Tag Archives: TV

Roku Streambar Coming to UK

In good news for Roku fans in the UK, the company has announced the Roku Streambar will be coming to the country towards the end of October. The Streambar incorporates a Roku streaming player into a soundbar, hence the name, meaning all those movies and TV shows will sound a whole lot better, given the speakers in most flat TVs are pathetically bad.

This is a great addition to the current Roku line-up in available in the UK which includes the Streaming Stick+, the Premiere and the Express: you can catch my unboxing and setup videos below for these products. Priced at GB£129, the Roku Streambar delivers pictures in HD and 4K with HDR support, the same as the Premiere and Streaming Stick+, just with better sound.

In terms of the audio, the Streambar has four 1.9″ full range drivers and has built-in Dolby decoder for great sound while watching films. Roku OS has a few clever tricks up its sleeve too, enhancing speech clarity. Going by some recent films where the speech audio has roundly criticised, that’s not going to go amiss.

Looking at the ports round the back, there’s a socket for optical input, so it looks like you’ll be upgrade all your TV viewing (as long as the TV has an optical out). That’ll be a great upgrade for all TV programmes, not just those coming from the Roku itself.

The Streambar works with Spotify Connect and there’s a Spotify app on Roku so you can fill your living room with high quality sound. There’s Bluetooth connectivity as well if you need to stream from a smartphone or tablet. The Streambar will be good for BBC Sounds as well, which was recently announced for the Roku and offers “live and on demand radio from the BBC’s 18 national and 40 local stations, music mixes curated by experts, artists and special guests, and a wide range of award-winning podcasts.

Alexa and Google Assistant aren’t built-in to the Roku Steambar, but as with other Roku players, the Streambar can be controlled from an Echo or Home device. If Apple is more your walled garden, Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit capabilities will be coming some 4K Roku devices later in 2020. This integration will provide better content sharing from iPads and iPhones, and control of the Roku via either the Home app or Siri. Nice.

Overall, this looks like a great upgrade for anyone with a less-than-smart TV – a streaming player and better sound. Good job.

See below for an unboxing and review of the UK versions of the Roku Express and Premier.


Sound Made Simpler with Roku TV Ready

Roku have announced Roku TV Ready at CES, a branding and co-operation programme to ensure that consumer electronics from different companies works seamlessly with Roku TVs.

The first partners under the initiative are existing Roku TV implementer TCL North America and all-new Roku partner, Sound United, the parent company to Denon, Polk Audio, Marantz, Definitive Technology and Classé.

Denon soundbars will be the first to feature Roku TV Ready via a software update later in the year, but with Roku TV Ready, it will be much easier for branded soundbars and audio/video receivers to be setup and controlled via the Roku remote.

When connected, the audio equipment and Roku TV will recognise each other and configure themselves correctly, and integrated sound settings will accessible by pressing the star button on the Roku TV remote. No more hunting for the sound remote.

Roku TV Ready features are expected to be delivered to Roku TV models via the Roku operating system in the coming months.

Roku Express and Premiere (2019 UK) Review

The fight for HDMI 2 is intense these days, with Roku, Apple, Amazon and Google all pushing their streaming devices into the slot. It’s a big market with 28% of “people who stream” using a connected device and with Christmas fast approaching, plenty of are going to be under the tree or in a stocking. The team at Roku have recently refreshed their product line for the UK, upgrading the Roku Express and introducing the Roku Premiere, though the Roku Streaming Stick+ remains unchanged. Let’s take a look at the two new models.

The overall style and function of both devices is broadly the same – in the picture above, the Express is on the left and the Premiere on the right. In the box, there’s a small streaming player, HDMI cable, IR remote control with batteries, USB power cable and an adhesive strip to stick the player to a convenient flat surface. The Roku Premiere also comes with a power adaptor, which may or may not be needed, but with the inclusion of batteries and HDMI cable, no-one’s likely to be disappointed when unwrapping their present.

Unlike the old hockey puck-sized Roku 2-series, the new Express and Premiere are less square and more rectangular, with the Express somewhat reminiscent of large fig roll. The front has the expected smoked plastic for the IR and round the back there’s the HDMI port, the microUSB socket for power and a reset hole (which I’ve never had to use in many years of Roku ownership). On the bottom there’s a smooth flat area that can be used with the adhesive strip. I’m slightly disappointed that the purple Roku tag is no longer on the streamers….

…but fortunately, the tag is still present on the remote control which is the same for both units and the same as last time, apart from some changes to the branding of the shortcut buttons. It’s an IR remote control so line of sight is needed when positioning the small streamers themselves.

So what’s the difference between the Express and the Premiere? Simplistically, the Express is the entry-level model and proves HD quality streaming, whereas the Premiere does HD and 4K with HDR.

Getting started is straightforward as there are only HDMI and micro USB connections. Use the supplied HDMI lead to connect to the TV and the micro USB for power, which the TV may also be able to supply. If not, a USB power supply will be needed: that’s included with the Premiere but not on the entry level Express. Finish off the installation by putting the batteries in the remote control.

Most TVs will switch to the relevant HDMI input when activity is detected – if not, switch over – and it’s now largely a case of following the prompts. The Roku will attempt to auto-detect the type of TV and connection, but you can tweak it if necessary though I had no trouble. Both the Express and the Premiere use 802.11bgn wireless for connectivity so no-one should have any problems, though if you have a long password or WiFi key, using the remote can get tedious. Still you only have to do it once.

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. From the British terrestrial broadcasters, there’s BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5. For programmes on demand, there’s Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies, Disney+ and Apple TV+. And let’s not forget YouTube. For audio fans, there’s Spotify, Deezer, BBC Sounds, 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”.

If you want to look up what’s available in your country, you can review Roku’s Channel Store on the web. The vast majority of the channels are free to add to your Roku, but some do require payment, either as a one-off, or else as a subscription, such as Netflix.

On the other hand, if you have your own media, the Roku Media Player will play from DLNA servers and a Plex client can be installed too. I streamed ripped movies from a NAS 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. Unlike some earlier models of Roku, there’s no longer a USB port or memory card slot, so you can’t play media from local devices.

If you’re a real film buff, you’ll be interested in Roku’s Search and My 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). Discoveries from Search are automatically incorporated into My Feed, so it’s a great way of keeping track of actors or films that you love.

The Roku’s main user interface is a simple menu-driven big button affair. It’s not nearly as complex as Amazon’s Fire, which combines media from multiple sources and can be tremendously confusing at times. 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.

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 and the new Apple TV+ channel is very stylish as you’d expect from company.

The 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, Google Play, Rakuten TV and Spotify, 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 and iOS) which can be used to not only manage and control the Roku, 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. One of the app’s best features is private listening, which routes the Roku’s audio through your smartphone or tablet so you can listen on headphones.

Well, that wraps the review up – we’ve taken a look at the devices themselves and the channels available and it’s all good. The Roku Express and Premiere are both competent media streamers that offer a wide range of channels without being tied into anyone’s ecosystem. Really the only decision you have to make is whether HD on the Express is enough or whether to future-proof for 4K and get the Premiere.

Pricewise, the Express has an RRP of GB£29.99 and the Premiere costs GB£39.99.

If you want to see more of the Rokus, I’ve an unboxing and setup video below.

Thanks to Roku for providing the Roku Express and Premiere for review.

Roku Boosts UK Presence with New Models

UK-based Roku fans will be pleased to hear that the streaming company is launching two new models into the country; the Roku Express and the Roku Premiere. The Express is a refresh of the entry-level model but the Premiere is a brand-new mid-range device offering 4K streaming with HDR. The existing Roku Streaming Stick+ will remain in the product line-up.

This year’s Roku Express is a much softer version of its predecessor and I’d be tempted to say looks a bit like a fig roll – see right. I’m sure the PR people would prefer something like sleek and curvaceous. It’s perfect for your standard HD TV and comes with a simple remote control with popular streaming channel shortcut buttons, an HDMI cable and a power cord.

The mid-range Roku Premiere is a good way to start streaming in HD, 4K Ultra HD or 4K HDR. It actually looks very like the previous generation Express (see left) but nevertheless features a powerful quad-core processor. As before, in the box, there’s the remote control, HDMI cable and a power cord.

I much prefer the Roku interface over other competitive products and in the UK, all the terrestrial broadcasters offer their catch-up services – BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5 –  and then you’ve also got Netflix, Spotify, Google Play Movies, NowTV and Amazon Prime Video. Roku’s are ideal if you don’t want to get trapped in a particular ecosystem.

We are delivering more value and improved picture quality across the new 2019 streaming player line up for the United Kingdom. The Roku Premiere delivers 4K HDR for a more immersive TV experience,” said Lloyd Klarke, Director Product Management at Roku. “Whether you are new to streaming or demand more advanced features such as better Wi-Fi, 4K HDR and voice search, we have the right streaming player for everyone.

The 2019 Roku streaming players will be available in the UK from early October from all the usual suspects – Argos, Currys, ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Amazon and other fine retailers. Pricing is below.

  • Roku Express GB£29.99
  • Roku Premiere: GB£39.99
  • Roku Streaming Stick+: GB£49.99

Don’t forget the UK will be seeing Roku TVs for the first time from Hisense shortly.

Roku TV Comes To Europe

Good news for Roku lovers in Europe – the hardware streaming company is bringing its Roku TV licensing programme across the pond to the continent.

