Reviews

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By Chris Brass
Staff Writer

Roku Express VS Roku Express+

I’ve been using Roku products and watching the streaming world march towards 4k and HDR for years so when I heard that the 4th generation models were coming out I half expected to see the Roku 1 done away with and the budget minded entry level Roku be limited to the Stick, but I was pleased to see the Roku Express models coming out as not only a budget minded Roku, but even dropping the price point below the $50 mark into the $30 territory.  So getting my hands on an Express and Express+ model I decided to do a side by side comparison to see if there was any significant difference between the two budget models, which of course there wasn’t.

The Roku Express line is pocket sized.
The Roku Express line is pocket sized.

What’s the difference Between the Express and Express+
Both models are exactly the same in every detail save one.  With the Express+ you have the ability to connect to the TV using RCA inputs (the red white and yellow cables) which you can do on the 4×3 square T.V.’s of the past, plus you can set your display to be at 480 (DVD quality) even in the HDMI mode.  Although it costs you about $5 to have that feature, it’s well worth it in my opinion which I’ll explain later.

Power Options Both Can be powered by USB
Having the ability to get power using the USB port is a home run in my opinion due to the device shutting down when the TV is off as well as cable management. Users also have the option to plug in the power via an outlet adapter.

Mounting Equipment included
The Express and + can be mounted on your TV, much like a Nintendo Wii bar with Sticky tape.

Once you have signed in to your WiFi you are ready to get your streaming on.
Once you have signed in to your WiFi you are ready to get your streaming on.

Although I’ve not used the sticky tape, as a rule I have never had good luck with those so don’t really care for it much but if it does work for you it would mean mounting the little device someplace where it can get the IR signal. Unlike some other Roku models, these two require line of site with your remote. If you would prefer mounting it to the back of the TV you can. But you will need to use the mobile app in place of the remote (again because of the line of site issue).

Private listening through the mobile App

Speaking of the phone app, one new feature with all 4th generation Roku’s is the ability to have the TV audio be played on your Roku Phone App in much the same way as the often sited Roku 3 headphone jack for the remote control.  Two of my more commonly used Roku channels is iHeart and TuneIn Radio which allows me to listen to the audio, on my phone through my hearing aids, even while not watching TV.  Plus with the ability to send the TV audio directly to my hearing aids I have the option to cut out all background noise except what’s coming through the phone….

The Roku Remote app will allow users to mount the Roku Express behind their TV.
The Roku Remote app will allow users to mount the Roku Express behind their TV.

SCORE!!!! The mobile app will support normal headphones also.

Why get a Roku Express instead of a Roku 1
You may be able to find a Roku 1 on sale somewhere on via ebay etc. But the reason I would say to look at the Express or Express + is that there are some big upgrades from the Roku 1.

One big time improvement is that its Netflix channel allows for multiple Netflix user profiles. This was missing from the Netflix on Roku 1.

Performance differences. Using the Express models on Pluto TV and Sling TV is much better on the Express models than it is with the older Roku 1. When I played with Pluto TV on a Roku 1 and it was pretty obvious that it was pushing the limits of the device. The Roku 1 had long load times, longer times to flip through the available channels and with a very similar set up on services like Sling it was beginning to become obvious that the single core CPU was being pushed to its limits.  Other services, ABC and the other Roku channel providers, as well as the typical basic free channels it still worked fine, but if you limited yourself to the Roku 1 you would never be fully happy.

Other similar devices in the Roku Family
I’ve not had the occasional freezing and locking up that I experienced with the Roku (purple) stick.  In every way it is a superior product to the one that it’s replacing.

Why have two models?
Think of it this way. When you buy a car you should always invest some money into putting jumper cables in the back because it’s always better to have it and not need it then it is to need it and not

RCA Cables used to rule the audio video world
RCA Cables used to rule the audio video world

have it.  I view the Express+ in the same way.  I realize that the majority of TV’s out there are HD and have HDMI abilities, but I still see older square TV sets at people’s homes all the time, so to me it makes sense to continue to have the abilities to use Roku on them when you can because I foresee those TV’s to be available for the distant future. Roku should be commended for offering such an option in the face of competitors who don’t. Plus, and I don’t think enough individuals see the benefit of this, when you can set up your Roku to be at 480 instead of 720 or 1080, in a few cases you can actually improve the quality of the picture by getting rid of the pixilation that you occasionally encounter, especially when dealing with the common denominator of low download speeds you may encounter with some internet providers.

