back to article Why are we disappointed with the best streaming media box on the market?

If you are going to buying a streaming media box – and you really should if you want to watch TV shows or movies on a big screen – then you should buy a Roku. It really is as simple as that. Apple fanbois will, of course, point to the latest Apple TV with its little touchpad. Googlers will swear by Chromecast. And Jeff Bezos …

  1. matjaggard

    Which country?

    I wish you said at the top of an article which country it was written in. I have no idea whether any of this is relevant to the UK. I haven't heard of HBO so I'm assuming it's American.

    1. Jon Massey

      Re: Which country?

      Not available in the UK except for in the locked-down NowTV version.

    2. Irongut

      Re: Which country?

      At the top of the article it says: "By Kieren McCarthy in San Francisco 28 Oct 2017 at 13:56"

      Do you need a link to Google Maps to tell you which country San Francisco is in?

      Also what cave have you been living in for the last 20 years if you have never heard of HBO? Ever watched an episode of The Sopranos?

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Which country?

        I've never watched The Sopranos. Gangster flicks don't interest me. I've watched the first Godfather movie once and that's it. So noone is wholly good or wholly bad, so knock me down with a feather.

        I do know what HBO is but not because I've watched the Sopranos. A lot of US TV that others seem to like leaves me cold. I had my fill of US TV growing up in NZ. Big Bang Theory, yes, much of the rest meh. We like The Brokenwood Chronicles from back in NZ though.

        1. Yes Me Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: Which country?

          Brokenwood? Corny, cheaply made, ham actors, stories even less plausible than Midsomer Murders. Mind you, no storyline has ever been as ridiculous as Top of the Lake 1.

      2. Joe Werner

        Re: Which country?

        At the top of the article are just name and date (mobile version)... and even if it was apparent to the reader that the article was written in the US it still would nice to know where the product was available (not only UK vs US, but also elsewhere - international readership etc.)

      3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: Which country?

        Ever watched an episode of The Sopranos?

        Not me. I know the lead character is called Tony and I know the spoiler for how the final series ends. Game of Thrones might have been a better reference, though I've not watched that either.

        I know "HBO"; it pops-up at the end of some programmes shown on UK channels. As to what "HBO" is beyond "Home Box Office"; I'm not sure, but I'm guessing it's more than a production company. I don't know what "Hulu" is either and I have had no interest in finding out because last I heard it still wasn't available in the UK.

        I have a Virgin Media TiVo which supports iPlayer and other catch-up services, subscription free Sky, Freeview, Freesat, Chromecast, a PC desktop, a huge DVD collection, and an Android TV box in a drawer somewhere, so I haven't felt the need for subscription streaming services. I'm also guessing anything decent will eventually find its way to DVD, then into CeX and charity shops so I will eventually get to see it.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: Which country?

          kodi is great for local content but unless you have a windows box and a breakout script then you cant watxh netflix, amazon, iplayer etc.

          1. defiler Silver badge

            Re: Which country?

            @Danny 14

            There's a BBC iPlayer plugin for Kodi. I think it's called WWW iPlayer, so it's in the wrong place in the download list. I run it on my Pis. Can't check just now because the kids are watching The Crystal Maze, and I can't be arsed going upstairs to look at another :P

            I believe there's a mechanism for Netflix and Amazon that doesn't require Windows, but I've not looked into it in any depth.

          2. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: Which country?

            Kodi on Android can launch the Netflix or Amazon (or any other) app.

          3. Grandpa Tom

            Re: Which country?

            If you install KODI on the Amazon Fire 2 you have the best of both worlds. All the KODI features AND Amazon, Netflix, Hulu etc.

            Don't bother with the Fire 3 box unless you have 4K display. (Fire 3 is a bit of a downgrade from Fire 2 box).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Which country?

      I don't get why anyone would buy this when a better spec Kodi box is half the price?

      1. MrXavia

        Re: Which country?

        can you get netflix on a Kodi box?

        1. defiler Silver badge

          Re: Which country?

          @MrXavia

          There are two ways to do it. You can either have Kodi launch an external application for Netflix (which is hardly in the spirit of the thing), or in the v18 builds there's a new feature called "inputstream.adaptive" which allows plugins to run Amazon Prime and Netflix.

          v18 is still in development, though, so you're on the potentially unstable nightly builds for that. Give it a little time until Leia is released, and you should be good.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Which country?

          "can you get netflix on a Kodi box?"

          Why would you need Netflix on a Kodi box?

    4. rodc

      Re: Which country?

      HBO? Its basically soft porn with stories.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Which country?

        > HBO? Its basically soft porn with stories.

        You just know they have paid a marketing company millions of dollars to come up with something far less compelling than that.

    5. woolloongabba

      Re: Which country?

      Ummm, right at the top it says by K.... in San Fran.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Which country?

        "Ummm, right at the top it says by K.... in San Fran."

        ... so wihch San Fran?

        Argentina

        San Francisco, Córdoba

        Chile

        San Francisco Glacier

        San Francisco de Mostazal

        San Francisco, Pichilemu

        Colombia

        San Francisco, Antioquia

        San Francisco, Cundinamarca

        San Francisco, Putumayo

        Costa Rica

        San Francisco de Dos Ríos District, San José Canton

        Dominican Republic

        San Francisco de Macorís

        Ecuador

        San Francisco de Quito, formal name of the capital city

        Honduras

        San Francisco, Atlántida

        San Francisco, Lempira

        San Francisco de Opalaca

        Guatemala

        San Francisco, El Petén

        San Francisco El Alto, Totonicapán

        San Francisco Zapotitlán, Suchitepéquez

        Mexico

        San Francisco de Campeche

        San Francisco de los Romo, Aguascalientes

        San Francisco del Mezquital, Durango

        San Francisco Coacalco, State of Mexico

        San Francisco Cahuacúa, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Cajonos, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Chapulapa, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Chindúa, Oaxaca

