Saturday, March 29, 2014

Roku UK Channel Store - Weekly RoundUp #55

Hi, everyone !!

With the action set to be hotting up still further in the streaming media player marketplace, following the mysterious invitation from Peter Larsen (Vice President of Amazon Kindle) to "Please join us for an update on our video business" at a press conference due to take place in New York next Wednesday (2nd April 2014), it was no surprise to hear that the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) was to start shipping immediately to purchasers in the USA as detailed, IN THIS POST, on the Roku blog. We have already witnessed Google and Roku trying to outsmart each other with the release of their respective HDMI sticks and the competition now looks set to become a three-way affair, with the very real possibility of Apple turning up "fashionably late" to the party with their own streamers (sic) to liven things up still further. Details then emerged, via a reply from Roku in response to a comment left on their Facebook Page, of an early shipping date for the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) to the Canadian market. This suggested a release possibly as soon as Friday 4th April 2014, as seen in this partial screenshot from the "Official" Roku Facebook Page:-

HINT: Click on the above image TO ENLARGE IT for easier viewing !!

Fortunately for UK Roku purchasers, this means that we get a sneak preview of what to expect from the new streaming stick before it reaches these shores, courtesy of the various reviews, photos and videos that have and will (doubtless) continue to appear online over the coming days and weeks. As with previous Roku models, not all features and/or channels will be available on the UK version but I thought I'd share a few of the details, images & videos with you from folks in the USA & Canada to inform you of their experience(s) with this latest streaming device from Roku. Since the Canadian version of the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) is likely to be closest in both content and functionality to the forthcoming UK version, I thought I'd start by sharing this "lifestyle" image that I came across on the Canadian 'BestBuy' website, shortly after the above revelation from Roku:-

AS ABOVE: click on the image TO ENLARGE IT for easier viewing !!

The 'Product Information' which can be found, VIA THIS LINK, on the Canadian 'BestBuy' website confirmed what Roku had said about the shipping date for buyers in Canada being 4th April 2014 by stating in the Online Pre-Order section that the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) was "scheduled to arrive in our warehouse on 04/04/2014", as can be seen from this screenshot:-

AGAIN: click on the above image TO ENLARGE IT for easier viewing !!

Shortly after I became aware of the 'BestBuy' pre-order details, I came across further confirmation from the 'FutureShop' website in Canada which revealed, VIA THIS LINK, that the "estimated release date" for the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) to Canadian buyers was indeed 04/04/2014 and, subsequently, all of the Roku "Recommended Retailers" in Canada have begun offering the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) for pre-order to the Canadian market. You need only take a look at the "Where To Buy" section of the "Official" Roku Website for Canada, FOUND HERE, to see for yourself that "Coming Soon" has become "Buy Now" from all of the Canadian retailers listed.

Thanks to Canadian tech author, Graham Williams (Twitter Feed: @thetechnogram), who was able to "borrow" one of the new Roku HDMI Streaming Sticks from 'FutureShop' for just long enough to get some packshots and post a review, AVAILABLE HERE, on a Canadian tech blog I can show you some "eye candy" for what will (more or less) be the same as we can expect from the UK version:-

Obviously we can expect to see a typical three-pin UK power adapter, in place of the two-pronged affair shown here, and I don't suppose there will be any French-language text on the packaging for the UK market either but (hopefully) we will be treated to the 'Duracell' brand of batteries just as buyers & reviewers in both the USA and Canada have reported. Another obvious distinction will (doubtless) be the selection of channels listed on the front of the retail packaging for the Roku Streaming Stick. Here is a quick look at the front of the box for the Canadian version:-

Bearing in mind that Roku is always way off when quoting the UK Roku channel count, as illustrated when the 'Roku 3' launched in September 2013 claiming "450+ channels" when there were (in fact) around 600 at that time, we can probably expect the numbers to fall far short of the mark again when the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) arrives in the UK. Given that the Canadian version cites "500+ channels" on the front of the box when, as I understand it, there are (currently) well over 700+ channels available in the "Official" Roku Channel Store in Canada, the likelihood is that the UK packaging will follow suit. With the UK channel count (currently) standing at 884 channels, I would like to see the UK box reflecting that figure far more closely than has been done in Canada. Though, when Roku even sells itself short in their native USA, claiming only 1,000+ channels in the channel store when there are actually more than 1,400+ channels, it's unlikely to be any different here.

