Posts Tagged ‘Roku’

There hasn’t been much to write about the last few months until that is, until Playon (www.playon.tv)came out with Playon Plus. Those of you who purchased Playon a while ago know what I am talking about. There are many web sites out there advertising free TV, some with recording features but nobody can compete with the deal Playon gives you to access streaming content. You can also cast to your chrome stick if you want.

I have a couple of Roku boxes in my home and with the Playon channel I don’t need much more. I get a whole host of cable like content and just like cable TV you can record your favorite content. By the way, once you have recorded content, you can Skip the ads on playback with Playon’s AdSkip feature. Cable TV won’t let you do that!

I also use their browser add-on called Playmark. Find a video anywhere and click on the Playmark button and bingo, you have your own Playon channel.

If you have an account with the Free HULU content website you can also watch all your favorite HULU shows as well.

What have I left out. Oh yeah, you can access all of this through handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Christmas is coming. For less than the cost of a nice shirt, you can have Playon, with no recurring fees.

Merry Christmas!

Homemediaguy

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Every day you hear and read about cord cutters and how happy they do not have to pay for cable TV. Whoops! They still have to pay for internet access, which makes sense. When you think that most people leave their TV’s on for the noise factor even when they are not watching but listening to TV; streaming content is the de facto standard of video delivery. What most people do not think about is the cable companies realize what’s coming and have postured themselves to never having to reduce revenue. How can that be?

Easy. There are three elements to the “bundle” package most people subscribe to with their cable company. Phone, TV and internet. As the demand for 40 good channels on cable, they end up paying over $200 a month for those channels, a phone (which is becoming more irrelevant due to cell phones) and the ubiquitous internet connection.

If you look at any cable TV companies web site, they offer internet only services for around $50 a month. Wow. That’s a lot for something that just sits there until you use it. And you’re right. Where there is competition and adequate regulation you can get faster internet for about half the price if you lived in Europe or Asia.

As people look to dump the TV part of their package, they find that they still pay a high amount to stay in the internet streaming game. Add to that that companies like Comcast are starting to limit the amount of data you can use each month with your internet connection, we are headed right back to where we started. Comcast is offering an unlimited internet connection in markets with data limits (like your cell phone data plans) for an additional $30 a month. $50 + $30 = $80, ouch!

So let’s look at online streaming. First, there is no one content provider that offers you all your local stations and a few more. There is no one out there that can put this simple package together. Then you have to pay another $30 on top of the $50 for internet connections, because streaming all day will bust your monthly cap.

Should you decide that you can change your viewing habits (yeah right) you could still cut the cord and have almost everything you have today regarding TV content. Moving to an over the air option (OTA) gives you FREE local TV in 1080p HD.

Let’s compare OTA to the “bundle” and see:

Now Instead try this:
Cable provided phone Cell phone
Cable channels A regular in attic TV antenna
Cable DVR Tablo DVR

It’s really not that hard to make the switch if you change your “viewing habits”. I used to record 6 or 7 shows I loved and went crazy finding the time to watch it all. So I stopped watching all of them and spent time with my wife and dog every day doing stuff. Real life stuff. You can do this too.

It is true not everyone can put an antenna in their attic or on their roof and get a good TV signal, but it doesn’t cost much to try. There is also websites you can search for that can tell you before you spend any money on an antenna (ex. http://antennapoint.com/).

Tablo.tv makes great DVR’s to hook your antenna to and record all your favorite shows.

This approach leaves you with only a monthly internet bill much lower than you pay now for the “bundle”.

Let’s look at some numbers:

Cable Bundle Number of Channels Internet, TV, Phone Cable Boxes 1DVR & 2 Boxes Taxes & Fees Monthly Total
Introductory Price 400  $              89  $               25  $   20  $        134
Normal Price  $            225  $               25  $   20  $        270
     
     
Cable Internet Only 0  $              50  $                –  $   12  $          62
Streaming content        
Sling TV 23  $              29  $                –  $    –  $          29
Netflix 1  $              12  $                –  $    –  $          12
Amazon 1  $              12  $                –  $    –  $          12
Monthly  $        385
One Time Cost  $           –  
Over the Air Live TV Number of Channels Internet, TV, Phone Cable Boxes 1DVR & 2 Boxes Taxes & Fees Monthly Total
Antenna 20-40 $50 – $100  $                –  $    –  $           –  
DVR (Tablo & Roku 3 TV’s) $550  $                –  $    –  $           –  
Phone (Use cell phone) $0  $                –  $    –  $           –  
Internet only $50  $                –  $    –  $          50
Monthly  $          50
One Time Cost  $        650

Take a few minutes and think about how much TV is a part of your life and the money you spend on video content. Then decide. Good luck.

Homemediaguy

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One of challenges people face when deciding if they want to cut the cord is how to replicate what they have with cable TV with regards to content and ease of use. I have been using Plex for over 2 years and consider it my go to channel for a lot of my content. Paired with my Roku 3 boxes for my TV’s, I have it all. An inexpensive indoor TV antenna give me live TV all day thus I don’t miss anything from cable.

For those of you who live in areas that a TV antenna doesn’t get you live TV, there is always Sling TV through the internet.

So why do I like Plex so much? I have over 120 Roku channels that has great content like Crackle, Internet Archives, Tubi TV and more. I like the old TV shows and movies from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and the Roku does a great job giving it all to you. But when you add the Plex channel, you get a whole other list of channels that Roku may not have. There are channels like “Filmon, Let me Watch This & Ice Films” that have tons of movies that you didn’t even know existed. I am talking about really good movies, not something that didn’t even make it to DVD. I have over 20 Plex channels which I usually go to when I switch on my Roku box and watch TV.

Plex comes in two components, the server which can run on an old PC or laptop and apps for Android, IOS and Roku. The Plex server +is free. The apps are $5. Well worth the money. If you do a search for Plex on the internet you will find tons of information about all of the ways you can hook up and watch your content from anywhere, including your home movies and pictures. It takes a little effort to use all of Plex’s capabilities, but to start, just load the channels portion of Plex.

There are also unofficial Plex channels that offer more great content. The three channels I spoke about earlier are unsupported (unofficial) channels and work great. There are a number of ways to add channels to Plex. With the official ones, you can go to the Plex app on your Roku, or to the Plex web interface on your PC where the server is running. With unsupported channels (www.totalhtpc.com/plex-unsupported-appstore) you download the channel you want directly from the web (Github has a ton) and copy them to the Plex plugins directory. To get to the Plex plugins directory, right click on the Plex icon in the system tray and select “open plex plugins directory”. Copy your channel file to the directory and you are all set.

By the way some Plex channel file names like “unsupported library bundle-master” need to be renamed to “unsupported library bundle” without the master word in the name.

Good luck and have fun.

Homemediaguy

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There is a lot to understand when it comes to getting content (video, pictures, music, etc.) over the Internet. Streaming, media servers, buffering, paid and free and much more. Basically there are two ways to get content.

Streaming

When you stream content, the movie is sitting on a server somewhere besides your house, and is constantly sent (streamed) to your home so you can watch it. Netfix, vimeo, HBO, and others are the providers and they send you the content you asked for. You run into issues when the content provider has problems providing the stream which is usually a blank screen for a few seconds. This is called buffering and happens for many reasons such as too many people streaming the same content and the provider does not have enough processing power, or servers to meet the demand. Small pipe sizes (not enough bandwidth from your ISP) and a number of other reasons.

Media Servers

The alternative is to play content locally. That is, the movies, pictures and music reside on a device in your home. How you get this content to your home varies (DVD to digital, bit torrents (illegal), purchasing digital media (legal).

The media server approach offers a number of advantages such as:

  • No buffering
  • You own the content
  • You can share your content
  • Easy to troubleshoot and fix

Now you have to decide what hardware and software you will use if you decide to move in this direction.  I have provided a brief comparison of the types of media servers available below. Most if not all the solutions you see for sale on the web fit into one of these catagories.

  Seagate Personal Cloud Raspberry PI2 Android PC Windows Media PC’s
Price 4TB  $199 $39 + 2+20+10 $99 $300-$500
OS Android Linux Android Windows
  Windows 10
Server Software Plex Server Rasplex Client Plex Client Plex Server
  Kodi Kodi Playon Media Server
 
Hardware

Processor

Marvell ARMADA 370 88F6707 A1 SoC @ 1.2 GHz

Cloud Drive won’t be able to transcode media for Plex in real-time, but that the device will be able to transcode in advance to have the media ready in the formats you’ll need.

A 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU

1GB RAM

Quad-core 1.6GHz CPU RK3188, Cortex-A9 (28nm) 2GB RAM Passmark score over 2500 (Intel i7).

Seagate Personal Cloud

The simplest way to go if you don’t want to make your home media system a hobby. The Seagate drive allows you to load a limited number of apps including my favorite media server Plex. With the Plex Roku channel and apps for Android and IOS, you are ready to go.

Pros: Simple to set up. Only one piece of hardware and not a lot of cables hanging around.

Cons: Users are having a difficult time getting the Plex app to work on the Seagate. I have gone to both the Seagate and the Plex forums.

Raspberry PI2

A popular linux box that has hundreds of uses (google it). There are a number of media server apps that can run on this platform. The best news is that a free copy of Windows 10 can run on this device.

Pros: A real linux PC the size of a deck of cards with all the connections you will ever need. Windows 10.

Cons: Limited RAM.

Android PC

There are a ton of android PC’s out there; and they are sometimes labeled as gaming consoles. They are inexpensive, small and can provide what you need to run a media server successfully. You can also run one of the best media servers out there called Kodi. TVADDONS offers a pre-packed version of Kodi for free that is very simple to install.

Pros: Small, inexpensive, will suit most folks who stream content and have a limited budget.

Cons: There is one drawback when you want to watch movies. Remember, transcoding is not supported for ARM and PPC models. Transcoding is a big deal when you watch movies. Click here to read what the Plex Server page says about transcoding (converting movie formats on the fly).

Windows Media PC’s

In my opinion the most expensive and high maintenance way to go. But if you are into high end video and want the best quality results on your TV, then spending the money for a custom built Windows PC is the way to go. You can use older PC’s to start with and when you have everything running right throughout the house, perform the upgrades you need to max out the performance.

Pros: Most people have or use a Windows PC. You probably have an older one sitting around you can start with. There are companies who make small footprint PC’s like Zotac (http://www.zotac.com).

Cons: There are always upgrades and the required reboots by the app creator or from Microsoft, so you will have to login and perform these functions to keep things running smoothly. Other systems do not require this step.

Homemediaguy

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Theverge.com has a Cord cutting calculator they published this week (http://www.theverge.com/a/online-tv-stream-price-guide) that lets you see what channels you get and how much their respective services cost. It’s real handy to determine which provider CBS all access, HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue) gives you what you really want to watch. I have included screen shots below.

Blog Amazon Services w Price 031915 Blog CBS Services w Price 031915 Blog HBO Now Services w Price 031915 Blog Hulu Plus Services w Price 031915 Blog Netflix Services w Price 031915 Blog Playstation Vue Services w Price 031915

Homemediaguy

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One of the most annoying aspects of IPTV is when you are watching a movie and all of a sudden you see a message that says “reestablishing connection” or your TV screen turns black with a progress bar showing that your movie is reloading. This terrible event is called buffering. It doesn’t matter if you are using a computer, Roku box or any other IP device to get your content. And to top it off sometimes the progress bar gets stuck and you have to restart the movie. UUUGGGHHH!!!

There are a number of factors that contribute to buffering. They can be divided into two categories. The first category includes items you can control. That is your home network. The second category includes everything that you may influence but cannot control.

What you can control – Your Network

WIFI vs. Cat 6 direct connection to your router:

WIFI has about half the speed a direct connection with a network cable has. It is recommended that you use newer router meeting the “802.11n” standard. Run a test. Using your browser go to http://www.speedtest.net/ and run a speed test if you are using a computer, which will tell you what your actual upload and download speeds are at the time of the test. Rerun this test just before you start your movie and you will see it may be different depending on the time of day and day of the week. Run this test using our WIFI connection and again with you network cable connection. If you have a Roku box, there is a speedtest channel you can get for free that will give you the same information from your Roku box (see screenshot below). Roku and Netflix offer the following as a guide for video content:

  • 0.5 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed
  • 1.5 Megabits per second – Recommended broadband connection speed
  • 3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for DVD quality (Roku HD quality)
  • 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality
  • 7.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for Super HD quality
  • 12 Megabits per second – Recommended for 3D quality

I recommend 3.0 Megabits per second as an acceptable minimum. My test results from my wireless computer are shown below. Keep in mind that this test gives you an average over the time the test was performed. I would add a 20% safety margin onto the numbers. So my numbers would be 99.2 download and 154.4 upload. The screen below shows speeds from my laptop computer with a wireless connection. As you can see, I don’t have a speed problem.

Speedtest PC

If you are using a computer to get video to your TV directly with an HDMI cable:

  • Make sure hardware acceleration is shut off
  • Make sure no other software is using up your bandwidth. Programs such as anti virus, or background processes can eat up band width.

Now take a look at the next picture and you will see the upload and download speeds using the Speedtest channel on my Roku 3 device. Note they are significantly lower than my laptop.

Speedtest Roku Screenshot

You should also note that there are multiple results displayed. I would note the slowest download speed of 1.34 Mbytes/sec and 2.27 Mbytes/sec which may give you some buffering. However the slowest speeds were the initial ones. I should be OK with not having buffering issues due to my network or equipment.

Once you have checked your equipment and connection speeds there is not a whole lot left to adjust on your end. One thing to keep in mind though is that if you are streaming different content to you TV’s you need to understand that each stream requires the same 3.0 Mbytes/sec of bandwidth.

Also keep in mind the bandwidth tests you ran are specific to the time of day and day of week you ran the test.

You should not have to check your network or calculate movie file sizes to enjoy streaming movies at home. So the simple steps are:

  1. Check your PC to make sure no spyware, or other applications are running that use bandwidth.
  2. Run Speedtest to make sure you have at least 3.0 Mbytes/sec of bandwidth to your device (Roku, PC, etc.)
  3. Make sure no one else at home is streaming anything

Once you have done all that and you still get buffering, it is most likely coming from the source (the website providing the video). Remember that at the source end, different videos can reside on different servers. So if there are a ton of people hitting the same server your movie is on, then you may have problems.

There is no gauge, guide or indicator that shows you on screen or otherwise how hard a providers server is getting hit; and it can vary over the length of a 3 hour movie. That is why buffering is so hard to avoid. There is an alternative to streaming that most people will not run to right away. That is to host your own movies on a media server at home. Acquiring all the movies you want to watch (many only once) is not an option for everyone.

How can you stop or minimize buffering?

  1. If your network is running properly you might be able to adjust your resolution from 1080p to 720p
  2. Connect your streaming device (PC or Roku) to your router with a CAT 6 cable
  3. Watch streaming content when there is less load on the providers servers (early in the day)

By the way if you are ready to jump into 4K quality content, remember 4K consumes twice the bandwidth of 1080p HD.

Also keep in mind that video content streaming over the internet is at its infancy. Adjusting your expectations for occasional buffering vs. a ton of commercials may be a new acceptable standard. Also remember that content providers server demand and bandwidth is right now the biggest factor in causing buffering. Pick your streaming sources carefully and keep score of which content providers have more buffering than others.

How do you calculate how much bandwidth you need for video streaming?

Suppose the video you’re streaming is one hour long, and the file size for that video is 6 GB. While a broadband connection of up to 10 Mbps lets you easily stream a lot of video content online, you’ll want 15 Mbps or more for this six-gigabyte HD video. Here’s a quick look at the math:

  • Approximate megabytes: 6 GB = 6,144 MB (1 GB = 1024 MB)
  • Approximate megabits: 6,144 MB = 49,152 Mb (1 byte = 8 bits)
  • Number of seconds per hour calculation: 60 x 60 = 3,600
  • Megabits per hour calculation: 49,152 / 3,600 = 13.65 Mbps

When you’re streaming HD content, also consider whether the connection jumps over a wireless router. If so, note that the connection speed could drop over the connection if the WiFi standard isn’t fast enough. You’ll want to avoid slower 802.11b connections, and the newest 802.11n is the ideal choice to keep up with faster broadband services. I got this information from Howstuffworks.com (http://bit.ly/1A69R5I).

As the personal media and IPTV industry starts to mature, there is always hope that we can migrate away from computers that boot up and require updates to something more sexy like the Roku box solution. Seagate has just taken a major step for those who want to watch their movies, pictures, or home recorded video anywhere and share with anybody.

Seagate has just come out with a line of Personal Cloud Home Media Storage devices that include an operational Plex media server. Holy Cow Batman! That’s right. You now do not need a full blown PC to run Plex at home. The best part is the basic unit is scheduled to retail for $170 (3 TB device). Cheaper than a decent tablet. Are they nuts? No they are smart. The future for home media consumption should not require a PC or daily maintenance and having to worry about viruses. It should be simple and reliable. Like the complementary Roku and Tablo devices are designed to be.

In addition to the Plex capability, you also have your own personal “private” and “secure” cloud storage capability without having to rely on some big corporation peeking into what you store on their cloud storage services.

So click on the link (http://www.seagate.com/products/network-attached-storage/home-network/personal-cloud) to check out this really cool non-PC Plex and cloud storage solution.

Homemediaguy

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Tablo is well known as the go to company for over the air DVR solutions. They offer two devices which can allow you to record and watch up to 4 channels simultaneously. At the big consumer electronics show this year they introduced a new feature sorely missing from many solutions. Antennas. That’s right plural. The new Tablo “Metro” comes with two antennas and has the ability to pull signals from two separate broadcast antennas up to 25 miles away (http://www.cnet.com/products/nuvyyo-tablo/). The results are broadcast images better than Aereo and Simple.TV. The device sells for a little over $200. A steal to get live HD local programming with DVR capabilities. Tablo has a program guide for $5 a month but you can just knock that off the $200 a month you pay for cable.

Add a Roku box to each TV to tie into the Metro box and you are up and running. Add a number of FREE Roku movie channels like “Directors Cut”, “Archive TV” and a half a dozen others and you won’t miss cable.

homemediaguy

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Put simply, a media server is usually a PC which can store your various media files such as photos, music, home movies and purchased movies. You can also install software to manage your media. Media servers can also hold specialized software to allow you access to internet media content not normally available from a web browser.

A good example of the latter is a software package called Playon (www.playon.tv). Once installed on your media server, Playon allows you to access a host of cable channels including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Bravo, LMN and others. The ability to easily install plugins, allows to access channels like TVLand and NatGEO provided by third parties. Playon offers HD programming for a onetime cost. Playon transcodes (converts) your media at the media server, thus requiring a fairly high performance processor. CPU chips with a Passmark score over 2500 are recommended. Since Playon does not have a button available to tell you the Passmark score of your CPU, You have to find the chip information in Windows and look it up yourself. It is well worth the effort if you are building a server to have an idea of your server performance before you start buying components.

My favorite media server application is called Plex (https://plex.tv. It is an open source program that allows you to access your media content on tablets, smartphones, and PC’s from anywhere in the world. You can also share your media libraries with others very easily. There are also apps for Android, IOS and Roku.

These applications also have channels on the Roku devices. Allowing you to take your Roku box with you when you travel and watch your media content anywhere.

Homemediaguy

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There are two ways to find the antenna that will get you FREE local HD reception. The easy way. Go to Best Buy and spend a few bucks on an indoor antenna and try it. If it doesn’t work take it back for another one. If you have only two or three TV’s, buy one antenna for each to find out what channels you receive. Let’s say you get all the channels you want but also need a DVR. Simple, jump down to the section in this blog entry called “Can’t Live Without a DVR!”.

The second way to install an antenna, is doing some homework and fine tuning your TV reception with the best antenna for your location; which may cost the same as the easy way method. These are usually installed in your attic or outside.

But first, go to http://antennaweb.org and fill out a form with only two pieces of information. You will then find out what the signal strength is at your location for Over the Air (OTA) TV. The results come back using green, yellow and red codes (see below). Click on one of the sponsored antenna suppliers and click on the color you want (number of stations).

You will be directed to a specific antenna you can buy. HOWEVER, click on the specifications tab and print it out.

Antenna Selection

Legwork

With the specifications you got, you can find any number of manufacturers who meet the same specification. Yes, it takes time and effort, but don’t forget, you will save a couple hundred bucks a month!

Can’t Live Without a DVR!

No problem. Go to www.tablo.tv and buy a DVR that hooks up to your antenna and uses WIFI and Roku boxes to distribute your recorded shows to all your TV’s. You will need one Roku box for each TV. The Tablo box cost $200. The cost of one month of cable.

Final Note

If you buy a whole house antenna using method 2, you will have to install it in your attic or outside. The connection to your cable wires in the house will be at the cable company box. There may be an additional connection in your attic. Check before you go buy all this stuff so you know what to do when it gets to your home.

Happy cord cutting.

Homemediaguy

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