        San Francisco del Mar, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Huehuetlán, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Ixhuatán, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Jaltepetongo, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Lachigoló, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Logueche, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Nuxaño, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Ozolotepec, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Sola, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Telixtlahuaca, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Teopan, Oaxaca

        San Francisco Tlapancingo, Oaxaca

        San Francisco, Nayarit

        San Francisco Tetlanohcan, Tlaxcala

        Nicaragua

        San Francisco de Cuapa

        Panama

        San Francisco, Panamá

        San Francisco, Veraguas

        Philippines

        San Francisco, Agusan del Sur

        San Francisco, Cebu

        San Francisco, Quezon

        San Francisco, Southern Leyte

        San Francisco, Surigao del Norte

        San Francisco, San Pablo, Laguna

        San Francisco, Bohol

        Spain

        San Francisco (Bilbao)

        United States

        San Francisco (Puerto Rico), a sector within the township of Old San Juan in the capital of San Juan, Puerto Rico

        San Francisco, Minnesota, an abandoned town

        Mission San Francisco de Potano, a Spanish mission to the Timucua Indians of Florida

        Mission San Francisco Solano (California), a Spanish mission in Sonoma, California

        San Francisco Peaks, a set of mountains in Arizona

        San Francisco Plantation House, a historic plantation near New Orleans

        San Francisco volcanic field, Arizona; includes above peaks

        La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís (the original Spanish name of Santa Fe, New Mexico)

        San Francisco, Colorado, a small town at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

        Venezuela

        San Francisco de Yare, Miranda

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Which country?

          "Re: Which country?"

          It's the only one without a proper social healthcare system...

        2. stephajn
          Mushroom

          Re: Which country?

          "... so wihch San Fran?" [sic]

          Oh man....where's a mic drop when you NEED one? Well done my friend!!!!

    6. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Which country?

      If you have heard of Game of Thrones then you have heard of HBO

    7. Valerion

      Re: Which country?

      I know of HBO from The Simpsons, when Bart and family are kidnapped by aliens and put on their spaceship

      Kang: "And on this giant TV you can get any TV channel in the universe!"

      Bart: "Does it get HBO?"

      Kang: "No, that would cost extra."

  2. NonSSL-Login
    Meh

    Android - open and not limited

    Costs almost 3x than my Amlogic based android box which has features the Roku Ultra lacks, such as Dolby Vision support, and matches it for everything else with HDR, HDCP 2.2 and audio passthrough of DTS-HD etc.

    A family member has a Xiaomi Mi box which supports every streaming service and of course the whole play store apps and games goodies available, also at a fraction of the price of the Roku.

    I really don't see why the Roku has such a following beside being available to buy in the high street shops.

    1. ridley

      Re: Android - open and not limited

      I also have one of the Xiaomi Mi boxes, nice bit of kit and much cheaper than the Roku.

    2. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Android - open and not limited

      Maybe because you can get iPlayer, All4 and Amazon Video without pissing about with side loading or Plex?

      Not to mention NowTV for Sky and my annual GoT binge.

    3. ShelLuser

      @NonSSL

      "I really don't see why the Roku has such a following beside being available to buy in the high street shops."

      Have to agree with you there. I just checked out their website and from what I read it can't even access media from your local LAN. Which, for me at least, is a must-have feature in a mediabox.

      Think about showing some of your vacation pictures or movies to your friends; I usually do that using my TV and the trustworthy AC Ryan mediabox.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Re: @NonSSL

        LAN Content - works fine:

        https://support.roku.com/article/208754908-how-to-use-roku-media-player-to-play-your-videos-music-and-photos

        DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is a standard technology that enables sharing of content between devices connected over a network. To play content stored on another device or computer on your Roku device using DLNA, the other device must be running DLNA server software and must be on the same network as your Roku device. Some routers and NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices have a built in DLNA server.

        Roku Media Player has been tested to work with the following DLNA servers:

        Windows Media Player/Center

        Serviio

        Plex

        Twonky

        MiniDLNA/ReadyDLNA/ReadyMedia

        PlayOn

        For information on setting up a DLNA server, consult the associated online support site.

        1. Alan Hope

          Re: @NonSSL

          So, Roku Media player will play my LAN content...

          "Not available in your region" :(

          Oh.

          UK users get a pretty poor deal from Roku.

  3. Warm Braw Silver badge

    The exciting future of ... personalization

    My local shopping centre keeps slapping "exciting new shopping experience coming soon" stickers on its (increasingly) vacant spaces. Would it be intolerant of me to suggest that perhaps we should gather up everyone who finds it exciting to exchange paper tokens for prosaic merchandise, or to have every detail of their life history assimilated in order to be told which fictional entertainment to pay for, and fire them into the sun?

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: The exciting future of ... personalization

      I agree - I made the mistake of watching a few bland war films on Netflix and now it's difficult to find anything other than war films

    2. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: The exciting future of ... personalization

      "exciting new shopping experience coming soon"

      AKA charity shops! Buy the same expensive sh1t that you always wanted at its true value.

  4. Timo

    agree completely

    We have three Roku boxes in the house. They're the quickest and easiest way to get smarts in a TV. Plug them in and they work.

    Started with Roku3 so we could stream Netflix, then a Roku1 to smartify an old projector to watch movies outside on the garage. Just upgraded a couple months ago to a Roku Stick ($45 USD), and honestly it does everything the Roku1 it replaced did, just a little bit faster. And that's about it. I loaded Plex on a machine and serve up a hundred or more movies for watching around the house. I specifically didn't go all the way up-range since they all do basically the same thing.

