Category Archives: television

Roku 3: Worth the upgrade?

Roku 3 with Headphones 1024x597

I’ve had the Roku 2 😄 since its release last year and have generally enjoyed it. My only complaint: Not sure if it’s due to the user interface, CPU, or remote, but sometimes it felt really laggy. Click, lag… display. Click, lag…. display. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, when I learned the Roku 3 had been released (thanks, zatznotfunny!), I was curious. Here’s how Roku is marketing the Roku 3 and my point-by-point observations:

Screenshot 3 10 13 11 54 AM

  • So much fun: I mainly use my Roku box to watch Netflix, Amazon streaming, and TED talks, so of course it’s fun! For me, this goes without saying 😉
  • Amazing interface: The Roku user interface has been updated and is now easier to use (especially if you use a lot of channels). Instead of a film-strip like interface, it’s now a grid.Ui
  • Powerful remote: The Roku 3 remote includes a headphone port to allow private listening. Also, instead of using bluetooth connectivity to control the roku box (as previous roku models have), the Roku 3 remote uses WiFi Direct to eliminate Bluetooth coexistence issues
  • Awesome app: I confess, I haven’t used the smartphone app yet. I hereby relinquish my geek cred 😉
  • Serious performance: As noted above, I’ve always loved Roku (and have owned each generation released), but had in the past found it laggy during navigation and starting video playback. Now: WHOA, lagginess is no longer a problem with the Roku 3! I’m so pleased by the faster performance. 
  • Totally simple: Yep, Roku boxes are wonderfully simple to set up. Unlike some tech that is cool once finally set-up but can be a nightmare getting there, no such issues with Roku. For that reason, I think Roku boxes are the perfect gift.

Other observations:

  • You won’t be able to just plug it into your older Roku box’s AC adapter: The box itself requires a different power adapter (higher voltage and shaped differently than that used by previous models).
  • It’s heavier: This is a good thing. Now, the cables hooked to the back of the box no longer weight it down — my Roku 2 HD was normally suspended in air (unintentionally) because it was so light and the cables only weighed down the back.
  • Great theme selection: I’m normally not keen on themes included in tech gadgets. However, the new interface offers a selection of very attractive themes that really do add to the Roku menu experience. 

The great theme selection seems to be server driven — you select the theme and within a few seconds it displays on your box. Why do I think it’s server-driven? Well, I initially selected the lovely Daydream theme. Then, yesterday, I decided to check out the other themes — they are all indeed very nice. The only problem is when I tried to re-select Daydream from the theme list (after using the Decaf theme), the following error message displayed:

Roku error

Having become quite fond of the Daydream theme (which is somewhat Paperland-esque), I even did a factory reset on the Roku 3 to try to re-select the Daydream theme. Nope, still got the error above. I contacted Roku chat support, and the very helpful Roku support rep confirmed that he wasn’t able to select the Daydream theme, either. Clearly, this is a non-critical early adopter issue — I submitted a problem ticket and am hopeful Roku will have the lovely Daydream theme available again soon. 

Edited 3/11/2013: My Roku technical support experience was excellent. The tech folks I chatted with were very helpful and the theme issue was resolved this morning.

So, is the Roku 3 worth the upgrade?

Yes. The faster performance offered by the Roku 3 makes it a better box than its predecessors.

One caveat: If you’re happy with a previous Roku box and are just interested in the new user interface, just be patient — apparently the new UI will be rolled out to older boxes soon.

If any questions about the Roku 3, feel free to leave a comment.

Logitech Revue (Google TV): Initial impressions

logitech-revue

I picked up a Logitech Revue today out of desire for a better interactive TV experience. I currently have a circa 2004 Comcast DVR (due to older infrastructure in my area) and it provides limited interactive options. I’d had TiVo in the past but didn’t want to go that route because past experience had been that any time my Comcast service went out, Comcast CSRs always blamed the TiVo’s cable cards.

I’ve been curious about Google TV and decided to learn more. Google TV was recently released in the form of the $299 Logitech Revue and $399 Sony Internet TV Blu-Ray Player. Because I already have a PS3 for playing blu-ray discs and had heard that Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Player offered better integration with one of the satellite providers (while I have Comcast Cable Internet), the Logitech Revue seemed a better fit for me.

