The perfect night in

With the winter nights at their longest, it’s the perfect time of year to stay in and watch a movie. These days all you need to watch the latest releases is a broadband connection and a tiny set-top box.

Apple TVIf you have an Apple iPad or iPhone, then the obvious choice is the Apple TV. This little black box costs £99 and connects to the Internet by wi-fi. Movies from Apple are a little bit pricey, but there is a good selection and you only pay for what you watch. There are also other TV services such as Netflix available on a subscription basis.

Roku screenIf you’re not an Apple person, then a better option might be Roku. These set-top boxes start at £50 and, in addition to Netflix and BBC iPlayer, offer Sky Movies for £9 a month with the Sky Sports channels on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Both Apple and Roku also let you play your own music, photos and home movies on your TV from your phone or tablet. However, if that sounds like a feature you’ll never use, then the best deal of all is Sky’s own Now TV box. This is actually last year’s Roku box with a few features stripped out. Unlike its rivals it’s not full HD, but it only costs £10, so you could have an Apple TV and a Now TV for the ultimate Now TVchoice of movies.

All of these options only stream content from the Internet. If you want to record your own programmes then you’ll need a bigger, more expensive set-top box such as YouView, which also gives you access to BT Sport.

Happy viewing!

Tops Tips 6 – Apple’s control centre

So which of you iPad and iPhone owners are using their Control Centre?

We thought so.

So, with a bit of downtime coming up later this month, we thought it would be useful to give you some top tips on how to use it.

The Control Centre is one of iOS7’s best features. It’s like the right click of your computer mouse: one swipe (even from a locked screen) and you are presented with a menu of everything you need most often.

Whatever screen you are in, you get to it the same way: just place your finger at the bottom middle of the screen – directly above the home button if your device is upright – and swipe upwards to reveal a screen that looks like this:photo-5

The Control Centre saves searching through endless menus to find what you need – here are a few of our favourite functions:

Airplane mode – turns off access to the outside world – including wi-fi and Bluetooth. Top tip: if your network is struggling, you can reset it by tapping the airplane mode to off and then on again.

Wi-fi – useful for saving battery life if you’re not in a wi-fi zone.

Bluetooth – connect to your car stereo or Bluetooth speakers. Switch off to save battery life.

Music controls – so you can pause, skip or simply see which track is playing without going to your music app.

iPhone control centre2AirPlay – the AirPlay icon appears when you have access to another AirPlay device – like an Apple TV or an AirPlay accessible speaker – switch it on and you can stream music or send photos or movies to your TV or speakers.

Timer – set it for anything up to 24 hours – use it to remind you to baste the turkey.

Camera – the one we use most often, this opens the camera straight away, so you can grab that action shot before it’s too late.

There are other functions you can access from the Control Centre which you may find useful – why not test the Do Not Disturb switch after your Christmas lunch?

 

Happy New Mac

or should that be PC on earth?

mac vs pcWith the festive season upon us, the question we are being asked is, should we buy an Apple Mac or a PC.

Ask this question of a computer person and you’re likely to get a black and white answer: it’s all a bit tribal. Mac fans will quote “once you’ve gone Mac, you’ll never go back”. PC and Windows fans see Mac as being a bit limited and a triumph of style over substance.

Of course the real answer is that both have their merits and your choice depends on what you need the computer for and how much you can afford.

ipad and iphoneIf you’re new to computers, and you want something simple to set up and use, a Mac is ideal, especially if you’ve already got iPhones or iPads in your house. It’s easy to learn the systems and Apple send out regular updates to keep your computer current. And everything will play nicely together.

Similarly, if you need to sort out a mass of photos, movies and music, a Mac comes with pre-installed, lifestyle-focused software made by Apple (iLife), and it all works perfectly, straight out of the box.

On the other hand, most of us grew up using a PC and if that’s what you’re used to, there are lots of great options, at a wide range of prices. If all you want is something to browse the Internet and send a few emails, you can pick up a PC for around £250. However, you’ll need to add extra for some bundled software (like Microsoft Office at around £70) and anti-virus software is recommended too – and that’s where it can start to get a bit Vaiocomplicated.

If you quite like the complication and you prefer to have the freedom to choose your own software then you’re a PC person.

It would be easy to sit on the fence, but that doesn’t really help anyone. So we’d say that if you’re after a cheap option with the minimum amount of fuss, go for an entry-level PC. Or choose a powerful PC if you have high-end computing requirements, such as our Kodak photo scanner that only runs with Windows. For everything in between, we would recommend a Mac.