Category Archives: Uncategorized

Streaming Video Linkfest for 7/31

There havn’t been any consistent themes this week. Except, maybe, for lots of content licensing deals. So, all the other news clips that I find fit to re-print:

Roku 2 XS Teardown

Update: Looking for the 2013 Roku 3 (model 4200X) teardown?


After waiting for free shipping and processing, I’ve gotten hold of a Roku 2 XS. With it in my hot little hands, it’s time for some poking and prodding.

First Impressions

I gotta hand it to Roku; they made their new box look sexy. It has a very small form factor and is incredibly light. I did notice that the shiny plastic smudges and scratches easily. This doesn’t matter much in my cabinet, but it was a little disappointing since I like to keep things pristine. You might want to keep the protective plastic on it until after everything’s setup.

Now, most people would’ve plugged it in and taken a look at the video quality and streaming performance. While I will get to that, I had a different calling. Like just about other red-blooded, curiosity-seeking engineer, I took it apart.

The Roku 2 is very simply constructed, with just 4 pieces to it. There’s the top and bottom case, the purple back plate, and the PC board. It’s assembled using 4 screws. All the interesting materials are on either side of the PC board.

    

Roku 2 XS Top Side

The Roku 2 has most (but not all) of the interesting components on the top side. Almost all the external world interface are here, and lots of memory.


The connectors are highlighted in red and blue. Going from bottom left to upper right, we can see the IR remote sensor, USB port, HDMI connector, A/V composite jack, Ethernet jack, and the power plug.

For the chip components on the main board, I’ve identified:

  • DRAM: One Samsung K4P2G324EC holding 256 MB of low power DDR2 RAM.
  • A/V DAC:  An AKM AK4430ET for creating stereo audio on the composite A/V output. The earlier Roku used the AK4421.
  • Power Supply: Broadcom supplies the BCM59002 for generating various chip power supplies from the 5v power jack.
  • Ethernet / USB: The SMSC LAN9512 provides USB and 100 Mbit Ethernet. I suspect that this part is removed in the Roku 2 HD and XD versions.
  • NAND Flash: Hynix provides the HY27UF082G2B NAND Flash holding 256 Mbyte of storage.

This confirms some findings from Engadget’s article that revealed the Roku 2 box to the world. Specifically, 256 MB DRAM and 256 MB flash.

Roku 2 XS Underside

The bottom side of the board is pretty barren but holds a few curiosities.


For connectors on the bottom of the board, there’s a reset button on the back (a nice change over the Roku XDS which required a power cycle to clean it up flipping it upside down) and the MicroSD memory card slot. Also notable are the “chip” antennas for the WiFi and Bluetooth wireless communications. This change in antenna structure may be related to the rumors of reduced wireless range.

The big metal boxes are shielding around the wireless transmitter / receiver chips. The metal shielding helps with passing FCC requirements to not interfere with other wireless devices. The PC board has markers on it that name the metal boxes as WiFi and Bluetooth areas. Because of the size of the metal plate, I’m assuming that the main processor is paired with the WiFi transmitter in the metal box. Since I’m unwilling to do a destructive teardown on an XS unit to find out, it will have to stay a mystery for now.

What About the Roku 2 Main Processor?

The purported processor, a Broadcom made BCM2835, continues to be source of fascination on the web. Broadcom has not published materials on their website. Fortunately, a small company called Raspberry Pi has turned up and is also using the BCM2835. From their blog, they note that they’re using the BCM2835 with SMSC Ethernet / USB chip to make a simple Linux platform. They’ve identified their provisional specs (which I’m assuming the Broadcom processor meets) as:

  • 700MHz ARM11
  • 128MB or 256MB of SDRAM
  • OpenGL ES 2.0
  • 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
  • Composite and HDMI video output
  • USB 2.0
  • SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot
  • Optional integrated 2-port USB hub and 10/100 Ethernet controller

These specs sound like the Roku 2 box. Their language has provided hints that the BCM2835 is a successor to the Broadcom BCM2820 line, an ARM11 based application processor that included Broadcom’s VideoCore video decoding co-processor. The last Roku box used a MIPS architecture for the main processor. The shift from MIPS to ARM is an indication that Roku got something useful out of it, and I’m guessing it was cost. This change would require a major investment in methodology, software, and tool changes to move to the new platform. This also explains my complete miss on new features since I guessed wrong on the main processor and a lot of my predictions were based on the wrong processor.