In terms of the channels featured on the front of the box, I doubt very much that we will see the 'NFB' channel featured on the front of the UK retail packaging, even though it's available in the "Official" Roku UK Channel Store. It will, however, be interesting to see if 'Sky News' gets such prominent positioning on the UK version, or whether (as you might expect) it's relegated to the rear of the packaging in favour of 'NowTV' for example. I'm fairly certain, given the ability of the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) to "Cast to TV direct from the 'Netflix' and 'YouTube' apps", that we will see both of those channels on the front of the box. It's also fairly safe to assume we'll see 'BBC iPlayer' on there too but, given the recent announcement from Sony that the Crackle channel will no longer be supported in the UK from Tuesday 1st April 2014 onwards, I'm wondering if we will see their channel icon anywhere on the box. Assuming it was too late to stop the presses, when the UK packaging was being printed, then it's quite possible that we may still see it on there somewhere. However, if Roku would prefer not to market their new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) with a channel that is no longer available to UK Roku owners, there may just be enough time to scrap the original outer sleeve in favour of one that doesn't feature the 'Crackle' channel. If so, maybe Roku could get Sony to pay for the reprinting costs incurred by the withdrawal of the 'Crackle' channel from Roku UK players?! Personally, I'd like to see '4oD' get a look-in on the packaging this time around but, bearing in mind their silence over whether their Roku channel will be supported on the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) in the UK, that may not be an option either. Equally unlikely would be any kind of placement for the 'Amazon Instant Video' channel, given that Amazon / Amazon UK / Amazon Video UK are more likely to try and flog you their new Amazon branded streaming device than do something as simple as edit "Channel Stores" in their existing (already developed & paid for) Roku channel to make it available to Roku UK owners. Why they don't just do it and make their money from the content, rather than trying to sell us hardware we don't want and/or need is completely beyond me !! Oh, well... we can but hope that they will one day see sense !!

Meanwhile, I thought I'd share one last photo with you because, like Canada, the UK version of the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) is unlikely to feature the shortcut buttons found on the remote control in the USA. The main reason for this is that, of the four channels to have a shortcut button on the US remote, we don't have the 'M-Go', 'Blockbuster' or 'Amazon Instant Video' channels available on UK Roku players. Of course, 'Netflix' would be ok here but WHY they couldn't have reprogrammed / rebadged the shortcut buttons to include, say, 'BBC iPlayer', '4oD', 'Demand5', 'Plex', 'NowTV' or even (perhaps) 'Sky Store', 'Spotify', 'TuneIn Radio' or 'VEVO' for the UK market seems rather remiss of Roku, if you ask me. There was even a suggestion from someone to make the buttons programmable so that each Roku owner could determine their own channel shortcuts, which I think is a pretty good idea, but it remains to be seen whether Roku could implement that in the future. Anyway... here's what you can expect the UK remote to look like for the new Roku stick:-

If any of you would like to see some additional images of the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) there is an excellent photo gallery, AVAILABLE HERE, published by the folks at 'CNET' which features the US version of the new Roku Stick. Just bear in mind that certain aspects pertaining to the new Roku Stick that are illustrated in the photo gallery will not be available on the UK version (specifically the 'Search' function, shown in conjunction with the Roku app in pictures 14 & 15 of the 26 photo set, which remains a major bone of contention for Roku users outside of the USA) so don't expect to see them when the product goes on sale here.

