Tag Archives: streaming

Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote Review



Amazon Fire TVWhen 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.

Fire TV Stick Box  Fire TV Stick in Box

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.

Fire TV Stick Fire TV Stick Wireless

To make life even easier, there’s a set of cartoons to take you through some of the features of the Fire TV stick.

Fire TV Stick Cartoon Fire TV Stick Cartoon

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.

Fire TV Menu

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.

Amazon Fire TV StickVideo 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….

Amazon Fire TV ContentsBack 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.

Thanks to Amazon UK for providing the Fire TV Stick for review.


Oi! I Was Watching That



bluraylogoStreaming 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.


Fasetto Link Packs in the Features



Fasetto LinkNormally a wireless NAS unit wouldn’t merit a second look, with plenty of choice from big OEMs like Seagate to small crowd-funded efforts. But when this wireless NAS unit is the size of a matchbox, holds 2 TB and weighs 4oz, it’s definitely worth another viewing. Marlo and Nick examine this miniature marvel with Luke Malpass from Fasetto.

The Fasetto Link is a small waterproof cuboid just 48 mm by 23 mm, yet holds a 2 TB SSD along with 802.11ac wireless connectivity. Able to connect to 20 devices at the same time, it can stream to seven of them at once. It has a write speed of up to 1.5 Gb/s so it’s entirely feasible to have multiple wireless action cameras recording simultaneously to the Link. If that’s not enough, it uses Qi wireless charging to recharge in less than an hour.

Now this doesn’t come cheap – the 2 TB version US$1,449 but the price does fall with the capacity and a 256 GB version is only $349. The Link will be available in Q4 2016.

Marlo Anderson rounds up the latest technology news at The Tech Ranch and Nick DiMeo is a video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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skreens HDMI Video Mixing Box at 2016 CES



betterWebHeroScott Ertz interviews Marc Todd about the Skreens HDMI video mixing box.

The concept of the skreens video mixing box is that it takes multiple HDMI sources such as an X-Box, Roku, Apple TV, etc. and mixes it in user-configurable windows on a single large screen via HDMI. The individual video screen input sizes are controlled in real-time via iPad and Android tablet apps. The skreens box will be coming in two versions, a 2 HDMI port version, and a Pro version with 4 HDMI ports. Both versions have an integrated web browser.

The 4 HDMI port skreens Pro box is also capable of streaming the mixed 1080p video live to Twitch or YouTube.

Both models of the skreens boxes should be available in the second half of 2016. Final pricing has yet to be set.

You can sign up for product updates at the skreens.com website.

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DisneyLife is Disney’s New On-Demand Streaming Service



DisneyLife logoTo us geeks, it seems obvious that eventually all media will become on-demand and streamable over the Internet. But the large media companies that are often the gatekeepers to the content we want have been slow to adopt this method of distribution. Rumors have been circulating that Apple is working with TV and cable providers to try and “unbundle” the cable/satellite TV model, effectively creating an a-la-carte system where consumers can pick and choose the channels they want, instead of being forced to pay for a bunch of channels they don’t want in order to get they ones they actually like to watch. We’re probably still a few years away from that happening. Still, some content providers are stepping up and releasing their own apps that allow for on-demand streaming now. The latest high-profile name to jump into this arena is Disney.

This week, the media giant announced the launch of its DisneyLife streaming service. DisneyLife allows a family of up to six members to gain access to a comprehensive collection of Disney media including movies, TV shows, music, audiobooks, and e-books. It’s unclear at this point just how deep the DisneyLife library is. But considering how much intellectual property the company controls, DisneyLife’s potential seems almost infinite.

For now, DisneyLife is only available in the UK. There are plans to expand the service into other markets. Disney currently has licensing deals in place with Netflix for some of its properties, which probably explains why DisneyLife isn’t launching right away in the States. But it seems like only a matter of time before the service is available everywhere.


Roku 4 Delivers 4K for UHD



ROKU LogoApple, Amazon and Google have all recently announced their refreshed streaming TV media players and today market leader Roku has responded with the latest iteration in the Roku series, the Roku 4. In a happy numbering coincidence, the Roku 4 will deliver UHD 4K content for the latest ultra high definition TVs. As you’d expect given the relative rarity of UHD TVs and content, the Roku 4 will work well with normal HD TVs too.

Key features of the new Roku include a quad core processor to drive 4K streaming at 60 Hz. HDCP2 2.2 is supported and there’s optical audio out for the AV amplifier. For connectivity, there’s a gig network port along with 11ac MIMO Wi-Fi.

Roku 4 Streaming Player

The Roku 4 will run Roku OS 7, the latest update to the streaming OS which boosts previous features, particularly the Roku Feed and it now allows owners to track films, TV shows, actors and directors to receive automatic notifications about pricing and availability. In a response to a much requested feature, OS 7 can now work with wireless networks where login credentials are required.

At launch, there’s a handful of 4K channels including Netflix, M-Go, Amazon Instant Video, ToonGoogles, Vudu and You Tube, though there will be some variation depending on geographic region.

The Roku remote control has the previously-seen voice search and a headphone jack, but new to this version is the remote finder, which will help owners find the remote when it’s stuck down the back of the sofa. It’s worth buying for this feature alone!

The Roku mobile app for Android and iOS has been updated too, offering full device control including playing photos, videos and music on TV from the smartphone. A big bonus for me is “pinch to zoom” on photos which will bring out the detail from the snaps. The new app offers other Roku features such as Search, Feed, Remote Control and Play on Roku.

The new Roku 4 goes on pre-order today at roku.com for US$129.99 with delivery later in October. Pricing for other countries has not been announced yet.

If you are already a Roku owner, OS 7 will roll out to current-generation Roku players in the U.S., Canada and the UK, and Roku TVs in the US and Canada through a software update beginning in mid-October and is expected to be completed in November.


Roku Refreshes Hardware and Software



ROKU LogoRoku today announced a significant refresh of their streaming package with enhancements to both the software and hardware across the US, UK and Canada. Starting with the software, voice search lets owners search for films, TV programmes, actors and directors across the main streaming channels. For the US, that seems to mean CBS News, HBO Go and Sling TV and while the UK channels aren’t mentioned explicitly, let’s hope that it includes iPlayer, ITV Player and 4oD (or All 4).

The other new software feature is “Roku Feed” which will monitor the streaming channels for upcoming films and then let the owner know when it’s available, along with the price. Let’s say you missed Ex Machina at the cinema but want to catch it as soon as it comes out on pay-per-view. Roku Feed will keep an eye out for Ex Machina hitting the movie libraries and then let you know. I use this kind of feature with Sky for upcoming TV programmes and it is really useful.

On the hardware front, both the Roku 3 and Roku 2 have been given a hardware bump. The new Roku 3 now includes the voice search and remains the company‘s top-of-the-line streaming player. The included enhanced remote control now features a button to activate voice search and retains the headphone jack for private listening and motion control to play casual games. The new Roku 3 is available today from Roku.com and retailers for an MSRP of $99.99 in the US. UK distribution or pricing was not disclosed.

Roku 3

The Roku 2 has also been refreshed and the new Roku 2 matches the speed and performance of the new Roku 3 without the enhanced remote. The new Roku 2 is available today for $69.99 in the US and £69.99 in the UK from early May. (Don’t think much of that exchange rate!)

Roku 2

Finally, the Roku app for iOS and Android will be updated as well, rolling out in the US shortly and to other territories in the coming weeks. Free!