Category Archives: video

Fix Rubbish TV Sound with the Roku Streambar



The new Streambar is the latest addition to Roku‘s range of media streamers in the UK. Unlike the other devices in the range, Express, Premiere and Streaming Stick+, which simply stream channels and programmes to the TV, the Streambar looks to address the problem of poor sound from flatscreen TVs by combining a Roku streamer with a compact soundbar. Is this the best of both worlds or a Jack of all trades? Let’s take a look…and a listen.

While the transition from bulky CRTs to LCD flat screens led to 4K and HDR, it didn’t help audio presentation at all. Thinness and narrow bezels aren’t friends to speakers and sound quality suffered. While A/V setups have been popular, they’re typically expensive and require wires all around the room to speakers in the corners. As an alternative, soundbars have become popular in the last few years, providing significant audio improvement without all the cables.

The Roku Streambar isn’t as long as some of the soundbars on the market, measuring around 35.6 cm wide, 6.1 cm high and 10.7 cm deep, and at this size, it fits neatly in front or below the TV. Inside the Streambar are four 1.9″ speakers, two facing forwards and two to the left and the right, providing much-improved audio. There’s a discreet LED just above the Roku logo that’s white in use and red when in standby.

Round the back of the Streambar, there are connections for power, digital audio (S/PDIF), HDMI and a USB port, along with a reset button. If the Streambar needs to be wall-mounted, there are a pair of screw sockets.

The Streambar follows Roku’s long tradition of including everything in the box: there’s no need to nip out for batteries at the last minute. Inside there’s the Streambar, voice IR remote control with AAA batteries, HDMI cable, digital optical cable, power supply (with both UK and European plugs).

Continuing in tradition, the Streambar follows the usual pattern of Roku setup with a couple of tweaks to accommodate the audio requirements. Simplistically, the Roku needs connected to the wifi (11ac – there’s no ethernet) and you need to sign up or sign in.

The main difference between an ordinary Roku media streamer and the Streambar is the sound and the clever trick here is that the Streambar can play audio from any device connected to the TV, whether Freeview, SkyQ or a Bluray player. The Streambar takes advantage of HDMI ARC – Audio Return Channel – which carries the sound signal to the device. It’s available on most new-ish TVs and it’s usually HDMI 1.

If there’s no HDMI ARC, the alternative is to use digital audio and that’s what I had to do with my TV. I have an HD Samsung TV that’s well over ten years old and there’s no HDMI ARC, so it was a digital connection for me. The Roku setup process runs through these different options and shows the necessary steps. It really only takes a few minutes to get the setup done.

Once configured, the Streambar is very much the Roku we all know and love, supporting 4K and HDR. The Roku uses the idea of channels which are kind of like apps, and all the usual UK suspects are available: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4, My5. In addition, there’s all the subscription channels you can afford: Netflix, Prime Video, NowTV, Apple TV, Disney+, BritBox, Spotify. For your country’s regional variations, check www.roku.com/channelchecker to see what’s available.

Existing Roku users will have all their channels auto-loaded during the Streambar setup and new users can quickly add their favourites by browsing categories or searching for particular apps/channels.

I’m not going to review the Roku user interface in detail as it’s well covered elsewhere (check out my Roku reviews on YouTube) other than to say that the Roku is my favourite media streamer. The UI is simple, straightforward and isn’t trying to sell something all the time (I’m looking at you, Amazon Fire Stick). It seems like I’m not the only one either: over the past five years, Roku’s been the market leader in streaming media players, holding about a third of the market in the US.

There are a few customisations for the Streambar which don’t appear in the other Roku models and as you’d expect, they’re to do with sound. For starters, and most obviously given the tile on the screen, there’s a special Bluetooth app for connecting other devices to the Streambar in order to take advantage of the better speaker.

In addition, there are settings to adjust the audio including the bass, volume and, one of my personal favourites, speech clarity, which makes a reasonable attempt to promote speech over effects.

Prior to installation, my biggest concern about the Streambar was that I was going to have to use multiple remotes to control the volume – that’s the problem I currently have with my Yamaha AV amp. Fortunately, this was completely unfounded and even though my Samsung TV is over ten years old, the TV and Streambar played well together, outputting all sound to the Streambar, regardless of whether the sound signal came from Sky, Freeview or the Bluray player. Any remote could be used to control the volume.

