12 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Your Streaming Devices

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iStock

With the emergence of streaming devices, getting your favorite content from the internet to your TV is getting easier every day. Although Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV dominate the market, even regular users aren't always getting the most out of their electronics. Here are 12 things you didn’t know you could do with your streaming devices.

1. ACCESS SECRET CHANNELS ON ROKU. 

While there are thousands of streaming channels available through Roku’s channel store, there are hundreds more available through private channels, which are streaming apps that Roku doesn’t make available publicly. Installing private channels isn’t as easy as getting channels from Roku directly, but there is an easy workaround for those who want more streaming options. 

First, look for a private channel you would like to install. There are a number of databases online like MKVxStream and StreamFree.tv that have lists of private channels that are worth your time and attention. Once you've found one you want, log into your account on Roku’s website. Under "Manage Account" look for “Add Channel With a Code.” Each private channel has a special code to enter.

For example: “Nowhere TV” is a great resource to watch videos from the Internet Archive and select podcasts on your Roku. Its private channel code is “H9DWC.” Enter the code and within 24 to 36 hours, the private channel will be added to your homepage on your Roku player.

2. MIRROR YOUR CHROME BROWSER OR DESKTOP TO CHROMECAST.

There are a few ways to cast your browser on a big screen TV, but the easiest is already built into Chrome and YouTube. You just have to set your computer and Chromecast to the same internet network. Go to Chrome’s menu options and select “Cast.” After you select the device that you want to cast, select “Tab” or “Desktop” to cast on a TV. If you’re using YouTube, just look for the Chromecast icon in any video’s control panel. This feature is great for presentations and parties, or if you just want to show a friend a funny cat video.

3. CONNECT TO APPLE TV VIA BLUETOOTH.


Apple

Unlike most streaming devices, Apple TV has accessible Bluetooth connectivity built in out-of-the-box, so you can connect a wireless keyboard, headphones, speakers, or game controllers. Simply pair a device under the “Settings” option and “Remotes and Devices.” It comes in handy for quicker searching, or if you don’t want to disturb the people around you while you’re watching a loud movie. Check out a list of quick keyboard shortcuts below:

F3: Switch apps

F4: Go to Home screen

F7: Rewind

F9: Fast forward 

F8 or Spacebar: Play or Pause

F11: Decrease volume

F12: Increase volume  

4. ENABLE INSTANT REPLAY ON ROKU.

Huh? What did he say? You know when you’re watching a TV show or a movie and you just didn’t catch the last line a character said. Well, you can easily go back a few seconds and have the closed caption subtitles appear on the screen with just one click on your remote. To enable instant replay, go to “Settings,” then “Captions,” and then “Instant Replay.”

5. GIVE HOUSEGUESTS ACCESS TO CHROMECAST.


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If you’re having a party and you want your guests to play music or a video from their device, they can access your Chromecast without having access to your home’s Wi-Fi network. It’s a feature called “Guest Mode” in Chromecast that you have to enable, so your guests can keep the party going. 

Here’s how to turn it on: Fire up the Chromecast/Google Home app on your smartphone, then select the device you want to enable. Go to “Settings” and tap “Guest Mode” to turn it on. Now your guests can cast media from their smartphones to your TV without a Wi-Fi password. 

6. WATCH LIVE TV ON AN APPLE TV.

There are a few ways to watch live TV through your Apple TV. If you have a cable subscription, you can sign into your account to watch channels via app with “Single Sign-on” built-in to Apple TV. Once signed in, you can ask Siri to tune in live by saying “Hey Siri! Watch ESPN Live.” Apple TV will then load a live stream of ESPN. “Live Tune-In” works with a number of channel apps, such as CBS, Disney Channel, FXNOW, and CNN Go. You can also use your Apple TV to rewind and pause live TV with HDHomeRun, a flat HD antenna to pick up over-the-air channels, and the Channel app.

7. FIND HIDDEN SCREENS ON ROKU BY USING REMOTE CODES.

There are a few hidden menus buried inside of every Roku player that allow its users to find analytics and other Wi-Fi settings. These menus can be accessed through your remote control with a series of codes. Think of this as Roku’s version of the Konami/Contra Code. Be warned: These hidden menus are for the nerdiest of Roku enthusiasts.

To reboot your Roku, press the Home button five times, and then Up, the Rewind (RW) button twice, and then Fast Forward (FF) twice.

To see your Wi-Fi signal strength, press the Home button five times, and then Up, Down, Up, Down, Up on the D-pad. Now you can see if your Roku player has a strong enough connection for HD streaming. Your Roku should be using 3GB per hour when streaming HD content, according to Netflix.

To access the antenna menu to optimize Wi-Fi, press Home five times, and then FF, Down, RW, Down, FF.

To see or change your streaming bit rate, press Home five times, and then RW three times and FF twice.

To see the channel info menu, press Home three times, and then Up twice, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left on the D-pad.

To put your Roku in developer mode, press Home three times, and then Up twice, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right.

To remove auto-pair for a remote or cycle a banner ad, press Home five times, and then Up, Right, Down, Left, Up.

To factory reset (at your own risk), press Home five times, and then press FF three times, and press RW twice.

8. USING CHROMECAST TO WATCH 3D 'VIRTUAL REALITY' WITHOUT A VR HEADSET.

If you want to experience virtual reality, but don’t own an Oculus Rift, you can use a Chromecast on a 3D TV. Just download the Google Cardboard app, mirror your phone to your 3D TV, and set it to SBS (side-by-side) mode. Now use the 3D glasses that came with your TV to experience an immersive world in your living room.

