Tag Archives | Roku

Roku is Going Beyond the Box With…a Stick

Apple TV, Apple keeps saying, is just a hobby. Google TV, to date, is a disappointment. But for tiny Roku, Internet TV is a success story. The company has moved more than 2.5 million of its little streaming boxes since 2008, founder/CEO Anthony Wood tells me, and sales were up by 300% in 2011. It now offers more than 400 channels, including biggies such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO GO, as well as many more offbeat options.

And now Roku is getting ready to release a version of its service that doesn’t require a box. If you think that means it’ll be built right into TVs–well, you’re on the right track, but that’s not quite it.

Building Internet services into a TV, Wood says, has some issues. For one thing, most TV makers don’t have as many major content deals as Roku does, and their user interfaces aren’t as simple. And even if they did have great content and great software, streaming technology is moving a lot more quickly than TV technology in general is: Unless you plan to upgrade your TV every couple of years, any embedded Internet technology it sports will start looking long in the tooth long long before the rest of the set feels obsolete.

So Wood’s company is creating a Roku that’s almost built into TVs. It’s a thumb-drive sized gizmo called the Roku Streaming Stick, and it incorporates the Roku software, service, and Wi-Fi connectivity, just like the boxes do.

The stick also has a connector that uses a new standard called Mobile High-Definition Link. MHL connectors, which are compatible with standard HDMI ones, are mostly meant to let you hook up a smart phone to a TV and watch video. But Roku is using the standard to put its streaming channels onto MHL-equipped TVs. (MHL provides power to the stick, so there’s no need to plug a brick into the wall.)

Roku wants to work with TV makers to offer the Streaming Stick as their Internet TV solution–either included with sets in the first place, as a “soft bundle” available at retail, or as an option. It’s signed up one big partner already: Best Buy, which will offer the Streaming Stick for its house-brand Insignia TVs. These sets will come with remotes that can control Roku as well as the TVs’ other functions.

Once you’ve popped the stick into a slot on the back of a TV, Wood told me, it’ll offer all the advantages of embedded Internet capability. But because it’s actually a self-contained add-on, you can replace it with improved models as they become available. (Over time, Roku plans to offer several versions, at prices from $50 to $100.)

The Streaming Stick won’t go on sale until the second half of 2012; Roku hopes to have other hardware partnerships lined up by then, and will also offer it in standalone form for use with any MHL-capable TV. It sounds like a clever way to bring the best single way to watch Internet TV on a TV to even more people.



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Roku Dips Below $50, Adds HBO GO


Roku, which pretty much invented the cheap, easy-to-use Internet TV streaming box, is the sort of scrappy startup which you might have assumed would get steamrolled by mammoth competitors early on. Instead, it’s continued to do well even as Apple and Google have muscled in on its territory–in part because it’s a fine product, in part because it’s aggressively priced, and in part because the lineup of content is good and keeps getting better.

Today, Roku has news on two of those fronts. It’s introducing a new basic model called the Roku LT that brings the price down to $49 for the first time–cheap for a Roku, and absurdly cheap in a market in which some products cost $200 or more. The LT does 720p video, and joins fancier models at $59, $79, and $99. (The top of the line Roku 2 XS does casual gaming, including Angry Birds.)

Are there people who wouldn’t buy a $59 Roku who will buy a $49 one? Roku thinks so, and it does sound like a lot of fun for the money. It’ll be available from Roku and retailers in early November.

Roku is also announcing that it’s adding the HBO GO streaming service to all Roku players at the end of this month. HBO includes moves and full seasons of all HBO shows, and is available only to people who subscribe to HBO via cable or satellite. It joins more than 300 other channels on Roku, including Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Major League Baseball, and much more.


Yep, Roku 2 is a Game Console, Too

Roku’s new streaming set-top boxes are smaller and sleeker than ever, but the bigger news is that the Roku 2 is the start of a serious push into home console gaming.

