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

Bayan Audio’s SteamPort Universal: Another Step Towards a Wireless World

Streamport-Universal

For the past ten years or so we have been able to carry around our entire record collection thanks to the digital music revolution. Whether it is an MP3 player, smartphone or similar mobile device, most of us now have the ability to listen to any song, anywhere, on demand.

While this has its advantages on the commute to work, travelling in the car or even at the gym, being able to listen to our favourite tracks at home relies on existing technology. One of the first MP3 solutions was via a humble cassette with an auxiliary lead, and then we turned out attention to a 3.5mm jack with 2 phono connections. However, nobody likes wires, they look untidy, get tangled up and take an eternity to unravel.

Another problem with plugging in your smartphone is that if you want to send a text, browse the Internet or play the latest version of Angry Birds, you are virtually attached to your stereo system. One of the best things about mobile devices is that they are able to deal with all manner of tasks, yet a physical wire renders all interaction inconvenient and irritating. It is like when remote control cars were on wires, unless you were prepared to run alongside it, you could only go so fast and so far.

Apart from the holy grail of wireless charging, we have pretty much achieved a world without cables with Bayan Audio now seemingly solving yet another common problem.

StreamPort Universal is a Bluetooth enabled audio receiver that plugs into any stereo system and connects to a compatible device wirelessly. Therefore all you need to do is plug in the StreamPort Universal to any sound system with a 3.5mm jack or RCA input, pair your MP3 player, smartphone, tablet, laptop or any other Bluetooth device, select the music, audiobook or radio station you desire and enjoy life with less wires. Simple.

The receiver is also the first of its kind with NFC, an increasing common smartphone feature and possibly included just in case future devices decide to ditch Bluetooth. Anyone remember infrared?

This pocket-sized device’s 10-metre range is more than enough for listening to music around the home and its integrated high quality digital to analogue converter enables high quality near-CD quality audio.

The StreamPort Universal costs £59.99 but if you enjoy all the trappings and freedom a smartphone offers, this is a small price to pay.

Spotify Launches Web-Based Player for UK

Spotify-Web-Player

Spotify has made the online version of its music streaming software available to all UK users as it continues to extend the player’s public beta. The Web-based app has been online at https://play.spotify.com for several weeks, but has now been announced in an email sent out by the company, and is accessible for all Spotify users in the UK.

The online app brings with it many of the features and options available in the desktop client — you can manage your playlists, see new tracks, tune into Spotify radio and of course stream any of the millions of tracks on offer. Unlike the desktop client, there is currently no support for local files or third-party Spotify apps. Tracks cannot be cached for offline playback, as they can when using Spotify’s desktop and mobile tools.

The move is a bold step forward for Spotify in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Rival apps Rdio and Deezer work in Web browsers, as does Google Music, which is based around local files uploaded from your PC. Rumours persist that Google is about to add a streaming component to its Music service, with several analysts also claiming that Apple is about to join the streaming subscription service fray as well.

In the time we’ve spent testing Spotify’s new Web player, it seems to be a stable and responsive app with very few obvious bugs. As we’ve already mentioned, there are missing features — including Last.fm scrobbling support — but in today’s always-on computing world a Web player makes perfect sense. Spotify can now be used on Chromebooks, for example, and users can switch from one computer to another without having to install any additional software. Head round to your friend’s house for a party, and all you need is a Web browser to get at your disco-ready playlists.

Despite rumblings of discontent from artists receiving paltry royalty cheques from the streaming music services, it would seem they’re here to stay — their ease-of-use, huge catalogue selection and cross-platform compatibility make them a more flexible and streamlined option than, say, a 20GB iTunes library. It would be no surprise if Google and Apple soon dipped their toes into the water too.

Have a go! Spotify

Geneva Motorshow: Best In-Car Entertainment Systems

MWC-Spotify

It’s the Geneva Motorshow this week and rather than bore you with power-to-weight ratios and torque figures of the new cars, we thought we’d round up some of the best in-car entertainment systems that are on show this week. We’ve got cloud streaming from Ford, iPad Minis in Ferraris, and the world’s most over engineered soundsystem in the all-new Rolls-Royce Wraith.

Ford SYNC AppLink

Ford’s SYNC AppLink is the American motor manufacturer’s new futuristic in-car entertainment system, and this week they announced it is making its way to Europe, with 3.5 million Fords expected to get the system by 2015.

Ford announced that their EcoSport compact SUV will be among the first Ford vehicles in Europe to offer their clever SYNC AppLink technology, which sees the car manufacturer partnering up music streaming service Spotify.

Basically Ford, and almost every other car manufacture, is betting that when 4G becomes widely adopted motorist’s will want to use their phone’s mobile broadband to stream music, radio, podcast, and maybe even one day: TV and film.

The Ford SYNC AppLink integration of Spotify is the first proper collaboration with an automotive manufacturer, and will see all future Fords streaming music via the Swedish music streaming service.

By leveraging a smartphone’s capacity to receive a high-speed internet, Ford drivers will be able to control Spotify via either voice-control or physical controls which are located on the steering wheel.

