Friday, August 09, 2013

A new feature I discovered for YouTube

My wife Alice and I like to watch educational YouTube videos with Emily, our daughter. Alice has been checking out videos to find simple educational videos with numbers, letters and nursery rhymes and there are plenty. Among them, I strongly recommend Hoopla Kidz and Super Simple Learning. Navigating YouTube to play them is a snap on our phones and computers. We like to watch YouTube with our DVD player, too.

However, the YouTube app on our Samsung DVD player is incredibly dim-witted. It takes a couple of seconds for the cursor to advance with each press of the direction buttons. This makes for some arduous navigation to find videos we want to watch in YouTube. I've tried connecting a wireless keyboard to the DVD player, but it didn't much like that, preferring instead to make us navigate with a remote control to select characters, one character at a time to search.

While navigating the YouTube menus one day to get videos started for Emily, I went too far, unable to compensate for the speed of the cursor and landed on the Settings menu. Therein, I saw a box that said, "Pair With Device". I was aware that this could be done, but thought that only applied to the latest version of Android. My phone has Android 2.3 and the latest version is 4.3, so I didn't give it another thought until yesterday.

Yesterday, I paused at the Settings menu once more and reflected, "What if this works?" I pressed the right arrow key and selected Pair With Device. The screen presented me with a URL, a numeric code, and a barcode, I just love those barcodes. So I scanned the barcode with my phone and the phone prompted me with a URL. I tap on the URL and a web browser opens presenting me with a form is already populated with the number code entered. I scrolled down and tapped Add.

Then I open YouTube on my phone and notice a new icon at the top of the screen, a little rectangle with a wireless icon next to it, called "Send to TV". Now I can select a video with my phone and tell my DVD player to play it. Of course, the DVD player has to be running YouTube while my phone is running YouTube, but you get the idea.

To direct the DVD player running YouTube to play a video from my phone, I open the YouTube application on my phone. Then I select a video I want to play. This could be from play history, search results or a playlist. When I tap the video I want from my phone, the page for that video loads in the phone and I can tap Send to TV. Then the DVD player loads the selected video and plays it. Cool, huh?

YouTube navigation with my phone is far easier than with the DVD player. I also have a usable keyboard with the phone whereas the DVD player makes me work through a ridiculous onscreen keyboard which is also slow.

After making this discovery, I played around a bit with the new feature. I learned that I can select a video and play it, then send it to the TV in midstream. I can even manage the start point of a video from my phone and tell the TV to play from that start point. I also learned that I can select a playlist from my phone and there is a button called "Play On TV" so that I can send the entire playlist to the TV. Very interesting.

It's not exactly like the recently released Chromecast dongle, which streams from your phone or tablet to the Chromecast dongle, but it seems to work like that. I would think that streaming from your phone or tablet would run down the battery pretty fast. I haven't used Chromecast yet, but if I do, I'll let you know how that works.

The device pairing feature doesn't seem to stream from the phone when playing videos. Instead, it seems to direct the YouTube app on the DVD player to stream the video of choice. This conserves battery power on the phone as the wireless radio on the phone munches on battery power like potato chips. Sending directions to the YouTube app from the phone to play videos makes a lot more sense. With a little experimentation, I might figure out how to play entire playlists without further intervention once the playlist is started.

It's important to note that on the TV side, the device could be a Smart TV, DVD player or streaming device such as a Roku streaming player. On the other side, the device could be your phone, your tablet or even your computer. As long as you can get to the Add Device form from a browser and enter the numeric code, you should be able to direct the action of the target device on the TV side with no problems.

The Pair With Device feature for YouTube is a very cool innovation. It is not really an invention, as it is just an obvious extension of what the YouTube app on the phone and the DVD player can already do. I'm glad to find more freedom from the user interface in the DVD player and be able to use other devices to control YouTube on my TV. You might want to give it a try.
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