Monthly Archives: September 2013

1 3988

The company continues to add popular content

Ryan M Downey

Apple TV is becoming very aggressive about adding content to its Apple TV device. Its app lineup has nearly doubled over the last year. And while it likely will never have as many app options as its chief rival Roku, it seems obvious that Apple has taken a quality vs quantity approach. The apps offered by Apple are the most popular in their category and its latest additions are no exception.
Disney Jr is one of two giants in children’s entertainment along with Nick Jr. Nickelodeon’s programming which is already available on Hulu Plus, another offering on Apple TV.  In addition Apple has also added the MLS app which now gives Apple an offering for each of the Major professional sports leagues in the US outside of the NFL which does not have an official web offering.

Explosive Growth
It has been an exciting year for Apple TV.  In the past year Apple has added: The Smithsonian Channel, Sky News, The Weather Channel, Disney Jr, Watch ESPN, MLS, The Disney Channel, Disney XD, HBO Go, Vevo, Crunchy Roll, the Watch ESPN App and Flickr. That is a tremendous amount of growth for a product that just over a year ago did not even offer Hulu Plus. There are many who think that Apple should open up its platform to third party developers but the notoriously insular company is not going to be changing its stripes anytime soon and it shouldn’t. Keeping its ecosystem tight means that Apple can be certain that each of the apps it offers give users the highest quality experience possible.  While Roku certainly offers far more channels including all of Apple TV’s offerings besides ESPN and sky TV, Apple now offers all of the same heavy hitters. Partnered with Apple’s popular Air Play technology as well as its iTunes integration Apple is in a very strong position as streaming gains more mainstream adoption.

Like Us On Facebook!!!

1 2187

Company’s release includes upgrades to lower end models as well as new VOD Service

KISR (Keep it Simple Roku)
Roku has re-branded its line of products in an obvious effort to simplify. Many bloggers and tech reporters are lauding the company’s efforts. It has been reported on numerous sites that the Roku 1 has been given a “major” upgrade. This reporting is a bit erroneous because the Roku 1 did not get a face lift. Roku has never had a model called the Roku 1 until now.  What has happened is that Roku upgraded the features on two lower end models, made the look of each Roku more uniform and has chosen to name their products in an easier to understand numerically tiered fashion. Until now the company had used letter designations to differentiate. This started to change with the release of the Roku 3 which was a huge upgrade from its previous top model the XS.
Until the release of the Roku 3 this year the four models of Roku available for sale were the Roku LT, Roku HD, Roku 2XD, and Roku XS.   Do you see how  the previous naming system could be confusing? Based on the letter distinctions which one sounds like the most recent and or powerful? On the other hand apple has released in succession Apple TV, Apple TV 2 and Apple TV 3.

What’s New

At $49.00 the Roku LT or Roku lite” is still the lowest priced model , capable of rendering 720p HD video  and is compatible with non HD TVs. The only change to the product is cosmetic as it now has rounded corners to match the rest of the product line. The Roku 1 is the upgraded version of the Roku 2 HD which had previously sold for $59.00. The Roku 1 will also sell for $59.00 in its place. Aside from the more curved features of the Roku 1 the major change is that the “HD” was only capable of rendering 720p HD and Roku 1 will render 1080p HD. The Roku XD now no longer exists as it has been rechristened simply the Roku 2. Like Roku “1” the Roku 2 will sell at the identical price point of the model it replaces at $79.00 but adds the feature of a speaker jack for private listening on its remote, which previously was only available on the Roku 3. Like the “XD” the Roku 2 can also be attached a standard TV or HD Television.  Meanwhile the Roku 3 remains the same and the best product of the line.

Why Roku did this Rollout

Besides simplifying its line up the new releases have had another affect. This product roll out gives Roku more buzz. The timing could not have been better.   The company has a chance to put out a flashy new release less than a week after Apple took a bit of a black eye for its problems regarding the firmware update on the industry-leading Apple TV.
The buried headline in the Roku Rollout appears to be its new partnership with media distributer M-GO. Roku now has an official partner for the a-la-carte distribution of television shows and movies. Roku will profit directly from the purchases of the content unlike its other on demand providers including Amazon on Demand and VUDU. How much of a revenue stream this provides will remain to be seen but it does allow Roku to tap into the same sort of model that Apple has with its i-Tunes store and Google with the Google Play Movies and TV selections.