Recommendation
I will always get or push the Express+ because of the ability to connect to the TV with RCA cables. For me it’s better to have it and not need it then it is to need it and not have it.  If you think you will never ever have the need or desire to connect with RCA cables, save yourself the $5 and get the Express model, but I do think that it’s highly unlikely for the foreseeable future.  If I’m giving it as a gift I’m going to make the assumption that they will become addicted to the Roku and at some point in time they will decide to upgrade to one of the more capable and popular Premier and Ultra models so this may end up getting delegated an older TV.

Conclusion
Although I experienced some slight sluggishness with it compared to the more advanced models, compared to the Roku 1 it is crisp and responsive making it potentially the best introductory and budget minded streaming device on the market. I’ll be handing out Roku Express+ as gifts to many individuals in the future because it’s under $40 price tag makes it too appealing NOT to do it and I encourage others who are in love with what it has to offer to do the same, provided of course that Roku keeps its standards high.

See The Roku Express+ video from our fearless leader The Streaming Advisor

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Video review of the CW channel for Roku

The CW app for Roku lets users watch all of its shows for free.

The CW channel for Roku is easy to use and best of all its totally free. Unlike a number of network based Roku channels users can access everything on the CW channel without the need to sign in to the channel with a cable password. This means that for cord-cutter CW fans the CW world is yours for the viewing. The entire lineup of CW shows will be available in season and will feature the last five episodes of any show in-season. That means you have at least a month to watch any of your favorites before the season moves on. You may remember that was the case with CW shows on Hulu also.

Take a look at our video review bellow

The DroidBOX T8 Mini is a unique entry in the Android-based TV box world. The product is one of many entries from the British company but has some features that stand out from a number of the other products from DroidBOX and the rest of the Android box field. The box powered by Android 5.1.1 and a Quad core processor has the ability to handle some actual Android TV apps (the “lean back” TV versions), it’s own Aptoide powered custom store and a sharp custom launcher, but its most interesting feature might be the dual-boot capability that allows the user to jump into an Open Elec environment to access a powerful Kodi 16.1 build unencumbered by Android. Take a look at our full review below in our Droidbox T8 Mini Review Full Overview. Want to get one click here.

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Last week we took advantage of the chance to sign up for a month-long preview of Seeso, the new streaming comedy option from NBC Universal. We added the new Roku channel and dove in to see what its offerings are like and how well the app works in general. Also, see our Seeso Review video below.

Overall I think it offers a great deal of content for a low price, $3.99. It has a colorful interface that is easy to navigate. All of its content is broken down into logical categories and playlists and there is a large variety of options for comedy fans from older British content right up to the most current episodes of Saturday Night live.

Truncated SNL
One major negative for me about Seeso is that even though this is NBC universal and they should have very little trouble securing the rights to the episodes the shows omit a good chunk of sketches as well as the musical performances. I’m sure in many cases the lack of musical performers does not bother most viewers though it does mean that we can’t relive some of the more memorable moments in the show’s history like the music dubbing problems that have exposed various artists as well as the controversial Sinead O’Conner appearance where she ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II. This is a reverse of many versions of SNL syndication the included both musical performances in an hour-long format that also included commercials meaning that there was less time for the actual sketch comedy.  So for those looking to see Michael Jordan as the “First Black Harlem Globetrotter, or Alec Baldwin as “The Mimic” I am afraid you are out of luck. I am not familiar enough with some of the other content to be able to say whether the same thing occurs with other sketch-based shows. They better not have taken the “Eradicator” from The Kids in the Hall.

Potential for Growth
There is obvious room for this service to grow. As it secures the rights to more programming and expands on a small collection of original shows and features Seeso will have the potential to become a dynamic offering. With the kind of content it has I feel the app should offer a “live stream”. When I say live I don’t mean filmed live, as much as I mean a curated scheduled stream that would give users a lean back experience.

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Android boxes are very popular with cord cutters, who use the apps to watch more TV than they ever did before. But often they ship with remotes that are unable to support the basic functions needed to utilize the Android operating system on a television. That is why so many companies make airmouses and mini keyboard remotes. One of my favorites in the mini keyboard category are Rii Remotes. They have a number of features that I enjoy including a full keyboard with video playback buttons, a mousepad for navigating the web and android apps as well as directional buttons for apps like Kodi that do not require a mouse at all. On top of that, there are even function buttons F1, F2 etc that can be right handy when you use the mini keyboard with one of the many connected PC boxes on the market. A great touch is that the keyboard is back lit. Who wants to watch a movie with all the lights on right?