Many reviewers have already (like me) expressed their disappointment that the "private listening feature" found on the other WiFi Direct remotes from Roku (i.e. on the 'Roku 2' and 'Roku 3' models) with a headphone socket and volume control on the side, has not been included on the remote for the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version). In fact I even suggested, VIA THIS THREAD, on the Roku Forums that the 'Roku 2' remote be made available for purchase as an optional extra for the new Roku stick but, as yet, nothing has been done about it. Feel free to support my suggestion by getting in touch with Roku to request this yourselves. Basically, the more people who ask about it... the more likely Roku are to comply with the request. From what I gather, as it (currently) stands, the 'Roku 2' remote could be paired with and used to control the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) BUT the "private listening" feature would not work until the firmware on the Roku stick received an update to support it. So, whilst it may not be available at launch, there's a good chance we might see this happen in a future update if we're lucky. Then all that we'd need to happen is for UK Roku stockists to start selling Roku accessories (like Roku offers its customers in USA) and we'd be all set. Hopefully, this is something that Roku can organise sooner rather than later (regardless of the 'Roku 2' remote for 'Roku Stick' idea) so that UK Roku owners actually have somewhere to purchase replacement parts and/or accessories. REMEMBER: it is (currently) not possible for Roku to ship accessories from their US website to the UK so, if a UK Roku owner loses their remote or wishes to purchase another, we have no way to do so at this time. COME ON ROKU... STAND BY YOUR PRODUCTS & SUPPORT YOUR UK CUSTOMERS !!!!!!!

There has also been mention of some fairly long loading times (up to 30 seconds or more) when starting up the 'Netflix' and 'YouTube' channels. Fortunately the playback is reported to be smooth once the video is up & running but, for those of you who have been used to watching those channels on the 'Roku 3' it may prove to be slightly frustrating by comparison. Generally speaking, though, the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) has been fairly well received from what I've heard thus far. To give you a better idea of what's been said, here's a few videos which cover everything from unboxing, to setup and a general overview of the user interface plus some of the channels:-

The above video by 'GjpPhotos' covers the unboxing of the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) in the first half and then goes on to demonstrate the 'YouTube' channel for the Roku Stick.

This second video, by 'Dad Does', gives you a better look at the actual hardware & connectivity aspects of the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) in comparison with other Roku models and also mentions the lack of any "private listening" feature on the remote included with the new Roku Stick. You also get a brief overview of the signup process involved with setting-up the device, as well as a look at the user interface for the Roku Stick and how the keyboard in the Roku app for mobile devices can be used to input text far more easily than with the regular WiFi Direct remote.

Another video, by Lon Seidman of "Lon Reviews Tech", covers some of the additional functionality of the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) including the streaming of BluRay MKV files over DLNA using the 'Roku Media Player' channel, plus a quick look at how the 'Plex' channel works with the new Roku Stick, and an insight into the updated new-look Roku app and how it can be used with the photos, music & video on your mobile device to "Play On Roku" much like you would "Airplay" to an 'Apple TV' device. Lon enthuses hard about how he was able to plug the new Roku Stick into his home theatre receiver to enjoy FULL DTS & DOLBY DIGITAL 7.1 SURROUND SOUND on his television and the same was true using the 'Plex' channel as it was with 'Roku Media Player'. He says that the WiFi performance of the new Roku Stick was improved by having the router close by, to ensure an 'Excellent' signal at all times and maintain streaming quality. It was also suggested that the less crowded 5GHz frequency of the dual-band WiFi could help produce more reliable streaming.

Finally this video report, by Matthew Moskovciak of 'CNET', for the USA model of the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) offers a more concise overview of the product, and gives more detail on the longer loading times for 'Netflix' & 'YouTube', which left him feeling this latest device was still "a tad underpowered" to be worthy of stealing the crown for "best streaming device" from the 'Roku 3' but, until we get our hands on the UK model, we'll just have to take his word for it !!

In other Roku-related news, it looks like a new software update (to version 5.4) is soon to be rolled out to 'Roku 3' and (presumably) other Roku models, currently running version 5.3, if the reply from Roku to this comment on the "Official" Roku Facebook Page is to be believed:-

Now whether this rollout will also include the 'YouTube' channel and/or the new 'Netflix' interface (complete with 'User Profiles', etc.) for some of the older models is uncertain at this stage BUT the fact that the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) does include those features and (by all accounts) is using a similar chipset to both of the original Roku UK models (i.e. 'Roku 2 XS' and 'Roku LT'), that is also not too far removed from the processor used in the newer 'Roku 1' and 'Roku 2' players, does seem to suggest that this remains a very real possibility. So, the question remains... will we finally see the 'YouTube' channel for Roku and 'Profiles' for 'Netflix' added to all Roku UK models once the Roku Streaming Stick is launched in the UK come 21st April 2014 (or sooner)?!!

