Chromecast, modern DVD apps, and iPhone status
Bob's Tech Talk
March 1, 2021 | View PDF
Q. What is the best way to dip my toes into the world of streaming TV?
A. Many TVs have built-in streaming support for one or two services. If you have a TV like that, I would start there.
However, if you want to explore the endless buffet menu of online streaming services, I recommend a Chromecast with Google TV. There are several different Chromecast digital media players, but the only one worth considering is the newest model. It sells for about $50 and comes with a remote control.
What sets the Chromecast apart from its competitors is the user interface, which is a fancy way of saying the part of the product that you interact with. In this case, that is the screen menu and the remote control.
The Chromecast remote is simple and elegant. The screen menus are reasonable and fairly easy to understand.
The features include more than internet streaming. Chromecast works with Google Photos to present slideshows, and it will stream video from any Android or iPhone to your TV.
Streaming services are chaotic. Some services are bundles that look a lot like traditional cable bundles. Other services are giant libraries of movies and TV shows, often mixed with newly produced content.
Chromecast lets you pick the pieces you want, without an expensive hardware purchase. And today, that makes Chromecast the best choice to explore streaming media.
Q. After upgrading to Windows 10 I can no longer play DVDs with my laptop. How can I use my computer to play DVDs again?
A. I remember the 1990s when playing a DVD on my laptop felt like magic. No longer chained to the living room TV, I felt like I was living in the future.
Well, now we all live in the future, and most new computers do not handle DVDs very well. Default installations of operating systems no longer include a utility app to play DVDs. Hardware that supports DVDs has disappeared from many laptop models in the rush to build smaller and lighter devices.
The easiest option for Windows 10 users is to click over to the Microsoft online store and plunk down $14.99 for the Windows DVD Player from Microsoft.
But the best option is to check out a longstanding free application called VLC Media Player by VideoLAN Corp.
VLC is a Swiss Army knife of media software. The app is available for free on every major platform, and it can play just about any media file format imaginable. VLC is listed in most app stores, or point your web browser to http://www.videolan.org and click the download button.
VLC is one of those handy utilities that works almost every time. It deserves a spot on any computer that needs to play media.
Q. Sometimes I see a small green or orange dot near the top right of my iPhone screen. What does that mean?
A. Those tiny colored dots appear whenever the camera or microphone is in use. The camera displays a green dot, the microphone displays an orange dot.
The tiny hardware status dots are not the same as the large colored buttons that occasionally appear near the top left on the screen. They indicate background activities such as phone calls in progress or an active navigation session.
These new hardware indicators were added as part of a renewed focus on privacy. Without the indicators it was possible to quietly abuse the microphone and camera. Now, whenever any app is listening or looking through the camera, you will know it.
When a dot is visible, swipe down to open the Control Center and the app name will appear at the top of the screen.
You can disable any app from using the camera and microphone with a trip to the Settings screen. Tap Settings -> Privacy -> Microphone (or Camera) and revoke the app’s privileges by tapping the switch next to its name.
The more powerful our pocket supercomputers become, the more vigilant we have to be to ensure no one abuses that power.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:
The ultimate index of phobias and fears covers everything from Arachnophobia to Xenophobia. A fascinating dive into the human mind.
Twenty-five years of stories about people for whom a little fear might have saved them from a terrible fate. http://www.darwinawards.com
Flashbak is an iconic collection of vintage photos and postcards from the mid-20th century. http://www.flashbak.com
Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.