    I am waiting for some of the usual cable channel providers to de-couple themselves from cable and allow direct subscriptions. Roku may be in the best place with their content-agnostic strategy, any provider could come up with their own app and you subscribe directly (many offer streaming apps and for now you authenticate using your cable TV account, which is really strange.) PBS has an app but it could be better, and as you mention the Roku is blind to it. The overall user experience becomes handicapped by the quality and eccentricities of the app itself (Netflix's app is both good and frustrating at the same time). The Roku search function does well to find a certain show across all of the online libraries. In general it works but the seems to be nothing breathtaking about it. Casting is convenient but my Android phones don't seem to support it.

    You may not have experienced the oddities of the Roku app and how it struggles for control with the included remote. There's just something about how it is a dumb remote rather than an extension of the interface that is baffling to me. In my experience Tivo has a much better Android-app remote where it acts as a smart extension of the controls.

    1. Alan Thompson

      Re: agree completely

      ----snip----

      I am waiting for some of the usual cable channel providers to de-couple themselves from cable and allow direct subscriptions. Roku may be in the best place with their content-agnostic strategy, any provider could come up with their own app and you subscribe directly (many offer streaming apps and for now you authenticate using your cable TV account, which is really strange.)

      ----snip----

      Unfortunately, since most of the "usual" cable channels are owned by the largest US service providers, the resistance to decoupling them is very high. You'll likely be waiting a very long time.

      1. Tom Samplonius

        Re: agree completely

        "I am waiting for some of the usual cable channel providers to de-couple themselves from cable and allow direct subscriptions. "

        Probably never going to happen. Cable channels that license content, only get a license for broadcast. They they sub-license the channel and content it to a cable system. Cable channels that make their own content (ex. HBO) are a bit trapped. They would like to direct steam to subscribers, but it kind of cuts the legs of their licensing to cable systems. So they do this weird thing, where you if you have HBO on a cable system, you can stream it direct from HBO too. What is going to happen, is new guys will have to start making their content, and direct stream it, as Netflix and Amazon are doing. As soon a significant percentage of available content is produced this way, the other content producers will have to go full on with a digital-first strategy. Basically, cable networks will have to die.

        It is going to take a while to sort this out. Plus, a lot of license deals have to expire. Some of those licensing contracts can be renewed perpetually, as long as the licensee keeps paying (right of first refusal). In Canada, we have this weird issue where Bell Media has direct licenses for broadcast AND streaming for vast amounts of US TV content, but doesn't stream anything except to cable customers. They are basically paying yearly to to ensure the license doesn't fall to someone else, like Netflix. It isn't sustainable to pay to prevent people from watching stuff, that you can't fully monetize.

  5. Bruce Ordway

    The exciting future of streaming TV is going to be in personalization

    If I were just starting out I'd probably stream but...I still prefer downloading.

    My wife also has just about every streaming device, streaming services and cable services so... I have been able to experience A LOT of media types. She gave me a Roku last Christmas. While I saw the potential I still felt like it was not "quite there" yet. Navigation felt clunky, limited personalization. Even with all that variety available to me (that is basically free)... I still prefer downloaded content.

    Granted downloading requires more gear, waiting time and storage space, etc...

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: The exciting future of streaming TV is going to be in personalization

      I have a couple of Roku 3's, a 4, and a Stick & mainly use them all with Plex to view my content library from my NAS. All are great, although the Roku 4 refused to do 4K on my HDMI 1.4 TV until I got an HDCP converter box (fuck you very much, HDCP and Roku for going along with that crap). The Stick, I find, has awful wifi performance - constantly dropping out or buffering where my previous Roku 3 in the same location performed perfectly.

  6. Stuart Halliday

    I want one that works...

    Give me one that works and works fast. I don't want to reset it every 2 days because it's ran out of memory and I want H.265 support to watch my PC stored movies.

    If it displays a blank screen for longer than 1 second, then that's too long....

    1. Steve Knox Silver badge

      Re: I want one that works...

      " I want H.265 support to watch my PC stored movies."

      Plex works with Roku and most other boxen and you don't have to worry about codecs.

    2. Geoffrey W Silver badge

      TLDR

      @Stuart Halliday

      Sorry. I wish I knew what you wrote but it took longer than a second to read it so...sorry...my loss, I know...I'm sure there were pearls in there but...you know...one second...oh look...shiny shining...

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: TLDR

        @Geoffrey W NO. Warming up for twenty seconds is what vacuum tube TV sets did when the dinosaurs weren't born yet. My twenty-year old CRT set Just Turns On when I press the button. Fuck boot times sideways, I'm not going back to that shit. The MythTV box I use hasn't been off or sleeping for about a decade now excepting power cuts and incidentally plays whatever I want played - from local sources, without the headache of figuring out which shitty "sorry unavailable for you" service I never heard of has exclusive rights to whatever I happen to fancy watching - not that I do all that much of that anyway.

  7. TrevorH

    3D?

    Didn't that ship sail about 5 years ago with no-one on board?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: 3D?

      Was going to say the same. Try buying a 3D TV now.

      I guess people buying Rokus are buying them for a TV which is a few years old... Bought when they could still be found.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 3D?

        "I still use a PS3 as a media player"

        I have both consoles but use my Xbox for media playback as it's not Cinavia infected unlike the PlayStation...

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: 3D?

      3D pops up every twenty or thirty years. Give a while and it'll be back, just as crap as the last times, all the way back to 1840...

    3. Ol'Peculier

      Re: 3D?

      I'm another that thought the same thing. I don't know anybody that has ever owned one, or even contemplated buying one.

      I do remember going into a pub that was showing a football game in 3D, there were about 4 people watching it looking like rescued Chilean miners...

  8. Paul

    I still use a PS3 as a media player.. plays Blurays, DVDs, streams Amazon and Netflix, plays media off a local DLNA server, runs PlayTV in the UK. Sometimes I play games on it.

  9. deathchurch

    Nvidia shield is the best tv box on the market, is this article a paid advertisement or just bollocks?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Is that the one that's twice the price....the one reason stated as not suggesting the Apple TV?