Conclusions

Roku has put together a low-cost solution that provides some extra computation power for their next solutions. They’ve kept the component count down and have kept the features lean to minimize costs. The extra processing power, plenty of RAM, and OpenGL graphics should help enable the games that they’re touting for their new Roku 2 boxes.

Spotlight On Hulu

Hulu streaming video website provides first-run TV shows and movies. Hulu provides two offerings. Their free service will often give the last 5 episodes of TV shows, some 30 days after first airing, and a variety of back catalog movies. Hulu also offers their Hulu Plus subscription to gain better access to current and older shows and movies.

Offering Price
Hulu Free Uh, FREE
Hulu Plus $7.99 / mo

Hulu is attempting to sell themselves, and a Who’s Who list of potential suitors have come out of the woodwork. The results of this sale will have a large impact on Hulu’s personality and offerings over the next few years.

Places To Watch Hulu

Hulu supports most platforms, but it has to be done with a Hulu Plus account. The free Hulu is limited to PCs, although there are ways around it. Some shows have limitations to certain devices over and above the Hulu’s general limitations.

PlayBack Device Hulu Plus
Hulu Free
PC YES YES
Android Devices YES no
iOS Devices YES no
Roku (TV) YES no
Playstation 3 (TV) YES no
XBox 360 (TV) YES no
Wii (TV) no no
Blue-ray Players YES no
HDTVs YES no

Hulu Video Bitrates

Hulu offers standard definition video rates with the Hulu Free, with 720p high definition available on some shows when subscribing to Hulu Plus. Hulu not directly published the bitrates for various video qualities, but have provided enough hints that we can guess a bit. Hulu has signaled that they’re using both the On2 VP6 codec as well as the MPEG 4 / H.264 codec. It’s not clear yet which codec is used for which bitrates.

High Def Audio Quality Bitrate
1 HR TV Show Size
Better 720p Stereo 3.2 Mbps 1.45 GB
Good 720p Stereo 2.5 Mbps 1.1 GB
Standard Def Audio Quality Bitrate 1 HR TV Show Size
Best 480p Stereo 1.0 Mbps 0.45 GB
Good 360p Stereo 700 kbps 0.3 GB
Ok 288p Stereo 480 kbps 0.2 GB

Before using Hulu, check that your internet provider gives enough bandwidth to get the video quality you’re expecting.

Hulu Conclusions

The Good: Hulu is the easiest way to get access to TV shows without buying them outright from Apple or Amazon. The Hulu Plus service is worth the money to get full access to the TV shows if you’re a frequent TV watcher.

The Bad: Hulu’s movie selection is so-so and they have a love-hate relationship with TVs, in that they tend to hate showing all their shows on them. If TV is how you watch your shows, a PlayOn subscription ($39.99 / year) lets you get the most out of Hulu Free or Hulu Plus.

Streaming Video Linkfest 7/24/2011

Another week, more news. It’s like it never ends. First up is the Roku 2 announcement, which I’ve covered elsewhere. And now, into the rest of the news.

More on the Netflix price hike:

The Hulu acquisition dance is taking up significant mindshare. The Apple rumor consumed an outside chunk of the chatter here because, well, it’s Apple. Everything they touch turns to gold. But as for factual reporting, there’s one Bloomberg article that kicked it off followed by 100 “Guess what Bloomberg just said” write-ups and then several layers of conjecture on top of it. No one is adding new information beyond the original article.

And everything else:

Are Roku’s Accessory Prices Really A Good Deal?

