A Power Switch for the Chromecast

Chromecasts are fantastic little products, they’re basically little HDMI sticks you can plug into any monitor or TV, and then stream content using your phone or computer as the controller. They are powered by a micro USB port in the back, and if you’re lucky, your TV has a port you can suck the juice off. But what if you want to turn it off while you use a different input on your TV so that your monitor will auto-sleep? You might have to build a power switch.

Now in all honesty, the Chromecast gets hot but the amount of power it draws when not in use is still pretty negligible compared to the draw of your TV. Every watt counts, and [Ilias] took this as an opportunity to refine his skills and combine a system using an Arduino, Bluetooth, and Android to create a robust power switch solution for the Chromecast.

The setup is rather simple. An HC-05 Bluetooth module is connected to an Attiny85, with some transistors to control a 5V power output. The Arduino takes care of a bluetooth connection and uses a serial input to control the transistor output. Finally, this is all controlled by a Tasker plugin on the Android phone, which sends serial messages via Bluetooth.

All the information you’ll need to make one yourself is available at [Ilias’] GitHub repository. For more information on the Chromecast, why not check out our review from almost three years ago — it’s getting old!

Home Made Half Life 2 Turret Powered By Pi

To help expand his inter-dimensional empire, [Solderchips] has decided to build his own Half Life 2 turret. This, he hopes, will automatically track and shoot anyone who hinders the work of Our Benefactors. He’s documenting the process, and has just published his first step: creating a 3D model of the turret and printing it out. The final project will use a Raspberry Pi and a webcam to track rebels and fire on them automatically, especially those with crowbars.

He’s made a promising start, using a papercraft model of the turret to build the 3D model, then modifying it to accommodate the brains (the Raspberry Pi) and the brawns, a couple of small servos that will move the top of the turret around. The next step will perhaps be to add a tilt switch so that the whole thing falls asleep if it falls over. The thing to learn from this project, is that at some point you just have to stop thinking about it and actually make something. This paper model is a big step toward success compared to carrying around the dream in your head.

We’ve seen a few Portal Turret builds and a very nice Wheatley build, but not a decent Half Life 2 turret build, so hopefully [Solderchips] will see this through to completion and release all of his files.

Netflix and Chill – and Socks?

Waking up to spoilers in the last episode after falling asleep during the first episode of a Netflix binge-watching session ranks right up there on the list of first-world problems. Luckily there’s a solution in the form of a pair of Netflix enabled socks, which looks like a pretty neat wearable IoT project.

To be sure, calling these socks Netflix enabled is a bit of a stretch. Aside from the sock designs, which are based on popular Netflix original series, there’s nothing about the electronics that’s specific to the popular streaming service. These socks, with their Arduino Pro Trinket and accelerometer, detect when you stop moving and send an IR signal to do your bidding – pause the movie, kill the TV, or whatever. The electronic side of the build is pretty approachable – it’s just a couple of modules soldered together. The fiber arts side of the project might be a little outside the wheelhouse of the typical hardware hacker, but you can either team up with someone who knits – an experienced knitter, as socks are not a beginner’s pattern – or just slip the felt-clad hardware into your favorite comfy socks. We’d be a bit concerned about ESD protection for the hardware in the wooly environment, though.

“Netflix and chill” is the current version of last century’s “Watching the submarine races,” and as such the need for special socks or a custom Netflix switch for the occasion is a bit puzzling. Still, the underlying wearables idea is pretty good, with plenty of possibilities for expansion and repurposing.

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Control Your HTPC With Scavenged IR Parts

If you’ve built yourself a home theater PC, one of your highest priorities is probably coming up with a convenient control solution. The easiest way to do this is to simply use something like a wireless keyboard and mouse. But, that’s not very conducive to an enjoyable home theater experience, and it feels pretty clunky. However, if you’ve got the right components lying around, [Sebastian Goscik] has instructions and an Arduino sketch that will let you control your HTPC with any IR remote control.

There are a number of ways you could control your HTPC, and we’ve featured more than one build specifically for controlling XBMC over the years. Unfortunately, most of those methods require that you spend your hard earned money (which is better spent on popcorn). [Sebastian’s] setup can be replicated with things you probably have on hand: an Arduino, an IR remote, and a scavenged IR receiver. The IR receiver can be found in many devices, like old stereos or TVs that themselves were controlled via an IR remote.

