Category Archives: TV

Roku 2 Media Streamer (2015) Review



Roku LogoMedia streamers are hugely in vogue at the moment with products from Roku, Apple, Google and Amazon, and good a few of these are going to appear under the Christmas tree in a few day’s time. Although hard numbers are difficult to come back, it’s generally thought that the market leader by a good way is Roku, with Google, Apple and Amazon following in roughly that order. Once the figures are in for the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales, this could all change. Regardless, on review here is the UK 2015 version of the Roku 2, which now sits in the middle of Roku’s British line-up, between the Streaming Stick and the Roku 3. Let’s take a look.

Roku 2 in Box

In the box, you get the Roku 2, remote control (with batteries) and power supply with four plug adaptors, including UK, US and continental. There’s no HDMI cable.

Roku 2 inside box

As with the previous Roku 2 models, it’s in the “hockey puck” style, though it’s a little bit more rounded than the earlier Roku 2 models. The remote is the usual candy bar, but this model uses IR signal transmission rather than the WiFi and Bluetooth of predecessors. This may be of interest if your Roku normally lives round the back of the TV as you’ll need to bring it into view.

Roku 2 Front

Looking round the 2, there’s the trademark fabric tab on one side, with a USB port on the other. At the back you’ll find HDMI, network and DC power sockets, along with a microSD card slot. In addition to the Ethernet, the Roku 2 has dual band wireless.

Getting started is straightforward. Plug everything into the Roku 2, put the batteries in the remote and sit back on the sofa with the remote. The Roku 2 steps through the setup in a straightforward fashion, though putting in long passwords or WiFi keys can be a bit laborious. Regardless, you can be up and running within minutes.

Roku offers over 1,500 streaming entertainment channels which are great for followers of niche programming, whether travel, sport, kids, health & fitness or faith/religion. However, the vast majority of UK buyers will be interested in the offerings from the main terrestrial broadcasters plus the well known video-on-demand services. Naturally, Roku has them all. BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, Sky Now, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Google Play Movies and YouTube. For audio fans, there’s Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, TuneIn and Vevo. Newshounds will like the BBC News and Sky News channels. I could keep going but in summary there’s lots there and no-one will ever be able to say, “There’s nothing on the TV”.

Roku 2 RearOn the other hand if you have your own media, the Roku Media Player will play from USB storage and DLNA servers, and a Plex client can be installed too. I streamed ripped movies from a Buffalo Linkstation and while picture quality can be subject to network speeds, I had no problems at all and enjoyed HD footage without glitches from all the services that offered HD streaming. The Roku 2 has a HD optimised processor and I think it shows. The microSD slot can’t be used for media storage but can be used to boost the internal memory of the Roku 2 for extra channels.

If you’re a real film buff, you’ll be interested in Roku Search and Roku Feed. The former searches through top channels by title, actor or director to find your favourite programming and the Roku Feed automatically updates you when new films become available for streaming (or if the price changes).

The Roku 2’s main user interface is a simple menu driven affair and it’s not nearly as sophisticated as Amazon’s Fire, which combines media from multiple sources. Part of this is because the Roku doesn’t have the integrated cloud-based ecosystem behind it in the style of Amazon or Google, but part is to keep things straightforward and easy to use, much like an ordinary TV. The channels such as Netflix then have their own interface. Frankly, I prefer the channel approach as you know what you are getting, e.g. BBC programming, Netflix’s catalogue, YouTube video. Channel or app sophistication varies hugely. Most are good, especially from the big names like BBC or Netflix, though Spotify’s channel is a bit disappointing.

Roku RemoteThe remote is easy to use with a directional pad falling easily under the thumb. Other buttons function as home, back and menu controls. There are four shortcut buttons for Netflix, YouTube, Rdio and Google Movies, which is great if you use those services, but a waste of space if you don’t. It’s a pity they aren’t more generically labelled, e.g. Films, Music, News, Sport, with a configuration option for each button. Even better would be to print and label your own buttons!