  10. Tim99 Silver badge

    Content

    It seems unlikely that the existing content oligarchs would allow a single aggregator to offer a universal service without a disruptive change in the market. Apple nearly managed it with music (£10/month for 40 million songs) - Could someone do something similar for TV and Movies without intrusive advertising?

    1. TheDillinquent

      Re: Content

      Terrarium - Has it all, including stuff that Big Media hasn't seen fit to make available in the UK like The Orville. You can also watch Westworld and GoT without giving anything to Sky or the Evil Aussie.

      The really great thing is it just finds what you want without having to fart about with multiple subscription services.

      I have it running on a Fire stick.

  11. Alexander Hanff 1

    Still prefer my NVidia ShieldTV which also supports 4k Netflix.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FTFY

    "I want an action movie. But one with a plot. And some good acting. Which is not a sequel or prequel. An one-part movie, please. Made in Hollywood." and have the machine explode in frustration.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Roku and Apple are for the technically impaired that don't understand plex or emby.

    That's not a dig at anyone btw, I'm just stating facts.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Plex and Emby are for the technically impaired that don't understand Kodi.

      That's not a dig at anyone btw, I'm just stating facts.

    2. Geoffrey W Silver badge

      I have a Roku And Plex. I didn't want to put another computer next to my TV in the lounge, or mess around setting up everything that the Roku does out of the box. I just want to couch potato.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        yes yes, kodi, good point.

        Also, have you heard of side loading? You don't need a computer on your tv.

        Furthermore you can load plex and emby onto an internet connected "smart" tv but not allow it onto the internet. The "smart" is in quotes because they are anything but f*cking smart. I use them as they allow me to apply parental controls as in the user I use only has access to folders I tell it.

        or if you want to go full knob end tv experience get an x-box one s for that hdr 4k dolby atmos/dts-x audio bit streaming experience as that also supports plex and 4k blu ray. Onkyo do some nice receivers that are actually not that expensive.

        1. Geoffrey W Silver badge

          Well, I need "Something" to plug into my TV coz I will go as far out of my way as the next universe in the most distant alternate reality just to get a Not Smart TV. I want the stupidest TV on the block. I really do. I will add anything necessary myself, and Roku makes me happy. Not everyone has the same use case you know, and assumptions about peoples technical ability based on what hardware they use are...well...I don't want to make assumptions about others based just on what they say in a throwaway tech forum. Me happy with choices, you happy with choices, knob end happy with choices too. Isn't that nice! I should find something better to do with my weekends than post in forums. Perhaps I'll watch TV.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Cheer up, Geoff, you're not along in your unsmart delight... I'm so twentieth century I'm still watching terrestrial channels over the air. In real time, often.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Plex is for those that have nothing better to do in life than dick around with media players and spend all day in front of the TV.

      That's not a dig at anyone btw, I'm just stating facts.

      1. Gustavo Fring
        Facepalm

        EMBY?

        EMBY IS what ? a POS that isn't being developed (or used) A monotreme of a media streamer. (tv updates

        Plex is much better But I am a bit sick of auto update which makes my NAS/Plex unavailable about once a month, tv updates but NAS doesnt ... just work please ...like VLC.

  14. Sam Therapy
    Headmaster

    "It's only real competitor is Apple TV ..."

    "Its " not "It's". Fucking hell!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And people were unsure that this was written by an American...

  15. unwarranted triumphalism Bronze badge

    What does it do...

    That a PC doesn't?

    Because it seems I could get everything I wand from a PC (got one), TV (yeah, got one), an HDMI cable (I'm sure I can find one somewhere) and a Netflix subscription.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What does it do...

      It's quiet an fits under your TV. It also has a remote control so you can drive it without leaving your armchair, but with a little effort you can get a remote for your PC.

    2. Steve Knox Silver badge

      Re: What does it do...

      It's what it doesn't do that a PC does. No general-purpose programming, simpler device management, focused UI, etc. This allows it to be smaller, cheaper, and better targeted.

      Yes, you CAN get a $100 PC to do what one of these boxes do, but you'll spend days to months stripping down the OS and customizing the UI to make it work, and even then it'll be slower and harder to use.

      1. David Webb

        Re: What does it do...

        I use an Asus Vivosmart... thing. Core i5, 100Gb SSD + 2Tb platter, 8Gb RAM, plugged into the back via USB is a TV card which supports HD so can get all the freeview HD channels, also there is a Windows Media Remote thing, all running on LibreOS (Kodi OS basically).

        Sure, it's no where near as cheap as the Roku, but with a Roku you can't dual boot into Linux/Windows and play games from your Steam Library, nor do other stuff. It's also totally silent. If you really wanted cheap and quiet though you can just get a Pi and stick LibreOS onto that which is a lot cheaper than the Roku and if you can get used to Kodi it's very focused on what it doesl

        1. Montreal Sean

          Re: What does it do...

          @David Webb

          I have a Roku Streaming Stick that looks like a USB key and plugs into the HDMI port on my TV. It grabs power from the USB service port on my TV.

          It cost me $50 after tax and came with a remote.

          You can't get an RPi for that price.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What does it do...

        "Yes, you CAN get a $100 PC to do what one of these boxes do, but you'll spend days to months stripping down the OS and customizing the UI"

        Rubbish. Just get a Beeline media PC for circa $100 which comes with Windows 10 installed and then just install Nordvpn, KODI and Magick. Job done.

        1. Joe Harrison Silver badge

          Re: What does it do...

          I have a Gigabyte Brix running Kodi, everything has been fine for the last couple years. Except now there is so much H.265 content which requires a decent CPU and the one in mine can't handle it.

          Never heard of Beeline media PC but when buying anything like this make sure its processor is beefy enough for modern video standards. I would avoid anything with the word "Celeron" in it just in case.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What does it do...

