While North America fans have enjoyed new models for over a year, the UK has lagged behind with long-standing Roku 2 and 3 models: owners of 4K TVs have had to look elsewhere for their ultra high definition fix. Fortunately the new Roku Streaming Stick+ supports both 4K and HDR up to 60 f/s.
Taking a quick look over the two models, the Roku Express is the second generation of the model and is perfect for standard HD TVs with HDMI. Connectivity is provided by b/g/n wifi and there’s an IR remote, so you will need line of sight to control the Express.
The new star of the show is the Roku Streaming Stick+, delivering 4K UHD with HDR via 802.11ac dual-band MIMO wifi. The advanced wireless remote allows the stick to be mounted behind the TV, plus there are now buttons to turn the TV on/off and control the volume.
To showcase 4K content, a 4K Spotlight Channel will offer instant access to 4K movies and TV shows from various streaming channels. Both remotes have channel shortcut buttons too.
“The Roku Express is one of our most popular streaming players and we are excited to bring it to the UK. It is a great starting point for first time streamers or for people looking to extend the Roku experience to other TVs,” said Chas Smith, general manager of Roku TVs and players. “Consumers will love our new sleek Roku Streaming Stick+ with an innovative advanced wireless receiver that gives up to four times the wireless range and a remote that controls TV volume and power. At £79.99, it makes HD, 4K and HDR streaming simple.”
Of course, the free complementary Roku app for iOS and Android provides all the usual Roku features including streaming media from a mobile device to the TV, remote control, voice search and private listening.
Available from 18th October online with retail availability shortly afterwards, the Roku Express costs GB£29.99 whereas the Streaming Stick+ comes in at £79.99. Put one on your Christmas list.
Disney announced that it will launch its own streaming services. This comes as a result of an acquisition and may affect some of the Disney-owned content that is available on Netflix.
The Walt Disney Company announced today that it has agreed to acquire majority ownership of BAMTech, LLC and will launch its ESPN-branded multi-sport streaming service in early 2018, followed by a new Disney-branded direct-to-consumer streaming service in 2019.
The ESPN-branded multi-sport service will offer a robust array of sports programming, featuring approximately 10,000 live regional, national, and international games and events a year, including Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, Grand Slam Tennis, and college sports. Individual sport packages will also be available for purchase, including MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live.
The new Disney-branded service will become the exclusive home in the United States for subscription-video-on-demand viewing of the newest live action and animated movies from Disney and Pixar, beginning with the 2019 theatrical slate, which includes Toy Story 4, the sequel to Frozen and The Lion King from Disney live-action, along with other highly anticipated movies.
Disney will also make a significant investment in an annual slate of original movies, TV shows, short-form content and other Disney-branded exclusives for the service. Additionally, the service will feature a vast collection of library content, including Disney and Pixar movies and Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and Disney XD television programming.
These upcoming changes will affect the content that is currently available on Netflix. Disney will end its distribution agreement with Netflix for subscription streaming of new releases, beginning with the 2019 calendar year theatrical slate.
If you aren’t familiar with PlayOn, It is a portal to over 100 streaming websites, allowing you watch multiple shows. And the Cloud acts as a DVR, allowing you to download shows and then watch, even offline.
Now that Cloud capability comes to the Android platform. This includes shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Yahoo View, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO NOW, PBS, The CW, and YouTube.
The company announces “We have officially launched PlayOn Cloud for Android. Now you can record and download any show or movie from top streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO and more, with a simple touch of a button on your Android device.
There is more good news. Thanks to new optimizations and processing improvements that are designed to bring down the cost for all of this. The company claims it will now be $0.20 per recording. You’ll have to buy credits from the website.
If you have severed your ties with cable and satellite TV then PlayOn may be something you want to look at. That said, there are plenty of others as well.
NewTek and Wowza Media Systems announced the immediate availability of MediaDS, a revolutionary real-time encoding and live streaming video delivery system.
MediaDS is a hardware and software solution merging NewTek’s industry-leading live production technology with the powerful, proven Wowza streaming software in an IRU footprint. The result is the industry’s first end-to-end streaming solution to allow producers to launch their own multi-channel content networks from their production site and deliver a live video stream directly to their viewers.
For enhanced scalability, producers can also create a virtual CDN or edge network by connecting together multiple MediaDS – either through a local area network, or remotely over IP to cross wide geographic boundaries. Video production to content delivery over IP makes enterprise deployments effortless.
MediaDS also organized to extend their brand beyond actual video content. The system not only acts as a media server, but also will host all required content – including web pages which are independently customizable – for audience viewing, to ensure that the on-screen experience adheres to organizational brand guidelines. Embed codes are also available to insert the Wowza Player into existing webpages to complement your current web presence.
MediaDS ensures the optimal audio-visual experience for viewing audiences right from the system by introducing another layer of quality control into any signal flow. With support for dedicated multiviewer monitoring, a local operator can observe all video streams in real time or focus on a specific channel full-screen, and manage image and sound quality with integrated waveform and vectorscope displays, independent of color correction tools, and multi-channel audio level control available for every stream. Producers can also stack multiple channels from the same source, and encode them into different renditions as a grouped stream to enable adaptive bitrate streaming.
MediaDS is available immediately for $11,995 USMSP. International pricing may vary.
Fasetto are making good on their promises from last year’s CES with the announcement of the Fasetto Link, a palm-sized pocket NAS and communications hotspot. Building on the Fasetto’s cross-platform cloud storage, the Link is a 2″ by 1″ cuboid, packing in a maximum of 2 TB of storage and a range of communication technologies, including WiFi, Bluetooth and LTE. The modular design is powered by a Linux-driven Samsung Exynos 7 Octa 7420 2.1 GHz processor.
The Link is designed for an adventurous life from the start with a water and temperature-resistant shell that should protect the owner’s data from the frozen tundra to the odd cycle in a washing machine. It’s water resistant to 45 ft (IP68) with an expected battery life of 5 hours going full pelt but there’s no detail on operating temperature. There’s an optional battery pack that clips onto the Link for additional time. The Link can be discreetly attached to D-rings and or kept out of sight inside a bag.
“Link combines the most powerful commercially-available hardware with an incredibly sleek, but tough, design,” said Coy Christmas, co-founder and CEO, Fasetto. “In Link, we now have a living storage and communications device and platform that lets you stream, store and share all of your digital files through one secure location that can survive almost anything.”
In addition to the physical protection, Link has “custom-developed reform security software, user permissions and multiple layers of hardware and software encryption giving users a high degree of security and control over their data.” That’s reassuring given how much data could potentially be stored in in 2 TB.
If you are wondering what you might do with this, imagine that you’ve taken loads of digital photographs but you are in the back end of nowhere. Rather than try to transfer or backup all the high quality digital photos across non-existent LTE, the photos can be stored more quickly on the Link’s storage via wifi, and then made available to other devices in the local area. That’s a fairly tame example as the octacore processor has plenty of power to record extreme sports or stream multiple HD video feeds.
Fasetto Link was named a CES 2017 Innovation Awards Honoree in four categories, including Wireless Handset Accessories, Computer Hardware and Components, Software and Mobile Apps and Computer Accessories.
GNC and CES followers will recall that Luke Malpass from Fasetto was interviewed as part of the coverage last year and Link availability was expected for Q4 2014. This is has been revised to Spring 2017. Prices start at US$349 for a 256 GB version up to US$1,149 for the 2 TB version. More details at Link’s shop where pre-orders can be placed.
If you are attending CES, pop in to see Link in action at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Central Hall, stand 16734 from 5-7 January 2017.
When it comes to media streaming via hardware, it’s a four way fight for your eyeballs between Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast. The most recent entrant, Amazon and the Fire TV, came to the UK in October 2014 and I reviewed one of the boxes back in January 2015. Over eighteen months later, Amazon’s Instant Video and Fire TV are more well known, with a large element of this courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the ex-Top Gear crew. To see what’s changed since then, Amazon kindly sent me a the updated Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote. Let’s take a look.
The Fire TV stick comes in the usual flip open box used by Amazon for its electronics. Inside the box, there’s the Fire TV stick itself, the Voice Remote with batteries, USB power supply with cable, an HDMI gender changer and some slim instructions. As it’s generally expected that the Fire TV will connect straight into an HDMI socket, there’s no HDMI cable. There’s an unboxing video below if you’re interested.
Before getting started, my tip of the day would be to plug the microUSB end of the power cable into the Fire TV stick BEFORE you push the Fire TV into a spare HDMI socket. This saves too much faffing around the back (or side) of the TV and alerts you early to a potential problem. As the power connector is on the side of the stick and the cable comes out at right angles, it’s possible that this will foul against an adjacent HDMI connector. On my TV it was apparent that the Fire TV was always going to sit in the topmost socket. Alternatively, I could have used an HDMI cable along with the gender changer to locate the stick away from the sockets and avoid interference. YMMV, as they say.