In addition, Ford announced partnerships with Kaliki, Glympse, and Aha who will offer various content services to Ford drivers in Europe.
Kaliki Audio Newsstand provides audible playback of newspaper and magazine articles with radio-talent voices. They’re expanding into European languages with content from news sources like Agence France-Presse and entertainment titles such as: Public and Première.

Glympse will allow Ford drivers to share their location and estimated time of arrival with friends and family, all in real-time on a dynamic map, directly from their vehicle using simple voice commands.

Finally, Aha will deliver more than 30,000 stations of audio entertainment and information to the car, allowing drivers to safely access web-based music, news, their Facebook and Twitter feeds, personalised restaurant recommendations, hotels, weather reports and much more.

LaFerrari

Ferrari

Ferrari wowed the world with their new LaFerrari (yes, the name is terrible, but just look at it). It’s the Italian’s new 6.3 litre V12, 950 horsepower supercar (sorry, but 950 is just too bigger a number not mention). As well as the car the Italian sports car maker announced that they’ve teamed up with the Ferrari of the tech world: Apple, to bring their products to a range of sports cars.

Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo said the company is now “in talks with Apple about broadening a partnership on in-car entertainment.” Whilst that might not sound too concrete just yet, Ferrari also confirmed that its new four seater FF coupe will come with iPad minis for backseat passengers, so they can presumably play Angry Birds whilst traveling sideways in a plume of burning rubber.

Rollys-Royce-Wraith

Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce unveiled a brand-new car at the Geneva Motorshow. The Wraith is Rolls’ answer to the Bentley Continental GT. Priced at a sensible £200,000 the credit crunch Rolls is obviously very fast, but we quite like the sound of it’s incredibly over engineered sound system, and something Rolls is calling “the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller”.
Audio experts in stereo and multi-channel audio have specially optimised the bespoke audio system. So – naturally – this means you can enjoy the Dark Knight in 18.1, or you could listen to the Arches in a way you’ve never experienced before.

As well as the usual stuff, the Wraith houses a couple hundred gigs worth of storage for music. Passengers, or the driver, can make music searches via what Rolls is calling “the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller” (you just can’t make this stuff up) where you can search by artists, album, genre, or use the car’s in-built recommendation engine.

But it’s the sound quality itself that places the Rolls-Royce Wraith at the pinnacle of in-car audio. The fully active 18-channel amplifier delivers surround sound through 18 speakers, including two bass speakers in the boot, seven tweeters, seven mid-range and two “exciter” speakers.

Overall the Wraith is chucking out 1,300 watts. But that’s not all: Rolls has included a microphone that measures the ambient exterior noise, then with a digital processing unit uses the information to adjust volume and tone settings, ensuring the system is always perfectly set-up.

Then there’s a system called DIRAC that uses frequency and phase correction for individual speakers to eliminate dead spots caused by reflections from the windows.

Bloom FM: iOS streaming radio done right

I love music and when I was 15-18 nothing in the world was more exciting to me than a free CD. When I started reviewing albums at university and was given, yes *given* free CDs every week I couldn’t believe my good fortune and was pretty sure that I was the luckiest guy on the planet. Then in my second year we suddenly had unrestricted access to the internet and an amazing site called AudioGalaxy that seemed to have *all* the music in the world and lots of amazing Aphex Twin remixes all for free. Well illegally but what teenager cares about that. And you could buy 100 blank CDs for £14. As music piracy ran rampant it became very, very easy to take “free” music for granted. But it was also problematic – duplicates in iTunes, tagging issues, poor quality rips and such. The growth in streaming music services such as Spotify was brilliant – for a nominal sum you had access to CD quality music. But whilst it shines on the desktop, mobile Spotify is a bit of a road block for some people. You can’t access the app without a premium subscription – which at £10 a month is more than some people are willing to pay.

Bloom-FM

Enter Bloom. A new free iPhone app with a library of over 16 million tracks, legally licensed from leading major and independent record labels.

“From the very beginning we wanted to design Bloom specifically for mobile; to take advantage of the touchscreen with a unique interface that contributes to the user experience rather than take away from it. Music excites people and we think software should too!”

Thong Nguyen, Chief Technical Officer of Bloom.fm

Bloom takes a radio approach, so you can enjoy your favourite music with over 150 free genre based radio stations, covering tastes from Pop to Metal, and free ‘related artist’ radios. I’ve not seen any Tuuvan throat singing but everything else seems well covered.

Unlike the aforementioned Spotify, Bloom has a much more flexible mobile approach and has an odd ‘borrow, enjoy, return’ system that let you download and store a limited amount of music offline.

Bloom 20: for just £1 per month borrow and store up to 20 tracks at a time on your phone. You’re welcome to exchange these songs when you want something new.

Bloom 200: for £5 per month borrow and store up to 200 tracks at a time on your phone. Again, these 200 tracks can be exchanged at any time.

Full Bloom: the £10 per month premium subscription lets you borrow and store as many tracks as your phone can handle and also enjoy full on-demand streaming.

Bloom-App

But Bloom is more than just a way to save a little. The interface is delightfully well designed and great for discovering related artists (again the Spotify desktop client it brilliant at this. The app … not so much). You hit a little button and the algothrim presents artists, albums or songs that promise more of the same – laid out in a deisgn nod to the classic iPod scroller. Borrowing albums or songs is a simple one-tap process and gives you offline access to songs.

