Roku adds ITV Player to its Chromecast-esque Streaming Stick

Streaming-Stick-HDMI-Version-3The Roku Streaming Stick is the latest streaming device from the U.S manufacturer Roku and adds the functionality of a Smart TV to a normal TV for less than £50 (£49.99). The Roku Streaming Stick is in a similar market to that of the existing Google Chromecast.

The latest news from ‘Camp Roku’ is that they’ve added ITV Player which means you can now access over 750 channels in the UK including the ‘big ones’ such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Demand 5. On the top of those you can access Netflix, Now TV and Sky.

In case you’ve not heard about it already, the Roku Stick turns a TV into “smart TV” just by plugging into a HDMI port. You will need a spare plug nearby as the Roku Stick has to have external power, although if you have a TV with a USB port, it can be powered through that instead.

It is a bit more expensive than its rival from Google (the Chromecast is £30) but, as pointed by Tech Radar, you do get more than 50 times as many compatible apps and a physical remote control. If you lose the remote you can also use the app from iOS or Google Play app. The app has been described as really good by Tech Radar who said “you’ll never want to hunt and peck with the remote’s direction pad again after using the app”.

To set up the device you need a minimum of a 1.5MBs internet connection to stream standard definition and 3.0MBs upwards if you want to play full HD. The device takes about 30 mins to set up according Trusted Reviews. You will need to link the device to your Roku account by using your laptop or smartphone. Payment details are expected during registration (in order to make future purchases on Channel Store) but don’t worry as it comes with a PIN to prevent any accidental purchases.

Streaming-Stick-HDMI-Hand-changed
Streaming Stick Size

With over 1,000 apps, even if a large chunk of them are niche apps no one has ever heard of, the Roku has the most apps on the market – as pointed in the review by Tech Radar. Over all they gave it 5 out of 5 stars for performance and 4.5 stars for usability and stated that:

The Roku Streaming Stick slims down Roku’s popular app delivery system and halves the price of the Roku 3. There are over 1,000 apps and yet the grid is easy to customize. Its interface ties everything together and the remote is small enough for one-handed navigation. Those are two things missing from Chromecast.

Their issue was with the design, which they awarded 3 out of 5 stars, pointing out that:

The size of this streaming stick is larger than the head of any HDMI cable, and some TVs tuck their HDMI ports into the frame of the television. That can make the Roku Streaming Stick a tight fit.

All in all, it is a fraction of the size of the previous Roku 3 and while it’s more expensive than the Chromecast, it does offer a lot more apps than its rivals. It’s available now and you can find out more at https://www.roku.com/uk/choose-your-roku

Quick Look: CES Unveiled, London 2013

ces-unveiled-london

The Consumer Electronics Show every year in glamorous Las Vegas is one of the highlights of the tech calendar. We went to CES Unveiled, a preview of next year’s show at the slightly less glamorous South Bank of London to see what techs finest had to offer.

Roku 3

Roku have been locked in an arms race with the Apple TV to provide amazing puck-sized boxes that stream hi-def content to your TVs. The Roku 3 packs a lot in a little package, with Spotify, Netflix, Plex and services like iPlayer and Now5 built in. The motion-sensitive remote also works like a Wii controller so you can play Angry Birds. The remote also has a headphone jack so you can listen to TV without disturbing your flat mates. Sadly (and like all Roku boxes) there’s still no official streaming support for YouTube or Vimeo, which is a little like an Italian restaurant that has taken pizza and pasta off the menu.

Fitbug

Fitness trackers are all the rage, with great devices on offer from Fitbit and Jawbone (and potentially Apple if the 5S co-processor takes off). However, new kid on the block Fitbug were showing off their Orb activity tracker, which logs exercise,monitors sleep and doesn’t need recharging – all for the low, low price of £45. The a Orb can be worn as a watch, clipped on a belt or discretely attached to your underwear. Much like the latest Fitbits, data can be streamed wirelessly to an app. And to keep you motivated to actually use the thing, Orb comes with Kik – a digital coach.

Sunnycam

Google Glasses may have a powerful amount of mindshare, but they aren’t the only horse in the wearable camera market. Sunnycam have been producing video recording glasses for a while and their latest range both look and ‘see’ better, with improved optics recording up to 1080p and a refined design, prescription lenses and shatterproof glass. They can also ‘hear’ better with improved audio recording capabilities. All this and more can be on your face from Q1 2014.

