Amazon Takes On Apple TV, Roku, and Ouya With $99 Fire TV Streaming Box

Subject: General Tech | April 8, 2014 - 10:01 AM |
Tagged: streaming box, Netflix, media streaming, html, fire tv, Android, amazon

Amazon is making a play for the living room with its new Fire TV. The tiny box offers up mobile gaming along with movie and music streaming. Users will be able to tap into Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video collection in addition to various streaming video and music services from partners (see below). The box runs an operating system based on Android and HTML and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC which makes it about as powerful as today’s mid-range smartphones. At $99, the Fire TV is, ahem, a shot across the bow of devices from Apple, Roku, and Ouya.

Amazon Fire TV.jpg

The box measures 4.5" x 4.5" x 0.7" and comes bundled with a remote small remote control. Amazon provides hardware ports for HDMI, optical audio output, Ethernet, and USB. The remote has basic playback controls along with a microphone used for the voice search functionality. The Fire TV is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC with four Krait 300 CPU cores clocked at 1.7 GHz and an Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB of DDR2 memory at 533 MHz, and 8GB of internal flash memory. Networking includes wired Ethernet and a 802.11n + Bluetooth 4.0 radio. A large heatsink is used to passively cool all of the components.

The Fire TV is launching with a number of applications from partners. Users can stream video from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vimeo, Vudu, Flixter, NBA, and YouTube among others. Music apps include Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Vevo. Finally, users can play back music and photos from their Amazon Cloud Drive storage. Amazon further offers up an app store for free and paid games. For example, users will be able to play Minecraft Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, or Sev Zero using the included remote or optional $39.99 game pad.

Amazon Fire TV Game Controller 1.jpg

For media junkies with children Amazon has added the FreeTime functionality from its Kindle tablets to the Fire TV. FreeTime restricts the device to kid-friendly programming and a new optional $2.99 per month FreeTime Unlimited subscription offers up a catalog of kid-friendly media for streaming. Other software features include X-Ray (in-media information, such as identifying an actor) and ASAP which attempts to determine what programs you are likely to stream next and begin caching it in the background. For example, it will begin to cache the next episode of a TV series so that when you go to watch the next episode you will not see any loading screens.

The FireTV is a compelling alternative to the Roku (latest being the $50 Streaming Stick) and Apple TV (so long as you are not already invested in the Apple / iTunes ecosystem) while also offering up mobile gaming on the living room TV in a more-polished way that the Ouya ever did. The $99 Fire TV is available from Amazon immediately.

I think the Fire TV has real potential to catch on with most consumers, though the real test for enthusiasts and readers of PC Per will be to see if the extra features and Amazon polish will be worth the price premium over cheaper options like the Chromecast and Raspberry Pi setups.

Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information and hands-on experience with Amazon's latest bit of hardware.

Source: Amazon

$50 Roku Streaming Stick Is A Google Chromecast Alternative

Subject: General Tech | March 7, 2014 - 11:13 PM |
Tagged: streaming stick, roku, Netflix, media streaming, chromecast

Roku has launched a new Streaming Stick for HD TVs with HDMI inputs. The small USB flash drive-sized device is powered by USB and plugs into the HDMI input of your television. From there, users can access the Roku app store to get thousands of streaming media channels including television, movies, sports, and music. For example, users can access media from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, VUDU, Pandora, and Spotify.

The Roku Streaming Stick can pass up to 1080p video and 7.1 channel digital audio to the TV. It can be controlled via a physical remote or an Android or iOS smartphone application. Roku is using RF for the hardware remote and Wi-Fi direct for the smartphone-to-Streaming Stick connection, which means that line of sight is not necessary (which is important since most TV HDMI ports are recessed on the back panel). Speaking of wireless, the Streaming Stick pulls its media from a Wi-Fi network connection, with support for dual band 802.11 a/b/g/n networks (2.4GHz or 5GHz).

Roku Streaming Stick HDMI Version.jpg

Using the smartphone application, users can browse for and queue content. In general, the Roku stick can go out and fetch media on its own without a smartphone or computer intermediary passing the content. However, it does support limited “casting” functionality similar to Google’s Chromecast. In this mode, users, can pass YouTube, Netflix, and personal (on device) media over to the TV from the smartphone. Roku has stated that casting support for other media streams and casting from a PC is coming in the future.

Roku’s new Chromecast competitor is available for pre-order now for $49.99 with availability expected in April. The price is on the high side, but it does offer access to all of Roku’s channels, a physical remote for basic playback and navigation controls, is able to stream media on its own, and is also able to do media push functionality similar to the Chromecast (but in a more limited fashion at the moment). More devices and competition in this space is a good thing though!

Will you be picking up a Roku Streaming Stick or holding out for something else?

Source: Roku

Hulu and HBO Go Streaming Apps May Be Coming To Google Chromecast

Subject: General Tech | August 5, 2013 - 06:00 PM |
Tagged: media streaming, hulu, hbo, google, chromecast

Google released its Chromecast streaming stick last month, and the device launched with support for YouTube, Google Play, and Netflix streaming. For the remaining content sources, users need to resort to "casting" an entire Chrome web browser tab from a smartphone, tablet, or computer connected to the same network over Wi-Fi. At launch, Google stated that additional apps are coming, including Pandora (and later Vimeo). Now, stories are appearing online reporting that Hulu Plus and HBO Go support may be coming to the $35 streaming device in the near future.

Variety reports that HBO is "actively exploring" the Google Chromecast as another method for subscribers to access content. As usual, users will need to be subscribers of traditional cable or satellite services along with paying a monthly subscription to HBO itself in order to access HBO Go on the Chromecast. For now, users are able to stream to their televisions by using the tab casting feature, but an app would be ideal. The company has not announced any specific timelines for an app release, however.