The high-end Roku 2 XS, which will launch later this month for $100, will include a Wii-like motion controller with a directional pad and two buttons (like an old-school Nintendo), plus a free copy of Angry Birds. The lower-tier Roku 2 HD ($60) and Roku 2 XD ($80) will also support the game controller, sold separately as a $30 bundle with Angry Birds and a 2 GB MicroSD card.

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Watch Out, Game Consoles, Here Comes Roku and Angry Birds

There once was a time when if you wanted to play video games on a TV, you’d hook up a video game console. But as televisions and set-top boxes become powerful enough to stream video and host their own app stores, they’re also becoming capable gaming devices.

The latest example is Roku’s announcement that it’ll get Angry Birds, among other games, on a new set-top box unit this summer. Angry Birds will get its own channel, with all the games plus animated shorts and merchandise for sale.

Yes, it’s Angry Birds overload, but that’s beside the point. What matters here is that game developers — particularly those who aren’t part of the traditional console business — are making their way to televisions without the help of Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo. Instead, they’re just going straight to the source. A month ago, I was at a Panasonic press event where the company demonstrated Asphalt 5, a racing game that’s already popular on smartphones and tablets. It’s available on Panasonic TVs as part of a big partnership with developer Gameloft.

Of course, TVs and set-tops still need to solve the controller issue before they can become genuine game machines. No one wants to use a TV remote to play a racing game or a shooter (I chuckled when someone tried to do it at the aforementioned Panasonic event), and Roku hasn’t explained how it will approach this issue with its new hardware.

But that’s not an unsolvable problem. Already, smartphones and tablets provide a more natural input method for televisions, either through infrared or connected apps from TV makers. It’s not a stretch to imagine phones and tablets controlling video games as well. Once that happens, game console makers can really start worrying.


Google Takes Issue With Roku’s YouTube Channel

While Roku doesn’t offer an officially sanctioned YouTube channel, many of us have been enjoying that content through a “private” offering created by The Nowhereman. In fact, he’s such an exceptional developer, Roku brought him on as an employee (where he’s known as Chris). Yet that puts them in an even more awkward position now that Google has taken issue with the unlicensed YouTube channel.

blog comment tipped me off to the situation, that I confirmed on the forum… The YouTube channel remains functional for the folks who’ve previously activated it, yet no new subscribers are permitted. I reached out to Roku who also corroborated the situation, saying “we received a takedown notice from YouTube’s legal team and are in the midst of negotiations with them.” They’re hopeful of having more information to share with the community next week.

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Roku Hits Retail

For essentially just being available online, Roku’s been doing pretty darn good. The company says it has sold about one million of its media players this way, and now its ready for it’s next big move — retail. Beginning today the devices will be available from most Best Buy, BJs, Fry’s Electronics, and Radio Shack locations.

Different retailers will be stocking different models. Best Buy and Radio Shack will carry the XD, the company’s standard 1080p HD capable unit that retails for $79.99. BJ’s on the other hand will carry the XD|S, which adds dual-band wireless and retails for $99.99. Fry’s plans to carry both models. (The cheapest Roku, the $59.99 HD, remains an online-only item.)

Roku had kind-sorta been available through retail before, through a Netgear-branded box, which was available from Best Buy. The way Engadget words it seems to suggest that these devices would be phased out as the Roku branded units themselves are brought in and would become the defacto unit sold at retail.

I have to say I’ve had my eyes on one of these units for quite a while now, and with it easier than ever to get one, I just may end up breaking down and picking one up. After all, it would be nice to watch Al Jazeera on my HDTV versus my laptop.

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Roku, YouTube Give Al-Jazeera English New Paths to Your TV

Like my colleague Ed Oswald, I’ve been marveling at Al-Jazeera English’s coverage of the protests in Egypt. Particularly, I appreciate how the channel is treating its journalism like a public service, with a free live stream on the Web and a Creative Commons license for other networks to use its footage.