One problem that my wife did encounter was that sometimes the Roku Streambar would go to sleep and wouldn’t rise from its slumber when the TV was turned back on. Using the Roku remote volume buttons normally solved the problem and woke it up but I later discovered that changing the Power setting to Fast Start resolved the issue as well.

As this is a soundbar, let’s focus on the Streambar’s audio qualities. Technically, it supports Dolby Audio but is the sound better than the TV’s? Yes, by a long way. It’s much richer, fuller and deeper with good clarity. TV soundtracks sound much better and more natural, and the effects in films become more emphatic and engaging. I also found it noticeable playing video games on my Nintendo Switch, and there’s a particular jingle on BBC’s Newsround which sounds terrible on my kitchen TV which is totally transformed by the Roku Streambar. Even better, it’s actually possible to listen to Spotify through the Streambar without cringing.

As the Roku Streambar is only 35 cm wide, the stereo separation is fairly limited, but apart from that the Roku Streambar performs well for the money. For sure, it doesn’t sound as impressive as a Dolby 5.1 Surround system, but then the Streambar costs a quarter of the price and doesn’t need cables everywhere. Regardless it’s still a significant improvement over a standard TV.

Before wrapping up the review, an honourable mention needs to go to the inclusion of a USB port on the Streambar. Plug in a memory stick or external hard drive and local media can be played directly, which is great for those with collections of ripped DVDs or home videos. This is the only model in the UK range to offer this, though all models can play from NAS units. And let’s not forget the complementary Roku app which will show smartphone photos and videos on the TV screen.

Having used the Roku for a couple of weeks, I think it’s a worthy upgrade for a not-very-smart flatscreen TV such as my ancient Samsung. You get a top-end Roku media streamer along with a soundbar, just as it says on the box. The RRP of the Roku Streambar is GB£129.99 but there’s currently a Black Friday offer on bringing the price down to £99.99 (offer ends 16/12/20). At either price, it’s a good deal. Available from all good stores.

There’s more in the video below.

The Roku Streambar was provided for review by Roku.


New Tom Hanks movie to be released straight to Apple TV as an exclusive



I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of who Tom Hanks is. The man who gave us things like Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, Captain Phillips and Sully, just to name a few.

Now Hanks has a new movie and this release will be unique, but also a sign of the times we’re living in. With theaters closed Sony reached a deal with Apple TV to give it exclusive rights to the World War II submarine movie “Greyhound”

The movie had been slated for father’s day weekend, but Apple has given no date when they’ll begin showing it.

This is not the only movie going this route,  “Scoob” is now on Amazon Prime directly. And others have or will follow suit.

What will this do to the theater industry? It’s hard to say. It may recover when all of this passes, but will people return or will they become used to this new way of doing business? It will be interesting to see this play out.

In the meantime Sony has released a trailer which you can watch here


Aveine: Breath of the Wine at CES 2018



As serious wine connoisseurs know, you have to let red (and some white) wines breathe after opening, allowing them to aerate for the best aroma and taste. As a generalisation, the younger the wine, the longer it needs to rest before drinking. Very young wines might need a few hours, but half-an-hour is the minimum. And simply taking the cork out doesn’t count: the wine needs to be decanted (or double-decanted back into the bottle) for proper aeration. If this sounds like too much effort, then take a look at Aveine, a connected aerator and winner of a CES Innovation Award. Don and Matthieu get every wine tasting its best.

Thanks to the connected aerator Aveine, you can immediately taste any wine in ideal conditions without having to wait 30 minutes or more. Place the aerator on the bottle, scan the label with your smartphone and serve. The smartphone checks for the wine in its database, connects to the Aveine and adjusts the aeration so that the aerator breathes the right amount of air as the wine is poured allowing it to breathe in an instant. Any red wine will benefit and there’s no waiting around or pouring into decanters.

The Aveine aerator is launching on Indiegogo in March – signup for notifications at Aveine. Retail pricing is expected to be US$200 with deals on Indiegogo. Delivery in June.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

P.S. This is possibly the funniest CES video – a few things are lost in translation.

