Buh-bye Roku!

I unplugged my Rokus this morning.  It wasn’t a difficult decision.  I had only invested around $300 in hardware and nothing in channels.  I bought my first Roku because the Sony SMP-N200 did not support PlayOn.  Their support guys recommended the Roku, so I tried one.  That was in 2012.  I was shocked to learn that discussion of Roku’s best channel would get you banned from their forums.

Then came the updates.  Every update made the Roku worse.  There are four locked threads on their fan forums regarding the instability of the Roku 2 XS.  Despite this, their chat support denies the problem (“It is not issue at all”), and their consumer advocacy email simply refuses to address the issue.

I was so unhappy with Roku with their banned channels, locked discussions, and broken hardware that I decided to try the Amazon Fire TV in April.  While it lacks the channels of the Roku, the FTV has been rock solid.  It supports PlayOn and, finally, the Simple DVR (via Plex).  My family loves the user interface and the snappy performance.  My kids love the games and support for real game controllers.

This week, Real Simple Software announced a Plex channel for their DVR.  With that announcement, my relationship with Roku ended.  We are now a Plex on Fire TV streaming family — 100%.  Buh bye Roku!  You can have your snarky VCMs and people whose USERID includes the word Roku.  You can keep your banned channels and primitive interface.  I don’t need your several-times-a-day reboots.  I am happily watching everything I want to watch on a streamer from a company that values its customers.

I’ll leave this blog up as a reference for the masochists, but I have moved on and you should too.

YouTube Available On All Current Rokus

In case you missed it (I did).  About two days after getting update 5.4 Build 3358, the ‘official’ YouTube app became available for my Roku 2 XS.  I really like it.  This app supports pairing so I can send videos from my phone, PC, or tablet to my Roku.  It also supports a really nice implementation of continuous play.  More information here…


Roku Benchmarks

I culled this information from a Roku developer’s thread.

The benchmark is a loop function in Roku’s brightscript code…

  • 1st gen (MIPS, <2200) = ~15.5k bogoloops/s (or ~64 microseconds/bogoloop)
  • Roku HD (2500) = ~58k bl/s (~17 µsec/bl)
  • 2nd gen (ARM, 3xxx) = ~68k bogoloops/s (~15 usec/bl)
  • new Roku 2 (2720) = ~78k bl/s (~13 µsec/bl)
  • 3rd gen (Roku3, 4xxx) = ~242k bogoloops/s (~4 usec/bl)

Graphically, the performance looks like this…


Roku has been streaming 1080p since the Roku HD-XR (N1101), so the increased performance of later models likely only impacts channel navigation (choosing a channel from the grid) and game/app play.  Roku has promised the new YouTube and Netflix apps will be ported to all Rokus intruduced from 2011 on, so it looks like 58k bogo loops is sufficient for those apps.  The 5x performance of the Roku 3 probably only makes sense for those who want to scroll up and down the channel list very quickly.



VideoBuzz, Again

A recent Roku update broke the VideoBuzz installation script by requiring a password for Developer Mode.  This, apparently, motivated the VideoBuzz gods to build a better script.  I tested the new script on a new Roku 2 XS and it worked great.  If you are tired of waiting for the Roku team to get their official channel on your Rokus, give VideoBuzz a try…


Avast did not find anything malicious in this script, but I have no first hand knowledge of the script, so use it at your own risk.  Their page also has a manual installation procedure.

PS, if you do not want to side load a channel, you can always use the What’s On app.  Install What’s On and set the zip code to ‘asecret’ (no quotes).  After a restart, you will have a new Videos selection that lets you browse ‘internet videos’ from various sources.


What’s on is not in the same class as VideoBuzz.  Happy streaming!

Roku Rooted!

This morning, the following was posted on the GTVHacker blog

Hello Universe, welcome back. It’s been a while since our last post due to a lack of new Google TV hardware and developments. When we have free time we tend to look at other interesting opportunities that come our way and recently we came into just such a situation when we found ourselves auditing multiple Roku devices.

The entire GTVHacker team has put a lot of work into this release and we hope the Roku community enjoys it. We invite others to continue our work and are happy to share progress made while we work to further leverage the current exploits before a patch is released. In the mean time, if you have a second generation Roku, root it. And if you don’t, buy one quick!

