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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Staying Connected to Your Kids : A Guide To Surviving College, Part 1

By Agent Kate B

It’s been happening all over the country the last couple of weeks – parents wondering how to stay in touch with their kids now that they have left home for school or a job. Although it can feel scary at times, here are some tips on using tech to stay connected.

 

Phone
If you don’t know how to use your cell phone to send a text or receive a picture, you might want to sit down with a phone specialist and learn how. Short texts and pictures can be sent through the cellular phone network even when no internet connection is available. These brief messages, pictures of a loved one or favorite pet from home can do a lot to brighten the spirit of a kid who might be a little homesick.

Video Conferencing
If you’re not close enough to visit, you can use your computer and webcam to video-chat with your child using video conferencing applications like Google+ (pronounced Google Plus) hangouts, Skype or Facetime. Most of the video-chat applications allow users to chat using mobile devices like a smartphone or tablet, making them even more convenient for family get-togethers. You could even set up your own video conference so that grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, siblings and others can join in and have a big group meeting on special occasions. Using this connectivity, your child won’t miss Grandma’s birthday celebration even though she won’t be able to make it back home for the event.

Emails
The great things about email is its versatility – messages can be short or long, include pictures or other attachments, and are often transmitted free to an Internet connection anywhere in the world. You can even send email from apps on your phone. Have a talk with your child before she goes off to school to find out what email address she wants you use and how often she plans to check that account. It is likely that she has a number of email accounts and having some understanding of how she uses them will help you understand what to expect in terms of return mail from her. One of the greatest benefits of communicating through email as opposed to regular mail is that it is fast and it is free.

Letters and Care Packages
Technology is great for helping keep us connected to our children who have gone out into the world, but nothing beats the excitement of opening up a package from home. There’s also something to be said about opening an envelope to find a hand written note from mom or dad with a drawing from a little brother. If you like, you can even use online retailers to send picture post cards, or themed care baskets and packages to your child for exams, holidays or special occasions. Throwing in a gift card for groceries or gas never hurts either. Including a self-addressed, stamped envelope, could be just the hint needed to get her to write you back.

Social Media
If your child is old enough to be leaving home, it is likely she has a social media account through Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google+, StumbleUpon, or Pinterest. “Following” or “friending” your child can help you stay up-to-date on what your child is doing and the things that interest her. Following your child on social media can open up avenues for conversation and help you stay connected. But don’t be surprised if your child chooses not to accept your friend request or blocks you from seeing some activities. Some young people might not be comfortable with Mom liking or commenting on every post on Facebook, or Dad being able to sift through a photo blog of activities and online life on Instragram. If your child does allow you to follow or friend, be conscious that the responses you make to pictures, comments, or posts are often visible to others as well. If you want to stay connected in this way, it’s usually a good idea to keep most of your comments to yourself.

Letting go of your child who is growing up and moving out may be hard, but technology allows you to stay in touch easier than ever before. If possible, communicate with your child beforehand to determine what methods each of you is most comfortable with. Send a text message each day for encouragement, or set up times to face-to-face chat through Skype on a set day and time each week.

And try to send a care package occasionally via snail mail. Don’t forget that no technology replaces a real life, in-person visit and hug!

Covert Defender Kate B. reports from a super-secret location as part of the Geek Squad Online Remote Support Quality Assurance Team and leads Geek Squad’s Yahoo! Answers Partnership.

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Categories: Computing | Culture | Facebook | How To | Tablet

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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How to Prep Your Smartphone for Trade-In

By Agent Derek M

Looking to upgrade your old smartphone by exchanging it with your service provider, trading it in at a local retailer, or handing it down to a friend or family member? You probably don’t want to hand over your data, pics, music or apps with it. Here are three steps you’ll want to take before giving your phone to someone else.

 

1. Back Up Your Data – You may already have your phone setup to automatically sync to an online service like iCloud or your Google account. We have learned you can never be too careful with data and think it’s a good idea to make a manual backup of the data on your phone as well. You can create a backup using the tools provided by your phone’s manufacturer, such as Apple’s iTunes, Samsung’s Kies, or the Windows Phone Desktop App.