The Big Story Could Be Coming Later

Anthony Wood has already stated that DIAL protocol is going to be added to Roku’s capabilities in what will be a major change to its product line. DIAL is the method that Google’s Chromecast utilizes to “Cast” Netflix and YouTube on to a TV. I have to wonder if Roku will also roll out a protocol that also allows users to mirror tabs in a computer browser. If Roku does make those moves it will very much neutralize the aggressive entry from Google. There has also been chatter since February of Roku becoming capable of using Miracast which is a service that mirrors Android devices in a very close approximation of Apple’s popular Air Play feature utilized via Apple products in concert with Apple TV. I have to wonder if the company is holding off on rolling out those features for strategic reasons in preparation for an Amazon streaming product announcement, if the company is still working out the details or if all of the speculation is just wrong.   There is also the matter of a customer survey that Roku sent out to the owners of its products in regards to use of YouTube and its Roku clone Video Buzz. The release of the survey led many to believe that Roku was either finally working out a deal with Google or putting together its own official YouTube substitute. But again that idea is only pure speculation.

Like Us On Facebook

0 2705

Ryan Michael Downey

Fall Shows Promise to Disappoint
ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS have released dozens of shows and spent millions of dollars on programming that will crash and burn. Projects that looked so promising throughout the summer will be labeled busts and would be careers will be over before they can start. Network executives will say that they are disappointed and critics will play I told you so. It is often difficult for network television and even cable television producers to know exactly what an audience will embrace even though sometimes like in the case of “Work It” it should have been obvious from the start.

New Kids on The Block
Outside of the established giants of broadcasting and the cable networks there are some new networks producing shows that are really taking off. Those networks are Netflix and Amazon and to a lesser extent Hulu. Three Emmy wins for Netflix’s House of Cards including best director for a dramatic series may signal a seed change in the television industry. They are starting to make a transition from simply being excellent streaming services to becoming the first true Internet Networks. The world wide web is the new superhighway of communication and with the advent of streaming through game consoles, set top devices or DMR’s, phones, tablets laptops and even HTPCs, computers connected to TVs steaming is becoming a major TV viewing option.

Redefining Networks
Networks??? These aren’t networks they are services right? Let us take a second to look at what a network does. TNT is popular cable network. TNT features some great original content, syndicated series as well as live NBA basketball games. Here are the shows listed on TNT’s schedule for Thursday September 17: Angel, Smallville, Charmed, Supernatural, Bones Castle, Rizzoli & Isles, CSI NY, Cold Justice, the Mentalist, the Closer, and Cold Case. Of those programs only two are original series Cold Justice and Rizzoli & Isles.

TNT like any other network decides which television programs will be broadcast as well as the order in which they will appear.
Netflix has original shows including House of Cards, Orange Is The New Black and Hemlock Grove among others. If these shows were to be strictly scheduled throughout a week while being sandwiched between 7-9 other shows in syndication it would be seen no different than AMC or A&E. The difference is the viewer has all the control to dip into Netflix’s library and create their own syndicated content.

No, Netflix does not offer every movie ever made or every TV in the history of the medium but does it offer more than 10 to choose from per week like a typical network does? Amazon in similar fashion has been producing its own content and will roll out Alpha House, Betas, Annebots, Creative Galaxy and Tumbleaf and like Netflix has redistribution rights to thousands of television shows and movies. Hulu through its pay service Hulu Plus has a multitude of exclusive series from overseas to pair with its own foray into original programming which includes shows like the quirky Western, Quick Draw and the Awsomes, Web series like Booth at the end and its forte next day availability of shows from every single major broadcast network besides CBS and many next day availability of even numerous cable shows not to mention full show runs of many.