Of course, it's also not yet clear whether the new Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) will have support for the '4oD' channel, either, with 'Channel Four' choosing to remain tight-lipped about that subject as well as refusing to comment further on when the promised support for their '4oD' channel on both the 'Roku 1' and 'Roku 2' players will finally see the light of day. Still, at least we will have a definite answer with regard to the Roku Stick when it goes on sale to UK buyers in 3 weeks time !!

Anyway, let's now press on with the details for the current 'Weekly RoundUp' of NEW ADDITIONS to the "Official" Roku UK Channel Store. This time, there are TWELVE NEW CHANNELS which have been added during the past seven days. These latest additions to the "Official" Roku UK Channel Store provided FRESH CONTENT to the Film & TV, Games, Music, Internet TV, Food, Special Interest, plus Religion & Spirituality genres.

In keeping with previous installments from the 'Weekly RoundUp' series, details of these new channels have all been listed below, together with links to obtain further information {by clicking on the channel name(s) beneath the respective channel icon(s) as pictured} and to read a 'Roku Guide' review (where available) with an independent (slightly more expansive) assessment of each one:-

MI CASA NETWORK........COST: FREE (7-DAY TRIAL) + $1.99 (MONTHLY) [Roku Guide Review]

EVAG.TV / ETAG.TV............................................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

CARBON TV...........................................................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

SARAH FIT TV.......................................................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

A PLUS PHYSICS...................................................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

BROADWAY RADIO........................................COST: £2.99 (ANNUAL) [Roku Guide Review]

FAWESOME PETS..................................................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

THE HOLY TALES - BIBLE.................................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

SPUD'S FUNNY CHANNEL.................................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

MINESWEEPER.............................COST: £0.69 (ONE-OFF PAYMENT) [Roku Guide Review]

REBECCA BRAND RECIPES..............................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

ROKAGRAM 15-DAY TRIAL..............................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]

GEB AMERICA.....................................................................COST: FREE [Roku Guide Review]


So, whether it's tuning-in to the ultimate online video destination for premium outdoor-themed shows and engaging personalities, settling down for some humour, laughs & fun with the best in classic comedy drawn from an archive of over 25,000 movies, cartoons & television episodes, learning pet care tips & watching training guides plus cute pet videos, or using instructional videos to make easy, simple, terrific dishes such as lemon frosting, Thanksgiving turkey & sauce, onion rings, berry pie, classic breakfasts, healthy lunches, 28-minute dinners, tacos & more, or enjoying some retro gaming fun courtesy of the classic 'Minesweeper', studying "Regents Physics Essentials" for a clear & concise roadmap to the state syllabus, including the entire New York State Regents Physics curriculum, to prepare for exam success and higher grades,  or exercising to workout videos and routines plus getting weight-loss tips & healthy recipes from Sarah's Fab Channel, singing along to the music of Broadway via a new premium radio station that's 'exclusive' to Roku players, enjoying a selection of religious programming, or some quality video content tailor-made for today's Latinos who crave for a real connection to their roots, or (perhaps) even taking advantage of a FREE 15-DAY TRIAL for an 'Instagram' Roku channel so that you can explore the popular photo-based social network on the big screen (n.b. no 'Instagram' account required)... we've pretty much got all of those bases covered with these latest NEW ADDITIONS to the Roku UK Channel Store.

Anyway, like it or not, that is your lot for this week and, whilst it doesn't quite the match-up to the twenty-five channels which made it into the "Official" Roku USA Channel Store during the same time-frame, I always think it's better to have SOME NEW CHOICES than none at all, don't you ?!!

Still, hopefully everyone in the UK with a Roku player managed to find something they like within the thirteen channels outlined above. If not, then you'll just have to pay us a visit another time when, with any luck, there will be something more to your liking. Afterall, there's no point installing every channel because, as I've said before, when it comes to adding new channels to your Roku player, IT'S YOUR CHOICE and, as with all things Roku... THE CHOICE IS ALWAYS YOURS !!