The Logitech Revue video review by www.booredatwork.com gave me an opportunity to view interactions with the Google TV interface. I found the review extremely informative and recommend it if you’re interested in Google TV. Gizmodo and Engadget have also published interesting reviews.

Buying experience:

I went to a local Best Buy store – sales personnel were generally knowledgeable and helpful. The only negative aspects were:

  • The demo Logitech Revue keyboard didn’t have batteries, so I wasn’t able to interact with the product in-store before buying.
  • The salesman suggested I buy the overpriced Monster brand if I needed an extra HDMI cable. Since there is an HDMI cable already provided in the Logitech Revue box (and I have my existing equipment at home connected to my TV via HDMI), I didn’t need to buy any. (I’ve previously bought HDMI cables for under $20 at the Apple store.)

Set-up:

I had read some horror stories online about initial set-up, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was amazingly simple. I plugged my Comcast box into the Logitech Revue box, attached an Ethernet cable from my router, plugged the power cord into an outlet, and voila… the Revue automatically kicked off the set-up sequence.

The only glitch I experienced was following the firmware update — the box froze and I needed to reboot to continue set-up. After that, all was well (no freezes or other unexpected behavior).

Pros:

  • I love the interface and how I can now view “what’s on” (via my Comcast DVR signal pass-through to the Logitech Revue) sorted by movies, news, etc. That kind of functionality should be inherent in cable TV DVRs (and perhaps it is, in newer boxes). I haven’t noticed any signal deterioration due to the pass-through, and HD picture quality is good.
  • The Twitter app is well-done, making it easy to click through interesting links, as well as initiate and respond to tweets.
  • The Netflix app works well, but provides an older interface that requires users to update queue via netflix.com (similar to the UI that Roku recently replaced in their streaming boxes). I’ve read that a new Netflix app for Google TV is currently in beta testing, so hopefully it will be pushed to users soon. (EDITED 12/19/2010: The rumored Netflix app update was released last week — the Netflix app now has a beautiful user interface that is as nice, if not nicer, than competing devices.)
  • Youtube’s “Lean Back” mode provides a nice full-screen viewing mode. Incidentally, this UI is available via your PC browser as well via http://www.youtube.com/leanback
  • There are some interesting channels / apps available, including USA Today, Crackle, Youtube, CNN, KQED (among others).
  • The Universal Search feature works very well at finding content.
  • Android phone users can install the Logitech Harmony app which acts as a remote control once connected to Google TV via WIFI.

Cons:

  • Spendy at $299
  • Some channels work awkwardly (Amazon Video on Demand app) or are blocked by the content provider (Hulu, NBC, others).
  • I am embarrassed to admit it took me 15 minutes to realize the Universal Search command had to be invoked from the keyboard, and then another 5 minutes to locate the key (lower left corner of keyboard, next to the Control key).
  • If Universal Search finds future showings of TV / movies available via my Comcast subscription, I still have to go into the Comcast DVR interface to set up the recording.
  • UI is intuitive for Android users, but less technical folks may find it challenging.

There you have it, my initial impressions. I’ll post another review after I’ve had a chance to kick the tires a bit.

Bonus: If you haven’t seen the Logitech Revue commercial featuring Kevin Bacon, it’s worth a watch. And don’t miss the Entertainment Weekly interview with Kevin Bacon on playing his own biggest fan (in the Revue ad).

Hulu Plus: Now cheaper

hulu

I’ve used Hulu since it came out and love how it lets me catch up on recent episodes I’ve missed. However, it doesn’t help when I’ve found a show I like and want to catch up on a larger back catalogue of episodes:

  • Comcast pay per view sometimes only lists 4 – 5 recent episodes (like Hulu)
  • Often Netflix has the series available for streaming, but not every season
  • For seasons / episodes not available on Comcast pay per view or Netflix, I’d wind up going to iTunes or Amazon Video on Demand (VoD). Unfortunately, that approach can get expensive quickly.