Arcam AV950 AV Receiver

Arcam have always treated audio with gravitas and their top of the line AV950 combines reference-grade audio quality with an iPad app – so despite the extreme power at your fingertips, it remains easy to install and use. Even on a crowded conference floor the precision and power of the sound was abundantly clear.

OnBeat Solar Headphones

Want high-quality sound on the go? The over-ear headphone market is pretty crowded but OnBeat have figured out a way to stand out – helping out smartphone users’ perennial plight – running out of battery. The solar panel built into the top of the OnBeat Solar Headphones generates enough power to be able to constantly recharge smartphones and tablets whilst they are playing music. The integrated flexible solar cell has a power output of approximately 0.55W. The energy is stored in two light-weight Lithium Ion batteries held within the two ear cups for a balanced weight and fit on the head. Definitely my favourite thing.

Make Mum’s day with a gadget gift

Okay people, here’s the deal when it comes to Mothers’ Day. Little kids can get away with a hand drawn card and a clay candle holder made at school, but bigger people need to put some effort in.

So, if you’re a husband or partner, or a son or daughter who’s earning their own way in the world, get your mum something decent this Mother’s Day.

Here’s a few ideas for mums who like to get a bit technical…

Concrete-Hook-Case

Concrete Hook Case

Only just launched are these stylish Concrete Hook cases, to protect her laptop. Made from finest Italian leather with a padded suede lining, there are are four colourways to choose from. Forest Green Grey with purple blue lining; Antelope Brown with Cobalt blue lining; Red Brown with black lining, and Charcoal black with orange lining. They feature chrome and aluminium fasteners and offer a choice of three types of handles in various lengths. The handles are attached to the chrome corners using specially manufactured carbine hooks.

Price: £149

Stockists: www.concretecases.com

Opus

Opus Luxury Aroma Diffusing Clock

Mum’s bedroom fills with calming soft light, and the sounds of nature soothe her as she inhales the aroma of fresh coffee. Now that makes a change from the alarm clock clanging, the dogs barking to be fed and the whiff of sports socks from the laundry basket. Home fragrance brand MadeByZen has come up with the Opus, a diffuser and alarm clock, which uses light, sound and fragrance for a really different wake-up experience. According to sleep specialists, being woken by a loud alarm clock can cause undue stress on the body. The best way to wake up is to be gently roused using natural light and sounds. The Opus combines the ancient practice of aromatherapy with modern technology, mimicking a natural wake-up pattern incorporating ‘sunrise’ and natural sounds, as well as subtle fragrance options. It also acts as a mini humidifier, ioniser and air purifier, enhancing the air quality of your home.

The Opus comes in black or white with a large choice fragrance oils at £3.99 each.

Price: £79.99

Stockists: www.madebyzen.com

Folding-Plug

Mu Folding Plug connector

Mums may seem like Mary Poppins sometimes, with bags that just keep on giving – ask a mum for biscuits, drinks, tissues, plasters – you name it, it’s probably in her handbag somewhere. But there comes a point when those bags can just not stretch any more. So if mum needs to plug in her phone when she’s at work, or on holiday, there’s a rather clever folding plug that has just come onto the market. The MU Folding Plug takes up 70% less space than your average plug and the recent launch is a USB adaptor for smartphones. The other clever thing is that the plug pins are folded away so are less likely to scratch your phone’s screen or anything else you have in your bag.

We’ve tried one out and it’s a terribly clever design, plus it comes in a very attractive box that will look good for a gift – our only gripe is that it comes in the now ubiquitous white, which we find shows up the dirt.

A tablet optimized plug and a power cord are to launch later this year.

Price: £25

Stockist: www.themu.co.uk

RoboD

RoboStir

Does your mum always complain she needs more hands? Then give her some for Mothers Day! The RoboStir is a nifty gizmo that can stir stews, soups and sauces for you, while you’re chopping, kneading, or sitting down with the paper.

I am notorious for burning pans, because I put the dinner on and then wander off and carry on working (the pitfalls of working at home), so this little gadget seemed to be just what I needed to save myself yet more burned pans.

Tripod

Just a point – you’re not to leave it unattended, so you should stay in the kitchen while it’s stirring – it’s simple to use, and fits over most average-size pans. It will cope with reasonably light sauces, such as baked beans and a light cheese sauce, but don’t expect to use it on anything too heavy.

