Roku Gets YouTube

Roku 3Perhaps unsurprisingly given Google’s now somewhat defunct plans for GoogleTV, YouTube has been one of the glaring omissions from the Roku platform. But not any longer. Roku has announced that a YouTube channel is now available on the Roku 3 in USA, Canada, UK and the Republic of Ireland. Older Rokus will be getting the channel next year, though the exact timing is unclear. For non-Roku owners, a channel is roughly equivalent to an app on other platforms.

The YouTube channel supports full 1080p HD and the press release suggests that subscriptions will carry over from other platforms so that your favourites can easily be seen on the Roku. The new channel also features “Send to TV”, which after pairing, lets you send a YouTube video from your smartphone or tablet for viewing on the Roku.

As a Roku 2 XS owner, I’m delighted but will have to wait a bit longer until I get the YouTube channel on my device (unless Santa has a surprise for me). Sadly, it will be one less reason to turn on my Nintendo Wii, especially with the HD support on the Roku.

Hulu Plus Now on Chromecast

hulu on Chromecast

huluplus on Chromecast

This morning, Hulu Plus updated their website to include Chromecast support. With an update of the App, you can now watch your hulu subscription on the big screen.

Chromecast is Google’s answer to over the top television. For $35, you can plug into your HDMI outlet and use your phone as the remote. With the introduction, you could only send Netflix movies, Google Play content or Youtube videos to the big screen. With the addition of Hulu plus, the Chromecast is starting to feel more useful.

Chromecast has a long way to go from say Roku - with over 750 channels to their arsenal. On the way are apps from Vimeo, Vevo, Twitch.tv and more. Also coming up is extended support for Netflix with iOS apps.

My Assessment of Chromecast

It does make things easier since I don’t have to look for a remote to call up a show. I did notice the quality – at 1080p, Chromecast projects darker on the TV screen. Roku and Apple TV are brighter and more vibrant.

Also, if you are using your phone for something else (like talking on the phone), switching to remote mode is tougher. Good thing others can control the screen with their smartphones…

 

Roku Updates Interface Adds Grid Menu, Better Search

Roku Grid Interface

Roku Grid Interface

When I was as SXSW, I was excited to find that Roku was changing the interface to a Grid view. In interviewing Roku, I was told the interface would be rolled out to older players but had to wait. Well now the wait is over.

Roku rolled out their new interface to certain older Roku boxes. If you own a Roku LD, HD, XS or MHL Streaming Stick, you will be able to update the software and utilize the new interface.

CES Interview: Roku Streaming Stick
CES Interview (TPN.TV): 3M MHL Projector with Roku

How to Update to the new Roku Interface

This is a manual update – on your Roku, go to your settings and navigate to the update section. You will have to agree to update to the new grid view, then watch as the software downloads, installs and reboots. After the familiar bouncing Roku logo, the new grid interface appears.

Roku-Interface-Search

Features of the Roku Grid Menu

The biggest feature is your channels are now on a grid rather than a straight line. You can reorganize your titles for easier navigation. The search option and the channel store are both now on the left navigation menu. This makes for easier discovery of new channels and searching for content on your Roku device.

Speaking of the search option, you will be able to search for videos, movies and TV shows right from the interface. Roku will let you know where you can watch the videos and how much it might cost (if any).

Little Black Box brings XBMC to the set-top box market

XBMC has long been a darling of the HTPC crowd, bringing a free and open source alternative to Windows Media Center. Now a Dutch company wants to bring the platform to a set-top box. Known as “The Little Black Box“, the device has just become available for pre-order.

The box will contain 1GB of memory, 4GB of Flash storage (800MB for the system, 3.2GB for XBMC) and a Meson3 single core processor capable of running at 1Ghz but clocked at 800Mhz.

little black box

The box is available now for €99.99 and according to the site “The first batch will be in limited numbers. As that limited amount needs to be divided between the different distribution channel, availability will most likely become sparse very fast”. The company is accepting pre-orders world-wide.

Should Amazon build a set-top box?

amazon prime logoToday, rumors are circulating around the web regarding Amazon. It is nothing new — the online retail giant has long been subject to such babble. Rumors of an Amazon phone still appear on a regular basis. Thanks to the success of the Kindle Fire, everyone seems to expect a handset to be the logical follow-up.

Today’s rumor is different though — there is no phone involved, but instead a set-top box. While I have no real interest in moving from a Nexus phone to a Kindle one, a living room device intrigues me.

I am a recent convert to Google TV and I love the platform. But I am also a Prime subscriber. I replaced Netflix with the Amazon service sometime back because it is not only a bit cheaper, but offers more upside with, not only the streaming video, but also free two-day shipping and a Kindle lending library.

Prime for Google TV has been greatly improved recently, with the app now being native, as opposed to opening a browser window. Thus I imagine an Amazon set-top box to bring Prime to the forefront and make it the focus of the device. And that does not feel like a bad thing.

If the device were Kindle Fire-like, in that it ran a version of Android customized for the big screen, then this could compete with the likes of Roku and Google TV in today’s growing environment of cord-cutters. Xbox may remain the front runner, but the power and financial backing of Amazon could present a real competitor in the market, and that would be good for all consumers.

Video Podcasts Behaving Like TV?

image

Roku

One of the downsides to Internet-based video content is that generally each new program being played back must be initiated by the user. This isn’t much of a problem if one is watching a full-length movie or television show via Netflix or Amazon Streaming. However, if one is watching short-form content like video podcasts such as “Film Riot” then watching a bunch of episodes in a row tends to be a bit more of a pain since each one must be started playing depending on the playback platform.

