Tag Archives: roku

Roku Box Refresh Coming Soon?

I’ve noticed that the Roku website is now showing the Roku HD box as “Out Of Stock”. A quick Amazon search shows someone who appears to be selling HD boxes for $78.50, more than the Walmart price for the XD. Many manufacturers will mark products this way as they clear their channels to prepare for introducing new products, but what can we expect from Roku? Let’s sift through the clues.

Roku Product Refresh Timeline

Looking back the Roku box timeline, Roku seems to refresh their boxes annually in the fall (aka before Christmas). Going back the last few years, the Roku had a major refresh in October 2009 where they brought out the SD, HD, and HD-R models. In Sept 2010, Roku brought out the HD, XD, and XDS boxes. I find it almost certain that Roku would be aiming a refresh at this fall. Giving the competition from Apple and other devices like XBoxes, PS3s, and TVs, it would be concerning if they didn’t refresh for Christmas. But does that explain why the HD model is no longer for sale?

Roku and the Walmart Factor

Walmart is known for being tough on it’s suppliers. They expect timely and cheap products at the volumes they can push. One alternative explanation for the Roku HD being out of stock is that it distracts from Roku’s new Walmart sales channel. Roku and Walmart settled on the XD as the right product for the volume. I suspect it’s because of the 1080p and 802.11n wireless. If Walmart, the king of cheap, set’s the bar above your lowest cost product, it’s time to move on past that product and focus on what’s pushing the volume

Roku Pushing Volume or Product Refresh?

I suspect that the reality is a bit of both. Roku is pushing to get unit sales up with the deal through Walmart. If Walmart passes on your lowest cost product, don’t be distracted by it. Instead, I expect Roku to be focusing on making the XD (or a newly launched equivalent) the minimum specs for the next generation refresh that should be coming in the fall. When will Roku announce? Based on their response to the Apple TV last year, I suspect that Roku will put something out there before the fall Apple event where the iPhone 5 and a rumored Apple branded TV would likely be introduced.

Update: The answer is apparently yes.

Netflix on XBox 360 Brings Roku Disappointment

I had an opportunity to go traveling this weekend and visit family. While there, we were watching Netflix videos. Unfortunately, I had never realized that the Roku box was not amazing until I browsed around on an XBox. Night and day difference. The GUI was polished and responsive, making the Roku box feels downright sleepy.

Admittedly, the XBox has some things going for it. It costs more than the Roku box (at least $199), and that higher price tag brings some serious processing power along with it. Also, there are 55 million units out there. This makes a much larger target for Netflix software writers, so they’ll spend more time on it.

The Roku box does still have a few things going for it. For folks who are just dabbling with internet streaming, it’s the cheapest way to get in the game at $59.00.

It was disappointing that my little Roku box isn’t the end-all of video streaming. I’ll get over it, somehow. I’ve also realized that I need to sample Netflix across a larger number of devices to see how the experience varies.

Update: Destroyed the typos.

How To Stream The Daily Show To A Roku Box

I have satisfied my dream and found a way to get the Daily Show through my Roku box onto my TV. It’s a round-about way, but it will cover me until Hulu and Comedy Central come to some kind of deal. It relies on the Comedy Central website, my laptop, PlayOn, and my Roku box.

What is PlayOn?

PlayOn is a media server that can run on a computer in the house. What PlayOn does is transcode videos from websites like Comedy Central, Hulu, CBS, PBS and so on. It then sends the video on to the Roku box in a format that Roku likes.

This setup has a few downsides two it. First, there needs to be a computer up and working to use PlayOn. I happen to have a laptop that doesn’t get much use while vegging out to John Stewart. Second, the computer is downloading video from the web and transmitting it to the Roku box, which requires a beefy home network. It appears that 802.11n or better is the minimum to pull it off. The full requirements can be found on the PlayOn website. Here’s my abbreviated list:

The following are the minimum requirements for the PlayOn PC software.