9. USE A UNIVERSAL REMOTE.


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If your living room is cluttered with a lot of remotes for your TV, Blu-ray player, DVR, stereo system, and Apple TV, you can actually use any infrared (IR) universal remote to consolidate all your home entertainment devices into one remote to rule them all. Instead of programming a cumbersome and long code, your Apple TV can “learn” to sync with your remote. First go to “Settings” on your Apple TV, and then “Remotes and Devices,” and finally “Learn Remote.” Simply press the Up button on the universal remote’s D-pad when prompted until the blue progress bar is full. Do the same action for the remaining five directions, Down, Left, Right, Select, and Menu, and you’re all set.

Alternatively, you can also use an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch as a remote too!

10. USE YOUR PHONE AS A KEYBOARD OR HEADPHONES.

If you own a Roku player, then its companion smartphone app is a must to get the most out of your device. It features voice search and a virtual QWERTY keyboard for any Roku player, so the days of mind-numbingly hunting and pecking through Roku’s built-in alphabet keyboard are over. You can even add or remove channels from your phone, while also mirroring your music, videos, and photos on your mobile device. Just make sure the app and the device are on the same home Wi-Fi network.

The app also features Private Listening, which gives you the ability to use headphones while watching anything streaming on your Roku Streaming Stick, so instead of the sound coming out of your TV, it will just come out of your smartphone. Now you can watch TV at night without disturbing your partner while he or she is trying to sleep.

11. BRING IT ALONG TO YOUR HOTEL ROOM.


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Chromecast is a very portable streaming device that just needs an HDMI port and internet access to work. It’s a good option to bring with you if you’re staying in a hotel. However, most hotel rooms don’t let you access the internet due to the Chromecast’s lack of web browser. There are a few easy workarounds to sign in and allow you to watch Netflix or HBO Now on your hotel room’s big screen TV after you plug the Chromecast into its HDMI port.

A good and reliable travel router can connect your hotel’s internet to a Chromecast via laptop or smartphone. It will create a separate IP address to make it easier to connect, although they do generally require the hotel to have an ethernet port. If you don’t want to invest in a travel router, there are a few free solutions for streaming connectivity.

Software like Connectify Hotspot or MyPublicWiFi for PC will turn your laptop into a mobile hotspot for free. Just download the software and create a new hotspot. Then connect your Chromecast to the hotspot for access. For Mac, sharing an internet connection is built into Mac OS under “System Preferences” and “Sharing.” Once your laptop is sharing its Wi-Fi, you can easily connect a Chromecast and enjoy episodes of Stranger Things on the road.

12. USE THE TASK MANAGER TO TROUBLESHOOT PROBLEMS.

Much like any iPhone, iPad, or MacBook, apps in Apple TV can sometimes get glitchy or unresponsive. Instead of rebooting the entire device to make it run smoothly again, you can simply use the task manager built into tvOS and swipe away the buggy app. Once you’re on the home screen, simply double-tap the home button on the Apple TV remote to bring up the task manager. Once fired up, you can quickly switch between apps or kill apps with a swipe. Press the Menu button to exit. Now your channel apps will be running more smoothly.

10 Simple Tricks for Charging Your Smartphone Faster

Makidotvn, iStock via Getty Images
Makidotvn, iStock via Getty Images

Smartphones always seem to reach low power at the least convenient moments possible. If you've ever urged your device to charge faster in the minutes before a phone interview or when you're about to board a plane, you can relate. While the easiest way to avoid this scenario is to plug in your device before the battery dips into the danger zone, if you've already reached this point, there are simple ways to speed up the charging process.

Some hacks for charging a phone faster involve steps you can take in anticipation of the next time you're surviving on minimum energy. Certain gadgets, like special chargers and battery packs, will power-up your device more efficiently than others. For moments when your phone is dying and all you have is your regular charging cable, adjusting your phone's settings to minimize the power it consumes also works in a pinch.

You can find some specific ways to charge your phone quickly below: 

  1. Plug it into a wall outlet instead of a USB port.
  1. Use a portable battery pack.
  1. Buy a special "fast" phone charger.
  1. Switch to low power mode.
  1. Switch to airplane mode.
  1. Let your phone drain completely on its own once a month to the extend the battery life.
  1. Close any background apps.
  1. Stop automatic app updates.
  1. Don't check your phone while it's charging
  1. Keep your phone out of the heat.

For more tricks for making your phone usage more efficient, check out these tips for typing faster.

Does Pushing the Button at a Crosswalk Actually Do Anything?

Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
David Tran/iStock via Getty Images

Since crosswalk signals rarely seem to give you the green light (or more accurately, the white, human-shaped light) right after you press the button, you may find yourself wondering if those buttons actually work. The potentially exasperating answer is this: It depends.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that crosswalk buttons aren’t designed to have an immediate effect; they’re just supposed to tell the system that a person is waiting to cross. As CityLab explained, some systems won’t ever give pedestrians the crossing signal unless someone has pressed the button, while others are programmed to shorten the wait time for walkers when the button has been pressed. No matter what, the system still has to cycle through its other phases to give cars enough time to pass through the intersection, so you’ll probably still have to stand there for a moment.

During busy traffic times or under other extenuating circumstances, however, cities can switch the system to what’s known as “recall mode,” when pedestrian crossings are part of the cycle already and pressing the button quite literally changes nothing. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a particular button is in recall mode, short of calling your city officials and asking an expert to come inspect it.

But if you feel like a button isn’t doing anything, there’s a pretty good chance it’s been permanently deactivated. As congestion has increased and the systems to manage it have become more advanced over the years, cities have moved away from using crosswalk buttons at all. In 2018, for example, CNN reported that only around 100 of New York City’s 1000 buttons were still functioning. Since actually removing the buttons from crosswalks would be a costly endeavor, cities have opted to leave them intact, just waiting to be pummeled by impatient pedestrians who don’t know any better.

What about 'close door' buttons on elevators, you ask? That depends, too.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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