If you’ve watched any telly in the past few weeks then I’m sure you will have seen frequent adverts for the latest generation of on-demand services such as YouView, LoveFilm, Sky On-Demand, BT Vision, BBC iPlayer, etc. I get lots of questions about the performance of these services so I hope to clear up any confusion in this month’s column.
Many “Smart-TVs” and digital TV boxes and even DVD players are now being sold with streaming video services installed, and some older units are being upgraded in the background without your knowledge to support streaming. Almost all computers will also support Streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and 4OnDemand. Streaming media means that you can watch a program across the Internet , instead of watching it over the air or satellite while it’s being broadcast, and this means that you can choose what you watch and when.
A half-hour TV episode viewed via a Streaming service can be anywhere from 50MB to 500MB and this data enters your home via your Internet connection. A 500MB download would be an easy job for a fast business-class connection with a download time of about 5 minutes, and 500MB isn’t a problem either for homes located in big towns and especially towards the City Centre where the broadband is fast and reliable; but it’s common for our outlying villages and hamlets to be as low as 1 Mbps or 0.5 Mbps where a 500MB file could take more than 2 hours to download. And even worse, some rural broadband users have very unreliable connections which can drop for minutes at a time. This slow and erratic speed can mean that many users face the all-too-familiar “buffering” message while their program tries to download.
The BT Vision boxes, Sky+ Boxes and some Smart TVs have internal video storage which is capable of pre-fetching the program from the Internet in advance. This means that you could download it today or overnight and watch it tomorrow without any risk of buffering or interruption, but sadly the people with devices who don’t have this kind of storage will just have to hope for faster or more reliable broadband connection.
If you’ve got a PC, Mac or Tablet, then you should be able to watch the BBC iPlayer and other online services for free, and some of these services also offer a download feature so you can download the whole episode and watch it when you’re ready.
A slow or unreliable Internet connection isn’t the only bottle-neck that affects Streaming Media services. Often wireless signal strength can be guilty of poor bandwidth and many Smart TV suppliers will recommend only a wired/cabled connection for their services. If it’s possible to install a dedicated data cable from your router then this will give you the best possible connection but if this isn’t possible due to decoration or the position in the house then it may be possible to use an EoP (Ethernet over Power) system to get a wired connection to your TV or Computer. These types of devices are also useful for improving wireless coverage across your house. I keep Solwise kits in stock from £30, so if you’d like a quick survey to see if these devices could benefit you then please get in touch. I’ll talk about improving your broadband, home network and wireless connection in my next article.
Remember that any TV programs that you download via your Internet connection will count towards your monthly bandwidth allowance, so if you have a metered broadband service or AUP on your account then keep an eye on your usage, it’s easy to rack-up 10GB of downloads once you start watching films online.
I hope you find this information useful. If you would like to see particular subjects covered then please feel free to ask at www.alfindlay.com.
Windows 8 has been with us now for over a year and has had very mixed responses. It’s the biggest change in user-interface since Windows 95 was released and whilst Windows 95, 98, 2000 and XP were all seen as a great step forward at the time (let’s forget about Windows ME and Vista) sadly windows 8 has been considered a step back.
The major moaning point about Windows 8 is that the ‘Start Menu’ has been removed all together and replaced with the ‘Start Screen.’ The Start screen is laid out in tiles just like on the Windows ‘phones and this screen can be customised to give you useful live information (like news and shares) and quick access to your often used programs. Whilst the Start screen gives some great time-saving features, the layout is very different to what we’ve been used to for the last 18 years so it’s understandable that there has been some objection. The change had caused big problems with home users and businesses needing to retrain staff and re-issue manuals to help people adapt to the new interface.
Another major complaint is the ‘Microsoft Store’. This is Microsoft’s attempt to move towards a closed platform similar to Apple computers. The Microsoft Store is the only way to install programs onto a Windows 8 RT computer like the Surface Tablet and you can install third party applications on Windows 8 Pro computers but this is a good sign of the way things will be in the future.
If you buy a new PC today then Windows 8 is the only operating system available because Windows 7 has been officially discontinued to PC manufacturers. But some computers do still have ‘downgrade’ rights which allows a Support Engineer like me to install Windows 7 without any extra charge from Microsoft, so if you are buying a new computer and would prefer Windows 7 then check with the supplier about downgrade rights. I have a few business users who are persevering with Windows 8 but most are choosing to downgrade to windows 7 to be able to run their older business software and hardware which haven’t yet got upgrade options for Windows 8.
Office 2013 is not without its troubles too. The new Office platform is moving across to a ‘cloud’ computing model with default options to save into the Microsoft sky-drive cloud. Their application license is moving across to an annual subscription so in the future users may be faced with paying a yearly fee for use of programs instead of a one-off cost of purchasing the app. There is still the option to buy the application outright but the rumours say that the next version will be a ‘cloud’ only product like Adobe. We’ve been used to annual billing for AntiVirus software for many years now but will we be happy paying £100+ per year for software use?
But it’s not all doom-and-gloom; Microsoft have listened to the feedback over the last year and in the Windows 8.1 update (known as Windows Blue, due for release in late October 2013) they bring back a start button on the taskbar and also bring the option to view the Desktop instead of the Start screen when you boot up. There a numerous other changes planned too so we may see Windows 8 support and popularity rising. As more and more people start using Windows 8 and Office 2013 then Microsoft will get more feedback and hopefully make changes for the better.
