $60. Not a bad deal to reuse and enhance your awesome state of the art speakers right?

 

Big take from Chromecast:

  • Update your TV with entertainment add-on
  • Use computer without interrupting the casting (perfect for one computer use all scenario)
  • Extend your screen as a double monitor
  • Cast music onto your TV

Big take form SoundShift:

  • Supports WiFi audio streaming and digital optical output
  • Save electricity of TV while streaming music straight to your speakers
  • Good sound quality
  • Works for both android and iPhones

Now you have it! Two “smart and affordable” ideas to update your legacy (but still dream) home entertainment system.

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