UPDATE 03/08/2016: Martin Ellis, Pulse Eight’s head honcho, reached out to me to better explain this device’s price point. “I thought it might be good to mention that some of the cost is actually going towards to the software engineering effort we continually put in to make sure it works with all brands of TVs,” said Ellis. He also went on to explain that the software is given away for free with the Raspberry Pi (Pi’s support CEC out of the box) and because they don’t accept donations for it, the hardware sales help fund further development. While $45 is still a bit spendy, I certainly feel better about knowing where the money is spent. Special thanks to Martin Ellis for contacting us.
Today we are going to be taking a look at the USB CEC adapter from Pulse-Eight. Before we delve too much into this little magic box and what it can do, we should talk about CEC. CEC stands for Consumer Electronics Control, and what it is, in a nutshell, is a one-wire bidirectional serial bus. For you humans in the audience that means an HDMI feature that allows the HDMI cable to carry information that can be used to control devices that are connected to it. If you have a TV that was made in the last 5 to 10 years or so, it should be supported but there is a good chance the manufacturer has their own fancy name for it, for example Toshiba calls it “Regza Link” and Sony refers to CEC as BRAVIA Link. This standard can be used to turn a device on and off, pass remote control button presses, switch inputs, or control an amplifier. It’s all pretty neat stuff as long as you have a TV that fully supports CEC (most do, but I have heard reports of TV’s that only allow themselves to be turned on and off, so it is worth looking into before picking one of these little beauties up.)
You may be wondering “Why do I need something like this?” Truth is, you don’t “need” it but CEC can be really convenient when you are using it with a HTPC running Kodi. Kodi supports CEC out of the box, it just needs to be enabled in the settings. If your PC isn’t the prettiest you can hide it out of sight and use the original TV remote to control Kodi. If you are doing the opposite and controlling Kodi with a special remote, you can use CEC to turn on your TV when Kodi loads up and turn it off when Kodi goes to sleep or is shut down. With Kodi’s built in power saving features the savings in electricity can really add up. Those who use a Raspberry Pi for their HTPC have already been able to enjoy the benefits of CEC, but unfortunately very few video cards support it at the moment so if you need a bit more ummph from your HTPC you have had to forgo the benefits that CEC can afford you… until now.
Enter the Pulse-Eight USB CEC adapter. It isn’t much to look at, but it’s spartan appearance belies the usefulness contained within the case. The unit was mailed in a simple bubble mailer with a short micro-USB cable and a short HDMI cable. There were no instructions, but you don’t need them, I promise. It took me longer to pull my computer out of the cabinet it lives in, than to hook it up. You just connect the micro-USB end of the cable to the adapter and the standard USB end to your computer. Connect the short HDMI cable to the HDMI output on your computer and the HDMI slot marked “PC” on the adapter. Plug the HDMI cable running to your TV into the other HDMI slot on the device, enable CEC both in Kodi’s settings and on your TV and you are done. It literally couldn’t be easier.
The Pulse-Eight USB CEC adapter worked magnificently. Within seconds I was using my stock TV remote to navigate Kodi’s interface, and when I chose to put the computer to sleep when I was done watching, my 5 year old Toshiba TV popped right off. Later when I woke the HTPC from sleep mode the TV jumped back to life as if Kodi was built right into it. How’s that for a smart TV?
The unit works exactly as advertised, which is refreshing to say the least, but there is a downside. The USB CEC adapter from Pulse-Eight will set you back $45. Frankly, that seems a bit steep for what it is, but you have to keep in mind that Pulse-Eight is a very small company. The manufacturing process is expensive unless you have the size to order an obscene amount of product at one time.
The bottom line is this, the Pulse-Eight USB CEC adapter is one of the more expensive HTPC accessories I have, but I am glad I have it. Letting Kodi control its power usage by shutting itself and the TV down when idle have already saved me money on my electric bill and will likely end up paying for the cost of the adapter. That makes it worth it to me.
What do you think? Will you be buying one? Comment below!