The TV We Were Promised
These are not just networks, they may be the most customer friendly networks in the history of television. They provide the kind of TV experience that proponents of the Internet were promising at a time when an MP3 took 20 minutes to download. In a time when apps like Watch ESPN and HBO Go are blurring the lines between what we perceive as traditional television services and apps Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are positioning themselves as the new Big Three a distinction that CBS, NBC and ABC held before the emergence of Fox as a major player in the industry. Time will tell how the more traditional model will be effected but on demand services/Networks look to be the future.

Like Us On Facebook

1 2607

Ryan M Downey

There are a lot of tech bloggers and critics asking the question “Will Chromecast knock Roku out of America’s living rooms?” I don’t think so. The Chromecast gives consumers another product to consider and may start to carve out a niche unrelated to Rokus sollid second place spot behind Apple TV but I think it is far more likely to hurt the sales of lesser known streaming boxes far more and there are a number of reasons why.

Industry Buzz
First of all simply having a new product on the market that is being compared to Roku does not automatically vault it ahead. Roku CEO Anthony Wood said on a recent interview with Bloomberg News that when new products such as Apple TV have come out in the past Roku sales have increased. There has not been a new product rollout with as much hype as the Chromecast up to this point but keep in mind there are very few stories about the Chromecast that fail to mention Roku and a very important axiom in public relations and marketing is you want people to be talking about you. Streaming boxes or DMR’s are rarely if ever advertised on television. Information about them is usually found via a review when the product debuts. And the reviews often compare one product to another. So every time a potential consumer runs across an article about streaming with Chromecast they will learn about Roku. According to Wood this leads the consumer to take a good look at Roku. So far Roku’s sales are up from where they were before Chromecast hit the market.

Services
The Chromecast can seamlessly “cast” Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus and Google Play movies and TV shows to a TV from a smartphone. For those unfamiliar with Google Play it is an on demand service where by the use may purchase TV Shows and movies to view similar to offerings by cable companies, Itunes, Amazon, Vudu, Blockbuster on Demand and others. Google does have a feature being hailed as “airplay like” when using a laptop or desktop computer while also utilizing the Chrome Browser. The feature called “casting” will beam your internet signal to the dongle in order to mirror video from a website such as Hulu.com or HBOGo. This feature is only available for laptop and desktop computers. While our experience with this feature went smoothly there are reports of audio either not sinking and worse not working at all.  Another unfortunate problem is that if a website uses pop out screens for video content the Chromecast can not play the content. This  means no casting from the phones and tablets that serve as the remote for this device. The casting functionality being limited to laptops is bad news for the many casual consumers who have left bulky laptops behind for sleek lightweight tablets.

Roku on the other hand is the only DMR with over 1000 apps in its included channel store specifically designed for use on its product. Apps included are standard bearers like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Amazon Instant Videos, Blockbuster on Demand, Crackle, and many others along with Tech and game news sites like IGN, CNET News services like NBC, CNN, Fox News, children’s programming, weather apps etc. Roku does not have a YouTube app at this time but through an app called myvideobuzz, users can link a personal YouTube account to the app or search its vast library. There are hundreds of other private and third party channels developed for Roku by independent programmers to meet the needs and wants of its consumer base. A quick search of third party channels will populate page upon page of simple to add channels for a Roku.

The market may already be set
Another factor squarely in Roku’s favor is market penetration. Recent reports show that Roku is the most heavily used DMR on the market. There are close to 6 million currently in homes across the country and while there are over twice as many Apple TV units in homes the numbers indicate that Roku users utilize streaming far more often. The study also shows that Roku users stream more content than users of other streaming devices including Apple TV. That is 6 million people who can recommend the product to friends and relatives.

If Google wanted to make a major statement it would have been very helpful had the company been able to meet the initial demand. The positive press when it launched created an initial tidal wave that could have led to far more sales then it created due to lack of inventory. Will demand for the device dissipate once the buzz dies down? How many people would pay $100 for a Tickle Me Elmo today? As more reviews roll in from people who actually use the product the market will have a chance to see what this item can do.