The other end of the USB cable goes into the power supply and once all connected and powered up, it’s simply a case of switching to the right HDMI input and following the prompts. The setup begins with pairing the remote to the stick and then connecting to wifi. As with all devices bought from Amazon, it comes pre-configured with your account details.
To make life even easier, there’s a set of cartoons to take you through some of the features of the Fire TV stick.
With that all done, you’re dropped into Amazon’s Fire interface. It’s largely unchanged since I first reviewed the Fire TV but that’s not a bad thing given that it’s big, bright and intuitive. Click up and down with the remote to move between the media areas….TV shows, Movies, Games, Apps, Music and so on. Click right and left to scroll through the chosen area. The Home area summarises recent activity so it’s easy to get back to something that you recently viewed. The interface is generally responsive but there can be a little lag when going into a new area, such as Photos, where it’s checking to see if there are any new media. I assume that the lag will be inversely proportional to your network connection speed.
There’s no doubt that the Fire TV is best used with Amazon Prime and other Amazon services – much of the promoted material is for Prime shows – but other media services like Netflix and Spotify are present via apps, and there’s a full range of catch-up services for UK’s terrestrial services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5). When I first reviewed the Fire TV a few of these were missing from the lineup so it’s good to see the extras. In addition to film and TV, the interface presents music purchased through Amazon as CDs and Amazon Music. If you use Amazon’s storage for photos, they’ll appear in a section too.
Video playback on the Fire TV can’t be faulted. I watched a number of shows through a variety of services, including Netflix, and the picture quality was unfailingly good. Programmes started quickly and got into HD picture quality within a few seconds. No problems here.
The Fire TV Stick supports apps as well, and these mostly offer other media services, such as YouTube, or games, such as…..well, loads including Crossy Road! It’s actually good fun playing mobile games on the big screen, though some require the Fire Game Controller (GB£44.99) rather than just the remote. Some games are tricky enough with just the remote, so if you are gamer, expect to stump up for the game controller. There’s something for everyone, as they say, and I played a fair bit of Lego Star Wars – The Yoda Chronicles. Overall, I felt there was a much greater range of games than last time and more of the headline titles were available.
While having loads of media is a good thing, it’s even better when there’s a search function to quickly find what you want to see. This is the Voice Remote version of the TV Stick and as such, the remote has a button at the top with a microphone symbol. When pressed and held, you can simply say what TV or film you are interested in, and the Stick will work it out and show you the options. Owners without the Voice Remote will have to laboriously type in the name of the programme. The voice recognition is accurate and the subsequent search recommendations are valid. Press the mic button, say “The Fall”, and the first programme it offers is the BBC drama (the one I wanted) followed by other films or TV programmes with the word “fall” in their title, such as “Downfall”.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like search has moved on too much. It is good at finding stuff but it still seems to only reference Amazon-hosted material. Take the above mentioned “The Fall”, which is currently showing the third series on BBC and aired episodes can be viewed for free on iPlayer. However, search on the Fire TV Stick would have you pay £2.49 for the HD version of episode 1 without mentioning the freebie option at all. More on this in a moment….
Back in January 2015, I said, “Overall the Amazon Fire TV compares well with the competition and if you are into Amazon’s ecosystem, then the Fire TV is a no-brainer buy at the current price of £64 giving easy access to familiar photos, music, movies and games. Even if you aren’t a fully paid-up member of the Amazon fan club, there’s still plenty to recommend with the current selection of apps and games which will undoubtedly grow over time as more broadcasters and app developers get on-board.” Here in October 2016, there’s not much to add except that it’s even better now than it was then; there are more broadcasters on-board, there are more games and the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote is cheaper at £44.99. It drops to only £34.99 with the standard remote.
But….since starting the review of this Fire TV stick, a new version has been announced, at least in the US, which addresses some of the remaining deficiencies, namely cross-media search. Obviously it’s not clear right now when that will arrive in the UK or which apps will be searched in addition to Amazon media. Interestingly, the new Fire TV Stick comes with Alexa so the voice interaction won’t be limited to only search but other queries too. I’m looking forward to it already.
Roku have announced an almost total revamp of their streaming player range with new products filling five of the six slots in their line-up. The new models are the Roku Express, Express+, Premiere, Premiere+ and Ultra, with only the recently updated (April) Roku Streaming Stick keeping its place.