A new poster to the Roku fan forum announced that the GTVHacker had exploited a security hole on the Roku streamer and that some of the devices could be permanently rooted.  A short time later, discussions of the exploit were purged from the fan site.

Apparently, you can control updates to your Roku by restricting access to austin.sw.roku.com and giga.sw.roku.com on your router (add those two sites to its list of blocked sites).

I have not tested any of this.  If you choose to, you may violate Roku’s ToS or damage your streamer, so proceed with caution and at your own risk.

By Len Mullen Posted in News

Roku Installation Guide

A lot of people are gifting Rokus this time of year.  A lot of people will be returning them to the store in a couple weeks.  This guide will help the Roku newbie start enjoying their device more quickly, avoid common pitfalls, and get the most out of the streamer.  The guide was created looking at a Roku 2 XS, but, generally, applies to all models (some Rokus do not have wired ethernet while others lack composite out).

  1. Connect everything
  2. Create your account
  3. Remove your payment method
  4. Configure your Roku
  5. Find content
  6. Getting help
  7. About Roku Refurbs
  8. Remoku

Connect Everything: With the Roku 2 XS, you have the option of connecting to your local network wired or wireless.  If at all possible, run a wire.  The Roku 2 XS supports HDMI and composite.  HDMI is high definition and composite is standard definition.  If possible, connect via HDMI.   If you like to listen to internet radio stations, run a composite cable from your Roku 2 XS’s red and white outputs to your HTIB or soundbar’s aux in.  This will let you listen to audio from your Roku without running your television.

Create Your Account: The Roku device requires a Roku account.  To create a Roku account, you will have to provide a user name, an email address, a password, a pin, and a payment method.  If you do not want to provide a payment method, call Roku support and they will create an account without requiring a payment method.  Make sure you select  ‘A PIN is required only when using your Roku account to make purchases’ whether you save or delete your payment information.  This prevents others for making purchases with your account.  If you want to make sure your kids are not able to add channels without your consent, select ‘A PIN is required when using your Roku account to make purchases or add any item from the Channel Store’ for your account.

Remove Your Payment Method: As soon as you create your account, you will be presented with an account dashboard.  Choose to Update Payment Method and choose Delete Payment Method.

Configure your Roku: Now, power up your Roku.  You’ll be prompted to choose wired or wireless ethernet.  You’ll need to know your network’s password.  After that your Roku will update to the latest software and reboot.  Once the Roku is up to date, you will be presented with a code that associates your Roku with your online account.  Tip: If you are having trouble connecting your Roku wirelessly, connect it using the wired ethernet option, take the updates, then switch to wireless.

Find Content: Some channels come pre-installed on the Roku.  Many more are available in the Roku Channel Store.  The rest are private.  There are two kinds of private channels.  The really private channels are invitation only.  The rest are channels that are not welcome in the Roku Channel Store.  This is generally due to the streamed content — it may be risque or flirting with copyright infringement or simply competing with a Roku favored channel.  Here are some resources…

If you are looking for ‘cable content’ for your Roku, check out Playon.tv.  Aereo can stream local (broadcast) channels to your Roku for $8/month.  If you are a YouTube fan, the best YT channel for your Roku is the banned VideoBuzz channel.

Getting Help: When things go wrong, you have to be careful dealing with Roku.  Their warranty is 90 days and they don’t know you on day 91.  The key to getting good support for 90 days is to act quickly and document EVERYTHING.

  • If you are having trouble setting up a new Roku, call their phone support (1-888-600-7658).
  • If you are dissatisfied with the phone support, have language issues, or simply prefer not to communicate on the phone, try their chat support.
  • If you want to talk about your Roku or learn about Roku approved channels, visit their fan forums.

Be sure to record time, date, and the support person’s name if you seek help on the phone.  Save your transcript if you use the chat support.  Don’t expect much from the fan forums.  Most important, if you are approaching the end of the 90 day warranty period, get an RMA and return the unit.  Seriously, they don’t know you on day 91.

About Roku Refurbs: Roku refurbs are a bargain.  They are offered at steep discounts, carry the same 90 day warranty, and are mostly open box returns.  At this time, almost all Roku 2 XS models are refurbs.  If you receive a DOA refurb, handle the return/refund with the vendor.  Once the return period has passed or if the problem is minor or not obvious (remote does not work), seek support via Roku.  First question to ask and first answer to document is whether or not Roku stands behind the 90 day warranty.  I generally ask this via the support chat BEFORE making a purchase.  If Roku will not stand behind the refurb, return it to the seller.

Of the four refurbs I have purchased, one had a bad remote and Roku sent a new one in a couple days.

Remoku: Remoku is a web app that controls your Roku.  This can help you troubleshoot a problem, deal with a misplaced remote, or wait out the arrival of a replacement.  You are going to need to know the IP address of your Roku.  It’s a GREAT idea to capture this information when everything is working.  From the Roku home screen, select Settings then About.  Write down your IP address.  Click this link to Remoku, click Settings at the top of the screen, type your IP address into the Manual Add box and click the + button, click Remote at the top of the screen, and click some buttons to see if Remoku is working.

Classic Roku

“The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”

Coca-Cola president Donald Keough on the reintroduction of Classic Coke

Earlier this year, Roku introduced a new streaming media device dubbed the Roku 3, with its faster processor, WiFi remote, and remote ear bud jack, this Roku 3 was embraced by pundits.  Those who complained about the loss of composite outputs were dismissed as heretics.  This summer, Roku announced the rest of the third generation Rokus.  All of these had composite outputs, but none had the 5x faster cpu and only one had the battery killing remote ear bud jack.  The out-of-production Roku 2 XS continues to be the best Roku and continues to sell well as a refurb.  The chart below compares the Roku 2 XS to the third generation of Roku devices…


The chart does not compare price, warranty, or remote battery life.  The venerable Roku 2 XS sells for half what the Roku 3 costs.  My last Roku 2 XS came with an extra game controller and an HDMI cable for $55.  Roku warrants refurbs for 90 days — just like their new products.  The gen 3 remotes use AAA batteries instead of AA batteries.  AAA batteries store about half the energy as AA.  Combine this with powering ear-buds and the batteries last months instead of nearly a year.

Roku has stopped manufacturing the Roku 2 XS.  At some point, there will be no more Roku 2 XS units.  Before this happens, Roku should reintroduce the Roku 2 XS (a red and white Classic Roku) or launch a Roku 3 XS (combining the popular features of the Roku 2 XS with the faster processor of the Roku 3).  Until then, keep an eye on the bargain sites for deals on the Classic Roku.


I didn’t want to love Play*, but I can’t help it.  All they do it make it very easy for me to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it.  It’s only 480p, but 480p looks surprisingly good on my 43″ 720p plasma and amazing on my Kindle Fire.  For $70, Netflix, Hulu, Food Network, and the History Channel are always on for me.

So, what is Play*?  Play* is my nickname for MediaMall’s suite of streaming media programs.  The suite consists of PlayOn, PlayLater, and PlayCast.  PlayOn is software that streams files from web servers to your television.  Channels, scripts, and plugins format files from web servers for your television.  The files include episodes from many cable programs.  For cable cutters, PlayOn is a lifeline to the Food Network, the History Channel, and other compelling programming.  PlayLater is a DVR for this programming.  PlayLater lets you store programming you would watch with PlayOn for viewing at a later time.  The stored programs are saved as MP4 files that can be viewed with any software on any platform that supports the MP4 format.  PlayCast is a browser plugin that streams whatever is playing in your browser window to a PlayOn client.

How does Play* work?  PlayOn and PlayLater are software packages that can be purchased from MediaMall and must be installed on a Windows PC running Internet Explorer.  The programs read files from your media server and/or web servers and streams the files to a device on your network that can interpret the stream and output it in a format compatible with your television.  PlayCast is a browser extension that streams files from your web browser to your PlayOn compatible device — Chromecast for *every* streaming media platform.