Overstated Value
Much has been made about the $35.00 price tag. It has been pointed out many times that this price point is 15 dollars less than the cost of the Roku LT, which is the lowest priced Roku model. Is this enough of a difference to cause someone to choose the Chromecast over the Roku LT? I don’t think the price point is as big a deal as it is made out to be. No, these have not been great economic times and something perceived as a cheap streaming option may seem tempting to some but keep in mind that the Chromecast has to be plugged in to an HDTV. So to start with, its consumer base is already willing to spend money on a perceived strong value. In the same Bloomberg interview mentioned earlier Anthony Wood pointed out that the $99.00 Roku 3 is the company’s best seller. It may be something that streaming enthusiast buy to add to an entertainment system but not an end all replacement.

Limited Reach
If Chromecast can only be utilized by HDTV owners then the product is limited in its reach. While there are certainly many people who have moved past the old square television sets there are still plenty of people who have yet to make the move to HD televisions either for purely price driven reasons or because they are just waiting until their current TV’s stop working. Roku has multiple models that can be utilized by users with non HD TV’s. If people adopt Roku as their chosen streaming device than it will be considerably more difficult for Chromecast to win over those customers because they will already be comfortable with the Roku.

BYOC
Something I find curious about the Chromecast is that it doesn’t ship with a controller. Google decided that their consumers should use smartphones and tablets as controllers. Like the earlier statement about HDTV adoption levels it is not a given that the entire American consumer base owns a smart phone or a tablet. And those who don’t are eliminated immediately from the consumer base for this product. By setting their product up as something that can only by utilized by smart phone owners with an HDTV they put a limitation on themselves that Roku has not.

Roku has a free app for Android and IOS that can be used to control the device. Once the device has been set up the physical controller can be put aside in favor of the mobile app. To pretend that using a smart phone as a controller is a new innovation is a step too far. What the lack of a controller does do is lower its shipping weight and packaging, which may even account for its lower price point. In some cases the controller adds other functionality to the device. Roku’s higher end models the XS (now no longer made) and its replacement the Roku 3 utilize the controller to play casual games things like angry birds, puzzle games etc. Roku does not market itself as a gaming console but this is sort of a bonus feature. The Roku 3’s controller also features a headphone jack in order to allow for a popular private listening mode utilizing the included headphones.

Conclusion
The Google Chromecast is a solid entry in to the streaming game for Google, its first product to catch the public imagination after failed attempts to get into the living room including the Logitech Revue, the Nexus Q and the Neo TV. For HDTV owners who also utilize smart phones the Chromecast is a nice way to add three new functions to an HDTV, Its ‘Casting” feature has potential for greatness but could use some tweaking.

Starting at its lowest price point the Roku line of products offers consumers a way to add well over 1000 channels spanning multiple categories with models to fit virtually any TV and be utilized by users with smart phones, dumb phones and no phones.

In the end the market will be the judge.

Like Us On Facebook 

1 2061

Since the launch of Google’s Chromecast there have been many reports stating that the new dongle can mirror websites and is therefor is the companies own version of Apple’s innovative airplay feature, available through Apple TV in concert with IOS devices. Another tech story that has been floating is that Roku has its own “airplay like” feature through its controller app which allows users to play videos from an iPad on their TV.

This reporting is a poor characterization at best and a misstatement at worse. Both of those offerings are wonderful but they are not Air Play. In the case of Chromecast the closest approximation to Airplay is that laptop users can cast their individual Google Chrome tabs to their televisions to varying degrees of success. In our test of the device the Chromecast was able to cast Chrome tabs from Hulu.com without difficulty but was unable to access Watch ESPN because the video on a laptop appears as a pop out window instead of a tab. Other video heavy websites suffered from lag between audio and visual images. On the other hand Apple TV and Air Play employs slick integration for all current Apple mobile products and current laptop and desktop computers running OS X and up.  This list of mobile devices includes the iPad starting with the iPad 2, the iPhone starting with the 4 and the iPod touch starting with generation 5.