I happened across an article yesterday that mentioned Hulu Plus recently had a price drop from $9.99 to $7.99. That price drop coupled with the week-long free trial convinced me to give Hulu Plus a shot.

Getting set up was easy. I entered my info onto the Hulu Plus web page and then added Hulu Plus as a channel on my Roku XR box. Roku directed me to a web page to activate my Hulu Plus subscription on that box, and I was able to start watching TV instantly.

If you don’t have a Roku box, there are other devices you can use to watch Hulu Plus, including iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and several other listed here.

From what I’ve seen so far, the biggest benefits to Hulu Plus are:

  • HD quality streaming (vs SD quality offered by the free Hulu subscription). Picture quality is very good, especially considering my Roku box is connected wirelessly to my router.
  • Large back catalogues for many shows, and in many cases, the full back catalogue (all episodes for all seasons)

And here are the downsides that I’ve noticed so far:

  • Not all U.S. TV series are available via Hulu Plus. My recent favorite, Sons of Anarchy, is nowhere to be found. But series such as The Office (both US & UK versions) are available, and there’s enough variety that I’ve been able to watch shows that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
  • Unlike Hulu, Hulu Plus lists only TV series. You won’t find movies listed in the Hulu Plus catalogue. EDIT: Actually, the previous sentence is incorrect — there are both TV series and movies available for viewing on Hulu Plus.

For me, being able to catch up on back catalogues of interesting TV series is worth $7.99/month and I’ll continue to pay for Hulu Plus after my trial ends.

Interested? Use this referral code for a free 2-week (vs only 1 week) trial: http://hulu.com/r/VD6hSw (Updated: Sorry, all the referral codes have now been used)

Netflix, how I adore thee…

Netflix

I confess, I was late to the party on Netflix — I only became a subscriber a few months ago. No matter, Netflix has changed my movie rental and purchase patterns irreparably.

I love movies. Aside from photography, catching a movie is my favorite way to relax. Up until now, time-shifting movies via my TiVo, Amazon video on demand rental, and the occasional blu-ray purchase has worked pretty well for me.

And then I learned about Netflix Watch Instantly streaming video feature…

Watch Instantly enables Netflix users subscribed to any unlimited plan (i.e., any Netflix plan except the $4.99/monthly) to stream any Watch Instantly movie on demand (via streaming video) with no limits and no additional charges. Free is a very good price!

Good-bye, Amazon video on demand. It’s been good amazonwhile it’s lasted but I’ve found a less expensive way to satisfy my urge for instant gratification when I want to see a specific movie.

Good-bye, Comcast premium movie channels and your corresponding monthly charges. With Watch Instantly, I no longer have to plan in advance and ensure comcast the TiVo is set to record a desired movie. Since IFC and Sundance channels are included in your digital package, I can still watch Indie films to my heart’s content.

So long, monthly blu-ray purchases. While I’ll still pick up a blu-ray disc here blu-ray and there, it’s far more convenient to stream films I want to see. And I can always use my 1-disc a month unlimited Netflix plan to satisfy my desire for blu-ray goodness.

Of course, Netflix Watch Instantly isn’t for everyone.

  • The movies tend to be at least a year old — if you prefer the most recent movies, you’ll likely be disappointed.
  • Also, you’ll most likely want to stream to your TV rather than only watching on your PC/Mac – my TiVo Series 3 supports Netflix Watch Instantly. I have also heard good things about the Roku box.

For movie fans like me who love movies of nearly any genre and release date, Netflix’s Watch Instantly is too good of a deal to pass up. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend subscribing to Netflix for a trial period to check it out. If you’re a movie lover, I’m betting you’ll like it!

Mad Men box set

The Mad Men season 1 box set is shaped like a retro metal cigarette lighter. Interesting…. apparently, a nod to the series’ use of cigarettes and smoking to create a certain ambience.

photo

I <3 George Carlin (Classic Carlin: The Hippy Dippy Weatherman)

What I’ve always loved about George Carlin is that, although his language was a bit salty, he always told it just like he saw it. A very smart, very funny guy. He’ll be missed.

PS3: Lost to be released as a Video Game!


Tags: