Saturday, April 14, 2018

PBS Plug & Play: A great idea poorly executed

It sounds like a great idea: a streaming stick designed for children that focuses on PBS content, adds some games and activities, and allows you to play your own MP4 videos.

Yes, it sounds like a great idea. And it is a great idea. But it's poorly executed.

The device, which comes in a colorful package and form factor, looks great. The device, though, is slow. I'm a lot more patient than the pre-schoolers in my family, and I'm extremely frustrated by how sluggish, and at times, completely unusable, the device is.

The device itself looks like a little green race car toy. Of course, I wouldn't let a pre-schooler play with a $50 race car toy.

The wheels even roll! But, to use it, you plug it in to the back of your TV. They were thoughtful enough to include an HDMI extension cable, because it'll be nearly impossible to plug it in without one. It plugs in just like any other stick, whether Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku Stick, or any other such device.

Connect the power cord -- USB to USB mini -- to the device and the "wall wart" style power supply, and wait for the device to boot up.

And wait.

And wait.

And then wait for the inevitable updates.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Then, you're ready to go. And then when you press a button, it's slow to respond.

I thought perhaps it was just my device. And maybe it is. But a search of the Internet shows that many reviews and user reports mention how sluggish it is.

The remote is cute, and simple, and perfect for a small child.

But, like I mentioned earlier, it's a great idea, poorly executed. The device itself is way underpowered, and the software appears to be buggy. "Half-baked" comes to mind. Or, rushed to market without proper testing.

I still like the idea of this device. I just don't like the device.

Monday, February 26, 2018


One of the least expensive streaming services is Philo. We've been trying it out, and like it. It's got some good points, and some bits we don't like.

Philo offers live streaming of some cable or satellite content. With two levels of service, priced at $16 for 37 channels and $20 for 46 channels, it's one of the least expensive live streaming services. There are no premium channel add-ons such as HBO or Showtime. Keep in mind, though, that these services have their own stand-alone offerings.

There is a downside for sports fans. Philo has no ESPN, no Fox Sports, no sports programming of any kind. Apart from that, it's a good "best of" package at a low price.

Most of the channels offered can be authenticated in the stand-alone apps. I successfully authenticated on Roku and Apple TV. There were some issues trying to authenticate on Amazon Fire apps.

Philo is currently only available on Roku and mobile devices, as well as on a computer running Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge. That means that despite being able to authenticate the individual apps against Philo on Apple TV, Philo itself isn't available on that device.

They offer a seven-day free trial. We tried it, and decided to continue using it for at least another month. You may want to give it a try.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Look at DirecTV Now

We recently updated our online streaming services page to include information about DirecTV Now.

DirecTV Now is AT&T's entry into the live streaming market. As you can tell, it's the streaming version of DirecTV, which is owned by AT&T. It joins Sony's PlayStation Vue service and DISH Network's Sling TV service as the streaming version of cable/satellite services.

Just like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, you can't really choose the channels you want. Rather, you pick the plan you want, much as you do today from a cable or satellite provider. That means that those wanting true a la carte options, are going to be disappointed. However, we do think it's a step in the right direction.

Why? Today, with cable or satellite, you are locked in to a contract and, depending on your location, may not have many options if you are dissatisfied. With these streaming services, you are month-to-month and can change at any time.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Look at the New Roku Devices

It's been a few months since the new Roku devices were released. While we haven't had the opportunity to try all the new devices, we have used a few of them. We're not overwhelmed, but we aren't terribly disappointed, either.

The new Roku devices can be grouped into three basic categories: the beginner devices, the high-end devices, and the stick.

The one that impressed us the most is actually the beginner devices: Roku Express and Roku Express+

Friday, September 30, 2016

Hellloooo... Roku!

New Roku devices have been announced. They won't actually be available until October, so we haven't had the opportunity to use them.

It looks like a good lineup refresh. The lineup that's being replaced has been around since 2013. Yes, there have been minor refreshes to the lineup since then, but they were mostly 2013-era boxes. This changes.

They've actually expanded the lineup. The Roku 1 will be replaced with two devices: Roku Express and Roku Express + (or Express Plus). The Roku 2 is replaced with the Roku Premiere, while the Roku 3 is replaced by the Roku Premiere + (or Premiere Plus). The Roku 4 is replaced by the Roku Ultra. The Streaming Stick was refreshed earlier this year and hasn't changed, from what I can tell.

I've noticed some things I like and some things I don't like. However, until I get my hands on them, it'll be hard to determine if my initial impression is correct. We'll wait and see.

In the meantime, we'll patiently wait for the devices to begin appearing on the shelves.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Goodbye, Apple TV (3rd Generation)

Apple TV 3rd Generation
There has been no official word that we've seen from Apple, but the third-generation Apple TV has been removed from Apple's Website. The device can still be found in retail stores such as Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and others.

The third generation device was originally released in early 2012, and received a hardware refresh the next year.

When the new Apple TV (4th generation) device was released in late 2015, Apple didn't discontinued the older device, but dropped the price of the 3rd generation Apple TV from $99 to $69.

No one is really surprised by this move. I was actually surprised -- and pleased -- that when Apple kept the 3rd generation device in its inventory after the 4th generation device was released. Although the newer device has the ability to add apps and games, and includes Siri search support, the 3rd generation Apple TV was a reliable workhorse for years. I'm sad, but not surprised, to see it finally go.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

PlayStation Vue now on Roku

The Sony streaming service PlayStation Vue has expanded to include Roku among its supported platforms. The most-used streamer was absent from Sony's launch of PlayStation Vue. Previously, the only top streaming devices that supported PlayStation Vue were Amazon's Fire TV (and Fire TV Stick) and Google's Chromecast. Sony's PlayStation Blog made the announcement:
We are happy to share that PlayStation Vue is expanding to Roku devices today, with support for Android smartphones and tablets launching next week. Since we’ve launched PlayStation Vue nationwide, we have heard from many of you that Roku and Android are the top devices you wanted us to add, so we’re pleased to make this a reality.

PlayStation Vue will be available on Roku Streaming Stick, Roku Streaming players, and Roku TV. If you already have an account, just download PlayStation Vue on your Roku device and start streaming.

For more about PlayStation Vue and how it compares to other streaming services, check out our Streaming Services page.