Tag Archives: hardware

Roku 4 Rumors And Predictions

There’s been a low-grade chatter on the internets about the Roku 4 for a while now. I want to take a little time to round up what’s known (as opposed to what the internet-everyone-links-to-everyone-hall-of-mirrors has to say) and use this to guess about the Roku 4.

The Evidence Laying Around

There’s a number of threads lying around the internet that point at what we should expect from a Roku 4.

It’s Been Years: Roku’s last major refresh was in 2013 when they rolled out the Roku 3. A steady stream of firmware updates have kept the platform fresh even though the hardware has aged. Based on my testing, the once crisp interface has a bit of lag to it as the UI has evolved. There’s an opportunity here.

They’ve Dangled the Carrot: The chatter most likely started when Roku announced a partnership with TCL to make a 4k TV with Roku’s technology in it. This happened back in January at CES.

Advancing Technology: Netflix is adopting a newer video compression technology, MPEG-4 h.265. This will be required on their part to get the much touted 4k video streams to viewers, as well as drive down Netflix’s huge bandwidth using in the evening. This new technology comes with more computational heft. A processor upgrade is in order. Netflix is the top dog in streaming, so keeping up with them is a must.  Amazon has also adopted h.265 for their 4k video streams. The h.265 video codec has been estimate to take about 2x the processing power to decode for similar content. Add in 4k video, which has 4x the pixels of 1080p, and the processing power spikes.

Insane Naming: Roku’s recent product refresh did something out of character – they confused the customer. When announcing the new Roku devices, they kept the name the same. “Let me introduce the new Roku 2, which is actually the old Roku 3, but with a different remote control. And also let me also introduce the new Roku 3, which is actually also the old Roku 3 but with voice commands.” In the past, Roku would announce something like the Roku 3 LE and then a Roku 4 (now with voice search). It’s almost like someone (in marketing) really, really didn’t want to give up the Roku 4 name. Like there would be something magical about that name…

The CEO Speaks: Netflix’ CEO, Anthony Wood, participated in an online chat with Reddit back in April. Some of the take-aways from that chat:

  • One of their core competencies is keeping the boxes cheap
  • Roku isn’t interested in OTA TV. Anthony views OTA as legacy and not something they want to support directly. Roku wants to create an amazing streaming experience and enable providers with a solid SDK so that OTA channels work great.
  • There’s a concern that it’s too hard to find what you want

Predictions For The Roku 4

Given all this, here are my predictions.

4k Video: Roku’s already working on the technology with TCL and will need an offering in the marketplace. They’re practically sitting on the Roku 4 name, which begs to align with 4k video. No marketing person worth their salt would put 4k video on the Roku 5. Yes, I think it’ll be called the Roku 4. They might get extra tricky and call it the Roku 4k.

Big Processor Improvement: There’ll be a big step in processing power to handle the new h.265 video technology and pump all the 4k video glory out to the TV. I would also look for hardware accelerated h.265 decoding. Look for something similar to the Broadcom BCM7252.

Ram and Flash: Not much movement. Maybe an increase to 1 GB RAM to cache 4k video streams and handle decoding. Possibly a flash increase to 512 MB, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The streaming industry has swapped to running their streaming applications on top of Android (ahem… Nvidia) and have taken on bloat in the process. Roku focuses on keeping expenses low and utilizes their relatively simple OS to keep the hardware lean and cheap.

Snappy UI: Expect the UI to get its snap back. When not decoding video, the extra horsepower from the processor upgrade will provide some umph for the next few years of software and UI improvements, even at 4k video resolutions.

Better Search: Roku has been working to make channel content easier to find. I would expect them to continue to expand their search capabilities. This includes a tuned-up voice search and better on-screen content locating tricks.

Refreshed Smart Phone App: Despite being in here, I suspect that Roku will ignore this. They have consistently bypassed the opportunity to integrate with the smart phone and tablet ecosystem. The remote app on the iPhone is functional but clunky, lacking the sex appeal that their on-screen UI has. I don’t see that changing.

But When: That is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Let’s start bounding this problem. On the far side, there’s Christmas. There’ll be hell to pay if TCL doesn’t have the announced 4k + Roku technology solution in the marketplace for the Christmas shopping season. Equally, Roku will pay if it misses the Christmas season with competitors waving the 4k banner. On the near side, Roku takes about a month to go from FCC approval to product announcement, presumably while their contract manufacturer ramps production. But then, who announces in July when the US is on vacation? This gets us down to early August for the return to TV season and back-to-college shopping or October for Christmas shopping.

