Tech Talk: The Fab Four on stream

The Beatles on America's Ed Sullivan Show in 1964
The Beatles on America's Ed Sullivan Show in 1964
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It could be time for Raspberry Pi, says David Behrens.

IT’S 50 years this month since The Beatles took America by storm with a triumphant TV appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was the stuff of which legends are made – since, as with all the best legends, everyone heard about the show but no-one over here actually saw it.

In that pre-satellite age, the notion of watching a programme on a New York channel was preposterous. But the internet has shrunk the world forever, and today you can cherry-pick from broadcasters across the globe. If Ed Sullivan was still alive you could watch him in York and New York as if they were twin cities.

I put this to the test a month ago, by watching the New Year’s Eve celebrations live from New York’s Times Square, in my sitting room in Yorkshire. The picture on my TV was almost indistinguishable from a normal, local transmission.

Here’s how you can do the same, if you fancy watching the Beatles anniversary concert next week. A website called ustvnow.com offers a live stream of all the free-to-air American networks, in real time – and all you need do to watch on a computer or iPad is sign up for a free account.

So far, so good. But to get the picture on to your telly you need a box under your set that’s connected to your home broadband. There are now many pieces of kit that do this, and you can try out devices like the Roku Streamer at Currys. But some of those cost the thick end of £100, so you may want to consider cheaper alternatives. The cheapest of all is also the simplest: an HDMI video cable running from your PC to the back of your TV. But older PCs don’t have HDMI sockets, and besides, there’s no remote control. Better by far for the TV to have its own mini-PC sitting right underneath and sporting its own remote.

The surprise is that you can have exactly that, for well under 50 quid. The Raspberry Pi is a computer the size of a bar of soap that was originally developed to help youngsters who have never seen a microchip, or indeed soap. But loaded up with the free media player XBMC it makes the best companion to your telly since they started printing the Radio Times in colour.

You can get a dedicated remote or control it with your smartphone – and when you consider that 50 years ago your basic phone shared a party line with your neighbour, you start to realise just how far we’ve come since the Fab Four sang to America.