We took a look at two recently just because they were shiny. The Silver and the Gold Chrome models. There is no difference in the functionality of the products from others but to be honest we just thought they looked cool. See the video bellow to get a look at them.

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Roku’s new streaming stick, which is expected to hit stores April 20, is a powerful update to their first HDMI streaming stick which launched in 2014. The product is actually Roku’s third streaming stick. The first one relied on an MHL port for power and deliver audio and video but was most likely ahead of its time as many TV’s did not have MHL ports at the time. The new model like its predecessor relies on HDMI and is powered via a 1.5 USB power adapter. It can be

The new Roku Streaming Stick is smaller and faster than its predecessor.
The new Roku Streaming Stick is smaller and faster than its predecessor.

either used with the included outlet adapter or plugged into an available USB port. I’ve always enjoyed Roku’s products but had not used one regularly in the past month while working with a number of other products. While it does not deliver 4K resolution like the flagship Roku 4 the new Roku Streaming Stick reminded me why I have so often recommended products from this company to family and friends. Boasting more speed than any of its main competition in the (dongle) category and featuring Roku’s latest software OS 7.1.0, the pinky sized dongle packs quite a punch.

What do you get in the box
The new Roku Streaming Stick ships with the unit (of course) a 1.5 USB cord, an adapter plug a remote and batteries for the remote. The item does not come with an HDMI cord but one is not needed because the unit itself plugs directly into an HDMI port. There is also a very basic set up pamphlet that explains the very basic steps of plugging it in and such.

Roku Remote Cropped
Roku provides a mobile app as a supplement to its controller.

The Remote
The remote for the new Roku Streaming stick is a major upgrade from the remote available with the last one. While similar in size and feel to the last one and including quick launch buttons for Netflix, Sling TV, Amazon and Google Play (Units at Walmart will feature Vudu instead of Google Play). The big differentiator in the remote though is that it is Wifi based instead of IR based. That means that users do not have to have a line of sight to effectively use the device. This is helpful considering the likelihood that the dongle will not be visible during use. This feature had been reserved for the Roku 3 and 4. Will it become the new standard? There are the typical minimal buttons Home, Back Directional button, the “OK” button is in the center of the directional buttons like other smaller Roku remotes. There is also a Play/Pause button forward and backward scrubbing a 10-second replay button and asterisk button used for numerous settings changes inside and out of channels.

New To The Quad Core Streaming Stick
Many Roku reviews focus on the basics of what a Roku is in its essence and while we covered the interface and other features for those unfamiliar with the product the question people are going to want to know is how is it different/better than the last one. Is it worth the upgrade?

Speed and performance
This is where the new Roku Streaming Stick really outshines its predecessor. Roku says that the quad-core processor is 8 times faster than the CPU in the last model. I cannot confirm this for certain but can say that

The Plex App lads great on the New Roku Streaming Stick.
The Plex App loads great on the New Roku Streaming Stick.

there is a noticeable difference between the speed of the new model and the former. Something I check immediately when to test performance is Plex. This is because Plex has applications that rely on accessing separate servers. The streaming stick found the Plex server on my laptop immediately. I was able to launch video from the Plex CBS channel and catch the latest episode of Supergirl with no buffering and an almost instant launch. Anything that can render Plex as though it were streaming directly from an app passes my test. Menus and icons loaded quickly in all of the apps I tried. One exception was YouTube which seemed to lag. Video loaded fine but navigation felt a little sticky.

Design
The Streaming Stick is small and skinny like a model at a fancy New York fashion show. This version is back in black eschewing the gaudy purple of the last edition. Roku managed to give the new model an even more narrow footprint than the last one. The color should help shoppers easily differentiate between the new and old model and avoid the kind of confusion that often accompanies a new Roku product launch like the brand new Roku 3m which replaced the Roku 3. Its most distinguishable difference on the surface was a small

Hulu Plus Is a great app for TV lovers who want to keep up with current shows at a nominal price.
Hulu is a great app for TV lovers who want to keep up with current shows at a nominal price.

microphone on the controller. This meant that shoppers at retailers like Walmart could easily purchase the old model expecting non-included features.

Exclusive App Feature (private listening)
While the controller for the new Roku Streaming Stick may, in fact, feature the higher end wifi connectivity of the 3 and 4 it does not feature a headphone jack. But private listening is still available to users as long as they have an IOS, Android or Windows device and the latest Roku mobile app. At the time of this writing, the app-based private listening feature is exclusive to the new streaming stick, though I can’t imagine that staying the case. The mobile app also allows users to utilize voice search (also not on the remote) and add a keyboard if needed.

Roku Basics
Roku has a number of Hallmarks on all of its models that are expected by those who have been using its products for years now. But if you are new to the Roku world there are some great features you should learn a bit about.

Helpful Features (found on all Roku models)

My Feed
My Feed is a feature that allows users to cue up titles that Roku will track. It was introduced originally as a

Roku uses a simple grid to organize channels.
Roku uses a simple grid to organize channels.

movie tool but has been expanded to feature TV shows also. This great for fans who can never remember when something is coming back like Game of Thrones or Firefly….episode 15 has to be right around the corner right?

Interface
The Quad Core Streaming Stick utilizes the standard grid-based interface that has been with Roku since the introduction of the Roku 3 in 2013. It displays 3 Channels/apps from left to right and nine overall in a 3×3 styled grid. A quick tap of the home button will

My Feed helps users keep up with movies and shows they are interested in.
My Feed helps users keep up with movies and shows they are interested in.

bring you to Roku’s home screen where users will be able to zip in and out of the search feature, key controls and settings, browse the company’s streaming store (app store) check out news from AOL On, peruse movies and TV shows from Roku’s new video partner. Fandango, which bought out M-GO earlier this year.

 Search
Often imitated but never replicated Roku’s cross-platform search allows users to search multiple services for a given title, director or even find apps if you lose track of them or want to know if they are available. This is a helpful feature because it allows users to find content without searching individual apps and is especially helpful when considering purchasing content because users will see how the prices stack up amongst many choices.

Rokus cross-platform search has been a longtime favorite feature.
Rokus cross-platform search has been a longtime favorite feature.

Setup
Setting up a Roku is rather simple. It is essentially plug and play if you already have a Roku account set up. As Roku says you will need a Credit card to get started. The company does not charge you but you have to register with one in order get started. Users can remove the card later if they choose to. You may also need a computer or wireless device. to link the Roku with certain apps or register the device. See this video for more on setting up the Streaming stick here.

Very important note: Streaming requires a broadband or high-speed internet connection and the Roku streaming stick requires wireless connectivity. You will need 15-20 megabits per second for a solid streaming experience.

I wish it had;

Some sort of HDMI adapter that would allow users to change the angle of the device in order to help it fit into tight spaces. Something like that can be purchased but inclusion would have been thoughtful.

A more detailed instruction book. While Roku is a relatively easy product to set up compared to a Raspberry Pi or even a basic Android box more instructions would be helpful for those just starting out.

A way to set up more of the premium apps without using a separate device. Again this is not a problem for a techie like myself but the setup requires users to log into websites, type in codes and other steps the first time around that might cause someone without a good comfort level problems. Roku though is not unique in this. It is one of the challenges of any set-top device. But if you give one as a gift consider setting it up for the person if they are computer phobic.

Overall the new Roku Stick is a very impressive product that should work out well for anyone looking to get into the streaming game.

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Before you take your next plane trip make sure your tablet, cell phone or laptop makes it on to the airliner with you. Why? Because thanks to satellite based Wi-Fi jets are becoming Internet friendly. The trend has been accelerating for the last few years after airlines began rolling out the feature as limited pilot (pun intended) programs. My recent journey to Las Vegas with Southwest Airlines is a perfect example of how well this works out. Southwest Airlines provides Wi-Fi access in flight for an 8 dollar fee which allows travelers to access their email, facebook and other chat programs while in the air. This means you can talk with your loved ones from thousands of miles away instantly as you fly over the Great Lakes or the Rocky Mountains.

Great For Kids
Did someone say Shhhhhhh? People of a certain age remember the miracle that was the first Nintendo Gameboy. Car trips were transformed from never-ending sojourns complemented by coloring books, and word searches to journies through the mushroom kingdom and Hyrule or even whichever land Tetris takes place in “Video game Russia” via a little green and grey screen. Hey you can laugh all you want millennials. As powerful and beautiful as they are most people play puzzle games like candy crush on their fancy superphones. Now travellers have the option of full on-demand movies (for a minimal cost) Live TV, music on-demand TV shows or even e-books. With a pair of noise cancelling earbuds or even better high-end headphones you need not notice the wheezing man behind you or the whiny kid three seats over. Not that listening to music or an audio book is something unique to today but the option to access a wide variety without having to remember to pack it is.

My Experience
I am in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show and was blessed with a direct flight from Raleigh. As soon as we hit the air I registered my iPad and updated my Facebook status to let friends and family know I was up up and away. I connected with my wife (on Facebook) snapped some pictures of the city from the air for my daughter and uploaded them. Soon after I finally watched Jurassic World, which I never had to time do on land, while sipping on my complimentary beverage. After the movie I caught up with some business contacts on Skype set up a ride from the airport and finished off the flight watching Sunday Night Football on NBC. There was no buffering during the entire flight. Considering that it is hard to find a Coke for less than 5 dollars at an airport $8.00 for all of that access really feels like a bargain. When I compare that to trying to read a book or sleep which rarely works out for me I have to say that my flight was more relaxing than the entire Christmas season.

So before you pack the family for that Spring Break trip or summer vacation be sure to charge those devices, bring along headphones for the group and use them. You will be so much happier that you did this when you realize that nobody is asking you how much longer the flight will be or if they can have another drink. You will get where you are going in a much better mood and everyone will have spent time quietly enjoying something to their own tastes.

Stream On My Friends

Now that all of the major players in the streaming world have given it their best shot the holiday season is upon us. If you are considering upgrading a current device or getting into the streaming game for the first time it might be tricky to really understand the difference. The three biggest players, Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV are all HDMI connected boxes with app stores and numerous app/channel choices. All three have a voice search feature, all have game options and cost between $100.00-$150.00 dollars. But there are distinct differences between the three formats. All offer most of the same essential services like Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, Watch ESPN and many more. But there are some major differences that often get glossed over on most comparisons. As opposed a comparison of apps we will concentrate on the things that make each of these devices unique. Find out which is best for you and answer the question What Streaming Box Should I Get?

New Apple TVApple TV $150.00-$200.00  (See our video demo here)
The 4th Generation Apple TV or “Apple TV 4” is the most expensive option on this list. At a cost of $150.00 it carries a premium price and sports an elegant OS and experience. Why is it so pricey? Apple does not subsidize the cost of its hardware in an effort to get people to buy in. The company makes premium products and convinces the rest of us that we are lucky to have a chance to buy them. The item is amazing for homes that love Apple products because of how it interacts with IOS and Mac devices as well as Apple based media, but offers a lot of goodies to (non Apple) people too.

Remote
One of its major selling points is that the controller has an accelerometer that allows it to work as an able remote for a number of games available on the box vs asking users to purchase another controller for games. The remote features a force touch supported touchpad like a small laptop used for navigation and selection. It also features minimal control buttons for playback and navigation. The remote also functions as a microphone for Apple’s popular Siri. Using the mic button users can access Siri for a number of functions that we will cover later.

What does it offer?
Apple TV supports the vast majority of major streaming apps like Netflix Crackle, YouTube Hulu etc. This much is expected. It also offers easy access to a user’s iTunes MP3 library, iTunes TV and Movie rental and purchasing options. This is great for those who have built a library of media over time for trips and distracting children. Most users will not notice what it not available outside of Google Play and Amazon Instant. It’s app store is constantly growing and promises to rival any format in numbers and diversity.

Innovative Video and audio Sharing options
One of its most interesting features is its ability to link up with IOS products to take advantage of AirPlay and mirroring. AirPlay allows users to launch video and audio apps to the Apple TV to expand its app capacity past what is offered through the device natively. This means that users with Apple products can watch movies and TV shows via Amazon’s Instant Video app which is not supported natively on the device (Apple does not play well with companies that offer services similar to it). Mirroring is similar to AirPlay is that it allows IOS devices to share screens with the Apple TV. But it offers the ability to fully display the device. This makes Apple TV a great presentation device for businesses, teachers and anyone who has to be in front of people. For more on AirPlay see this article on airplay on the previous Apple TV for more detail

Games
It offers a diverse and growing list of games that can be played with the included controller. Nobody would confuse the Apple TV for an Xbox but the games are advanced and fun enough to encourage replay and the graphics are high quality. It very much rivals systems like the original Nintendo Wii and sports a number of games that are challenging and engaging like Role playing games, and even Disney’s new Infinity game. The games menu even suggests titles based on type like “Start your engines” for racing games or making suggestions based on the beauty of the graphics. For those just looking for a quick fix there are a number of simple titles ports of old games like Asteroids or Frogger that are simply casual time killers. The best games though take full advantage of the remote’s accelerometer and allow the player to control on screen actions through a combo of buttons and motions. Far more than a throw in feature, overall the games are good enough to be a consideration when purchasing a player.

Siri integration
The remote has a mic that allows users to ask Siri to open apps, and menus as well as provide basic info about weather, Sports scores and Info. It also searches across at least  platforms, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Showtime and of course iTunes. Apple TV is a powerful streamer on its own that stands to add more and more functionality through new apps and software upgrades and an amazing addition to homes with IOS products. It promises to be a central hub for smart home integration and more.

Recommended for: Those looking for a sleek beautiful TV Interface, Families looking for a streamer with great game support, Those looking to extend the IOS experience to the big screen, those looking for dependable device to share content from IOS devices and those who want a premium aesthetic.

Roku 4 PicRoku 4 $120.00
Roku has been in the streaming business from the start. (See Video Demo here) An outgrowth of a secret Netflix project to bring its online streaming service to televisions during its infancy, the connected TV box has evolved to become the most open platform in streaming featuring access to apps (which it calls channels) from a majority of major platforms. It was one of the first to support Amazon’s streaming service and is home to essentially every on demand service available with the exception of iTunes. It offers over 3000 apps and has the most well organized app store of any on the market broken down by genre.

Never lose the remote
The Roku 4 has a (SUPER HELPFUL) feature that will page a lost remote.

Listen in private
The Roku 4 like some earlier models has a headphone jack for private listening. Users can plug  headphones into the remote and automatically turn off the audio on the TV. This has a number of helpful applications from quieting  noise in a bedroom to allowing someone to watch TV in a family room without disturbing someone who just wants to read. 

Voice Search/Content Discovery
Roku is famous for its search capability that includes at least 20 different services. Roku is able to do this because it has no turf to protect so offering selections from MGo, Cinema Now and VuDu poses no threat to its business model. Users can access this feature using both a dependable voice search via the devices remote or by accessing search via the home menu and on-screen keyboard. The search also allows one to know if content they wish to view or purchase is already available to stream via a service like Hulu or Crackle. This means that for any movie, actor or even subject matter users will be able to find the most expansive results by far. The voice integration does not talk back or interact in any way. It is just a time saver that helps users find something to watch quickly. 

Easy to Learn
The Roku interface is straight-forward and the easiest for new users to learn. As part of its advertising the company often sells space on its remotes to service providers like Netflix, Sling TV, Hulu, Pandora and others. The buttons will open the labeled apps instantly and bypass the need to access the menu at all. There are never more than 4 “quick launch” buttons on a remote but this option should not be overlooked especially for those buying a gift for someone who is not tech savy. It also has the easiest to learn app store with simple categories that make finding new apps simple and intuitive.

App Diversity
Along with a number of on-demand movie and TV apps Roku offers the most sports apps including NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, NHL live sports apps as well as options from independent sports organization and UFC. Roku also offers Sling TV, a service from Dish Network that gives customers a cable option with a number of packages starting at $20.00 per month.

Save Money On Cable
Roku can be a replacement for those extra cable boxes in homes with multiple TV’s. TWC customers can use the company’s app on any television in the home and access their entire channel lineup and on demand programming.

Games
Roku offers a very limited selection of games that are playable with the device’s remote but unlike others on this list Roku has made little investment in games with most titles being simplistic low grade indie games save a few classics like Galaga, Pac Man and some addictive puzzle games like Tetris and Snake. No one in their right mind would buy a Roku for the games but they are a nice time killer now and then and fun for kids.

Mobile App
The most unique thing about the Roku amongst its competition is its smartphone and tablet app. All of the devices can be controlled with apps but Roku’s app provides users with options such as a quick launch menu featuring all of the installed channels and the ability to share photos, video and music on a given device to the Roku.

Overall
You can’t go wrong with a Roku. It is the most agnostic platform available and does not require any special equipment to maximize the viewing experience. By offering new content across numerous apps it gives users the best chance to save money on digital content. For instance it is the only media player that offers Google Play Movies and Amazon Instant Video. It has apps that will play Ultraviolet content and supports numerous ways to access personal media.  Roku also supports Windows display and Android mirroring.

Recommended for: Streaming beginners, Those looking for an agnostic platform, People who wish to play their own stored content those who enjoy customizing, people wanting a straight forward experience.