Apple WWDC Silent On Apple TV Rumors

LpLZQ[1]After a lot of fuss and frantic Apple TV rumor swapping leading up to the Apple 2015 World Wide Developer’s Conference, the Apple TV related materials got pulled from the agenda.

Just a quick rundown of the best rumors leading up to the conference:

One thing that did escape from the WWDC is further evidence that Apple plans to roll-out apps on Apple TV. This would be a game changer for the streaming TV market since it opens up the large developer ecosystem to the Apple TV space and kicks Roku in the shins a few times for good measure.

Nvidia Introduces Shield Set Top Box

SHIELD_AndroidTV_Remote_Controller SmallLast Thursday, Nvidia has offered up their entry into the increasingly crowded by announcing their Nvidia Shield set top box. Starting at about $200, the Shield supports streaming video including 4k video,

My quick take: it’s riding the fence between consoles and streamer boxes. It’s not going to be an XBox or a Playstation and it’s a more pricey than a Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire. The Android games and 4k video are differentiating, but I don’t think it will drive adoption.

Tech Times had a good round-up of Shield reviews for further reading and IGN had a lot of in-depth details.

Update: this Motly Fool article makes the best argument I’ve seen for the existence of the Nvidia Shield.

 

Roku 2 Release Leaked By…. Roku

I do believe someone in the Roku blog accidentally hit “Publish” instead of “Save Draft” and broadcasted the Roku 2 announcement to the world. It was quickly wiped off the Roku blog, but the damage was done – Google somehow got hold of it. My guesses on new features were way off. Instead, Roku will be announcing:

  • Integrated graphics processing unit (GPU) to enable low-cost family gaming
  • Motion sensing remote control connected by Bluetooth (included with XS, otherwise $29)
  • AOL HD, Facebook, FOXNews.com and Major League Soccer channels being rolled out.
  • Update 2: Subtitles according to USA Today (Woohoo!)

Update: Zatz Not Funny found it an hour earlier. Give props to where they’re due. They’re also finding ads running a day early. Roku – get a handle on your ad guys. Another ad mistake in two weeks is not a good.

Update 3 (11:07pm CST): Looks like the media embargo is lifting. Everyone appeared to cut loose one hour after the Zatz Not Funny article. Engadget has their write-up with more pretty pictures. Also CNET, Gigaom, Tech Crunch. Roku blog is notably absent despite their release already being out there. Someone wake up Doug and ask him to hit “Publish”.

Update 4 (7:38am CST): It’s live on the Roku blog. There’s a few edits, so I’ve updated the release below to match the final Roku announcement.

Update 5: The Roku 2 is crazy popular. There are already 40 thousand reviews written about it. Or they didn’t clear the reviews for the old versions. Hard to say. I’ll leave Roku alone now – there’s been enough missteps in the last 8 hours. They can breathe and clean things up later.

I am super excited to introduce our brand new line of streaming players – the Roku 2. We’ve been working hard on these guys for the last year, and they are finally ready!

For the same low price as our previous streaming players, the Roku 2 adds a bunch of new stuff. A smaller, sleeker design is the first thing you’ll notice. A Roku player will now fit in the palm of your hand!

You’ll also spot a new Bluetooth motion remote that when combined with the blazing fast GPU in the Roku 2, lets you play casual 3D games–like Angry Birds, which we are bundling free with the XS model of the Roku 2 for now.

I expect games to be big on Roku, just like they exploded on smart phones and tablets. Angry Birds is just the beginning. We are spending a lot of time with the major casual game publishers.

Between now and Christmas you’ll see the games selection on Roku grow dramatically. My goal is to grow Roku into a major low cost family oriented gaming platform, with games in the $5 range rather than $30 range. Just like Netflix is shaking up the video world, and Pandora is shaking up radio, Angry Birds and their friends are shaking up the gaming establishment. We’re trying to help as best we can.

Of course adding game support doesn’t mean we don’t know that video is what people like to watch on their Roku most of the time. So our new remotes are still very simple and easy to use. And we’ve beefed up the Netflix app with things like subtitles, 1080p support, and other goodies. Plus we’re now closing in on 300 channels (apps) that run on the Roku platform.

Three models of the Roku 2 are available: the Roku 2 HD ($59 – 720p), Roku 2 XD ($79 – 1080p) and Roku 2 XS ($99 – Enhanced Remote, Ethernet, USB, 1080p). Only the XS comes standard with the new enhanced remote control, but all the models now include Bluetooth, so you will soon be able to add the motion remote for use with these models for $29.

What you can get now on Roku 2 is just the beginning – because we have an open platform that’s easy to develop for, there’s no limit to how much our entertainment selection can grow. We are working with major game publishers as well as major video and music publishers to make sure we have the best selection of entertainment available.