2. Perform a Factory Reset – The reset will wipe the phone, deleting your personal data and any apps you’ve installed. It will also reset the phone back to its default state. Each operating system handles this a little differently:

  • Android – Before resetting your phone, it’s a good idea to encrypt your data if you haven’t already. To do this, go to “Settings,” select “Security,” then “Encrypt phone.” Once the process is complete, go back to “Settings”, select “Backup & Reset,” then “Factory data reset.”
  • iPhone – For iOS devices, go to “Settings,” select “General,” then “Reset.” From there, select “Erase All Content and Settings.”
  • Windows Phone – Go to the App list and select “Settings.” Next, you will select “About,” then “Reset your phone.” You’ll then select “Yes” in answer to the warnings about data loss (you did back your data up, right?). This will reset your phone to the settings it had when it came from the factory.

3. Change Account Passwords – For extra protection, change important passwords (e.g., your Apple or Google account) that you may have saved to your smartphone. The factory reset of the phone should remove any saved passwords along with your data, but we recommend clients take this extra precaution. You may also want to ensure that your phone is removed from any services, like Find My iPhone via icloud.com, or as part of the two-factor authorization in your Google Account if you set it up.

Once you complete these three steps, your phone will be ready to safely leave your possession.

For more help with this, see the Tech Tip titled Backing Up Mobile Devices on our main site.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

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Categories: Computing | Smartphone

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Friday, August 8, 2014

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How to Turn Your Cellphone into a TV Remote

By Agent Gernbacher

Cellphone app developers are our heroes. Their whole purpose in life is to take one of the most useful devices ever manufactured and figure out a way to add functionality. They are the people who put power in our pockets.

It used to be that you could use your cellphone to make a phone call, tell the time and maybe send a text. Now, thanks to app developers, you can use your phone as a metal detector, a Tricorder (yes, a Star Trek Tricorder ), a guitar tuner, a level, car finder, metronome and currency exchange calculator. Talk about multi-functional! With the optics provided by the camera, the input flexibility of the screen and the device’s location/orientation sensors, your average smartphone can do a lot of things. All it needs is the right piece of code. Which is where the app developers come in.

One of the handiest apps that we constantly use in our house is one that turns my phone into a TV remote control. With two preschool-aged sons, keeping track of the remote is even harder than it used to be. But since I always have my phone in my pocket, having it double as a remote is a huge time saver when we finally get a chance to sit down and watch some TV after we wrangle the boys to bed.

Agent Emily H. and I recently put together a video showing how to turn your Samsung cellphone into a TV remote. If you have as much trouble keeping track of that remote as we do in our house, you might want to check this out.

Watch other “How-to” videos on our YouTube channel

Agent Gernbacher has been wrangling misbehaving and unruly Home Theater, PC, and Car Audio technology for the last 15 years. When he is not out saving the world as a Secret Weapon for the Geek Squad, he is preparing his little ones to take over the world, making people laugh with his ridiculous eyebrows and personality, pretending to moonlight as a chef or raging to whatever sounds he can find on the Internet.


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Categories: Home Theater | Smartphone

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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Best Buy Honchos Visit Minneapolis Geek Squad Academy Camp

By Agent Tanya B.

As anyone who has worked at a Geek Squad Academy Camp will tell you, it is sometime pretty hard to get the campers to take a break from their projects and focus on something besides Lego robots or game programming for a few minutes.

It is always fun to watch the kids dig into their work at the camps, to see them become absorbed in the problems they are trying to solve and work together to create solutions they are proud to show off. Because all the camp instructors are Agents, we know the absorbing nature of tech work. It’s fun to give the Junior Agents tools with which they can feed the tech appetites.