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Smarten up the Garage Door with SkyLink at CES 2018



Converting a house into a smart home shouldn’t mean replacing every electrical device for a new smart model. A cheaper and greener way is to add smart features in with wireless accessories. A good example here is SkyLink Nova which adds smart capabilities to automatic garage doors at relatively low cost. Don and Frank take a closer look at SkyLink Nova and its accompanying ecosystem.

The SkyLink Nova is wired into an existing garage door opener using the standard connections used for the interior open/close button. Once connected up, the Nova can be remotely controlled with the SkyLink smartphone app (iOS and Android). Nova is also compatible with If This Then That (IFTTT) platform and Alexa so the garage door can be opened (or closed) by talking to an Echo.

The Nova itself looks like an LED light fixture and works as a smart home hub too, communicating with up to 100 smart devices. In addition, it can detect sirens from smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house. When one of those is heard, Nova will automatically open your garage door to aid in ventilation in the case of an emergency.

SkyLink‘s Nova will be on sale in the spring for under US$100.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

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Get Smappee for Energy Efficiency at CES 2018



The efficient use of electricity is a win-win: it both saves money and saves the planet. At home, energy-efficient LED lightbulbs have all but replaced incandescent bulbs, which means the quick wins are gone. The next step is to identify the big energy consumers in the home and that’s where Smappee comes in. Stefan and Don save the world.

Smappee is an energy monitoring system that identifies the energy usage and behaviour of major appliances in the home. Each fridge, AC unit, cooker, TV has a unique electrical “fingerprint” and over time the Smappee monitor works out which appliance is starting and stopping, sometimes with a little help from the homeowner. With this information, Smappee shows the running cost of each one in the complementary Smappee app. Anything that consumes more than 20W can be identified but really the wins are with devices that use kilowatts of power.

Smappee doesn’t require an electrician to install Smappee as it uses a sensor clamped round the live cable coming from the meter. Nothing needs to be cut or permanently installed.

Smappee is available now for US$350.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

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Encrypted Storage with SecureDrive at CES 2018



Encrypted external hard drives and USB memory sticks have been around for at least a decade, but most of the time it’s either locked or unlocked: if you have the password, you’re in. Sergey from SecureDrive shows Scott their security solution to this common problem.

SecureDrive specialise in hardware encrypted data storage. They’ve three product ranges with varying capacity (1 – 5 TB) to address different security and storage requirements.
– SecureDrive BT, which uses Bluetooth and an app for authentication
– SecureDrive KP, which uses keypad authentication
– BackupDrive, which backs up files and encrypts them with built-in anti-malware
For the rapid transfer of large files, all the devices use USB 3.0, and for security, it’s pending FIPS 140-2 level 3. That’s pretty secure.

The unique part of the SecureDrive solution focuses on the BT model, which uses Bluetooth and an authentication app. Instead of the drive only being locked or unlocked, the solution allows additional controls for geo-fencing and time schedules. For example, the SecureDrive BT can be set to only unlock between 9-5 M-F or only if the unit is within company premises. In addition, there’s remote management so authorisations can be revoked and the drive remotely wiped.

The drives are assembled in Ohio, USA, and they’re available for purchase priced at  US$299-$499. The remote management feature is a subscription service.

Scott Ertz is a software developer and video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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The Turtles are Back with Root Robotics at CES 2018



When I watched Don’s interview with Raphael, I was transported back to my school days in the early 1980s and adventures with a BBC Micro ‘B’, Logo and a Turtle. While the user interface is definitely better, the patterns on the paper look just the same! To be fair to Raphael and Root Robotics, their turtle does do a bit more – it has over 50 sensors and actuators.

Root’s approach is to use the robot as a fun way to introduce coding to children and young adults. The coding environment has three modes, with simplest using big colourful blocks, through to the most complex which uses Swift, Python and JavaScript. The robot itself retains the pen for drawing patterns but today’s turtles are magnetic for sticking to white boards and have a dry eraser to wipe off pen trails. The robot has over 50 sensors and actuators so it can move and draw, but it can also sense touch, measure light levels and feel edges and walls. It’ll play music, respond to button presses and flash lights. Very impressive.

The Root robot will be shipping in June 2018 for US$199. Pre-orders are open.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

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