In the meantime, for my last thirty-three 'Weekly RoundUp' posts, I have been suggesting we spare a thought for all the poor folk who handed over their hard-earned cash for one of those NowTV Boxes [Powered by Sky] which, as you may recall, have (so far) totally failed to live up to their full potential. Likewise, the original promise from NowTV of "more apps being continually added", is yet to be adhered to, since there has been ONLY ONE NEW CHANNEL ADDED to the Roku Channel Store on the NowTV Box SINCE THE PRODUCT LAUNCHED. Apparently, this time around, the lack of productivity from the channel developers was down to their answering the call of nature... ??!!!

HINT: Click on the above image to ENLARGE IT for easier viewing !!

Meanwhile, it's likely to be of no surprise to any of you that (as with EVERY WEEK BAR ONE since it was launched) there has (once more) been literally NO ACTION in terms of NEW ADDITIONS to the Roku Channel Store selection on the NowTV Box. What this means is that, over the course of the past week, NowTV have (again) produced a (NOT SO) GRAND TOTAL of ZERO NEW CHANNELS to add to their (already SEVERELY REDUCED) version of the Roku Channel Store as included on their NowTV Box. Meanwhile, the "Official" Roku Channel Store that features on all UK Roku players has added a further THIRTEEN EXTRA CHANNELS during that same period of time. To keep things firmly in perspective, in the thirty-five weeks since the launch of the NowTV Box, there has been a total of THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-NINE EXTRA CHANNELS added to the Roku Channel Store on UK Roku players, as compared with ONE EXTRA CHANNEL being added to the Roku Channel Store on the NowTV Box. That, surely, must tell you something ?!!!

Like I've said in previous weeks, it seems to be a case of one step forward and two steps back when it comes to the meagre selection of channels available in the Roku Channel Store which features on the streaming media player from NowTV. To illustrate my point... from the moment that the NowTV Box was launched, they have managed to completely lose 'WatchIndia' and 'USTV Now', with '4oD' being  the one & only channel added to the Roku Channel Store on the NowTV Box since it launched !! At least the 'Havoc Television' channel (which, until a few weeks ago, had been 'AWOL' for months) and the 'VEVO' channel (which had been missing an "official" Roku Channel Store category on the NowTV Box for a similar period) have both stayed put for the past three weeks, having found their way back into the 'Music' genre (i.e. category) of the Roku Channel Store on the NowTV Box. Likewise... the other channel which had been lacking an "official" Roku Channel Store category on the NowTV Box for quite some time, namely 'HooplaKidz Rhymes', remains part of "Internet TV".

Fortunately, this means there are still 48 CHANNELS to be found in the NowTV Box version of the Roku Channel Store PLUS the 'NOW TV' and 'Sky Store' channels which (as I said before) brings the overall total back to fifty channels (as there were at launch). Having said that (let's not forget) those two are only there by default and not included with the apps (i.e. channels) in the Roku Channel Store on the NowTV Box. So, leaving aside the "Most Popular" channels and any additional channels listed under "My Channels" (as I do with my channel count for the Roku player), when it comes to the actual Roku Channel Store categories on the NowTV Box, there remains no more than a paltry 48 channels in total, compared with 875+ in the channel store on UK Roku players !!!

Bearing this in mind... whilst the NowTV Box won't exactly leave you out-of-pocket, if you are after a streaming media player which can genuinely boast of "more apps being continually added" and is a lot less likely to leave you wanting by the time you settle-in for a family movie over Easter, then I strongly advise you to do yourselves a BIG FAVOUR and spend the extra twenty quid or so to get a genuine original Roku LT streaming media player that will allow you to ACCESS NETFLIX plus many other film & tv channels (incl. NowTV) as well as having the 'Plex' channel readily available via the channel store and will give you more than 825 EXTRA CHANNELS TO CHOOSE FROM when compared with the selection (currently) found on a NowTV Box.


Still, whether you happen to own a Roku player, a NowTV Box, OR BOTH, as I do... be sure to come back in seven days' time for my next 'Weekly RoundUp' and, if you can't wait that long, remember you can always keep up with all the UK Roku action (as it happens) throughout the coming week, by following the companion Twitter Feed: @ukrokuchannels where up-to-the-minute info on all things Roku-related (here in the UK) is posted on a daily basis (well, almost).

Until the next time, then...

That's all folks !!