So it was a little challenging when we asked the participants in the camp we held at the Minneapolis Public Library a while back to put down their work for a second and give some attention to some older people who came by to see what they were doing. Best Buy CEO Hubert Jolly, Best Buy’s President of Services Chris Askew and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges stopped by the recent Minneapolis camp to chat with the participants and get a look at the projects they were starting. The Best Buy leaders and Minneapolis Mayor spent a few hours observing the camp sessions and shared lunch with the campers.

“It is humbling and inspiring,” Chris Askew said, reflecting on his visit, “to be around a group of young people so engaged in discovering the possibilities of technology. Our Agents do such a good job showing the campers how it’s cool to be a Geek.”

A good time was had by all. And the campers didn’t seem all that upset by the interuption.

Hubert Jolly, Chris Askew and Mayor Hodges with Academy campers.

Special guests posing with the camp instructors: Mayor Hodges is in front of Chris Askew (left) and Hubert Jolly (right)

Go to the StarTribune website to read an article about the camp.

More information about Geek Squad Academy is available at the camp website.

Agent Tanya B. has been a woman of technology since 2009. When she steps away from her role maintaining the Geeksquad.com website, Tanya is either at the gym, walking her dog, or gaming with the other Agent B. Having moved to corporate from Florida last spring, she’s trying really hard to not complain about the cold too much.

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Categories: Culture | Home Remedies | News and Events

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Monday, July 14, 2014

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Our Birthday Celebration Continues at the NY Stock Exchange

By Agent Tanya B.

In honor of Geek Squad’s 20th birthday, Commissioner Chris Askew, a number of Agents from across the country and a couple of Best Buy Blueshirts rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday, July 14.

 

The Agents and Blueshirts were invited to join Chris at the NYSE in recognition of their outstanding customer service and commitment to maintain the highest standards of Geek Squad’s brand and culture. Chief Inspector Michael Sherwood and Deputy Commissioner Ronnie Hill also made the trip out to Wall Street with the crew to ring in the new trading day. Chris and team had a great time and were honored to oversee the beginning of a new week at the most important financial center in the free world.


Front row, left to right: Double Agent Lindsey Schnase from Bismarck, ND, Agent Rebecca Waller from Minneapolis, MN,Blue Shirt Milana Shakhnazaryan from New York City, Chris Askew, Precinct Agent Cody Halvorson from Reno, NV, Blue Shirt Regina Barresi from New York City, Covert Agent Cheryl Dorgan from Long Island, NY. Back row: Agent Shawn Hinton from Chino, CA, Ronnie Hill, New York Stock Exchange official, Agent Kaleb Pfaff from Olathe, KS, Michael Sherwood, Agent Cody Parker from Minneapolis, MN.

Check out the video of Monday’s Geek Squad ringing the opening bell on the NYSE YouTube channel.

Agent Tanya B. has been a woman of technology since 2009. When she steps away from her role maintaining the Geeksquad.com website, Tanya is either at the gym, walking her dog, or gaming with the other Agent B. Having moved to corporate from Florida last spring, she’s trying really hard to not complain about the cold too much.

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Categories: Computing | Data | Facebook | Technology

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

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20-Year Ride to Excellence

By Agent Williams

My, how time flies when you’re having fun.

Seems like only yesterday Geek Squad was just a small band of irreverent technophiles making one little corner of the world free from techno-stress. Then we wake up and realize it’s our 20th birthday. Whoa!

Twenty years is a long time – especially in technology.

 

Consider that in 1994:

  • Yahoo! was created.
  • Netscape released its first graphical browser.
  • Sony introduced the Playstation video game console.
  • Microsoft released the Windows 3.11 operating system.
  • 3.5 inch floppy disks (holding 1.44 MB) were the data transfer medium of choice.
  • Though there were alternatives (plasma, LCD and projection TVs), the overwheming majority of TVs in circulation were cathode ray tubes.
  • Cell phones were shaped like those walkie-talkies you see in old WWII movies.

Geek Squad was started by a University of Minnesota student who rode a bicycle around campus to fix computers and earn extra cash. Focused on being early for appointments, flat-rate pricing, explaining things in simple terms and solving the root issue, that student – Robert Stephens – quickly had a growing business. He attracted clients by making tech support accessible, turning the uniforms, the vehicles, and the persona of Geek Squad “Agents” into a brand the endures to this day.

As we grew to 30-odd “Agents” covering Minneapolis-St. Paul – with offshoots in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago – we caught the eye of Best Buy. And in 2002, when a Minnesota test pilot demonstrated how a strong “client-focused” repair experience could improve customer satisfaction, Geek Squad “acquired” Best Buy. (Or maybe it was the other way around.)

Just two years later, Geek Squad computer support rolled out to all Best Buy store “Precincts” in the U.S. and Canada, and later to European markets, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. We gained notoriety by meeting the needs of normal human beings and of celebrity clients like U2 and The Rolling Stones. We were also blessed with coverage by national news media like Time, Newsweek and CBS 60 Minutes.


The original Geekmobile and OG Agents. Left to Right: Nate Bauer, Markus Foster, Jason Negard, Ryan Smith,
Jack Fischer, Darby Ballis, Lee Rocchio. Inside the car: Michael Sherwood and Ron Gabrielson.

Currently 21,000+ strong, our expertise has expanded well beyond computer diagnostics and repair. We have added skilled Autotechs (mobile installation), Geek Squad Repair Agents (repair services) and Installers (Home Theater installation). Our computer repair capabilities gave rise to a 240,000 square foot computer repair facility – Geek Squad City – in Louisville, Ky. And with the advent of Geek Squad Online Support’s “Covert Ops” team, clients now how the option of getting help from the comfort of their homes.

But credit for the growth of Geek Squad really belong to the front line – the Agents. Our Agents are a unique breed. We recruit for three core attributes (curiosity, ethics and drive), along with strong people skills and technical brilliance. And it shows in the Agents. With an intense focus on delivering an exemplary experience, they look beyond surface issues to help clients make the most of their technology.

As we celebrate our 20th birthday, let’s tip our hats to the Agents who are out there making it happen every day. Where would we be without them?

Agent Williams joined the ranks of Geek Squad in 2007, earning the badge number #13337 and the alias “Agent Leeet Sauce”. Now Agent Williams protects the internetz from the Geek Squad Magic Castle. When he’s not policing unruly technology (or eating cookies) he can be found making music, chasing down his badge (it’s been on a trip to the stratosphere) or riding his imaginary pet unicorn.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

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The Hard Drive: Cleaning and Defragmenting (Part 2 of 2)

By Agent Ryan G

In this second post in our series about hard drives, we discuss what computer users need to do to keep the heart and soul of their computers in good shape.

 

In our experience, drive failure is one of the most common reasons why computers stop working. Like most machines, the hard drive in your computer can be damaged by mishandling or poor maintenance.  Taking the proper steps (listed below) will go a long way toward helping keep your computer in good working condition.

Maintaining Your Drive

Hard drives are one of the few mechanical parts of your computer. While most drives are pretty well sealed, keeping your computer in clean, dust-free areas – especially when it is running – definitely will help keep your machine running smoothly. Spraying a little compressed air through the fan area of the computer (while not running, of course) helps prevents the buildup of harmful contaminants.

Dropping your computer is really hard on hard drives, as it can damage or misalign the head of the hard drive, or affect the disk’s ability to rotate inside. Although hard drives (particularly those in laptops) are much more rugged than they used to be. for the sake of your hard drive, try to always use your computer in relatively stable locations.

Defrag your Drive

Over time, the hard drive can become “fragmented,” slowing down performance. Defragmenting your hard drive can help improve its performance by rearranging the data on it in a way that makes it easier for your computer to access it. Computers running newer versions of the Windows operating system (Windows 7 and up) have a Disk Defragmenter that runs on a schedule, taking care of this problem for you. For older versions of Windows, you’ll have to manually run the Defragmenter program. Got a Mac? Macs usually don’t need to be defragmented. (It can be done, but is a pretty complicated process.) If you are a Mac user and really want to know, check out this post in the Apple Support Communities section of the Apple website.