I discovered an interesting trick that the Roku is capable of using the free iTunes podcast database app that can be added from the Roku store on your Roku. The app connects with the iTunes podcast database and will display both video and audio podcasts. Select an episode and it will begin to play. If you select an older episode, either video or audio, it will play that episode and then automatically play all episodess that follow it in the correct order.

This is a very useful feature say if you want to catch up with several weeks’ worth of video podcasts. Each podcast plays automatically in the proper order. It is almost like being able to turn video podcast streaming into more of a conventional television viewing experience.

Roku unveils new box and interface

roku 3This morning Roku unveiled its brand new Roku 3 box. This is the first update to the Roku lineup in some time and there are quite a few changes with the Roku 3. The announcement calls it the “fastest, most powerful streaming player to-date”.

The new box, according to Roku’s Jim Funk, is five times faster than previous versions. The new Roku 3 also comes with an all new user interface, as Funk explains — “In the spirit of simplicity, the new Roku interface features a streamlined layout to provide quicker access and greater visibility – especially if you have many channels installed. The Roku Channel Store and Search are now fully integrated into the home screen, and both have been redesigned with our new on-screen experience”.

The new device also comes with a slightly revamped remote control. The remote has a headphone jack and includes a set of earbuds. When these are plugged in, the box automatically switches the audio to the headphones and mutes your speakers, allowing you to move around while listening to your music and also do so without disturbing other household members.

The box also comes with Angry Birds installed and the new remote control is motion sensitive to make for better gaming. There are also dual-band ethernet and USB ports as well.

The Roku 3 is available for $99 starting today. The new interface will begin rolling out to Roku boxes in April.

FlixFling and Orb are About to Release FlixFling TV

FlixFling and Orb Networks have gotten together to offer something that sounds really interesting. They are combining FlixFling’s movie subscription service with Orb’s wireless video streaming hardware. This is the very first time time that a service that streams premium content has been bundled with a set-top box.

The package is called FlixFling TV. It gives you FlixFling’s unlimited streaming movie subscription service and the Orb TV Wireless Streaming Media player. When you subscribe for this package, you get a both a membership to FlixFling and a membership to the Orb TV Wireless Streaming Media Player at the same time, for one low monthly fee. In other words, when you subscribe to this package it automatically signs you up for both of them and puts the membership fee for both onto one bill. That’s rather convenient!

FlixFling is an application-based movie streaming service. It is compatible with several popular internet-connected devices including Web, iOS, Android, connected TV, Roku, Orb, and more. It has over 8,000 independent and studio movies for you to watch. Orb Networks is a company that develops hardware and software, smartphone applications, and web application services.

Here’s something else that is pretty cool about this package. FlixFling TV will use FlixFling’s mobile applications for iOS and Android devices and Orb’s AllPlay for Mobile Devices to bring the FlixFling service to any screen. You can use your iOS or Android smart phone, or your tablet, as a remote. AllPlay for Mobile Devices is an open, cross-platform API that enables wireless media streaming. The FlixFling TV bundle will start being available to consumers in April of 2012.

My husband and I are currently using NetFlix. I cannot help but wonder if the movies and television programs that are not on NetFlix might possibly be accessible through FlixFling. We signed up to get streamed content from NetFlix, and we have a computer connected to our television so that we can watch movies on a nice, big, screen.

It can be a bit problematic sometimes when that computer needs to do a software update while we are trying to watch something. It might be interesting to see if the set-top box that comes with the FlixFling TV package would alleviate that particular problem.

Diamond Wireless Range Extender and Set-Top Box Preview

Diamond Wireless Range Extender WR300NI remember building a PC many years ago and at that time, Diamond Multimedia was one of *the* graphics card companies. I even seem to remember that it was VL-bus card, so that dates it to a pre-Pentium era. Anyway, it’s great to see that Diamond is still around when so many others have fallen by the wayside. Todd interviews Louis Kokenis from Diamond Multimedia on the latest products.

The Diamond Wireless Range Extender has three functions in one. First, it’s a wireless repeater that eliminates deadspots in wireless coverage. Second, it’s a wireless bridge that will connect a wired network device to the wireless network and third, it’s a standalone wireless access point, creating wireless hotspot from a single network point. With regard to the last mode, the WR300N’s small size means that it’s great for travelling and creating a wireless network in a hotel room. On-sale now for around $60.

Diamond will be introducing an Android-based TV set-top box that combines web browser, media player, ebook reader, game console, anything that can be downloaded from the Android Market. It won’t be tied to any particular media provider as it will either be able to download an app, e.g. Netflix, or else it will be able to browse to any website and play media directly. Sounds cool, especially if it runs ICS.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Steve Lee of NetCast Studio for the TechPodcast Network.

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UPnP Forum and How Your Gadgets Stream Music

UPnP Forum LogoIf you’ve ever wondered how your gadgets talk amongst themselves to successfully play music from your PC through a media streamer, you’ll be interested in this interview with Dr Alan Messer, President of the UPnP Forum.

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is the standard by which IP networked gadgets advertise their services and intercommunicate. Formed in 1999, nearly all the big vendors are signed up with over 1000 members, the notable exception being Apple who tend to do their own thing. Think Intel, Samsung, Nokia, Philips.

The most common example of UPnP (AV spec) is DLNA-certification which governs media management, discovery and control and this effectively determines how music is streamed from one device to another. Set-top boxes know how to use different router ports based on UPnP techniques. Almost any consumer device attached to the network in the home will have some element of UPnP built-in.

(No, Andy, it’s not the ISA PnP but thanks for the trip down memory lane.)

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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