Additionally, Hulu has said that it is working on adding its own streaming app to the Chromecast for Plus subscribers. Specifically, Hulu representative Meredith Kendall was quoted by Variety in stating that "We are actively working with Google to bring Hulu Plus to the platform." Hulu seems to be more certain on delivering a Chromecast app for its users, so it is likely that Hulu Plus will come out before HBO Go, though free Hulu users will have to resort to casting the entire Chrome tab.

Have you received your Google Chromecast yet? Are you excited for new apps, or is the tab casting "good enough"?

Read more about Google's Chromecast media streaming dongle at PC Perspective.

Source: Slash Gear

Samsung Acquires Boxee For $30 Million, Its Cloud DVR Service Is Ending July 10th

Subject: General Tech | July 6, 2013 - 12:01 AM |
Tagged: smart tv, Samsung, media streaming, live tv, htpc, cloud dvr, boxee

Earlier this week, set top box maker Boxee was acquired by Samsung in a deal worth approximately $30 million. The Korean company will retain all 45 Boxee employees as well as hold the rights to Boxee assets. Samsung plans to put the Boxee team to work on improving the user experience of its own Smart TVs. Unfortunately for Boxee users, the company announced on its website yesterday that it will be discontinuing its Cloud DVR service on July 10th.

Samsung's new "key talent and assets" from Boxee will work on improving the software used in Samsung's internet-connected Smart TVs. Smart TVs have become rather common, but much like the built-in 3D features, consumers may have a TV with Internet connected functionality but many do not utilize these features. The Boxee team will work on improving the interface, and hopefully with Sasmsung's muscle behind the team it will be able to offer enticing media functionality without running into rights issues with the big media companies, which Boxee has run into in the past.

boxee-logo.png

Other than the brief announcement from Boxee and a couple of short quotes from Samsung to the BBC, details on the deal, the Boxee team's future involvement and road map on Boxee-inspired software are scarce. On one hand it is sad to see a small startup being bought out. On the other hand, it seems like it really takes a big company with lots of resources to make inroads into the living room, especially where TV and video is concerned due to media companies and cable companies (and in Comcast's case, both) fighting vigorously against these Internet streaming boxes. Hopefully Samsung realizes what it has and takes advantage of its new talent to make its Smart TVs better! In the meantime, there is always Roku to look to for alternative streaming boxes or XBMC and WMC for fully-fledged home theater PCs.

What do you think about the Boxee acquisition and the future of so-called "Smart TVs?"

Source: Boxee

Aereo TV Streaming Service Expanding to Midwest, (Several Counties In Illinois and Indiana)

Subject: General Tech | June 28, 2013 - 11:39 AM |
Tagged: video streaming, tv, midwest, media streaming, Lawsuit, Internet, aereo

Aereo, the popular streaming service that delivers broadcast television channels via the Internet, has announced its plans to expand into the Midwest US despite the numerous lawsuits facing its future from big broadcast companies trying to shut it down. Fortunately, Aereo is forging ahead and will be coming to several counties within Illinois and Indiana later this year.

Aereo Antenna Array.jpg

When it expands into this new region, it will pick up several local channels and make them (along with a bit of DVR space) available to subscribers over an internet connection to computers and mobile devices. Channels will include ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and FOX.

On September 13, Aereo will be available to residents of the following Illinois counties:

  • Cook
  • Dekalb
  • Grundy
  • Kane
  • Kankakee
  • Kendall
  • La Salle
  • Lake
  • McHenry
  • Will

Additionally, the service will be available to these counties in Indiana:

  • Jasper
  • La Porte
  • Lake
  • Newton
  • Porter

Conveniently (though mere coincidence), I recently moved from the middle of the state to one of the upcoming counties, and I’m looking forward to finally be able to test the service out.

Have you tried Aereo yet? Is it helping with your cord cutting endeavors or merely a supplement to an existing cable subscription?
 

Source: Aereo

CES 2013: Seagate Announces Central Shared Storage Backup and Streaming Box

Subject: General Tech | January 7, 2013 - 06:21 AM |
Tagged: remote access, NAS, media streaming, DLNA, central shared storage, backup, ces 2013, CES, Seagate

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Seagate announced a new home backup and media streaming box that it is calling the Seagate Central Shared Storage. Featuring a form factor well suited to your AV rack in the living room or next to the PC, the Central Shared Storage box will act as a NAS and DLNA server with additional software that enables automatic backup of multiple PCs throughout the home and Facebook photos. The Seagate software will run on computers running either Windows or OSX and will organize audio, video, images, and documents for viewing and streaming on a variety of devices.

Seagate-Central-72ppi-1000px_webready.jpg

In addition, the Central Shared Storage box will also back up your photos stored on Facebook. You can stream or access multimedia on mobile devices (using the Seagate Media App), PCs, or Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players. ON the mobile side, Samsung supports IOS, Amazon (Kindle HD), and Android devices. You can also access your stored content from afar with the remote access feature. social network accounts. Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players will further offer up a customized interface for the viewing your music, movies, and photos on the big screen TV.

It will be interesting to see what the performance is like over the network, and whether the software required for auto-backup is worth using. Unfortunately, there is no word on Linux support, but it may still be possible to get Linux computers backed up to the NAS using something like Wine.

The Seagate Central Shared Storage will be available in March 2013 and will come in three capacities. The MSRPs are as follows:

  • 2TB is $189.99
  • 3TB is $219.99
  • 4TB is $259.99

You can find the full press release here.

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Source: Seagate