Archives For Roku

Instant Watch Browser for Netflix Roku TheEndless

Every Netflix fan knows the pain of trying to browse the Instant Streaming catalog, and I know I’m not alone in longing for a better UI. Fortunately, there’s an app for that. At least on the Roku.

The Instant Watch Browser for Netflix, developed by TheEndless, debuted as a Roku channel back in June. It’s a nice step up from the native browser, letting you dig deeper into the Netflix catalog for stuff you might actually want to watch. You can buy the full version for $2.99, or download the “lite” app for free. After adding it to my own Roku last week, I found several new TV series to drop into my Instant Queue.

The biggest perk with the Instant Watch Browser app is the ability to scroll through more titles in every genre. I haven’t upgraded to the full version of the channel yet, but even without it, I can see up to 100 selections in every subcategory of entertainment. For example, a click on TV Drama takes me to a list of shows divided up by Crime Drama, Courtroom Drama, Dramedy, etc. One more click on a subcategory and I can see the top 100 titles available for instant streaming. That doubles the number listed in the native Netflix browser, and even that artificial cap goes away if you pay the $2.99 fee.

There are other benefits to getting the full version too. Notably, you can run title searches with the premium channel, and add selections directly to your Instant Queue from the browser screen. According to the FAQ on the developer’s website, the full version also provides:

  • A more up-to-date catalog than the lite version
  • Additional genres for HD TV and movies
  • Title ratings
  • Ongoing enhancements based on user community feedback

Oddly, the Instant Watch Browser has gotten very little attention online. Perhaps it just hasn’t been discovered yet by the tech-writing regulars? In any case, it’s worth a download. For the price of a latte, I’ll certainly be adding the full version to my Roku line-up.

WDTV Live Lands Hulu Plus

Dave Zatz —  August 4, 2011

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Digital media streamer WDTV Live Plus has been updated to offer Hulu Plus. Although Western Digital’s platform (review here) may not feature as many “channels” as Roku’s, they clearly offer a solid and growing lineup of online content including Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, and two video on demand services. Additionally, as I frequently mention, one of WDTV’s prime selling points (over Roku) is their support of local media playback via USB or network devices (including DLNA). In fact, if that’s a priority the Roku 2 may let you down. Roku’s Director of Product Management recently reinforced their position to a customer via email:

If the ONLY thing you purchased the Roku 2 for was local media streaming, you should return your player for a refund. We are primarily an Internet streaming device (Pandora, Netflix, Vimeo, MLB, Hulu, etc.). We don’t have the broad file type/codec support that some more dedicated local network/USB streaming boxes have.

I no longer hoard much media, digital or otherwise, locally and prefer others handle content aggregation for me. But if you desire well rounded local media playback, the WDTV Live (~$100) is worth a look.

Just a few short days after retail availability the first Roku 2 update has hit. And it can’t come soon enough for those us experiencing some typical early release crashiness (as described here and here). From the version 4.1, build 1255 release notes:

• Improved playback support in Crackle
• Fixed an occasional crash on entry into Angry Birds
• Fixed an occasional crash during video playback

Roku firmware updates are automatic and most players will be updated over the next week. If you would like to get the latest firmware version immediately, please visit Settings > Software Update on your Roku 2 Streaming Player to manually trigger the update.

I suspect the Roku crew is already hard at work on their next update, as these sorts of issues are all too common in new products… and this is an entirely new hardware platform for them. But I’m hopeful we’ll see even more improved stability, reliability, and responsiveness within a couple of weeks.  Continue Reading…

As you know, Roku launched a new line of digital media streamers and the top tier Roku 2 XS brings casual gaming to the platform. Over on the Roku forums, some questions have arisen regarding gameplay and remote control. The three minute video above discusses the Roku RF Bluetooth gaming remote, featuring an accelerometer and gyroscope to enable “motion” control. Think the original Nintendo Wii remote, minus that sensor bar. Angry Birds is the first premium game to take advantage of this technology and Roku kindly bundles the game for free.

I can’t say I’m the biggest Angry Birds fan, nor can I say I’ve been a fan of motion gaming. However, Angry Birds on Roku seems to work reasonably well and looks comparable to its mobile brethren. At first, I thought something was wonky with the zoom feature. However, I later realized it’s not a rendering thing but, rather, is how Angry Birds manges to keep the foreground and background in perspective while keeping the ground fixed at the bottom of the screen. Of course, launching the birds is the more critical gameplay element and it’s intuitive and responsive. To launch those birds at their piggy targets, hold down the OK button and physically manipulate the remote to set the projectile’s direction… then let go of the OK button to let ‘em rip. If we’re nit picking, the little white dots representing trajectory could be larger, but otherwise the game is the game.

Currently, Angry Birds is the only available motion control title… but Roku hopes to have “dramatically” more games available by Christmas, offered “in the $5 range.”

roku-2-channels

Roku 2 launch week continues. Our official Roku 2 XS review can be found here, but we fully expect additional details to trickle out… Such as three unannounced “channels” that are clearly on horizon. Although there’s still no sign of YouTube on Roku.

As you can see from the product box shot above, EPIX and Texas Hold ‘Em are on the docket. EPIX is a premium cable channel that offers a variety of movies – both on your television and online. And it looks like Roku might be the very first set-top box in the mix. However, HBO with HBO GO is the very best value in premium entertainment and I’d choose it over EPIX in a heartbeat… except for that small matter of watching HBO GO on a HDTV.

roku-epix

I remain unconvinced I’ll be spend any significant time (or money) playing casual games on my Roku 2 XS. But, despite my disinterest, it looks like Texas Hold ‘Em will be joining Angry Birds at some point in the near future.

From the Roku 2 launch blog post that was published, unpublished, edited, and republished we know Major League Soccer (MLS) is expected to join Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL), and National Basketball Association (NBA) streaming offerings. While other outlets have seemingly confirmed this partnership, timing and pricing remain a mystery.

Roku 2 XS Review

Dave Zatz —  July 23, 2011

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The original Roku media streamer launched back in the spring of 2008 as the “Netflix Player,” piping online video to the television. In fact, the product was spun off from Netflix itself when Roku founder and CEO Anthony Wood returned homewith his Netflix project team and funding in tow. Since then, Netflix streaming has landed on dozens of connected devices, while Roku, Inc abandoned all prior product lines to bet the farm on the economically priced Roku Streaming Player. Now decked out with tons of video and audio “channels,” Roku’s fourth rev – the Roku 2 Streaming Player – has launched.

Hardware

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Roku 2 hardware is by far the most elegant they’ve ever produced… and how far its appearance has evolved from off-the-shelf components and generic look seen in the first generation Roku Netflix Player. The Roku 2 is quite compact and, in fact, will fit in the palm your hand. It doesn’t feel quite as solid as Apple TV, but it features a smaller footprint, more rounded corners, and clocks in slightly taller. But, at the end of the day, while Roku’s outward appearance may help move units in Best Buy, it’s the technological capabilities that folks should be interested in. And the Roku 2 line comes in three flavorsContinue Reading…

roku-2-netflix

Along with the introduction of the new Roku 2 digital media streamers ($60 – $100) comes an updated Netflix app. While we knew 1080p video and subtitles (pics below) were onboard, I can now also confirm the presence of Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 pass-through audio. Of course, these richer AV capabilities are dependent on items within the Netflix catalog – and it’s safe to assume a good deal of content variability. However, the adaptive bitrate encoded feed that Roku has implemented will allow Netflix video to “adjust constantly to the speed of your Internet connection.” Meaning, no more stopping and restarting of movies or shows in hopes of landing a higher resolution feed when network congestion lets up.

Sadly, the enhanced Netflix app won’t be making its way to earlier Roku hardware. From Roku’s Director of Product Management:

Unfortunately, these new encodings will not be supported on previous generation Roku players. We try to ensure that new features in a channel are supported on all previous generations of players. However, this is not always possible.

Whether or not this is a technical limitation versus a business decision is anyone’s guess. Although the new Roku 2 hardware clearly seems more capable. Other than the small matter of that unresolved storage/memory shortcoming