Picross: My Recent Obsession


I adore puzzle games. From classics such as Tetris to more recent games like Pushmo and Professor Layton; I just can’t get enough. Whether it be games with simple mechanics or ones with involved, complicated rules that really make you think, there is nothing more satisfying as finally working out a puzzle after working on it for up to an hour or more.


10 years and 150,000 Scrobbles Later


I signed up for Last.fm in 2016 and have just hit 150,000 scrobbles (track plays). This works out to just about 40 songs played per day, which seems like a lot to me.  During the 10 years I have been on Last.fm my music taste has changed a fair amount and I have discovered heaps of new artists and genres to listen to.


Making a Cork Mat for Your Record Player



Most record players when purchased tend to come with a flimsy mat. When I purchased my Pro-Ject Debut III it came with a thin fabric one that just loved to leave dust and fibres on all the records it touched, not to mention the increased static. Upon searching for a suitable replacement many people on forums and reddit recommended a cork mat. Not only does it not attract a static charge but apparently it can also enhance the sound of your player. Curious I looked up on Amazon, eBay and others to find one to purchase. Pro-Ject sells their own one for £20, with many other companies asking similar prices. Cork is hardly an expensive material so I decided to make my own.


HD on the cheap: why HD-DVDs are a great way to boost your film collection


Back when I started buying movies on Blu-ray I purchased an internal drive to be able to rip them to my hard drive. The one that I purchased, the LG GGC-H20L, is not only capable of reading Blu-ray but also HD-DVD discs.

For those unaware HD-DVD lost out to Blu-ray and was quickly phased out. Stores heavily discounted players and titles to make more space for the winning format, they were practically given away. People who amassed large collections of HD-DVDs were stuck with a dead format that was next to worthless. Nowadays you can pick up titles for a fraction of what they would cost on Blu-ray, even though most of the time they look and sound near identical. But because nobody wants them anymore they can be had for dirt cheap and are a great way of boosting your film collection.


Turning a Cheap PC Into Your Very Own Home Media Center


I have never been satisfied with media center devices. Whether it be something straightforward as a Chromecast or a Roku set-top box, there have always been compromises to be had. The main negative of such devices is that most seriously lack codec support for popular file types. Most support the basics, such as h.264 and mp3. But what if you want to play a Blu-Ray rip? Nope, not possible (at least not without encoding/transcoding it first).

This is not to say that all standalone media devices aren’t worth your time. Western Digital make some pretty decent boxes that support all sorts of codecs and a lot of recent smart televisions can play most media files outright. What is the benefit on building a HTPC then? Customisability and performance.

With a HTPC you can adjust it to your needs. From bluetooth remotes to custom interfaces, a properly configured HTPC will make it easy for the whole family to use and it’ll flawlessly play everything you throw at it. For these reasons alone I decided to invest in what will hopefully by my media center for the next 5-10 years.

Are there any downsides? Well, if you are reliant on streaming services such as Netflix, iPlayer and Hulu then a HTPC won’t be the only device you will need to have hooked up. While you can use these sites via a web browser it is less than ideal and in fact a hassle to have to switch away from your media player. Not very user friendly, especially if you don’t have a keyboard and mouse handy. Luckily I still have my Chromecast.

First off, the hardware. This is up to you, but generally you are going to want something small with a low power consumption. So small that you can perhaps hide it in a cupboard near your television. A popular route to go is the Intel NUCs. One thing to bear in mind with these is that you have to add your own memory and SSD/HDD. A Chromebox is also a viable option. You could even repurpose an old unused desktop computer. Personally, I went with the Acer Revo One. Due to a great deal I found during Black Friday and the more than capable specs I knew that this would be more than adequate for my media center.

Jump forward a few days and I had it in my hands. As the system already had Windows pre-installed there was no real need to install a different operating system. If your HTPC does not come with Windows then OpenELEC is a great free alternative. Once the system was all setup I could finally install Plex Media Server (PMS) and Plex Home Theater (PHT). PMS will manage our library and PHT will provide us with a clean interface to browse and play from the server. The setup procedure is straightforward and Plex have some fantastic guides on how to get started. With PMS you can browse your content on all devices connected to the local network, Plex even has a feature to allow you to remotely access your media.


Making adjustments to PMS is painless from a browser.

Depending on your hardware and operating system you may need to fiddle with settings to get a perfect setup. I initially had a problem where the screen would flicker, turns out putting the app in fullscreen fixed it.

Plex is a joy to use, its simple and intuitive. With a modern UI it is also great to look at, and there are plenty of 3rd party skins you can download if you ever want to try something else. My HTPC came with a remote and Plex recognised it straight away. For users without a remote the mobile apps are a fantastic alternative. A popular solution is Flirc, a small IR receiver that you can use with almost any standard television remote.



My prefered way of selecting media!


Here are some tips for Windows users on how to get a totally seamless experience:

  • Make sure that Windows only updates when you won’t be using it, 3-6am is a great time to use.
  • Close (or uninstall) unneeded programs. The less running the smoother your HTPC will run.
  • Set Plex to start on boot.
  • Allow Windows to login without needing a password.

HTPCs can now be small, sleek and affordable devices. A must for users with a large local media library. For more information on Plex, you can visit their website.