            "Never heard of Beeline media PC "

            That should read BeeLink. Android autocorrect... From GEARBEST.COM etc.

            And they can handle H265 / 4K without issue.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What does it do...

      re:netflix

      Unless you are running Windows and IE you ain't getting full HD. Win10 I have no idea though.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: What does it do...

        Many providers won't allow HD or 4K content on PC without a protected media path. One reason I plunked down for a Roku stick (used, $25, comparable to Android boxes on eBay that top out at 720p, I have one). I recognize it's limits and work within them.

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: What does it do...

          "Many providers won't allow HD or 4K content on PC without a protected media path."

          And for those cases we have The Pirate Bay...

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: What does it do...

            "And for those cases we have The Pirate Bay..."

            And for the times when the movie isn't available in HD (if at all)? Trust me, I looked.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: What does it do...

              "And for the times when the movie isn't available in HD (if at all)? Trust me, I looked."

              If it's anywhere in HD then it will likely be streamable via the movie section of KODI Magick.

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: What does it do...

                Guess again. Not only is it a pain to search, but most of the content is recent and popular stuff. I use stuff like Amazon for more obscure stuff that's nonetheless in HD but not on BluRay. It's not like I buy the stuff anyway. A rental will suffice if you plan ahead.

      2. mrmond

        Re: What does it do...

        Not sure about hi def only working on Win & IE. I press the info button when a program starts streaming and it shows me the bitrate and bandwidth when using Roku on the TV. Usually starts at 480, then 720 and then settles down to 1080 within a minute or two of buffering. I just had to set the right option from my Netflix user profile and it seems to work whatever I watch on.

        I don't have a 4k telly so ...meh.

        1. Deltics

          Re: What does it do...

          480... 720... 1080.... These aren't bit rates

          What this is showing you is that VHS-quality video is delivered first to get you more than a black screen to look at, which is then increased to DVD-quality once the buffers have warmed up adequately and then finally the HD content you actually wanted.

      3. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: What does it do...

        Close. Unless you run the Windows 10 store app or Edge you ain't getting 4K. At least if you're running it on a computer.

  16. tony72

    Limitations

    The Roku Ultra is great. But its limitations are showing

    It's limitations serve well to highlight the limitations of the streaming market as a whole. Because all those things that you point out that the Roku can't do, it's competitors can only do for their content, via their UI. So using those features across all the content you subscribe to, via a consistent UI, is only possible if you're willing to live in a single ghetto, and eschew the content only available elsewhere. And with the proliferation of streaming services, increased fragmentation of content availability, and ratcheting up of prices, that is heading towards a worse and worse experience.

    In a fantasy future world, some sort of meta-streaming service will emerge, and people will be able to access shows from all the streaming services via it. Providers will realise that it's not practical for everybody to subscribe to every streaming service, and that it's better to make their content available to a wider audience via such a service than to use it as a tool to make people choose one service or the other. Well, a man can dream. For the moment, cable TV plus downloading and my own personal streaming service is about as close to the ideal as I can get.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Limitations

      "In a fantasy future world, some sort of meta-streaming service will emerge" .... it already exists. There are probably several though the one I'm aware of is currently called Covenant. It is of course a pirate service with no revenue going to the content creators.

      I use it occasionally for exactly the reason you describe: I'm happy to subscribe to a streaming service (I have somewhat arbitrarily chosen to subscribe to Netflix) but not all of them as this would be very expensive and a very large portion of the content would be duplicated.

  17. goldcd

    I'd go with the nVidia Shield TV

    Not only does it support every streaming service I can think of, it's powerful enough to actually run as a plex server (point it at your NAS and it'll transcode from there to your other devices).

    Or plug in a TV tuner (either locally or on the network) and it'll then do live tv.

    Not the cheapest I'll grant you, but not that much more than the Roku and I genuinely can't think of any omissions (previous ones, such as lack of spotify or amazon having been resolved).

    Also does game stuff if you care - native local ones, emulators, streamed from cloud or your PC blah blah.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'd go with the nVidia Shield TV

      I've got a Shield as well, and it's everything I could want in a set top box, apart from the app support due to it being Android TV, vs Android. But Roku doesn't even run that, and has it's own shop which limits it's ecosystem also.

      I'd take my shield every day of the week, but the new Telstra TV which is based on the Roku Ultra with FTA reception and app intergration between FTA app, EPG and FTA reception, as attracted my attention. It also comes with Foxtel (local PayTV) and NetFlix support. Disappointed though it only has 100Mbit ethernet, and even then doesn't support PoE for it's low power consumption.

      https://www.telstra.com.au/tv-movies-music/telstra-tv#specifications

  18. cjcox

    The new Roku "direction"

    Of course Roku raised a ton of money in an IPO (going public means you set a strategy, and have other people control it besides the ones that actually have knowledge).

    Their new "direction" is all about "ads", how to get money through ads.

    While they are experimenting with being a 3rd party enabled set top, that is, being the supplier of 3rd party TV possibly OTA and streaming (the latter being like the Roku TV experience).

    But nothing "ideal" or revolutionary. Reminds me of how Honda dropped their Civic Hybrid so they could focus on gasoline based cars. Really? That's a strategy for the future?

    I like Roku. But wonder Mr. Wood is looking to cash out and start his next big thing elsewhere. This wouldn't be the first time.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Personalisation

    Where 98% of what you get offered is mindless dross that some hapless marketing halfwit has decided viewers of the genre you have just watched, ate simply gagging to see. The other 2% is stuff you have already seen (for better or worse)

    Then there is "trending". Can someone PLEASE explain why the meanderings of sheep should be of any interest to me?

    The final insult is being offered what viewers of what I have just watched, watched next. Why should I give a fucking toss?

    Just like all the other behavioural / targeted marketing: pathetic, irritating and alienating

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Personalisation

      A bit like those adverts for stuff you have already bought, based on the fact you searched for it before buying something.