One clear sign of a failing drive is hearing the drive spin. If you start to hear your hard drive spinning or the sound changes over time, your drive may be failing. Back up your data immediately, and consider having the computer looked at by a professional.

So remember: by keeping your computer dust-free, on your desk, and your hard drive defragmented, you’ll be doing a great deal of the work to keep your computer running along, happy and healthy. (If you have concerns about your hard drive, Geek Squad have Agents standing by to help.)

Agent Gordon enlisted in the Geek Squad back in 2008, where he held the position of Counter Intelligence Agent, protecting the people of Brooklyn Center and Minneapolis, MN. Soon enough, he realized that the online space was calling — and he joined the ranks of the Geek Squad Online Support team to bring his support of clients to the Information Superhighway. In his free time, Agent Gordon spends countless hours receiving plenty of vitamin D from the illumination of his monitors while gaming late into the night.

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Categories: Computing | Data | How To | Laptop | Technology

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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Geek Squad Services Recognized by PC Magazine

By Agent Williams

One of the personality traits we look for in Agents is a certain amount humility. Oh, we can overlook a bit of trash-talking when it comes to video game battles, but we have always felt it important that Agents don’t get too full of themselves. Which isn’t easy, considering all the technological disasters we help client address. But trying to stay out on the bleeding edge of this ever-changing field is enough to keep any technologist humble.

Which is why we all have a bit of a hard time when anyone expresses appreciation for the work we love to do. Last week we were notified that PC Magazine made us the “Editors’ Choice” for consumer tech-support services. In particular, the magazine’s editors cited our low monthly fees, plentiful resources and “vast staff” as the primary benefits we provide to civilians seeking relief from their techno-stress. The reviewer, Michael Muchmore, constructed a test plan that he put the Geek Squad and a number of other tech-support operations through and graded us based on his experience. He concluded “Geek Squad is head and shoulders above the other help services I’ve tested.”

See, now I’m blushing…

Check out the article on the PC Magazine website:
System and Performance: Geek Squad

Agent Williams joined the ranks of Geek Squad in 2007, earning the badge number #13337 and the alias “Agent Leeet Sauce”. Now Agent Williams protects the internetz from the Geek Squad Magic Castle. When he’s not policing unruly technology (or eating cookies) he can be found making music, chasing down his badge (it’s been on a trip to the stratosphere) or riding his imaginary pet unicorn.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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The Hard Drive: What It Is, What it Does (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)

By Agent Ryan G

In the United States, the vast majority of adults drive cars. But most of us don’t really know how they work. Sure, we know to fill it with gas occasionally and how to operate them, but when it comes down to how the engine engages the drivetrain, most of us are at a loss. (That’s why we all have mechanics, right?)

The same can be said of computers. Most people use them, but few know how they work — which is fine. (More work for us!)

Through the many years Geek Squad Agents have helped fix and maintain computers for clients, we’ve found that a little basic computer knowledge helps people choose the right machine for their needs and keep it in top working condition. While most civilians don’t need to know a lot about Ethernet connections, motherboards or power supplies, knowing a little something about hard drives is can be helpful.

With that in mind, we put together a two-part series on hard drives to help. In this first post, we’ll explain what hard drives are and give you a few basics on how they work. Our second post goes into what computer users need to know to keep their hard drives in good shape.

Data Storage
The hard drive is your computer’s data storage device. Most hard drives store data electromagnetically on a rotating  disk coated with a ferromagnetic film (quite a mouthful so far, ain’t it?). Data is written to and read from the disk by a read-write head. The disk stores all the information needed by your computer – the operating system, drivers, software programs and, of course, the data (pictures, music, documents) you create and keep on your machine.

