Roku
Posts on the Roku line of products

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Lineup on Roku and Apple TV far different than Fire TV

If you are a fan of Pluto TV like we are, you may have noticed that the selection available via Pluto TV’s  apps is different across popular devices. There are as many as 58 channels available on the Fire TV version of the Pluto TV app that are not available via the Roku App. Considering the fluid nature of Internet based channels it is difficult to say with full authority exactly what is available on each platform at any given time. In the set-top world a quick count showed that the Amazon Fire and Android TV devices had the most channels over 50 more than Roku and considerably more than Apple TV. The platform with the most channels is via a computer via the website and Windows app.

Why Do some platforms supports apps that others do not?
The reason you will find different channels on different apps is actually pretty basic. It is because devices that support browsers can provide more content feeds than devices that do not.  Because Pluto TV uses content from some internet based sources like YouTube and Hulu’s website the lack of a browser prevents the company from being able to offer content from those services. Roku does not have a full web browser. This is why it has the smallest channel line up. The Fire TV does not advertise a web browser but being Android based it actually does have one. The device uses the browser to sign into hotel routers and other background functions.

Pluto TV still a fun option regardless of platform
The leanback experience afforded by Pluto is a good way to just passively watch content and catch up on news and the curation truly gives users a normal live TV experience, keeping in mind that what people call “live TV” is for the most part just curated pre-recorded content in the first place.

CW Seed is a video service that users can access online to watch CBS owned content that can not be found anywhere else. Now Roku users can access the content through its own app. This is a great addition to the Roku family of apps and will surely be a favorite for scifi and comic book lovers. Check it out here.

 

 

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.

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Roku has a number of free Spanish language channels.

Multichannel News reports that the Roku 3 may replace TWC set-top boxes in as part of a New York based trial program. The Roku platform which relies on streaming apps offers a excellent time Warner Cable app that can substitute for the clunky boxes that the company typically rents out. Users would have three tiers of programming options including a slimmed down network TV based option, the option to add Showtime and Starz as well as a standard option for and $49.00 option with network channels, Showtime/Starz and and more than 70 channels total. Having had a chance to use the app recently it is impressive. It is very easy to use and navigate both the live options and extensive on demand content. Using a Roku remote is also far more simple than the typical universal remotes that typically accompany a cable set top box.

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Roku has been popular with cord cutters for years.

I have received multiple comments from readers regarding fan noise from the Roku 4. Maybe I was lucky but our Roku 4 has not experienced any problems since it was hooked up last week. The good news is that Roku has a solution for those who are experiencing fan issues. A reader (thanks Jake) spotted a phone number to contact Roku about the issue. Roku will replace your unit if there is a problem with the fan.

How Do I Get In Touch With Roku?

Call 1-888-600-7658

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Roku has been popular with cord cutters for years.

The Roku 4 is the latest product from the makers of America’s favorite streaming box. The new model has a major processor upgrade from a dual core to a quad core processor. The most important upgrade to the hardware though is that the Roku 4 can render 4K video. We had a chance to work with the new product and see what it is has to offer.

Interface
Roku is known for its interface. The Roku 4 has the same standard grid based interface that you find on other models. It displays a 3×3 grid of apps. If you have more than 9 channels on your Roku the grid will continue to grow at the bottom to accommodate. If you have less than 9 channels the grid will change to to reflect that also. The rest of the screen is set up with quick shortcuts to the key features of the Roku, a Home selection, My Feed (the movies you are following) Search (cross platform) Streaming Channels (the channel store) and settings.

Menu Navigation
The Roku 4 navigation from one menu to another is intuitive for a computer but like any system it takes some getting used to. Luckily its main functions are easy to access from the home screen. Roku has not changed much of anything as far as menu navigation but new users will have to take some time to explore it. The most helpful feature is that it is easy to get out of the menus and back to the home screen using the home button. So just remember. If you get stuck in the weeds of the system you can always go home by clicking the house button.

Remote
Unlike Apple Roku does not make money by selling video or other products through the box. While it may derive profit from purchases from third party apps it is essentially an advertising platform which is why there are adds in the search feature and so on. The controller is no exception. Aside from basic control buttons such as the directional button, Search button, Home, back FF, RW, Play Pause and the asterisk, which acts as a settings control there are quick launch buttons for Netflix, Sling TV, Amazon Instant and rdio. This may well change later with a new remote. The companies displayed on the remote pay for placement. Using these buttons will take users directly to the apps. This sort of feature is actually really helpful for those new to the system.

Voice Search
Roku is known for being the only cross platform search that returns from multiple sources without favoring any service. The voice search is an extension of this feature that originally launched with the refreshed Roku 3. We took it through the rounds and it performed as advertised. Understand though it is just a voice search. There is no interactive AI like Siri or Alexa to share the weather or info from Wikipedia. On the other hand the voice search is very accurate and provided the expected results from across a number of apps for all of our queries. You can see the search demonstrated in our video at the bottom of the page. This can be a real time saver and is available via the search button on the remote (it looks like a magnifying glass).

Channels
Which platform has the most channels is going to be in flux so we are not going to go there anymore. Roku used to have a legit claim of the largest app store in the industry but Amazon has been super aggressive releasing new apps of late and may have surpassed Roku. Apple TV could do the same. Roku has a diverse Channel (app) selection that includes all of the household name apps and a lot more. This includes Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant, Watch ESPN, Sling Television, PBS, CBS All Access, NBC, and more than 3000 others. The largest channel section is a group of religious channels that can range from a church of 50 members to major operations like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church but there are many many choices across 23 genres as well as prefab collections like Most Popular, Top Free, New and Featured. This does not even cover private channels which add an entirely different element to the experience.

Headphone Jack
This is a feature that Roku pioneered a few generations ago. The remote for the Roku 4 has a headphone jack built it and the device itself ships with simple earbud headphones. What this lets you do is use the headphones to listen to audio privately. This is helpful when you don’t want to disturb others or even used as a sort of music player while you are in the home and doing chores. Listen to podcasts and music while you work. While I often see people tout it is a solution for not disturbing a partner trying to sleep in say the bedroom other reviewers discount the residual noise that still blares from the headphones as well as the brightness of the TV screen in the first place. Just in case you were wondering the remote supports other headphones besides the ones that ship with it. The feature has proven popular enough to be copied by some of Roku’s competitors in one way or another.

Remote Finder
How many times have you called your own cell phone when you misplaced it? Have you ever wished you could do the same with a remote? Call me old fashioned but while Roku has a wonderful remote app for smart phones and tablets I prefer the actual remote. There is a button on the top of the device that when pressed will cause the remote to ring (provided it has working batteries) Once one finds said remote and presses any button on the device the ringing stops. I think that users will find this feature iminently helpful.

4k Section
This is a great idea on Roku’s part. For all of the talk of 4k content in general there is not a ton to take in even on the Roku 4. The good news is that in true Roku fashion the Roku 4 has a 4k video section listed in the Streaming Channels section.  The 4K UHD Content Available listing will list apps that have 4k content on tap. And for more exact results there is the 4k Spotlight channel that can be added to the channel lineup which lists 4k content available to view or purchase based on what is available on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Plex and Vudu, MGo and Toon Goggles. I don’t know if companies pay to listed on the 4K spotlight or not. There is not a gigantic selection at the moment, 133 movies, 42 TV shows and 27 assorted videos from YouYube but I would expect those selections to grow overtime.

Games
Roku does not try in any way to pass itself off as a game machine in the way other devices do and the game selection makes that point in spades. The old standby game for Roku since the intro of the Roku XS had been Angry birds. But as of August 2014 the contract between Rovio, which looks like it is trouble, and Roku ended meaning that the game was no longer available for download. The device still offers at this point 111 games. Most are puzzle and trivia style games and include some old favorites like 80s and 90s favorites like Tetris and Galaga and interactive trivia game You Don’t Know Jack along with a number of simple platform games. One of my favorites is Snake. In general the games are more of an added bonus and time killer than they are a full fledged entertainment option.

Mirroring
Like the Roku 3 and Streaming Stick, the Roku 4 supports Mirroring via Miracast. The function is still listed as Beta but did launch. We mirrored my Toshiba Satellite Laptop to check the functionality. Mirroring on a Roku is not perfect the way that AirPlay on an Apple TV is but it will allow users to access web based content on the Roku that might otherwise be missed. I would like to see the Roku devices fully support this feature going forward.

Specs (from Roku.com)

Networking
802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless
10/100 Base-T Ethernet

Video Outputs
Up to 4K UHD (3840 × 2160) on 4K UHD TVs
Up to 1080p HD (1920 x 1080) on HD TVs
Up-scales 720p to 1080p HD on 1080p HD and 4K UHD TVs
Up-scales 1080p HD to 4K UHD on 4K UHD TVs
4K UHD 60 fps HEVC Playback
4K UHD 30 fps VP9 Playback (YouTube)
Playback from USB drives

Audio Output
Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound passed through via HDMI or optical output

Storage Expansion
microSD card port for additional game and channel storage
USB port for personal media expansion

Remote Control
Enhanced remote with voice search, point anywhere use, headphone jack, and motion-control for
gaming. Player includes IR receiver, compatible with various universal remotes.

Speaker for Remote Finder alerts

Power Consumption
12.4W (typical) when streaming 4K UHD video

Power Input
12V – 2A power adapter

USB Media Formats
Video: MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264), HEVC (H.265)
Audio: MP3, Apple Lossless, WMA, AAC
Image: JPG, PNG, up to 4K UHD resolution

Size
6.5 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches

Weight
0.9 lb.

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.

Can you Add Veetle to Roku? Yes. With a new private Roku Channel called Veetle Box you can access the streaming option. We had a chance to take a look at it and have prepared a simple video to show you how to add it. You can never be sure what you will find on Veetle as it reminds us a bit of the Old Justin TV Streams but it has been a highly sought after channel for quite a while.

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In the dark ages before YouTube was an official Roku channel there were a number of workarounds for Roku users who wanted to access the most popular Streaming application and website. There was YouTube through Plex, and YouTube through Twonky. Both required extra hardware to use computers, tablets app downloads etc. When Video Buzz from Utmost Solutions emerged it changed the game for a number of Roku owners.

Roku recently added Comedy Central to its menu of available channels. The new channel is one of many cable everywhere channels that require a cable password in order to unlock all of its content but does contain a selections from a number of current and past Comedy Central programs. We took a quick look at the new channel today. See our video review bellow.

 Comedy Central Channel for Roku