To play media from smartphones and tablets, Roku offers a complementary app (Android, iOS and Windows) which can be used to not only manage and control the Roku 2, but also cast media from the mobile device to the screen. It’s great to show the photos you’ve just taken on the TV.

There’s no doubt there’s strong competition out there for the spot below your TV but the Roku 2 performed well and without issue. Pricewise, the Roku 2 has an RRP of £69.99 but can be found on-line for £10 less which is good value especially at the lower price. Of course, if you don’t need to play from local storage, consider the Roku Streaming Stick which is £20 cheaper (RRP £49.99). Overall, I think the Roku is a good choice if your intention is to “watch TV” without being distracted by unnecessary features. Go on, get one for Christmas.

Thanks to Roku for providing the Roku 2 for review.


Will you cut the cord in 2016?



Roku 2Cutting the cord simply means turning off your TV service, be it cable or satellite. You will obviously still need a cord for internet service, so the phrase is a bit confusing. Most people do this by using internet-based alternatives.

Of those, there are many choices — Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu Plus are popular choices. Sling TV launched not long ago and provides what is literally a TV service over the internet, with channels like ESPN, CNN, History, HGTV and many more streaming live.

These service aren’t free of course, but even using two or three of them adds up to considerably less than the average cable bill. And once you’ve purchased a box such as Amazon Fire TV or Roku your fee for that is done — no monthly box rental, none of those minor little charges that seem to get stuck into bills in hopes you don’t notice.

There are some drawbacks, of course. With the exception of Sling you won’t be watching live TV.  The problem is Sling doesn’t carry the major networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox. However you can catch many shows on Hulu Plus, you just have to wait until usually the next day.

So, will 2016 be the year that you’ll take this plunge, or have you already? Let us know and also what services you are, or plan to, use.


Samsung responds to allegations of its TVs cheating on tests



Samsung LogoIt’s been a week of accusations, starting with car maker VW and moving on to Samsung, who was accused by The Guardian of fudging results for its televisions. The report suggests that one of the modes built into the TVs was simply for testing as opposed to actual use by customers.

The feature in question is ‘motion lighting’ which lowers the screen brightness to save power usage. Samsung explains that this is a standard feature and is on by default when a customer gets the TV.

According to Samsung, “Motion lighting is not a setting that only activates during compliance testing. On the contrary, it is a default setting which works both in the lab and at home; delivering energy savings and helping us to reduce our environmental impact”,

The TV maker says this feature was introduced back in 2011 and designed to help consumers save power. Users can switch to a different mode if they choose to.

“The setting is explained in all of our instruction manuals, and also features on our website”. It’s up to you, do believe Samsung?


Terk Announces New Indoor HDTV Antennas



Terk logoCutting the cord is getting easier every day. And even tho you can get a great deal of TV programming online, gaps persist. One of the easiest ways to close those gaps is to turn to local, over-the-air free TV broadcasts. Many viewers don’t even realize this is an option, as cable and satellite TV companies have led us to believe that they’re the only options when it comes to television distribution.

Mention TV antennas and most people imagine either large aerials rusting atop old houses or the dreaded “rabbit-ear” style receivers most commonly associated with home TV sets. Fortunately, TV antennas are much improved in the modern day. And leading that field is Terk with the release of its new Horizon and Trinity amplified indoor antennas.

Horizon is a bar-style antenna, similar in design to a sound bar. Horizon offers superior reception in both UHF and VHF frequencies by utilizing Terk’s trademarked SmartBoost system that improves weak signals while preventing outside RF noise interference which means a more reliable and consistent HD picture. Horizon can be powered via USB or a standard electrical outlet.