If your mum cooks a lot and seems to do a lot of juggling, it might be worth the £14-odd quid for a novelty present.

Price: £14.95

Stockist: www.gizoo.co.uk

Roku

Roku XS streaming platform

If your mum doesn’t have a PC (or more likely can never get near one) how about treating her to the Roku, a streaming platform that provides 80 channels of online entertainment content including on-demand films from Netflix and BBC iPlayer to almost any TV without the need for a PC. A Netflix subscription will give access to unlimited films. If she’s feeling generous, she might even use it to keep the kids entertained over the holidays (while she gets a bit of ‘me’ time!).

Price: £99.99

Stockist: www.amazon.co.uk

Archos

Archos 70d eReader

I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to eReaders and books. I like a nice book, with proper paper pages and printed with ink. BUT after a particularly dull journey on the District Line last week, I was wishing I had one, as I’d finished my book on the way into London. With an eReader, you’ve always got another book at your fingertips, so I decided to put the latest Archos 70d eReader to the test to see if busy mums might fancy one for Mother’s Day.

It’s really light, at 280g, which is good in some ways, but it does feel a tad flimsy – and you’ll need to buy a cover for it if it’s going to get flung in a bag (which is pretty likely). You should get around eight hours out of a full charge, which is not bad either.

At a tad under 60 quid, it’s pretty cheap – 30 pounds less than a Kindle, so if you can’t afford one of those, and your mum isn’t too demanding about her gadgets this could be a good choice. It’s simple to use, has a 7in TFT colour screen, and can also be used for playing video, music and viewing photos players and the 4GB of onboard memory is expandable by up to 16GB thanks to the microSD slots.

Price: £59.99

Stockist: http://www.archos.com/

Google set-top box: Rumour round-up

It’s been rumoured as far back as 2007 that web giant Google is looking to move into the digital TV market, but solid facts have been painfully slow to materialise.

The strongest indication yet that the company are developing a web-enabled set-top box, which could arrive in living rooms sooner than we think, was recently reported in the New York Times. It claims the company is planning to launch the product in a joint venture between themselves, Intel and Sony. The system is likely run on the same type of operating system Google uses for their phones, Android.

Google-Logo

Reporter Nick Bilton revealed last week the details he has managed to uncover about the highly-secretive project. He writes:

“The Google TV software will be open source at its core, meaning that device and TV makers should have broad access to it. Sony, however, hopes to gain an edge over competitors by bringing out the first appliances and possibly TVs running the software, perhaps under a new brand.
Google’s move would potentially set it not just against established set-top box makers like Scientific Atlanta and TiVo but also strictly Internet-oriented media hubs like the Apple TV and Roku Internet Player. With full app support, Google TV could not only access most web-based services but also get custom software tailored to particular experiences.”

The NY Times also claims that “a person with knowledge of the Google TV project said that the set-top box technology was advanced enough that Google had begun a limited test with Dish Network, but other commentators are unsure how advanced the product really is:

The Guardian’s Joseph Tartakoff wrote: “There are some big caveats and unknowns: It’s unlikely that the service will come to market soon, since the Wall Street Journal makes a point of emphasising that the tests are limited for now to a ‘very small number’ of Google employees.

Also, no set-top boxes that run on Android are currently on the market. But as far back as November 2007 there were rumours that Google was working to build an app platform for set-top boxes. Nothing has come of that, although that effort would presumably be related to this one in some way.”

Meanwhile, Claudine Beaumont, The Telegraph’s Technology Editor is doubtful of whether Google will be able to succeed in such an ultra-competitive market: “The web-enabled set-top box space is becoming increasingly crowded. Apple already sells Apple TV, which allows users to directly download movies and TV shows to their television, as well as access Flickr and YouTube, but it has been dismissed as a ‘hobby’ project by the company.

As for Google themselves, well, they’re not saying anything. A Google spokesman simply stated that the company does not comment on rumour or speculation.

So, while the general consensus is that the product will almost definitely see the light of day, there’s no news on precisely when this will happen, either in the US or elsewhere. The price tag is also open to speculation, although Gizmodo reports that Roku have indicated the box could retail for around $200 (£133).

Although Google are entering are taking a bold step into the unknown, their unrivalled global dominance of web-based products, holds them in excellent steed. But whether this sterling success will transfer smoothly to the silver screen, simply remains to be seen.