Tech features you didn’t know about – make more of your gadgets

We buy tech for a specific purpose, but that doesn’t mean that’s all it can do. Make the most of the tech you have with these tips, or save yourself money by re-purposing old tech into something more useful.

Best Buy smartphones – the Swiss army knives of tech, but which is best?

Control your TV with your smartphonesmartphone-tv-remote

Picture the scene – you’ve got in from work, made the tea and your favourite show is about to start. But the TV remote is nowhere to be seen. You’ve checked the usual spots – down the side of the sofa, in the fridge. And you’ve stood in the centre of your room staring blankly at every flat surface, hoping it will magically appear. It’s gone. Well, what if you could use your smartphone to control your TV instead?

Thanks to apps, smartphones can turn their hand to just about anything – a spirit level, dictaphone, even a musical instrument – but a remote control may be the most useful.

SURE Universal Remote, Anymote and Twinone IR Remote are some of the more popular apps, but there are plenty to choose from. They don’t just control your TV either. Some can control other devices in your media centre. AV receivers, Blu-ray players and even speakers can be controlled with the right app.

Before you pay for an app, make sure your device is compatible and that your smartphone has an IR blaster. Without it, your phone can’t talk to your TV.

Use an old smartphone as a wireless security camerawireless-security-camera

Sticking with smartphones, this trick can help you put a tired, old handset to good use. Once again, apps are the key and this time they’re turning phones into wireless security cameras.

When choosing which app to download you should check how the footage is saved and how easy it is to access on other devices. The best apps, such as Home Security Camera Alfred and WardenCam, will let you access the video stream at any time from phones and tablets as well as send alerts when they detect motion. These alerts can be pictures or short video clips, which you can store anywhere.

Jettisoned your old phone as soon as you got a new one? Take a look at these Best Buy wireless security cameras instead.

Create a stereo pair with two wireless speakerssonos-speaker

The convenience of wireless speakers is undeniable. But getting stereo separation from one unit isn’t possible no matter how many tweeters and subwoofers are packed into the plastic casing. Technology has improved the way wireless speakers transmit sound around the room, but for true stereo there’s no substitute for a dedicated left and right speaker.

That’s why many wireless speakers give you the option to set one as a left and one as a right speaker, giving wireless sound with stereo separation. Plus, you still have two speakers if you ever want music in another room.

The Sonos Play:1, Play:3 and Play:5 all the support the technology. If you’re after something more portable then the Beats Pill+ and BeoPlay A2 can do it as well.

Get your TV’s sound through your hi-fihi-fi-as-tv-speakers

When TVs got thinner, speaker quality took a hit. Some TVs do manage sound that comes close to the standard of the amazing displays but, for superior audio, additional speakers are the way to go.

Rather than buying a sound bar or home cinema set-up you could use existing hi-fi speakers. If your hi-fi has a stereo input you can connect your TV using a red and white stereo cable. Then, set your hi-fi to the right input, sit your speakers either side of your TV and enjoy your upgraded sound.

You can do the same thing if you have a pair of old speakers, too. But bear in mind that the speakers would need their own power source. This would usually be the amps in a hi-fi, but TVs don’t have those. Unless your speakers plug into the mains or an amp, they won’t work.

Tablets as a digital photo frametablet-as-digital-photo-frame

The hi-res, bright screens on tablets make for excellent photo displays. There are several apps that let you create your own slideshows. Most will let you set different transitions, too. You could have your images fading or sliding into view, or have them peel over like pages from a book.

Head into your tablet’s settings and adjust the sleep setting so your screen won’t turn off every half an hour. And be wary of where you put it – you may need a stand to stop the tablet falling off a shelf.

More on this

Best Buy tablets – perfect for pictures, movies and web browsing
Stellar sound bars – upgrade your TV’s sound without a hi-fi
Best Buy wireless speakers – high-quality audio in every room

5 replies

  1. In regards to adding your hi-fi speakers to your TV.
    I feel I must take issue with the following: “Unless your speakers plug into the mains or an amp, they won’t work.”……………It may seem blindingly obvious to not do it but I have actually seen the results of what happens when you plug speakers into the mains!

    Working for an esoteric hi-fi company many moons ago we heard that a gentleman had been very impressed with his friend’s “active” loudspeakers and when he got home wired the 2 core speaker cable of his “passive” loudspeakers onto a mains plug. This resulted in a very loud bang and a ruined pair of speakers!

    It may be prudent to point out that speakers that are wired to the mains (and also have a seperate signal cable) contain an amplifier within the speaker enclosure and are generally of upmarket quality.

    Hope this prevents any experimental accidents!

  2. With regards to using your Hi-fi Amp and speakers for TV sound, your solution can work only with TV’s that have a stereo analogue output. Older TV’s normally have these, so providing your Hi-Fi has an auxiliary stereo input or video input then that will be fine.
    However, most new TV’s do not have analogue stereo outputs. So in order to use a TV that only has an Optical Audio Output, you need to connect the TV via a DAC ( Digital to Analogue Converter) to your Hi-Fi Amplifier. This converts the signal from Digital to Analogue. So you will need a Toslink Optical Cable to connect the DAC to the TV, a DAC and a a pair of stereo phono cables to connect
    the DAC to your Amplifier. Unfortunately, you will then run across a lip sync problem as the sound will reach your speakers before the video picture reaches the TV screen via the HDMI lead. Most new SMART TV’s have an Audio Delay adjustment on their Audio menu, circa 80 to 90 milliseconds is around the right delay adjustment to be made to the Audio Delay, but you will have to adjust it until you get it right. Otherwise. you can buy a small DAC for circa £30 to £40 so the cost is much lower than a soundbar and will probably sound a lot better too. Hope this helps

    1. Most TVs do have a stereo headphone output and you can get a suitable adapter cable to connect to the aux input of your stereo amplifier. That should mute the speakers of the TV, and with a suitable gain setting on your amp you will still be able to control the volume with the TV remote.

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