    3. Tikimon Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Personalisation

      Don't let the words spoken blind you to the true intent. Personalization is merely the justification offered for why they're spying on you 24/7/365. So don't expect personalization to work or bring you any benefits, because it's NOT FOR YOU. It's only a cover story, and it doesn't work anywhere for any purpose that I'm aware of.

      If they wanted to truly personalize products (make them tuned to ME), there would be a large, easy to find and activate "Do Not Personalize" button. But that would break their Big-Data surveillance business plan.

  20. Walter Bishop Silver badge

    Roku Ultra streaming media box

    What are the technical specs under the hood, so to speak, don't spare the details.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't get it..

    "Part of what makes the Roku the best on the market is that it is content agnostic. It doesn't want to be Amazon or Apple or Google and have its own content that it wants to push. No, Roku, sells the hardware and tries to get as much content on there as possible. Which is great.

    But it also means that Roku does not have access to the content you select. Once you head into one of its apps – Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, HBO, whatever – it goes blind. And it is going to be a hard sell to persuade companies to hand over that enormously valuable data on user selections for a vague sense of improved customer experience for someone else's product.”

    Not sure where you're coming from with the review claiming it's best on the market and then touting a wishlist of features other boxes have had for a wee while now.

    Amazon's Fire TV box is fairly open from a services point of view.. It has Netflix, iplayer etc, plus a load of other TV providers. They sell subscriptions for niche streaming (comics, horror etc) services too now. You can add Kodi to it to play local content. It will parse the Netflix and other services data and place those suggestions in the main UI too.

    Its not perfect by any stretch (they're making banner ads bigger, Kodi has to be sideloaded still, no multiuser in main UI, only in the apps that support it like Netflix).. but it's a relatively neat solution and from the sounds of it miles ahead of what Roku are offering...

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: They sell subscriptions

      I'm not going back to Subscription TV or Video, EVER. I MIGHT consider it if there was per film/series rental at a sensible price. Unless you are junkie for all the latest lowest common denominator / "Popular" US output, then "subscription" is a rip off.

      I have no interest in supporting Amazon Fire, misnamed Apple TV or Google Chromecast as they are part subsidised by subscription and also spying on you. I had to remove Amazon Reader Apps from everything and only transfer to the dedicated Amazon and Kobi eink ereaders via USB. I use non-spying media and eReader apps on my phone and tablet now.

      Nor do I want adverts not in Live TV.

      As far as I'm concerned "that enormously valuable data on user selections for a vague sense of improved customer experience" is immoral and may even be illegal in EU. This is why my Sony "Smart" TV with Android TV and malicious T&C when you tune aerial input has no network connection at all. Otherwise it could do practically all any media box can do.

  22. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Roku - crushing your aspirations of watching a movie

    The Roku is a dense collection of everything that sucked about 1990s technology. A crude joystick for a keyboard, massive input lag, UI halts while performing tasks, switching apps takes longer than loading from a floppy disk, dead-end search results everywhere, signup pages that don't work, can't transcode audio, forgets subtitle settings, and randomly reboots.

    This fireball icon is for everybody who gave Roku players good reviews. You're cruel.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Roku - crushing your aspirations of watching a movie

      That's why I don't do my searching with the Roku. I use my computer to do the shopping, which then gets passed onto the Roku for actual viewing.

    2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: Roku - crushing your aspirations of watching a movie

      I've got an old Roku LT that does none of those things,.... it just works. It's a hell of a lot faster than my old Virgin Media TiVo, which was just getting slower and slower until I canned VM and put it back in it's little box, and waved it goodbye.

      The searching thing is not the fault of the Roku, some apps do lookaheads to match content as you type, some don't.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I'm told that if you want to experience true disappointment, bordering on uncontrollable anger, with TV streaming, then BT TV is the way to go.

  24. DougS Silver badge

    Roku supports an antenna - via a Silicon Dust tuner

    If you have a Roku with OTA built in you take the patent licensing hit for the tuner - sure that's getting cheaper now, but if you are talking about ridiculous stuff like 8K and 3D then you're going to want ATSC 3.0 before long and will probably take a licensing hit in the 10s of dollars if ATSC 1.0's licensing costs in its early days are any indication! Before anyone complains about this US centric mention of ATSC, he's based on San Francisco so isn't talking DVB-T2. Which brings up another point - with OTA support now they need three models, one for US/Korea, one for Europe and other DVB-T2 locations, and a third for ISDB-T locations. Maybe more, with all the weird connectors used in various places.

    Not only that, but then you have to put every Roku somewhere connected to your antenna via coax. With Silicon Dust you only need to do that for the shared tuner. It will also allow DVR functionality (given access to storage) which I am guessing would be your next ask if Roku added OTA support: Why can't I plug in a USB drive and have it act like a fully functional DVR? Then: why isn't its DVR software as nice as Tivo's?

    Roku is successful because it does what 90% of people want well. If it tries to do everything it will cost a lot more and inevitably some of the things it does it won't do very well.

  25. Richard Lloyd

    El Reg needs to do a roundup of cheap TV boxes

    The Roku stuff is interesting, even if primarily US-based. However, I'd like to see reviews of the best cheap TV boxes ($99 or less), though I suspect your best bang for buck is going to come from the dozens of Chinese import Android TV boxes you can now buy. Would be nice to recommend the best accessories too e.g. an air mouse, which would seem to be an essential item for Android boxes.

  26. 4d3fect

    If you're a SF Giants fan

    No amount of Roku goodness will save you from that world of pain.

    On a side note, we have older Roku 2XS patched into our little home theatre setup and it works fine.

    Only plan to upgrade once one of the components fail. So far, so good.

    We have limited OTA content locally, being out in the sticks, reception-wise.