If you’re antivirus is due for renewal soon then please get in touch, I’ve got Norton Internet Security in stock now: 1 year protection for up to 3 computers for £30, that’s only £10 each machine per year.
I hope you find this information useful. If you would like to see a particular subject covered then please feel free to ask at www.alfindlay.com.
Al Findlay | Freelance IT & AV Support Consultant | Website design and Hosting | www.AlFindlay.com | 01395 542500
I often get asked for ways to improve performance on older machines, so this month I’m going to discuss your options for speeding up or upgrading an older computer.
It’s a false myth that too many photos or songs on your computer will slow it down. In reality, you can have as many photos or movies or music files on your machine as you like and they will not have any effect on performance. But open programs will slow your computer down so if you have lots of programs running or loaded in the tray (down by the clock) then this will affect the speed of your machine. You need to keep a few GB of available space on your system drive for the swap file and temporary running storage but otherwise you can load-it-up
You may think that there are no programs running on your machine at all, but iTunes, Quicktime, Real Player, Adobe, Media Player and many other programs like this can add system services which are always running in the background using up valuable memory and CPU time. Even some hardware drivers like touchpads, webcams and sound cards have unnecessary utilities running that can slow down your machine.
The worst offenders are chat and voip programs like Skype, registry watchers and background backup utilities which I’ve seen consuming more than 50% of system resources. Trojan horse viruses too can have a horrendous impact on performance (as well as their other security issues). So keeping your computer clean of running programs is a very good first-step towards good performance. If your machine is not performing well then a computer specialist like me would be able to streamline your startup routine to improve performance.
Another way to help an older computer deal with modern life is a hardware upgrade. We’re living in frugal times so it isn’t always possible to replace computers every few years. A well-priced upgrade could mean delaying the purchase of a new system by a few years.
The Processor or CPU is the main chip in your computer which is responsible for almost everything. It is sometimes possible to upgrade your processor but these are often matched to your motherboard so unless your processor is at the bottom of its family scale you probably wouldn’t get a good improvement for the money. It’s also worth noting that the before the Intel ‘i’ chips came along in 2012, the core technology in processors hasn’t really changed in about 10 years; the Pentium 4 range has been with us since early 2002, so that means that a machine bought in 2012 with a P4 processor could be just as capable as a machine bought in 2005 with the same processor.
Memory or RAM is easily upgradable in most machines and a memory upgrade can give you a fantastic performance boost. 3 or 4 GB of ram is optimum in Windows XP machines or computers with a 32-bit operating system. 4GB or 6GB is normal in modern machines with 64-bit operating systems. You can check your current memory by right-clicking on ‘My Computer’ and selecting ‘Properties’. If you have under 2GB (or under 2048MB) of RAM then you would probably benefit from an upgrade.
I've had dozens of calls and emails over the last few days because of the recent emails sent out by BT. If you haven't already had the email then expect it soon:
BT have emailed all their email account holders to say that their BT-Yahool email accounts will be chargeable from 16th September 2013. They give you 3 options: if you are a current BT Broadband customer then you can keep the email address by linking it to your broadband account for free, or if you are not a BT Broadband customer then you can move back to using BT Broadband and you can then continue to use your email address for free. If you don't wish to use BT broadband or cannot change back to using BT Broadband because of your 3rd party contract then you can buy your BT-Yahoo account on a monthly basis at £1.60 p.m. Wow... £19.20 per year is quite steep for an email account that is included free with their Broadband services.
I'm sure that BT are profiting nicely from this new policy, with some people being unable or unwilling to part with their email addresses, so I expect that customers are migrating back to BT Broadband in their thousands, or parting with the monthly fees to keep access.
I'd like to offer you another option:
De-bundle your email address forever by signing up to my free email service
I'm offering free email accounts on one of my free email domains, totally free and it's yours forever too. I promise that you can keep the email address as long as you like and you can use it for business or pleasure. The only rules are: that the email account cannot be used for anything porn related, you cannot use them for spam or marketing emails or newsletters and you may not conduct any illegal activities using the account. The free accounts will have a storage limit of 400MB but you can upgrade to 2GB for £10 per year. Your address will have webmail functionality as well as full POP3/IMAP access and authenticated outgoing SMTP access. There is a basic calendar option on the webmail page. Mobile access is supported on any device which supports POP3 or IMAP and SMTP and you can also use a full-blown email client application for PC/Mac/Linux capable of POP3 or IMAP and SMTP. Business users often like Microsoft Outlook but there are good free alternatives such as Thunderbird and Windows Live Mail / Outlook Express
The choice of domains are as follows:
Obviously users from Ottery St Mary may prefer an ottmail.co.uk address, users in Sidmouth may prefer a sidmail.co.uk email address and users in Newton Poppleford may prefer a npop.co.uk or newtonpop.co.uk email address but there is no rules about which domain you can or cannot use so please feel free to choose. If you feel another domain should be added to the list to include another town or village then please register your interest by emailing me: Click Here
This project has been started a little early because of the bad-news from BT, so I'm still in the process of writing a registration and sign-up system but if you would like an email address straight away then please email me by clicking here or you can call me for more details. I will need to know your full real name and address, landline and mobile numbers and ideally an alternative email address.
If your Virus Protection system is due for renewal in the next few months then it's a good time to buy this product from Amazon. This special offer Norton Ineternet Security product is £23.99 so is a good price for just one PC but it's licensed for 3 PCs in total so if you've got a few other computers in the household then this is really good value for money at just under £8 per PC: