Archives For Roku

Everyone wants in on the EPG business. That’s one of the conclusions I took away from the SCTE Cable Tec-Expo event earlier this month. Even as CE manufacturers are pumping up the volume on connected devices with their own video interfaces, vendors in the cable TV world are pushing a range of solutions that tie the electronic program guide into larger content management systems for pay-TV operators. I talked about Rovi’s TotalGuide EPG a couple weeks back, and there’s Arris’ Moxi guide, but those two are far from the only players in this game. Here’s a sample of three other companies touting their own guide solutions.


Clearleap is perhaps better known in the world of Internet delivery than it is in the cable industry, but the company is rapidly carving out a niche among MSOs. Speaking with CTO John Carlucci at the SCTE event, I learned that Clearleap has a hosted, white-label guide on the market, and that it offers media services to help operators manage, encode and deliver video to connected devices. Clearleap’s solutions are strictly IP-based, but they’re already being used by Verizon for its VOD platform, and Carlucci says the company’s in trials with “four of the top five” operators for its media services. As for the guide specifically, Clearleap’s solution could be a compelling one for tier-2 and tier-3 operators. The service runs on a pay-as-you-go model, and Clearleap is rapidly adding advanced features. The company recently integrated with Great Lakes Data Systems (GLDS) to add options for a-la-carte transactions that are tied back to a subscriber’s monthly cable bill. (Think additional IP content purchases on top of the monthly subscription) Carlucci says social features are on the way. Orbitel, a small cableco out of Arizona, launched the Clearleap/GLDS solution in October to create a branded VOD experience on subscriber Roku boxes.


Motorola showed up with a reference EPG back at the Cable Show in 2010, but that’s as far as the company had ventured into the guide world until this fall. Continue Reading…

Back in September I heard from a source that Starz was not only pulling its content from Netflix, but also planning an app on the HBO Go model. Now we have confirmation from Starz President Chris Albrecht that a mobile app is on the roadmap for 2012. Not only that, but Albrecht said at an investor conference in New York yesterday that Starz is also open to offering a service not tied to a cable TV subscription. This may be a warning shot at operators who are blocking HBO Go on the Roku. If premium content providers like Starz and HBO can’t count on their operator partners to get their content to every paying audience, then they have to look at other distribution options.

On the other side of the coin, I have serious questions about Starz’s ability to go it alone. One option Albrecht reportedly mentioned at yesterday’s conference would be to bundle Starz with a broadband connection rather than with cable TV. But I think Starz would need to offer a pretty sweet deal to make that attractive. Does Starz really have enough desirable content for consumers to pay for the content by itself? The a-la-carte model always sounds good, but it would get expensive awfully quick. And there are only a few channels with enough cache to get consumers pulling out their wallets. ESPN and HBO could maybe pull it off, but Starz? I’m skeptical.

Meanwhile, Albrecht did say that Starz is also in discussions with other distributors like and Blockbuster, even if it’s through with Netflix.

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


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 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.


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


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.



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…