But unlike Ed, I’m not lamenting cable companies’ stonewalling of the channel because, well, I don’t subscribe to cable. Still, I get the desire to watch Al Jazeera English’s coverage on a television, so I’m glad Roku has stepped in with a solution for its set-top boxes. Roku owners can now tap into Al-Jazeera English’s live feed through the Newscaster app in the Roku Channel Store.

That’s a pretty nice development for web video in general. One of the common complaints with cord-cutting is that you lose access to 24-hour news networks such as CNN or Fox News, who only make their feeds available to pay TV subscribers. Al-Jazeera English provides a good workaround, albeit one that won’t give you national news coverage if you’re in the United States.

In addition to Roku, YouTube is now running a live feed of Al-Jazeera English, potentially allowing the Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii and other connected TVs and set-top boxes to access the channel. I’ll be able to test that out on the two consoles’ web browsers in an hour or so, and will update with the results. (Update: No luck with the YouTube feed on Playstation 3 or Wii, but I did get the feed from Al-Jazeera’s own website running in the PS3’s web browser.)

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Roku's WealthTV Deal Is a Glimpse of A La Carte

For folks fed up with paying too much for cable, a la carte television — the idea of paying only for the channels you watch — is the impossible dream, but Roku’s taken the first step towards attaining it with WealthTV’s 24-hour linear feed.

For $2.99 per month, Roku users can now watch WealthTV as if it were on cable, with a set schedule of shows streaming around the clock. This is the first U.S. cable channel to offer its content to Roku this way, though it’ll also allow subscribers to watch shows on demand.

To be sure, this would be a bigger deal if WealthTV was a popular channel. Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cox Cable don’t even offer it in their line-ups. But it’s precisely because of WealthTV’s insignificance that this news has big ramifications for the future of TV.

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Apple TV and Roku: (Almost) a Million Sold

Curious how that whole streaming video set-top box business is working out? Apple and Roku are happy to brag.

On Monday, Roku chief executive Anthony Wood told Business Insider’s Dan Frommer that the company expects to sell its millionth Roku box by the end of this year, two and a half years after the first devices launched. He also said that when Apple TV arrived, Roku sales doubled thanks to heightened awareness of streaming set-top boxes. (Preemptive price cuts couldn’t have hurt.)

On Tuesday, Apple put out a press release crowing about sales of Apple TV. The company expects new Apple TV sales to hit 1 million later this week, and noted that iTunes users are renting and purchasing more than 400,000 TV shows and 150,000 movies per day. For comparison, the original iPhone took 74 days to hit 1 million sales, while Apple TV will take, at most, 86 days to reach the same milestone this week.

Obviously, Apple TV is beating Roku. That was to be expected given Apple’s reputation and retail presence. Still, the 1 million sales mark is a good sign for any gadget, and both boxes are getting there.

I don’t know how many of those set-top boxes are being used to replace subscription TV outright — probably not many — but if Apple TV and Roku get into more homes, the odds of cable-cutting are only going to increase.

For now, content owners and cable companies maintain that cord-cutting is a minor phenomenon, limited mostly to middle-aged, middle-class people who don’t stream a lot of media, not the tech-savvy geeks you might expect. This observation will lose validity if set-top boxes go mainstream.


NHL Makes Like Baseball, Befriending Boxes

Gradually, live sports are coming to set-top boxes and game consoles. The latest is the National Hockey League, whose Gamecenter Live service for out-of-market games is now available on Playstation 3 and Roku.

The app is free for Roku users and costs $10 on the PS3, but it’s free to subscribers of Playstation Plus, Sony’s premium online service. The actual Gamecenter subscription costs $21 per month or $169 per year. (Weird. The NHL regular season ends in April and playoffs run into June, which is seven months from now. Unless I’m missing something, not sure why you’d pay a higher price for the entire year at once.)

NHL Gamecenter Live follows MLB.TV, which went to Roku and the PS3 earlier this year. Both sports streams are also available through Boxee and in web browsers.

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