I now have my Roku 2 XS on order. During the ordering process, Roku offered “Great Deals” on some accessories for the Roku 2 box, specifically HDMI cables and MicroSD memory cards. I’m a firm advocate of getting everything possible for a buck. Let’s take a quick look at whether it’s the great deal that Roku is pitching.

Roku’s Accessory Pricing

Roku’s is selling HDMI cables for $9.99 and 2 GB MicroSD cards for $4.99. The gold standard for internet comparison shopping has been Amazon.com. Let’s see what Amazon has to say about this.

First, HDMI cables. These are a pet peeve of mine since many vendors will charge much more than the $25 listed in the Roku ad and its a rip-off. Roku is being fair at $9.99, but can we do better? Amazon has two types of cables. Those thrown off the back of a truck from China (metaphorically, of course) and those with an identifiable manufacturer with published specs. I prefer the ones with a standard, but found both types on Amazon anyway. With the Roku box either would work.

For the 2 GB MicroSD cards, the best on Amazon that I found was $4.49 for a Kingston 2 GB MicroSD card.

They’re A Reasonable Price, But…

When it’s all stacked up, Roku’s prices are pretty reasonable. Buying the accessories from Amazon would save you five to ten bucks IF you’re already ordering from Amazon and qualify for super-saver shipping already.

Accessory Roku Amazon
6ft HDMI Cable $9.99 $5.95 or $2.10
2 GB MicroSD $4.99 $4.49

Shipping’s a killer. So, if you’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of the purchase, what I recommend is:

  • If you’re already ordering something from Amazon and have free super-saver shipping, buy from Amazon
  • If you’re just ordering from Roku, buy from Roku.

Happy shopping.

Spotlight On Netflix

Netflix Streaming Video

The Netflix streaming video service provides on-demand video to just about every TV connected widget out there. Netflix provides mostly older or B-movie content. Netflix also provides a DVD rental service to complement their streaming offerings.

Offering Price
Streaming Video $7.99 / mo
1 DVD At-a-time $7.99 / mo

Netflix have been aggressively expanding their streaming content offerings into current TV seasons and first run movies. Netflix has also angered their subscriber base by raising prices on the combined streaming video and 1 DVD plan.

Places To Watch Netflix

Netflix supports just about every platform under the sun – iPad, Android phone, Wii, Roku, Bob’s discount TV box. Android support for individual device can be dodgy because of all the various Android platforms, but Netflix is continually announcing support for new devices supported.

PlayBack Device Netflix
PC YES
Android Devices YES
iOS Devices YES
Roku (TV) YES
Playstation 3 (TV) YES
XBox 360 (TV) YES
Wii (TV) YES
Blue-ray Players YES
HDTVs YES

Netflix Video Bitrates

Netflix has used two generations of encoders. The first generation was based on Microsoft’s WMV3 codec. Netflix has more recently adopted Microsoft’s VC-1 Advanced Profile, which reduces the bandwidth requirements.

High Def Audio Quality Bandwidth
1 HR TV Show Size
Better 720p Stereo 3.80 Mbps 1.70 GB
Good 720p Stereo 2.60 Mbps 1.15 GB
Standard Def Audio Quality Bandwidth 1 HR TV Show Size
Best 480p Stereo 1.50 Mbps 0.65 GB
Good 480p Stereo 1.00 Mbps 0.45 GB
Ok 480p Stereo 500 kbps 0.25 GB
Bad Stereo 375 kbps 0.15 GB

Before using Netflix, check that your internet provider gives enough bandwidth to get the video quality you’re expecting.

Netflix Conclusions

The Good: Netflix is available on every platform out there and provides a large (thought dated) library. It’s a great way to test the video streaming in their household.

The Bad: Netflix’s catalog is dated, and doesn’t bring provide current TV shows or new movies that would allow someone to cut the cord. Another service will likely be needed to complete the deal. Netflix is moving aggressively to expand their content, which gives hope for an improved service.