The Trinity amplified indoor TV antenna uses patent pending Trimodal RF technology to provide superior signal reception without the troublesome adjustments required by traditional “rabbit-ear” style antennas. Trinity outperforms other indoor antenna solutions by offering a wider field of coverage from up to 60 miles away from broadcast towers to deliver the best quality reception across both VHF and UHF bands. And like the Horizon antenna, Trinity also uses Terk’s SmartBoost technology to ensure the best possible HD picture.

These Terk antennas are available now for purchase at most major electronics retailers.


Major Apple TV Revamp Could Be Coming



Apple LogoApple’s set-top box, the Apple TV, has always been a bit of a curiosity. The so-called “hobby” device has been around for years. Originally, the Apple TV was envisioned as a home theater hub, shipping with built-in apps for media streaming as well as an internal hard drive for local file storage. But Apple stripped the device down in later iterations, removing the hard drive and slimming the Apple TV down to the familiar hockey-puck shape we see today. Speculation has run rampant over the last year that the Apple TV would see a major update, and it looks like Apple will be delivering the refreshed device next month.

Highlights of the new Apple TV:

  • It’ll run iOS 9 on an iOS Core
  • Siri Support
  • App Store
  • New remote control

The items on this list that are most interesting are the switch from the current Apple TV OS to iOS and the inclusion of the App Store. Independent media producers have been clambering for a long time for Apple to truly open up the Apple TV to third-party developers. Current Apple TVs host a limited number of apps, all of which are curated by Apple. The new Apple TV will truly be open to anyone who wants to get onto the platform. And now that the device will rely on iOS hardware and software to operate, it’ll be even easier for developers to bring things like games to the Apple TV.

While these are great developments, it looks like the new Apple TV won’t be shipping with quite everything consumers have been hoping for. One of the biggest rumors that’s been swirling around the Apple TV is Apple’s supposed Internet TV service that would truly unbundle cable TV once and for all. Apple is allegedly still negotiating with content providers for this new TV service. Regardless, the new Apple TV looks like an exciting revamp of a product line that looked like it had almost been abandoned not too long ago.


Logitech Harmony takes control of your Sony PlayStation 4



Logitech LogoThe Harmony line of universal remotes, now owned by Logitech, has been seeing a lot of activity lately in terms of updates and improvements. The remote can control more and more devices all the time, including Amazon Fire TV and even home automation products like Philips Hue light bulbs.

One thing lacking was your Sony game console, a feature cutomers were apparently asking for. That lacks no longer as today Logitech announces that Harmony can now be used with the PS4.

This will allow customers to navigate the menus, as well as control blu-ray discs and apps like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant and more.

There is one thing missing, as Logitech points out — “One thing we do need to mention is, unfortunately, this update does not allow you to power your PlayStation on directly—Sony does not permit any remote other than their game controller to power on the game console”. It’s a minor drawback, but the company promises that once your system is on then it’s in Harmony’s control.

This will all work over Bluetooth, so there are no worries if your console is behind a cabinet door or something like that. No official word is being given about the roll out of this update, but it would seem it’s immediate or at least imminent.


Designer Mirror TVs at Gadget Show Live



DMTV LogoWe all love our big flatscreen TVs but there are places where 64″ of technology doesn’t fit; think of a period room for example, and let’s be honest, the large expanse of black when the TV is off isn’t very attractive either. Mirror TVOne resolution to these problems is to disguise the flatscreen as an attractive framed mirror, which is where Designer Mirror TV comes in. The team at DMTV have the skills to convert a flat TV into a framed mirror. Whether an ornate Regency frame or a subtle modern trim, it can match the room’s decor. One minute it’s an stunning mirror, the next it’s a TV showing through the mirror.

Starting from 32″ and going all the way up to 85″, you can design your mirror TV on their website to your decor and taste. Prices start at a little under £1500 but a 4K 85″ mirror TV will set you back more than £14,000.

To hear more about converting a TV into a mirror, listen to my interview with Sunny from Designer Mirror TV at Gadget Show Live.