Sound familiar? That’s right, the science of storing information on a rotating disk goes back to the early 1900’s with the gramophone and early record players. Eventually this technology expanded to more than just music. Although much smaller than an old school records, hard drives can store countless songs and information, making it possible to easily carry powerful data-processing machines and ushering in the age of mobile computing..

Hard drives have two basic characteristics that determine their functionality– their size (capacity) and the speed at which they can read and write data (performance). Knowing this is important when selecting a computer to meet your needs. If you need to store a lot of data or use many software programs, getting a computer with a large hard drive — measured in Gigabytes (GBs) or Terabytes (TBs) — is essential. Filling up a hard drive has a negative impact on a device’s performance (and their life span), so when buying a computer it’s important to get one with a hard drive that has plenty of room.

The performance of a hard drive (measured in RPMs and cache storage) will tell you how quickly the drive will be able to write or read data from it. If you use memory-heavy software, or create and manipulate complex files like videos, large graphics or music, a fast drive (with a lot of cache storage) will come in very handy.

Hard disks typically have two different RPM calibrations – 5400 RPMs (most often found in laptops, notebooks, and netbooks) and 7200 RPMS (usually found in desktop computers and servers). The 7200 RPM hard drives are slightly larger in physical size and require a little more power than the 5400 RPM types, but the faster spinning disk allows programs and files to load more quickly, making the whole computing experience a bit faster.

Solid-state Drives
Hard drive technology recently took a great leap forward with the introduction of reliable, more-affordable solid-state drives (SSDs). Unlike traditional hard drives, SSDs use a “flash memory” system (much like USB drives) to store data, eliminating the need for spinning disks and read-write heads. This new generation of SSDs are much more rugged than traditional hard drives and can access data more quickly that their spinning-disk cousins. But they are more expensive as well.  It’s likely to take some time for SSDs to become widely available in consumer-grade computers.

Now you know a little bit more about the hard drive, and what to look for in one that will fit your computing needs. Check out our next installment in this series soon, where we’ll talk a little bit more about how to take care of your hard drive, and protect yourself against hard drive failure. If you have concerns about your current hard drive, we have Agents standing by to help.

Agent Gordon enlisted in the Geek Squad back in 2008 where he held the position of Counter Intelligence Agent, protecting the people of Brooklyn Center and Minneapolis, MN. He soon joined the ranks of the Geek Squad Online Support team to defend the technology needs of clients on the Information Superhighway. In his free time, Agent Gordon spends countless hours receiving plenty of vitamin D from the illumination of his monitors while gaming late into the night.

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Categories: Computing | Data | Home Remedies | How To | Laptop | Technology

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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Connecting Your Laptop to Your TV with WiDi

By Agent Gernbacher

With the explosion of video content on the Web, many of us are using our computers, at least some of the time, to just watch TV. Video sharing services like YouTube, Web broadcasting sites like Hulu and Netflix, and pay-for-play services like Amazon Prime and iTunes have made our computers a key source of video entertainment in the modern home.

But anyone who has tried to watch a long video with someone else on a laptop knows, all that closeness is, well, close.

Fortunately, Intel and the television industry have solved this problem for you. Many newer TVs come with a WiDi (wireless display) connection that will allow you to connect your laptop to it wirelessly. I recently teamed with the Best Buy video production team to put together a short instructional video on how to link your Windows 8 laptop to a WiDi-enabled TV. Take a look at the video here:

Send What’s on Your Laptop to Your TV

If you are struggling to link the big screen in your house to your computer, chat with an Agent or visit a Precinct at your local Best Buy store.

Agent Gernbacher has been wrangling misbehaving and unruly Home Theater, PC, and Car Audio technology for the last 15 years. When he is not out saving the world as a Secret Weapon for the Geek Squad, he is preparing his little ones to take over the world, making people laugh with his ridiculous eyebrows and personality, pretending to moonlight as a chef or raging to whatever sounds he can find on the internet.

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Categories: Computing | Digital Television | Home Remedies | Home Theater | Wireless Networking

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