  • Microsoft Windows XP (Service Pack 2 or later), Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows Server 2003/Windows Home Server (Service Pack 1 or later). 64-bit versions of Windows are also supported.
  • Pentium 4 3.2+ GHz, Pentium M 2.0+ GHz, or any multi-core x86 processor
  • 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended)
  • 100 MB of available disk space for installation, plus recommended 4-5 GB extra space on the same drive where Windows is installed; click here for details on using a different drive
  • Internet broadband connection of at least 1.5 Mbps, and home network with wired, powerline, or 802.11n connections (for wireless home networks with 802.11g, it is highly recommended that either the PC or device be on a wired connection)

Installing PlayOn

PlayOn installed onto my PC about like I would expect. I downloaded the software and double-clicked to install it on my Windows 7 laptop. PlayOn asked for an e-mail address, and we were up and running. One thing that was slightly unnerving was that there’s no icon in the taskbar for it – it’s all in the background.

The application that “runs” is an interface to the background server. It provides a method to connect in to multiple services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and so on.

After installing the PlayOn software, I needed the PlayOn Roku plugin. PlayOn provides instructions that amount to “click on this link: https://owner.roku.com/Account/ChannelCode/?code=MYPLAYON“. The link logs you into your Roku account (you remember that don’t you?) and tells your Roku box to download the channel. Roku advises you to go into and out of your “Channel Store” to force a refresh on the channels.

Giving Roku And PlayOn A Try

When I return to my Roku channel line-up, there it is

On entering the plug-in, it goes in search of my computer, find its, and we’re off. I did notice that I had to select my computer once, hit the back arrow button after it starts thinking, then enter it again to get the channel line-up. This shows that the channel is rough around the edges. Not a good sign. This roughness continues as I navigate down to the Daily Show using lots of clicks. Finally though, there’s John Stewart’s smiling mug looking back at me.

Mission Accomplished!

PlayOn & Roku: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good: I’ll hand it to them. They did what they said they’d do. I managed to get the Daily Show on my TV using the Roku box.

The Bad: The integration with various content channels is a bit rough, and some channels (like Comedy Central) have ads. Everything about this feels like a band-aid. The intro price is a monthly $4.99. They have a yearly price ($39.99 or $3.33 / month) or a buy-it price of $79.99. All are required after the 14 day trial period.

The Ugly: The Roku plug-in is rough. Very rough. The navigation is bare-bones at best and the larger channels (like Hulu) are painful to navigate. It’s obvious that the Roku box is one of their red-headed step-children. I don’t blame the PlayOn folks. After all, there are more than 75 million iPhones, 50 million PS3s, 25 million XBoxes, and 1 millon Roku boxes out there. Which one would you develop for?

PlayOn feels like a last-ditch effort to get something to work, and I suspect I’ll drop it once any more robust service licenses the Daily Show for set-top boxes. Is watching the Daily Show with my honey on our comfortable couch worth it? That’s a good question.

Angry Birds Fly Into Roku Box

It’s been on the net that the Roku team is working with Rovio to bring Angry Birds to the Roku box (also from Bloomberg). For the few people that don’t otherwise have access to Angry Birds (it’s on about every platform out there at this point), it’s one more vehicle to get your birds flying at pigs fix.

This caught my attention because it highlights that Roku is looking for ways to breakout on the set-top box front. Roku started as a Netflix spin-out when Netflix punted on making their own hardware. Hitching wagons with Netflix has been good for business so far, but Roku will need to stretch further to survive against Apple and Google.┬áTo enable Angry Birds, Roku would’ve had to mature their API and programming interfaces enough to allow more advanced third party development. I’m also struggling with how they’ll control the game. After all, the Roku remote isn’t a joystick by any stretch of the imagination.

Daily Show & Roku

After dropping cable, my one weakness has been The Daily Show. As best I have discovered, The Daily Show doesn’t have a path to my Roku box and is only accessible by computer. Either through Hulu or The Daily Show website.

I have found several paths to possibly get this done, but they all rely on an HDMI port and my TV is still lacking one.

Update: There’s another way that works