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Festival Tech: Home away from home

How to make the countryside like your living room
Fri Aug 15 2014, 12:10
glastonbury sound tech

UNLESS YOU ARE an antisocial sod like me, some of what I'm about to tell you will horrify you. As you'll know from our previous installments, I went on a mission to the Glastonbury Festival, one of the biggest music and arts festivals in the world.

My mission was to see how technology has changed our relationship with the great outdoors. We've already discovered that we're all pretty lost without access to a 3G or even 4G connection, and that we need a heck of a lot of power to keep connected to our addiction to cute cat videos.

But for the latest experiment in our festival tech series, I am going to do the unthinkable. Because despite the hundreds of performers at any given time that surround me for miles, all desperate to entertain me, I'm going to see how much I can entertain myself without even leaving the tent.

Why? Well, apart from the fact I'm a curmudgeonly old git who thinks Skrillex should be used to polish shoes, not every camping trip is about festivals and you've got to have something to do.

This is where the Tesco Hudl, our reasonably priced, reasonably specced tablet comes into play. I can read books from Kindle or Kobo, as long as the sun doesn't get too bright. I can watch videos streamed from Netflix or even my home server. At one point, curiosity gets the better of me and I log into my home security camera to see how the house is doing. The picture quality is fantastic, but the view is really dull. That's empty houses for you.

glastonbury stallThere's this terrible racket coming from the next field. It's the Kaiser Chiefs I think. I elect to drown them out with some music of my own. It's here where Bluetooth 4.0 also known as Bluetooth LE has really changed the world. Whereas in the past, Bluetooth devices could chew up a huge proportion of your phone's battery life, today they sit side by side very well and both devices last for ages.

Cue the toys. The first is from French company Supertooth. It's called the Supertooth D4 and it's very loud. It's quite bass heavy thanks to a Bass Reflex circuit which lends itself to some music better than others, but my gosh does it pack a punch. It's incredibly light for its size but its weird loudhailer styling makes it quite space consuming. Pairing is easy thanks to built-in NFC - so one touch and you're done.

Pure have also provided me with a speaker to try. It's called the Jongo S3, and not only is it a funny shape, but it's quite heavy too. However, it makes up for this with a brilliant little twist - an outdoor mode. The somewhat complicated set-up, and the rather odd choice to include Bluetooth functionality as a USB dongle, is made up for by a magic button which switches the sound to come upwards from a central speaker mounted on the top - perfect if you've got it sitting on the ground and are dancing around your handbag. It also fits beautifully into a home set-up as it has WiFi capability and can be connected together with other units to make a multi-room system. I'm looking forward to trying that bit, but right now I'm wishing it wasn't so heavy.

HTC has taken a different route. You may recall that my "core device" for the weekend is an HTC One M8, which has front-mounted speakers. So how do you improve on that? If you're HTC, you provide an NFC-pairing, Bluetooth-brandishing subwoofer that augments rather than replaces your phone's internal speakers. The sound on the Boombass is fantastic, with your phone sitting snuggly on a stand at the base of the speaker, but I did find that it unpaired itself on a number of occasions which was a bit irritating.

I'm very concious of draining all my phone battery. Fortunately, I've brought a spare supply of music in the form of a Sandisk Clip Sport music player. This tiny MP4 player punches well above its weight with terrific sound quality and volume. It's almost idiot-proof to use and its diminutive capacity (8GB) is made up for by the fact that it will accept SDHC cards. Officially that's up to 32GB, but with a bit of jiggery pokery, I was able to get it to accept an SDXC card at 64GB too. The only thing missing is Bluetooth, so I've cheated and bought a Bluetooth audio transmitting dongle for a fiver off eBay and it does the job admirably.

An honourable mention should also be given to the rucksack that has carried allglasto bag these toys - The Le Bag Pro, which you can see in a lot of the pictures that accompany these articles. Amongst other things it has some of the best protection for a laptop I've ever seen, designed with Macbook Pros in mind, and a ridiculous number of pockets. In fact all I can really say against it is it has so many pockets, I often struggled to remember where I'd put things, which was annoying until I found a twenty pound note I'd forgotten about.

If England hadn't been knocked out of the World Cup so early, they would have been playing this weekend, and I came prepared. The Elgato TV Eye W is a tiny box with an aerial attachment that creates a personal WiFi network. I'm not a huge fan of devices that do this, but we're in a field, so it's not like there's a hotspot nearby. The TV Eye is a fully functioning Freeview decoder and in conjunction with an app on the Hudl, allows me to watch repeats of QI on Dave with no picture break up and no data connection.

All this is very exciting, but the point remains, I am completely missing the point of the great outdoors. As a compromise I decide to meditate, so to drown out the noise of Metallica, I grab some headphones, in this case Supertooth Freedom Bluetooth headphones, a rather intimidating retro looking pair that can also take calls - though that's the last thing I want right now. The sound of high fidelity whale song fills my ears, interrupted by a slight design flaw that makes it very easy to nudge the pause button on my right ear, but by golly the sound quality is formidable.

And what every meditation needs is candles, and I've even gone a bit hi-tech with these. Frostfire's remote controlled Mooncandles can glow and flicker in a range of different colours, synchronise into different patterns and even be put on a timer. Don't be fooled into thinking they look even slightly like real candles, but they're also a lot safer, and weigh next to nothing. Plus they look incredibly funky round an after-party campfire.

And so ends my completely wasted day at Glastonbury. But it does serve a purpose, both to amaze and to irritate. Because if nothing else, it proves that our lives are so intertwined with the internet and gadgets that we can actually be at home in the middle of a field somewhere. On one hand it's depressing, it means we all need to work harder to make sure we are unavailable at those holiday times. But it's also quite awe inspiring, because when I went to my first big festival nearly 20 years ago, everything that I've just done would have been absolutely impossible. And that, my friends, is just a little bit amazing.

In the next chapter, I'm actually going to get up and do something with the day, and look at the tech that helps us when we're out and about in the middle of nowhere. µ

 

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