On the mobile device front, which in the case of Chromecast acts as its controller the product does a great job at integrating Netflix and YouTube and Hulu Plus which is a great start. These services immediately reach a major percentage of the streaming audience.  While the true believers in streaming may be aware of hundreds of sources for internet video and audio content the general public has little to no knowledge of Snag Films, B&W TV, UFO TV or server based programs like Plex and XBMC . But almost everybody knows about Netflix and YouTube.  Providing an inexpensive way for HDTV owners who do not own a smart TV to add Netflix and Youtube to their TVs is a nice step.  But we should not mislabel something or mislead consumers.

Another faux Airplay is the new feature utilizing Roku’s IOS and Android apps. The new innovation allows users to watch videos stored on their mobile devices via the Roku.  Again, this is a nice new innovation of the part of Roku. Being able to beam home movies and other stored content to the television is a great tool. But until you can go to a website, click on a video and view it seamlessly on your TV in full HD via the Roku this is not an airplay like function unless “Airplay like” just means watching any video at all from a mobile device on TV.

Roku has its own list of very strong selling points from its open source apps development, the headphone feature in its new remote and the only streaming box or DMR that offers a robust app store. It even has great third party apps. But for now integrating video from mobile devices is not its specialty. There is competition coming for Airplay in the form of Miracast and other formats. It could be that DIAL which is what Chromecast employs in order to offer its Netflix and Youtube app may be expanded in a way that becomes a competitive option for the non mac world. It would not be surprising to see Amazon release a system that allowed kindle fire owners to use their own version of airplay. Samsung who recently bought Boxee now has a mobile platform as well as the infrastructure to produce media streaming boxes.  Roku will soon offer own DIAL integration. There will be a lot of exciting developments for streaming. And when they arise The Streaming Advisor will bring you the facts and skip the platitudes.

Like Us On Facebook

0 2704

Ryan M Downey

If you are looking into streaming content from the Internet to your TV as a way to move on from high cable bills but not interested in purchasing one of the well known steaming boxes like a Roku or Apple TV there is an incredibly inexpensive solution.  By attaching a laptop or desktop computer to an HDTV via an HDMI connection the device can be transformed into a powerhouse streamer. An HDMI cord can be purchased at Amazon.com for less than $5.00. HDMI cords can also be purchased via many other online stores or at a local retail or electronics stores but in some cases big box stores sell them at substantially higher prices.

The great thing about this set up is that HDMI transfers both video and audio from the computer directly to the TV. Once the computer is connected to the television select the HDMI setting that corresponds to the port you have chosen and you will see the computers display rendered brilliantly on your television.

Using a traditional computer for streaming has advantages and challenges.

Advantages

Hardware compatibility.
Using a computer as a streaming device is a natural from a hardware sense.  The streaming boxes are really just computers with almost everything stripped out of them besides a few video connectors and a network card. A standard computer even a model from 5-6 years ago for that matter has more actual computing power then a dedicated streaming box. Modern laptops and desktops have far more overall functionality than any streaming device on the market.

Easily surf the Internet
Top of the line browsers are already included. If you want to enjoy the entire Internet on your TV, computers already have suitable and customizable browsers that will outperform any of the clunky mobile based browsers found in some of the Google TV offerings.

More power
A standard computer has far more processing power than the typical streaming device so video and music should flow crisply. The duel core processors that star in the streaming box market have been long since surpassed by the CPUs of the PC.

All formats included
Whether utilizing a desktop or laptop neither system will have a problem utilizing video formats such as Flash or Silverlight aside from being prompted to download the needed addition. This is not the case when it comes to streaming boxes. For instance Apple mobile products are famous for their lack of flash integration.

Challenges

Navigating the System
In order to control the computer without hovering over a keyboard a wireless keyboard and mouse may be needed. There are many options including full sized and palm sized substitutes. Another option would be utilizing mobile keyboard apps that allow a smart phone or tablet to connect to a computer and essentially become wireless mouse and keyboard combos. My favorite of these apps is called Air Keyboard. It is available for both Android and IOS. There are also remote controls available to control a computer TV combo.

Space Issues
The great thing about set top boxes is that they are so small, no bigger than a coaster. In some cases they can be mounted behind your TV to give the illusion that the added functionality is native. This is not the case with an actual full computer. You will either need to have a shelf to store a small computer tower or a safe out of the way place to set your laptop when being used in that fashion.