“We are delighted to launch very encouraged by the industry-wide support – from the likes of Sony Music, Universal, EMI, Beggars, Orchard, PIAS, INgrooves and dozens more Indie labels – for our desire to bring a service to the UK consumer that is not only beautiful and easy to use, but also offers an amazing entry price of only £1 a month. We believe that Bloom.fm will excite millions of music lovers who find existing price points too high for their needs and we hope our fantastic discovery features will help everyone find a new favourite artist.”

Oleg Fomenko, Chief Executive Officer of Bloom.fm

Bloom.fm can be download here: Bloom.fm.

Harman Kardon BDS: Get home theatre without the drama

If you like your audio integrated, your video on a vast scale and your technology wires-free, the new Harman Kardon BDS home theatre series could be just the ticket – packing in a multitude of features to unite and maximise your multimedia.

The range features Harman’s TrueStream wireless streaming, which delivers audio via an integrated Blu-ray player to run real-time content from the web, for example YouTube, as well as a variety of portable sources. It also features Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay wireless technology so you can access – and broadcast – content from all imaginable avenues.

Harman-Kardon-3D-Blu-Ray

So basically, if you want to reproduce your films, music or any other media content from any of your kit that knows how to share, the BDS home theatre system brings it all to the big screen via Blu-ray. Complete with surround sound and1080p high definition picture quality if you like your pictures big and your audio booming.

If you don’t want to pay for extra spec, or you like your kit to fit the job, you’ll be heartened to hear that the series comprises five models – each one built around a different 3D Blu-ray player – but all featuring the same Harman Kardon audio, supreme connectivity, sleek lines and looks. There are two 2.1 systems and three 5.1s, each packed with the TrueStream and Bluetooth syncing, 65W RMS audio power, 3S Blu-ray playback, HDMI hook-up and Dolby Digital / DTS decoding. If there’s not enough devices broadcasting straight into your lounge room after you’ve hooked up this little lot, you can even download a remote control app and control it all from your favourite iOS or Android device!!!

The inbuilt TrueStream technology on every model connects the Harman Kardon series to up to eight Bluetooth devices – even Apple iOS or Android, Windows Mobile or Blackberry kit – so you can create your own gadget multiplex in the one room. With input sources including TV, Blu-ray disc, DVD, CD, radio, USB and mobile internet / content, you can streamline the technology you want on show, while any more unsightly, yet perfectly functional elements can be discretely hidden away – visible only via their Bluetooth identities.

Prices range from £999.99 for the most modest and catchy-named BDS 775 to £1099.99 for the customary all-white 7773W system. Cheaper than a lifetime of cinema tickets in any case.

NeoTV Streaming Players: Ultra Smart TV

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NetGear have launched not one, not two, but three new additions to their NeoTV range of streaming video players. Offering stunning 1080p HD resolutions, each player has built in WiFi and Intel’s WiDi to enable content to be streamed over the internet – media from the likes of BBC iPlayer, LOVEFILM and more. For those preferring a more direct approach, the players can also be wired in to your network with an Ethernet connection. Full HTML5 support is included, allowing for fast navigation between sites, allowing you to reach the content you want faster.

The three players, NeoTV (NTV300), NeoTV PRO (NTV300S) and NeoTV MAX (NTV300SL) all include a remote control for easy access to streamed films and programs, and an optional free app can also be downloaded for control via your phone or tablet device. You will also be able to use the devices to help find new content to stream and watch.

Along with the basic NeoTV player, the NeoTV Pro includes an AV port allowing for connection to televisions without a HDMI slot, whilst the NeoTV Max can play almost any type of media stored on a hard drive or device, including home movies and photos. Just think, you may never have to leave the house again!

Want to find out more? Visit http://www.netgear.com/stream for more information on pricing and release dates.

You’ve made my Fitlist! Reebok and Spotify team up

If you move, or more specifically work out to the beat of a different drum then you might find music to be an essential work out companion. However if your local gym is anything like mine you may have to endure the endless repetition of the hit parade (my gym plays a lot of Chris Brown).

FitList

Reebok have teamed up with Spotify to save your ears via a cool new app called FitList. Fitlist creates bespoke playlists which match perfectly to your workout. Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 is an amazing Aphex Twin album but it’s not the best way to crunch your abs (then again for a stretch or cool down session it’s pretty great). If you waste a lot of time trying to work out what to listen to then the app is a godsend, boosting your workout by matching songs and artists based on your music tastes/likes and the workout you are going to do.

If you get easily bored, then I have no idea how you’ve made it this far through this article. But this app might at least invigorate your workout but matching your music tastes to other artists and genres, taking into account the BPM and energy levels required. No two workouts are the same, and now no two playlists will be the same.

Spotify as a music player is already great, but Spotify as an app platform is an exciting frontier. Apps such as Pitchfork where you can read reviews and then create playlists there are then are a natural extension of the idea of streaming music and hopefully can carry over onto the Spotify mobile platform.

Check out the app below