At IFA in Berlin, Roku CEO, Anthony Wood, announced that Hisense is the first European Roku TV partner. The new Hisense Roku TV models will combine Roku’s easy-to-use operating system and thousands of streaming channels with Hisense’s picture and screen technologies to deliver 4K Ultra HD resolution with the enhanced detail and contrast levels of HDR.

TV manufacturers will license Roku TV reference designs and embed Roku OS in their smart TVs, offering a huge range of streaming channels, including Google Play Movies, Amazon Prime, Netflix and catch-up TV  for terrestrial broadcasters. Roku TV was first introduced at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, and today over 100 models are available from more than 10 brands in North America. Roku estimates that in the first half of 2019 more than a third of smart TVs sold in the U.S. were Roku TVs. That’s pretty impressive.

While consumers love Roku TV’s simplicity and advanced features, TV manufacturers benefit from the low cost of manufacturing, a variety of technology options, and support from Roku. The ability to quickly bring to market a leading smart TV experience that is regularly updated by Roku and is packed with entertainment gives TV manufacturers an edge in the competitive TV business,” said Wood. “We are pleased to bring the Roku TV licensing program to Europe and look forward to the first Hisense Roku TVs in market this year.

The new Hisense Roku TV models are expected to be available for purchase in the UK in late autumn in sizes ranging up to 65″. Pricing and other details will be announced by Hisense later this year.

Cleveland Comic-Con 2017

Wizard World’s Cleveland Comic-Con kicked off its third annual show this past weekend, with a pretty good crowd. Fans gathered at the Huntington Convention Center in downtown Cleveland to get their fill of comics, art, toys and several celebs. Famous faces included: Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Gene Simmons (Kiss), Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter), Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), Charisma Carpenter and Nicholas Brendon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jewel Staite (Firefly), Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek) and more. Wizard World Comic Con Cleveland will return, March 23-25, 2018.

Topop VGA to HDMI Converter Review

If you spend any time at all tinkering with computers, it’s inevitable that one day you will have a computer with one set of ports and a peripheral with a completely different set of ports. Back in early 90s, before USB, serial ports changed from 25 pins to 9 pins and you needed a whole bag full of adaptors and gender changers. Or SCSI, which went through a series of connectors faster than you could say Sun Microsystems.

Today, it’s usually video standards that cause the problem, with VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort and even USB C all trying to get in on the act. Often it’s an older VGA PC trying to connect to a newer HDMI flatscreen TV or an HDMI-only ultraportable wanting to use a VGA equipped data projector. In this case, it’s the former, as I take a quick look at the Topop VGA to HDMI Converter with Audio Support.

As you’ll see from the unboxing video, the converter comes in plain packaging and there’s no branding on either packaging or the converter. In the pack, there’s only two cables, the VGA to HDMI converter and a USB to micro USB cable which is used to power the converter via socket on the back of the HDMI part. The additional power is needed because there’s electronics in the converter to change the picture signal from analogue VGA to digital HDMI.

Topop VGA-to-HDMI converter

Getting going is simplicity itself.  Plug the VGA end into the PC or laptop and then use a standard HDMI-to-HDMI cable to connect the other end of the converter into the monitor or HDTV. The 3.5mm stereo jack needs plugged into the PC’s sound card or headphone socket and finally the converter needs powered using the USB to microUSB cable.

Turn on the computer and the HDTV. If it’s a laptop, don’t forget to toggle the relevant function key to get the laptop to output to the VGA port. On the TV, switch to the right HDMI input if it doesn’t switch automatically, and Bob’s your uncle as they say.

For me, it worked perfectly first time on an old Toshiba Satellite Pro A120 running at 1280 x 800. The picture quality was good too. I wasn’t expecting much as even directly connected VGA can look a bit fuzzy on a bigger monitor but the Topop converter does an excellent job. Here are a couple of screen shots which aren’t really going to show off the picture quality but if you click through they’ll give you an idea. The converter had no problem keeping up with video either and I was able to watching Netflix and YouTube.

Topop VGA-to-HDMI converter  Topop VGA to HDMI converter

The converter has audio support so sound comes out of the TV speakers. Possibly the only downside of the converter is that the audio cable could be a little longer. It’s around 55cm, which seems fine, but if you have a laptop where the headphone socket is on the front, the cable has to come under the laptop rather than round the side. Other than that, it’s hard to fault and the converter seems well enough made – I tried a little wiggling and nothing came free so QC passed…

Note that this converter will only go from VGA to HDMI. It will not do the reverse, HDMI to VGA, so don’t buy it thinking that it might.

In summary, the Topop VGA to HDMI converter with audio support works well and gives a good picture on the screen. At GB£10.99 it’s well priced, especially if you want to prolong the usefulness of an older computer with a newer monitor. It’s worth it too if you occasionally want to show some digital photos on your big HDTV and like to keep it simple.

Thanks to GoldenSwing for supplying the Topop VGA-to-HDMI converter cable for review.