It starts with an Arduino Sketch that lets you can see on the serial monitor what code is being generated by the button presses on your remote. These are then scripted to perform any task or function you like when those buttons are pushed. The most obvious use here is simple directional control for selecting your movies, but much more complex tasks are possible. Maybe someone can program a T9 script to type using the number buttons on most remotes?

Just Don’t Call it an Old Remote

[Hari Wiguna’s] father is ninety years young. He started having trouble pushing the buttons on his TV remote, so [Hari] decided to build a custom remote that just has the buttons his dad needs. Oh, and the buttons are big.

There are a few interesting things about this project. [Hari] wanted to maximize battery life, so he went through a good bit of effort to keep the processor asleep and minimize power consumption. The remote is programmable, but [Hari] didn’t have access to his dad’s remotes. His answer was elegant. He used his Android phone to mimic the required remotes and provided a way for the remote to learn from another remote (in this case, the phone).
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Tech Journos Link Samsung To Volkswagen, Somehow

On Thursday The Guardian published information linking Samsung to the current Volkswagen emissions fiasco. Samsung is accused of installing a ‘defeat device’ on some televisions that uses less energy during official testing conditions than would be found during real-world use.

“The apparent discrepancy between real-world and test performance of the TVs is reminiscent of the VW scandal that originated in the US last week,” wrote [Arthur Nelson] of The Guardian. This report was based on an unpublished lab test by the research group ComplianTV which found discrepancies between real-world and test performance when measuring power consumption. According to ComplianTV, this is due to the ‘motion lighting’ setting included in some Samsung TVs. Samsung vehemently denies this ‘motion lighting’ saying that it is not a method of cheating the consumption tests.

Typical results recognized during testing. Source
Typical results recognized during testing. Source

Not one to let a good controversy go to waste, the BBC reports a Samsung TV will reduce its power draw shortly after the start of the test. A graph of the power draw of a TV – not explicitly a Samsung television – demonstrating this functionality was found in a PDF of a ComplianTV workshop from last year labeled as, “Typical results recognized during testing” with a decrease in power consumption being a recognized behavior when the appropriate test video was found.

This is not the first time ComplianTV tested a Samsung TV equipped with a ‘motion lighting’ setting. Earlier this year, ComplianTV measured the power consumption of the Samsung UE55H8090 television, and found this TV was compliant with energy regulations. Incredibly, all Samsung TVs listed on the ComplianTV database were found to be compliant with the relevant energy directives.

Samsung’s rebuttal to the Guardian article states the ‘motion lighting’ technology is an ‘out of the box’ feature, active in both the lab and at home. Unlike Volkswagen’s ‘defeat device’ for their diesel engines which is only active during emissions testing, the ‘motion lighting’ technology is active whenever it is enabled in the TV’s settings menu.

Anyone in the US who has shopped for a television in the last four years will have noticed cost-per-year estimates for operating the appliance. This is only an issue if the televisions don’t actually meet that advertised benchmark. Until we see a published study we’re raising our eyebrows at The Guardian, easily one of the most trusted journalistic institutions on the planet, and reserving judgement for Samsung.

The Netflix and Chill Button

While the people at Netflix were busy killing weekends around the world with marathon viewings of 90s sitcoms, they also found time to release the Netflix Switch. It’s a small device with a single button that will control your TV, turn off the lights, and order a pizza. Remember, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

netflixThe Netflix Switch is a relatively simple device powered by a Particle Core, an Arduino-compatible development board with on-board WiFi. Also in this box is a LiPo battery, a few LEDs, and an IR transmitter that will send the same IR signal as the Netflix button on your TV remote, should your remote have a Netflix button.

In an unprecedented break from reality, this astute corporate branding of electronics tinkering also has design files, schematics, and real instructions that come along with it. Netflix released all of the mechanical files for their switch in Solidworks format; for the low, low price of only $4000 per Solidworks license, you too can Netflix and Chill.

Although Netflix’ implementation of tapping into a DIY electronics movement that has been around for 100 years is lacking, the spirit of the build is laudable. A single button connected to the Internet is a universal tool, and whether you want to order a pizza or make a ‘do not disturb’ button for your phone, the only limitation for the Netflix and Chill button is your imagination.