Fire TV Feature imageFire TV 2nd Generation ($100.00-$145.00)
The Fire TV is sleek and fancy. (See Video Demo here) It offers voice integration through Alexa. It is a streaming box, shopping tool and gaming option for those looking to do more than puzzles but less than the latest first person shooter. Its hook is that it is like a living room connection to the world’s biggest online retailer. Amazon’s own Fire Tablets can mirror content to the device as well as act as second screens for content and other features during prime playback. The system integrates any content stored in Amazon’s cloud including music and pictures. It is tightly integrated with the Amazon on demand and Prime Instant video catalogue as evidenced by the tremendous amount of attention its own offerings get on the home screen. Its App store offers a few unique options like the most complete version of Pluto TV (an app that mimics a TV package) compared to the other boxes featured in this story. Fire TV also offers a fast and stable Sling TV App.

Voice Search/Content Discovery
Amazon’s Alexa based voice search is set up to help users access a number of features from finding content to shopping. Users can access Alexa at the push of a button in order to purchase items from their past purchasing history, add things to an Amazon shopping list as well as purchase content from the Amazon content library including music, movies and TV shows. Alexa can search the app store to add and open apps and  even give you info like traffic reports, the weather and info gleaned from internet based services like Wikipedia. It talks back to you which is always good for a few laughs.

Great for Kids
One standout feature is the integration of the Amazon feature known as Freetime. Freetime is a closed section of kids content that parents can monitor, set time limits on and fill with the content that they want available for their children. Once in the Freetime setting one can not exit without entering a parental access code. This makes the device great for families who may be concerned with what their kids might access on a more open format. One could set up a Fire TV on Free Time and leave it that way permanently and essentially have a kids safe media player.

Android Powered Apps
Another popular aspect of Fire TV is that despite its name and GUI, it is really an Android based box. While it boasts an operating system call Fire OS its guts are Android all the way. The Fire TV even has access to programs like ES File Explorer and cloud based services that allow for easy sideloading of Android apps. The USB slot can also be used to upload apps and content via the file explorer or the Total Commander app.

Supports Kodi
Of the three devices the Fire TV is the only one that supports Kodi a major draw for some because of its ability to add third party content and integrate stored media. Amazon offers the ability to launch apps directly from mobile devices (provided that the app developers have integrated the feature. The app has to be side loaded but is an easy fix. (See a video on how to do it here)

Games
The Fire TV boasts a number of quality video games but a majority of them require a separate game pad. Amazon offers its own but users can use any number of third party options. Its game offerings include games from Disney, EA Sports and even Game Fly Streaming. For those looking to maximize their Amazon gaming experience the company offers a game bundle that ships with a gamepad and a 32 gig memory card for more storage.

Overall
The Fire TV is a can’t miss option for those who are Amazon Prime customers because of the instant integration of media via your own account as well as access to Amazon’s music service. The device also features display mirroring for Windows 8 and up computers and Android phones with Android 4.4 and up.

Recommend for: Side Loading fans, Android lovers unwilling to jump in with Google’s Android TV Platform, Amazon Prime customers and families looking for the safest media player for their kids.

Video overview of Roku's latest streaming box

Roku has been popular with cord cutters for years.

We got our new Roku 4 Friday and set it up. After waiting for about 15 minutes for my bloated channel lineup to fully load on to the box we jumped into action and took it for a spin. The box performs fine though I expected it to be super snappy and found that it was not. It did not fail to perform in any way but I was a bit surprised that some menus did not load more quickly. Either way the Roku 4 looks like a great product for those looking to upgrade their streaming experience to 4k. Those without a 4k TV may be able to get by without it. We will have a full review soon. Check out the video bellow. We checked out Roku 4 Mirroring and More.

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The ARNU Box (Formerly Armada) Mach Q Pure Linux is a compact Linux set-top box from the same team that launched the Mach 8 Pure Linux box last year. With a new name and website to boot the ARNU Box team is out to show the world why you should take a good look at a pure Linux build over the more typical Android boxes that are marketed for use with Kodi.

The Mach Q can display apps and media in beautiful arrangements.
The Mach Q can display apps and media in beautiful arrangements.

Performance
The Mach Q is considered an entry level product but it still packs a big punch. With a quad core A5 processor running on Linux the box can deliver a lot of power in a small package. We tested a number of Kodi apps including 1080 video clips and music apps and found that they loaded quickly and smoothly. Navigation through the menus was crisp and precise. We utilized the devices ethernet connection and tested a few of the company’s cloudwords and were very impressed with the speed at which the program downloaded and installed the software. It’s wireless performance was on par with other devices on the market. We always recommend a wired connection for streaming.