Choosing the best Front End Operating System
How will you access content? The need for customization may vary from user to user depending on what it is that you would like to stream with your computer and how much you would like to download. There are options from front end programs such as Plex and XBMC as well as options utilizing the standard desktop.

Front End Options

Windows 8
Windows 8 users may choose to utilize its mobile tile format and utilize its App Store to access popular streaming options like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Crackle. Once installed a simple click will open the chosen app. This is a very simple option for those in a position to utilize it. It may even provide you with all of the content you would like.

XBMC
A great way to utilize a computer for streaming is XBMC. XBMC is a media center program that was originally developed as the Xbox Media Center in order to play content stored on a computer’s hard drive. Ironically the program is no longer available for Xbox but it is available for multiple other formats including Windows and Mac OS. The program is still used to play local files but it has expanded in scope to include hundreds of media apps including Amazon Instant Video, Free Hulu and Hulu Plus along with countless other news and entertainment apps. XBMC can also be utilized to access Playon which is the easiest way to enjoy playon content via a computer. There is not another front end platform with more bells and whistles or dedicated fans and developers. For more on XBMC check out www.xbmc.org and www.xbmchub.com.

Plex
Plex is very easy to use media center front end. Like XBMC it can be installed on both a windows or Apple computer. The program has numerous extensions/apps available from its channel directory and is as stable as they come. It is a clean, simple server that can be utilized on a computer and synced with a tablet. This will allow you to access your content on the go as well as at home.

Windows Media Center
Windows Media Center is a program developed by Microsoft that was intended to be utilized for setting up a Media Center PC. It is included with a majority of older Windows operating systems and has a pretty GUI. Its greatest strength is its ability to organize local content. Stored music and video files can be nicely categorized and cover art can be downloaded for all of the digital files. It’s disadvantage is that it is not a true hub for streaming programs. While there is a native Netflix app for windows media center, because Netflix is everywhere, there is no native Hulu app nor are there dedicated apps for other popular streaming options. There is no app store or app library in order to add content quickly. There are workarounds that integrate Hulu integration but they are not truly part of the system. Windows 8 did not include the program but it can be added by users who interested.

Other ways to access online Media

Hulu Desktop
Hulu Desktop is a helpful application that is available for download for free. Once installed it will create an icon that launches directly into a version of Hulu designed with remote users in mind. This saves the trouble of bookmarking the website or typing in a URL. It has a slick easy to use interface and may be a an easy answer for many users.

Viewing content via Internet Browsers.
With or without a XBMC or Plex computers can utilize browsers in order to view content. A great browser to utilize in such a setup is Google Chrome. This is because the company has an online app store that features endless apps that can be installed in its browser designed for use on a PC. You can spend hours trying out new options and customizing the experience. The apps are easy to find and install and can be accessed by opening a new tab.

Official Network Sites
You can also access the official websites for your favorite networks. In order to optimize this experience I would suggest you create a folder for streaming bookmarks. This will make it quick and easy to find your content.There are many networks including cable and broadcast who maintain websites that provide the option to stream their latest shows via the internet. Despite having the rights to rebroadcast thousands of television shows Hulu the popular viewing option for internet television viewers does not have the digital rights to certain content most notably CBS. Creating folders with links to all of your favorite network sites can help fans keep up with many of their favorite shows including the popular Duck Dynasty. USA Network the home of many popular cable programs provides the latest episodes of many of their current hits online via their website. Many local news stations also simulcast their nightly broadcasts via their websites.

For Computers without HDMI Ports

If your computer does not have an HDMI port another option would be to connect your computer to an HDTV via a VGA port. There are cords that have both VGA connectors and audio connectors that make this simple. There are also adapters that allow an USB connection in the same fashion. Finally there is always the option to connect external computer speakers. They are inexpensive and simple to plug in and enjoy. While this is not as quick and easy an option it can be perfectly acceptable if a computer will be permanently used in this fashion.

Like Us On Facebook!!!