Tag Archives: roku

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.

Roku 3 4200X Teardown

Back in April, Roku announced updated Roku 2 (4210X) and Roku 3 (4230X) units. These modes are, according what what Roku has stated before the FCC, substantively the same as the 2013 vintage Roku 3 4200X. Given that I have yet to rip apart my old Roku 3, it’s time to take a look and see what there is to see.

Roku 3 4200X Teardown Top-side

As with the Roku 2 XS, all the major goodies are on the top of the board.

Roku 3 Teardown Top

Almost all the external connectors are again present on the top side. Going from the lower left corner around clockwise, we see the HDMI connector, the Ethernet connector, the power supply port, the USB connector, and the LED & IR sensor.

Roku 3 4200X Antenna ZoomFor the Roku 3 4200X, the antenna positions and styles were changed from chip-antennas seen in the Roku 2 XS to three dimensional bendy wire structures.  The antenna positions were also updated to be rotated 90 degrees from each other and spread out across the front of the box. I presume this was done to improve wireless reception.

Roku 3 4200X USB Foxconn LogoOne other item that caught my attention was the logo placed somewhat prominently on the USB port. Reading closely, we see the unmistakable name “Foxconn”. To my knowledge Foxconn doesn’t independently sell components like USB sockets. From this, I would infer that my Roku 3 4200X box was manufactured by Foxconn and also that Roku is using them as their contract manufacturer for their streaming boxes.

And finally, there’s a variety of microchips found on the top side:

  • Processor: Broadcom BCM11130 (more on this later)
  • Ethernet Phy: Broadcom BCM5241 provides 100 Mbit (100base-T) ethernet support
  • DRAM: Samsung K4B2G1646Q chips for DDR3 DRAM. These chip have 4 gigabits or 512 megabytes of capacity.
  • Power Supply Chips: Multiple chips are used to generate power supplies required for all the various pieces and parts that make this box play.
    • Texas Instruments TPS542941 (lower right)
    • Texas Instruments TPS65270 (lower left)

Roku 3 4200X Teardown Bottom-side

The bottom of board has a few items but is not notable.

Roku 3 Teardown Bottom

For external interfaces, the micro SD card slot is nestled quietly on the bottom. In addition, a 256 MB of flash memory hides near the top side of the picture.

The Main Processor

The Roku 3 has the Broadcom BCM11130 processor. The internet has declared that it’s a 900 MHz core, but the Google has scant other details about the nebulous brain at the center of Roku’s processing goodness. Let’s dig into the mists and see what we can uncover.

BCM11130 DatasheetThe 1st hint is a 2013 Broadcom product brochure that lists the BCM11130 processor as a “Dual-Core Enterprise Applications & Multimedia Processor”. Most notably, it’s a listed as slightly lower performance version of the “High-Performance” rated BCM11140. Most curious.

Looking a the BCM11140, we see:

  • Dual ARM Cortex A9 processors
  • Video accelerators for encoding and decoding 1080p video
  • 40 nm manufacturing process for low power operation
  • Built in ethernet support

The BCM11140 goes for about $3 in Asia.

Conclusion

The BCM11130-based Roku 3 platform has served well and appears to have the horsepower for the foreseeable future given that the recent refresh has maintained this platform. The next major hardware released expected out of Roku will be the long rumored Roku 4 box with 4k video support.

PlayOn Now Working On Roku 2

I was traveling for work for 5 days and nearly missed that PlayOn has pushed their Roku 2 patch out to the world. From the PlayOn forums:

Hello all,

Yes, we have included the Roku 2 patch in the most recent build of PlayOn. You should not need to use a different version now.

Thank you for using PlayOn – We appreciate your support!

It appears in version 3.14.14 and later. I’ve tried it out on my Roku 2, and it works great.

Roku 2 May Be Able To Play Quake 3

The Raspberry Pi project, surprisingly enough, is one of my favorite stops to figure out the Roku 2 box potential. This project is using the same BCM2835 as the Roku 2 is rumored to use. In fact, their general specs almost perfectly match the Roku 2, with 256 MB Ram and several similar support components.

The Raspberry Pi team has put together a demo illustrating the power available in the BCM2835. They’ve got their system running Quake 3 Arena at decent frame rates.

This Raspberry Pi demo shows that the BCM2835 has a lot of horsepower to run games. The Roku 2 platform has this same processor and there’s the potential to see some pretty cool things happen. BUT, and this is a big one, it relies on Roku putting together a top-flight software framework to let folks harness this power. A quick check on their website confirms that they’re looking to grow their software group pretty heavily with 5 software-related recs open now.

Roku 2 Software Stack

Even though it’s off topic, the picture for Roku’s software stack is getting pretty clear from their open jobs and other known details. They’re running a Linux on an ARM processor with OpenGL 3D acceleration support. They’re using C++ for their internal development and running QT for their GUI management.

Again, this points toward great potential for the Roku 2 to really rock, but it will depend on Roku successfully hiring software engineers and pulling together their Native Development Kit (NDK) that lets developers code in C++. If and when the NDK goes public, things will get quite wild.

PlayOn Has Roku 2 Patch

As mentioned before, something about the Roku 2 caused havoc with PlayOn. The PlayOn engineers have produced a patch and have been slipping it to people on the sly. If you’re willing to give it a try, the PlayOn support folks are happy to hook you up:

If you’d like the patch, send us a msg at support@playon.tv and we’ll be happy to get it to you. 🙂

If you’re attempting to hold out, they’ve indicated that it’ll be a little while (vaguely defined) before the patch hits a standard release.

The Roku 2 units will only work if you use the patch. The patch will not be a part of an actual PlayOn release for a little while.

I’m nearing a day job deadline and havn’t tried the patch. The PlayOn forums are showing good success.

Update: Patch is now in the PlayOn builds.

PlayOn Playback Broken On Roku 2

Even thought I found time to take it apart two weeks ago, I’m just now getting around to hookup up my new Roku 2 XS. My wife and I settled in for a Daily Show episode and the PlayOn plug-in throws up an error, “An unexpected problem (but not server timeout or HTTP error) has been detected”, right after the video starts. This was rather distressing. We swapped back to the old Roku XDS box and I got on the internet to see what was going on.

Into The Roku, PlayOn, and Plex Forums

What I quickly discovered is that there was some subtle shift that affected several unofficial Roku plug-ins that involve local video stream. The bigger names include PlayOn and Plex (media server software for PCs, Macs, and Linux computers).

PlayOn has indicated that they’re on it

Most people are able to use a Roku 1 without a problem, but the Roku 2 won’t work with PlayOn…yet! We’re looking into seeing what we can do, as well as we understand that Roku is looking into the problem as well, as it effects other types of streaming as well.

I’m sorry to say, but there’s no ETA yet.

Roku is looking at it as well and requesting test cases (people were happy to provide them)

HLS isn’t broken, though there may be a few outstanding corner cases. We are furiously working to address them. If you want to send me sample links, we can take a look.

If you want the nitty-gritty, you can find all the conversations on the various forums:

Waiting For a Fix

The Plex developers are pushing a potential fix out to their side and PlayOn trying their own fix out before adding it to their software build. Everything about this problem feels like a corner case that several plug-ins used that wasn’t tested by Roku. There’s lots of focus on it, so I’m hoping for a not-fast-enough-but-pretty-soon resolution.

Update: PlayOn has a patch available.

Update 2: Patch is now in the PlayOn builds.