First set top box with Isengard
The Mach Q is the first set top box on the market with Kodi 15.0 Isengard available immediately after the build became the standard. With a number of new features Isengard improves on the popular media center platform and with the box’s Linux backbone it really sings. We just wonder how long Isengard will last as the flagship of Kodi. If you have a device without Isengard a quick OTA update will fix that.

Features

4 active cores
The ARNU Box Mach Q has four active cores dedicated to Kodi. This means it will have maximum power when streaming, accessing your personal movie collection or pushing out music from your playlist. How a box actually utilizes its hardware is very important and this one gets the most out of its components that it can.

Cloud Word Installer

Typing USA in the Cloudword Installer set up populer US add-ons.
Typing USA in the Cloudword Installer set up populer US add-ons.

Cloudword Installer is a signature feature for Kodi builds from ARNU Box. Cloudword Installer is a configuration tool exclusive to the Kodi build on boxes from the company that allows you to add addons quickly including large groups of them. Instead of adding a repository and going through multiple steps to install your favorite addons one by one typing in something simple like USA instantly adds dozens of the most popular US based apps from sports and news to entertainment. There are official cloudwords for a number of configurations as well as individual apps as well as unofficial cloudwords like the popular 123c produced by Kodi enthusiasts. ARNU Box does not endorse them but they can be found on forums. Our video demo at the bottom of the story shows Cloudword Installer in action.

Kodi Blue Skin
For those of us who have been using Kodi or XBMC for years navigating the program is old hat. But for new users it can be quite confusing. The ARNU Box Mach Q employs the company’s simple Kodi skin that has been nicknamed the Blue Skin, due to its blue toned look. It is a very clean skin with intuitive menus based on the Quarts skin popular with IOS/Apple TV fans. In some ways it is like things went full circle considering how popular XBMC was on Apple TV.

OTA Updates
Nothing is more annoying then when a company announces a firmware update that requires users to

The Blue Skin is easy to navigate especially for new users.
The Blue Skin is easy to navigate especially for new users.

download it from a website,  or even worse a forum, save it on their computer, put it on an SD card, plug the SD card into a set-top box and then shove a tooth pic in the audio port to launch into a developer screen where you then have 3 or more steps to go through until your device is updated . If you have not done this before and think it sounds pointlessly complicated you are not alone. It is anti intuitive and awkward. This device has a different approach. users can update to the latest firmware right from programs and be up and running in minutes. The OTA updates come directly from the box and quickly get you up to speed.

Set Up Wizard
The Pure Linux products from ARNU Box come installed with a helpful set up wizard that walked me through the process of choosing a network, adding cloudwords and even prompted me to set up music and movie libraries for Kodi. This feature was a lot like something you see on products like the Roku family of products. New users will appreciate the exploratory nature of the guide. It is easy to navigate and available at the push of a button.

Help Videos
The Mach Q has step-by-step help videos that teach users how to do all of the major functions that the device is capable of. Importing media, creating cloudwords/backups, etc. Complete with video and captions the help feature is actually one of my favorite aspects of these product and something often overlooked by most developers.

What Comes with it?

Mapped Remote
How many times have you ordered an Android box that comes with some super basic remote with not much moreARNU Box Remote than some directional buttons and an “OK” maybe a number keypad. That is far from the case with this box. The ARNU Box remote which actually rolled out with the Mach 8 Pure Linux, is designed for users to get the most out of their Kodi experience. With buttons that access all of the key video playback, settings, screen size, and more navigating the already basic skin is very easy. At first glance the remote may look intimidating but no big surprise, there is a video that explains how to get the most from it if you need any help. In the end if you choose to you can just use the directional buttons and center button till you get used to the functions.

Detailed Manual
ARNU Box comes with a well organized easy to follow manual that explains all of the key features and operations of the box. This is a major departure from so many other products I have had a chance to work with. Detailed instructions backed up with clear pictures give tips and step-by-step instructions on important things like setting up Wi-Fi or changing settings. There is also a diagram of the remote to help you learn its functions. Most products don’t provide more than a small hard to read leaflet or something obviously translated into English.

Specs


Processor:
 Quad-Core Cortex A5 Processor
GPU: Octo Core Mali-450 GPU
Memory: 1GB DDR3
Flash Memory: 8GB
Ethernet: 10/100
USB: USB 2.0 – Two Ports
Card Slot: SD/SDHC/MMC
Video Output: HDMI 1.4b (Up to 1080p)
Audio Output: HDMI 1.4b, Optical SPDIF