New channels launching on Roku 2 include AOL HD, Facebook and FOXNews.com. These news channels mark several milestones. We worked closely with Facebook to create the experience on Roku. You can now enjoy your Facebook photos and videos on your Roku player. Even your friends’ photos and videos, complete with comments, are now on the big screen. You can even create screen savers. (I know I can’t talk about Facebook without mentioning YouTube. We are working to bring that channel to Roku as well.) On the news front, FoxNews.com is exciting because it’s live news every weekday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. ET. It features breaking news from Fox correspondents and in-depth coverage on panel discussions. And AOL HD is coming in the next few weeks.

One final note, on something I had to share. One young girl related to an employee along with her friend created and posted a sneaky unauthorized video to YouTube. We had to pull it as soon as we saw it since the Roku 2 was still a secret, but now the secrets out and we asked her to re-post it. So here she is in all her bean-spilling glory!

Checking Your Internet Connection

Every video provider requests that your internet connection be able to transfer a certain number of bits per second, referred to as the bitrate or bandwidth, to have great movie quality. For standard (near DVD) quality, Amazon recommends 3.5 megabits per second (Mbps), Netflix recommends 2.5 Mbps, and Hulu recommends 1.5 Mbps as examples.

Our internet services providers are not always helpful in figuring out if you’ve got what it takes. In my area in Central Texas, Time Warner Cable, Clear, and AT&T promise up to a certain bandwidth, but always have a little asterisk in the corner saying that actual network conditions may vary. Factors like distance from the main office, neighborhood network use, and phase of the moon may limit performance.

Speedtest.net provides an easy way for people to check their internet speed and confirm what their connection is capable of

Introducing Speedtest.net

Speedtest.net is a free service that tests the health and speed of your internet connection. The service’s website uses Adobe Flash to run a program on your computer to test the internet connection. They check three internet connection properties:

  • Ping time: Ping time is the amount of time necessary for a message to go from your computer to a server on the internet and back. Times under 100 milliseconds (ms) are considered reasonable.
  • Download bandwidth: Download bandwidth is the amount of information (in Mbps) that your computer can download, or receive, from the internet. This is the most critical parameter for streaming video quality.
  • Upload bandwidth: Upload bandwidth is the amount of information (in Mbps) that your computer and upload, or send, to the internet. This is useful for uploading pictures or videos to Facebook or You Tube.

Running A Speed Check

To begin, point your web browser at the Speedtest.net website. The Speedtest webpage does have several buttons on it that are used to sell services for various PC tweak-ups, so go looking for the green “BEGIN TEST” button over the map to begin the speed test.

After clicking begin, Speedtest will identify the best nearby server to use for checking the internet connection. After this, Speedtest will run the ping test and begin uploading and downloading data. They’ll show a speedometer while checking the upload and download speeds.

After the testing is complete, Speedcheck fill present a final summary. In my case, I had a ping time of 88 ms, 2.56 Mbps download, and 0.43 Mbps upload.

Using These Results

The Speedtest numbers will help you diagnose streaming video problems.

I did also wonder why I rarely got the 4-dot quality for Netflix. By running Speedtest, I found out that my internet connection is right at the threshold where Netflix likes to step down the quality one notch to ensure smooth video streaming. I’ve also used it to identify internet problems. Netflix was bouncing back and forth between quality settings on my Roku box. So, I ran Speedtest multiple times. What I found were intermittent ping and download speed numbers. My ping times would be 80ms, 250ms, and 125ms. My download speed would be just as erratic. I ended up getting an AT&T technician to come out and he found a problem with my DSL connection, and it’s been smooth Netflix since.

How To Spend Less On HDMI Cables

I started looking at alternatives to cable to save a buck. The bare-bones cable packages can easily exceed $50 a month after they throw in the converter box “rental”. So, get rid of the cable, get a Netflix account, get an Apple TV or Roku box, and you should be good. When the streaming box arrives, you realize that the box does not contain the HDMI cable. Drat!

HDMI cables can be expensive. Stopping by Best Buy for a cable will run you $20 or so. If you want to get really fancy, there are companies selling HDMI cables for $400. Its hard to tell the different, so how’s a person to pick?

Fortunately, PC Magazine researched the problem in their article Slaying the Cable Monster: Why HDMI Brands Don’t Matter. They compared a mid end Monster Cable ($70) to an el cheapo from Amazon ($6 after the article published). PC Magazine found that, in blind tests, the viewers couldn’t tell the difference. After all, HDMI sends a digital signal.

So, if you’re looking for the best HDMI cable for your setup, ignore the hype and shop with your wallet. Go for the cheapest thing that Amazon provides.