  27. MJI Silver badge

    Stiicking with my PS4

    Does lots of streaming at I an also shoot Aliens & Robot Dinosaurs in the face

  28. Mage Silver badge

    just get a Roku

    Or dedicate a suitable laptop running a suitable OS and a long HDMI cable (or HDMI Wireless link). Total flexibility, easy to update codes, can store all your own media, no walled garden.

    Assuming it does 50Hz AND 60Hz refresh. I'm still using an old PC as its graphics card does 50fps and 60fps and decent de-interlacing. Also takes 2 x PCI DVB-S2 satellite tuners and a USB DVB-T stick so that FTA TV can be recorded without the pesky encryption on Sony TV or Humax satellite set box.

  29. Pan_Handle

    Lots of hate

    Lots of hate for those of us who just want a usable platform to watch iPlayer, Netflix, PlayStation Video and Amazon, and don't have an enormous archive of illegally downloaded media to play (cue flames but just saying there are a lot of us who just want to stream). I have a Pi 3 running OSMC with a couple of DVB tuners which can get iPlayer but not Netflix or Amazon video or Sony stuff.

    The new Roku streaming stick+ has just been released in the UK. Would be interesting to review that as it has a wifi signal booster built into the USB cable which is technically vaguely interesting and it's apparently nippy too.

    http://www.trustedreviews.com/reviews/roku-streaming-stick-plus

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Lots of hate

      Kodi 18 will have Netflix support. OSMC and LibreElec have betas and people have managed to get it to work.

      1. Pan_Handle

        Re: Lots of hate

        I bought Roku Streaming Stick+. It's very quick, and works as advertised. Because it works so well, I take the points in the article about wishing it would take it to the next level.

        Comparing it to an enthusiast platform like Openelec makes no sense. Roku is a consumer device.

        The boosted wifi is awesome by the way - n coverage in the corner of my house.

  30. imanidiot Silver badge

    Voice control

    NO. ABSOLUTELY NO! NEVER, EVER getting into my house. Why the *expletives deleted* do people feel the need to voluntarily bug their own homes?

    1. Joe Harrison Silver badge

      Re: Voice control

      Also there's a bug where it stops recognising your voice, about halfway down the second glass.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Voice control

      Sci-Fi, that's why.

      Having a room respond to "Lights!" has been part of Sci-Fi for a very long time. Star Trek and the like popularized voice-activated technology in people's minds. Only thing is, for voice-activated tech to work, you need an always-receptive mic.

  31. Craigie Bronze badge

    nah

    I'll stick with my £30 fire tv stick, which has netflix, prime video, iplayer and youtube on it, oh and kodi if I somehow run out of things to watch.

  32. Flywheel Silver badge

    I'm ok with my Roku box, and the remote control with audio is great, but I wish they'd make those buttons programmable.

  33. TonyJ Silver badge

    Not sure how this compares to a Fire TV but on mine I have NetFlix as well as the usual suspects of BBC iPlayer etc.

    I did even pop a version of Kodi on it at one point.

    It does voice search.

    It can handle pretty much any Android app (there is a great little app for Android phones called Apps2Fire that basically copies any app from my S7 onto the Fire).

    It's quick and intuitive and way before Sky got in on the act with their so-called fluid viewing, you could stop watching on the box downstairs, fire up the app on the Smart TV upstairs and pick up where you left off.

    Also right now in the UK the new generation version that supports 4K is less than £70.

    So I'd be hard pressed to accept the Roku box is "the best" although of course, your own personal tastes may vary and other boxes are available :)

  34. Mike Perrett

    Nice content, but what about the sound?

    I was really pleased to get my Roku 3 and have easy access to Netflix, NowTV, Amazon Prime and so forth... But the thing I really miss about the ASUS Media Streamer that my Roku replaced is the Digital Audio out port that plugged directly into my Dolby Digital/Pro Logic Stereo Receiver.

    Now I just have to put up with really poor sound from what would otherwise be an excellent media streamer.

    1. ddevonb

      Re: Nice content, but what about the sound?

      Their are HDMI to optical adaptors that will give you the digital sound if you can't get it directly through HDMI.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    KISS

    My only criteria was to be able to access and control all of my media without having to get up from the sofa and faff about with multiple boxes or inputs. I ended up with a Panasonic TV with Firefox OS on.

    I now have Sky, Netflix, Amazon, Local DLNA (Tversity), Youtube (for the kids) and PS3 all on the home screen of the TV.

    I actually quite like Firefox OS and was gutted to find out it was already defunct after buying the TV. It does struggle with the odd streaming video from Tversity but the PS3 always handles it, now where's the damn controller..

  36. tiggity Silver badge

    PVR

    I have a dumb TV.

    I have a PVR which I use with it to record stuff ( PVR accepts TV aerial, & has ethernet cable) - however it also comes with Netflix & a whole lot of other subscription stuff (I dont use netflix or similar so irrelevant to me), plus all the UK TV channel "players" via Freeview play such as iPlayer, UKTV player, itvplayer etc, etc for streaming TV that was on earlier and you missed.

    Roku style functionality, & same limitations of no control over apps as a proprietary Roku box, but it also records telly (a key thing for me as hardly ever watch live telly, but good to record the few things I like for when TV watching leisure activity makes sense e.g. when weather so foul I want to stay indoors instead of going for a hike outdoors!), and at similar price to roku so fail to see roku attraction as, if I only want streaming, I can stream to telly with old PC, any random android device running kodi etc. (PVR can be accessed by android device running kodi so can watch recorded PVR content on different TV as DNLA compatible, or watch it on computer etc.)

  37. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

    But it also means that Roku does not have access to the content you select. Once you head into one of its apps – Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, HBO, whatever – it goes blind. And it is going to be a hard sell to persuade companies to hand over that enormously valuable data on user selections for a vague sense of improved customer experience for someone else's product.

    This is why streaming is so frustrating. I want a box that has access to all the catalogues so that when I decide I'd like to watch Blade Runner again before going to the cinema to see the new one the box can tell me which subscription(s) I can get it on. Do the streaming companies not understand the concept of sell through? If I find the movie I want is on a service I don't have I might just open my wallet.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      It's called a trade war. The content providers are willing to bleed a little now to try to control the field down the line. Until there's a winner or a truce, it's going to stay No Man's Land.

  38. blcollier

    My Roku 3 *was* great, but...

    I would struggle to recommend a Roku to anyone else ever again.

    The "smart" WiFi-Direct remote for my model basically doesn't work any more; every now and then it loses connection and no amount of fixes/troubleshooting will get it to connect again. I either have to stick with the smartphone app remote or factory reset the box to get the remote back.

    Apps (sorry, "channels") are looking very tired these days. Most app developers seem to implement the same SDK with little effort at customising it or providing a decent user experience (see Netflix for an example of how to do it right).

    Spotify support is simply dire. The Spotify app is utterly horrendous: it doesn't even support playlists any more - you literally cannot browse or play your own playlists - let alone anything useful like Spotify Connect. Spotify themselves don't want to know because the Roku Spotify app is third-party; they have no plans to make their own or "in-house" the existing one.

    Don't get me wrong, the boxes do what they do pretty well... if you ignore the ragged edges.

  39. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    missing the point much?

    FTA: "But that channel is also available on older Roku boxes – you don't need to buy the Ultra to get it.

    Such was the disappointment at finding nothing really new..."

    The massive point you overlook is that Roku is passing upgraded capabilities to existing/older boxen. I haven't played much with "the Roku channel" yet but I did note its arrival (and a new/revised UI) on my 2 year old Roku 3. As an owner of their products I really appreciate that the company keeps existing users in mind, which further cements my intention to move up to a Roku 4 or whatever model is current when I get round to upgrading to a 4k TV.

  40. stu 4

    4k

    Having just bought a 75" 4k LG thing last week I can chip in here (and also savvy with rokus, android boxes, kodi, yada yada).

    1. the LG has a 150ms sound lag unless using built in speaker - LAG - so adding delay on the amp won't fix it. across all content. how the flying fuck that got through QA I have no idea... so basically using the TV for anything other than a monitor is a waste of time... luckily thats my main use case..

    2. I use it via a mac mini - and kodi. kodi lets me view H264 4k content fine, but the mac mini hasn't the oomph for H265 4k... and of course netflix, amazon won't display higher than 1080p via safari, and even then you won't get HDR or DD5.1 which is kinda shitty.

    The LG does play H265 stuff, VP9, etc. It plays 4k netflix HDR, etc, etc - all good except for the 150ms sound lag which makes it all for nothing unless you want to switch you watch it all with the shite sound out the built in speakers.... its the sort of thing you wish you could bash some engineers heads together at LG over.

    So - alternatives for H265 4k or netflix 4k+DD ? well, a cheap 30 quid android box would do the H265 4k and DD ok - but the problem is that only a few 'authorised' devices are allowed to access netflix 4k streams - apple tv, LG and other big tv companies, and roku, etc.

    None of the chinese android boxes are allowed - so your limited to 1080p max streams on them.

    what a pain in the arse. why something has to be as complicated I don't know. It's like they want people to pirate stuff.

    1. NonSSL-Login

      Re: 4k

      The DRM forcing downgrading of quality on 'unauthorised boxen' is criminal IMO. Saying android box's cannot have 4k Netflix for no genuine reason certainly does force people to piracy if they want the higher quality content.

      A few android box's can stream 4K Netflix though, such as the cheap Xiaomi Mi Box.

      The Nvidia shield is not cheap but has 4k Netflix as well as the Wetek 2.

      My own cheap box needed some modified firmware to enable just 4k Youtube video. That is how bad the DRM stuff is now and the amount of control they want to keep on box'es that can watch media.

  41. ecofeco Silver badge

    It's funny

    Here we have more TV options than ever before and yet, I care less and less each year about what is on the telly from any source.

  42. Desgrippes

    What about the NVIDIA Shield TV? That is a decent streamer (and more)...

    1. blcollier

      That's what I'd recommend to people looking for a 4K HDR streaming box.

  43. Patrician

    The reviewer left out the best streaming media box; the Nvidia Shield TV. Does everything the Roku does but without a "skinned" Android; except for a few apps it's pretty much pure Android TV, is more powerful than the Roku and comes with a built-in Plex server.

  44. rbarrie

    I agree with the writer that something like

    "Or if the Roku could remember where you left off. Or if it knew you were a San Francisco Giants fan and popped up a message noting that the game will start in 20 minutes with a simple click through to live coverage."

    would be really cool. But, would we still be talking about US$99 device?

  45. jelabarre59 Silver badge

    The fact is that while we will get 8K screens in future, unless you are sitting one foot away from it you won't notice. And once a channel opens and a movie starts within a few seconds, there isn't much more you can do.

    Some of us don't even have 4K, and won't for quite a number of years. My brother used his TV for 25 years, it still works even now (only upgraded when a tenant left their plasma because they didn't have room for it in their new apartment). Our own flat-panel is already 9-years old (had to get a new one when the old one melted in a house fire) and will probably last *another* 9 before we replace it (it's a straightforward "dumb" TV, the two HDMI ports will likely be adequate for a long time).

    All I care about is whether I can watch Crunchyroll, DVDs and transferred videos on it. Oh yes, and attach the last-generation game consoles.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Don't be so sure. Credits to milo an HDMI 3.0 port will hit in a few years with a new, incompatible port design.

  46. ddevonb

    Roku does do live TV on Plex channel.

    Roku has no need to add the live TV function since the Plex channel on Roku already offers that. The Plex server also has a DVR and guide of live over the air programming.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Roku does do live TV on Plex channel.

      Can Plex do all this WITHOUT hitting the network?

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