The new entry level, the Roku Express, costs only US$29.99 while providing 1080p HD streaming to HDMI-equipped TVs. If you have an older TV and need composite jack and A/V connections, then an extra $10 gets the Roku Express+ (US$39.99) and is exclusively available from Walmart. As you’ll see from the pictures, the Express model has moved away from the square-ish box to a more rectangular style.
For hi-def junkies, the Roku Premiere ($79.99) and Premiere+ ($99.99) offer 4K at 60 Hz, with the Premiere+ also supporting HDR and the Premiere+ remote comes with a headphone jack if you want to enjoy your content in private. Obviously a 4K and HDR compatible TV is needed to enjoy all the features of the Premiere streamers.
Finally, the Roku Ultra at $129.99 supports the Dolby Digital Plus decoder with optical out (yay!) voice search and lost remote finder. Uniquely in the range, the Roku Ultra has a USB port for local media playback, though it’s not entirely clear where it’s located on the box.
Only the Ultra and Premiere+ have RF wireless remotes, with the Express, Express+ and Premiere remotes working with IR only. In most respects the remotes seem unchanged from previous Rokus.
The new devices have been announced for USA, Canada and Mexico with availability from early October. Further news for other territories (UK, Ireland, France) is expected soon.
Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Sky’s Now TV might have overtaken DVRs, DVDs and Blu-ray but I’ve discovered that physical discs have one major advantage…..no-one can take away the film until you’re finished watching (excepting small children and drunken relatives).
Our family subscribes to a streaming service, and while I normally watch a film or episode in a single viewing, there are some that I don’t get through in one go, perhaps because friends call round unexpectedly (yes, I have friends). Recently I’ve twice had the experience of returning to a film only to find that it’s no longer in my queue. The first time I thought I was mistaken as I couldn’t find the film but the second time was no mistake. I was very annoyed.
Streaming services take on new content and drop old content regularly as they license films from studios and other copyright holders for set periods. I can understand this but what bothers me is that they don’t feel it’s necessary to either email or pop-up the deadline on-screen. I would have made a special effort to watch the ending if they’d dropped me an email to say, “Hey, I see you’re watching Spiderman. Just to let you know that film’s going away at the end of the month so you’ve three days to find out what happens.” How hard would that be?
Anyway, if someone could let me know if Spidey saves the world, I’d be grateful.
Twitch has introduced something new called Cheering. It is a way for people to show support for streamers and to celebrate exciting moments with the community. The system is currently in beta and can only be used with Cheer-enabled Partners. Twitch hopes to add “more cool stuff” in coming months.
Cheering functions sort of like a microtransaction. People start by clicking on the Bits icon that appears next to the emote button on channels that have Cheering enabled. Right now, you can get 100 Bits for $1.40 (and the prices go up from there). Twitch is using Amazon Payments as their payment technology, but appears to be considering adding additional local payment methods and currency support in the future.
After you have purchased some Bits, you can use them to support a Cheer-enabled Partner on Twitch. Type “cheer” into the chat, followed by a number. It will show up in the chat with a special Bits Emote icon. Those who do a lot of Cheering in a specific channel can earn a Cheer Chat Badge.
What does this mean for people who stream on Twitch? Only Cheer-enabled partners are able to make use of the Cheering system. In one of the blog posts that Twitch created to explain Cheering, it says:
Twitch provides participating partners a share of the revenue Twitch receives from Bits equal to 1 cent per Bit used to Cheer for them, subject to certain terms and conditions such as our Bits Acceptable Use Policy.
The same blog posts states that this is the first version of Cheering. Twitch expects that Bits will also be available through promotions and as rewards for activities on Twitch. They are also working to provide additional benefits to broadcasters that people Cheer for. Again, it is still in Beta, so there could be a lot of changes made before it is finalized.
As of August 1, 2016, users of the PS4 will no longer be able to broadcast their gameplay to Ustream. They will also no longer be able to view Ustream broadcasts from “Live from PlayStation” on the PS4 system, PlayStation App (PS App) or PlayStation Vita (PS Vita).
This isn’t entirely the end for those who enjoyed streaming their gameplay, or watching other people’s gameplay, via the PS4. Players will still be able to broadcast gameplay via YouTube, Twitch, and dailymotion, and can continue to enjoy viewing these gameplay broadcasts via “Live from PlayStation”.
Sony has not given any specific reason why they chose to terminate support for Ustream features on the PS4, PS App, and PS Vita. Engadget reported that the announcement could be Sony’s way of letting users know that the partnership between Sony and Ustream had ended.