Why you will love Play*!  First, there is a one time charge of $70.  For this fee, you get a lifetime subscription to PlayOn plus the PlayLater DRV, and PlayCast.  You can watch content aggregated and formatted for viewing from the couch.  That’s a pretty good deal.  You can also timeshift or placeshift this content.  The shifted contented is saved as MP4 formatted files which are suitable for playing on a tablet of phone, so you can enjoy your media even when there is no internet at all or where access to the internet is restricted.  For instance…

  • Last week, I was traveling on business.  Before I left, I dragged some files from my PlayLater folder to my laptop for the plane ride.
  • When I got the the hotel, I plugged a Roku 2 XS into the television.  I had installed the Nowhere USB channel and was able to enjoy a USB drive of PlayLater content without internet access/authentication.
  • We lose our power frequently and for days at a time.  I have a generator and a tv antenna, but internet access is limited to cell phones.  PlayLater provides entertainment absent internet access.
  • We will use these files with the TV and Roku we take camping
  • When a web site removes or rotates content, I can still play it off my DVR

Why you might NOT like Play*!  For starters, it is only 480p.  I played some PlayLater recordings on a 55″ set and, with glasses from six feet, it looked fine, but it’s 480p.  A lot of recordings fail.  Sometimes you can restart and enjoy success, but some simply do not record.

Let’s get started!  Installing and using Play* is pretty straight forward, but here are the steps…

  1. Before committing to Play* consult the compatibility list and forums to make sure you have the hardware to support the software and check the channel list to make sure you will watch what PlayOn serves.
  2. Buy, download, and install PlayOn.  Hint: if, during installation, you are prompted to close a browser which is not apparently open, open task manager, look for browser processes, and close them.  For me, Chrome was running in the background.
  3. Enable PlayCast for your browser.  Open up PlayOn Settings and click on the Browsers tab. Click on the checkboxes to enable PlayOn for your favorite browsers then click the Apply button.
  4. (You may need to enable the PlayOn helper app in your browser)
  5. Open your browser to a media page and click the PlayOn icon and a window will open and play the media.  Once the video begins playing in this window, click the Next button.  Click the Record To or PlayCast To button, select your target device, and enjoy!

Remote Access  For me, accessing Playon from a cell phone was a lot like having sex for the first time. I thought I knew what I was doing, everything was a little different than I expected. In the end, I was extremely satisfied, but wasn’t sure what had happened.

First base: The auto configuration failed, so I tried to manually configure my router. Once I was in the port forwarding area I returned to Playon to read the helpful hint provided upon failure. The hint was gone, so I selected automatic and hit apply and it worked. My guess is that it would have worked had I not changed the userid and password on my router. Having logged on, it was able to do the rest.

Second base: I installed the app from the app store on the S3 phone. No problems at all.

Third base: Had no problem locating my server via WiFi and we were quickly streaming. I’m still not sure what ‘additional configuration’ is required for 3g/4g only access.

Home: Turned off WiFi and streamed some PlayLater recordings to the phone.

It does work and performance was very good. One thing you notice when browsing the Android app is that once you are presented with a PlayTo menu that allows you to play to ‘this device’ or any of your Rokus, so you can PlayTo without running back to the PC — just use your android device to manage the service from your easy chair.

Epilog  That’s all I’ve got.  I think PlayOn, PlayLater, and PlayCast are a delightful addition to to any entertainment ecosystem.  Give Play* a try.  If you don’t like it, MediaMall will refund your $70.


Woot!  Woot!  I got a Simple.TV on Woot last week for $105 (shipped).  I have been intrigued by the Simple device since it was offered on KickStarter.  At $100 including lifetime Premier Service, I jumped in.  My logic was that I was getting the tuner for free since the Premier lifetime license was $150.  This is particularly attractive since Simple has promised the license will support their v2 device and that the v2 device would be compatible with legacy hardware.  From their FAQ

Rest assured whether you buy a unit today or upgrade to a new unit a year from now, we won’t charge you extra for the subscription. Every Simple.TV subscription can accommodate new units as long as you have a valid Simple.TV subscription.

We believe in value and we don’t nickel and dime you to death. Our subscriptions are tied to you (the viewer) and you can choose to have one unit or many units on your account. As long as you’re the primary subscriber, you can have as many units as you wish.

Since our subscriptions can cover multiple units, you can get started with us today and upgrade your Simple.TV unit at anytime in the future — risk free.

What is Simple?  According to the manufacturer, “Simple.TV is the first personal DVR that streams live and recorded TV to your favorite devices, wherever you are. Get all your broadcast TV favorites on your iPad, PC, Mac or Roku box.”  That pretty much sums it up.

What they do not say, however, is that the Simple completes the Roku.  If you have a Roku and are missing local programming and/or your DVR, Simple is what you need.  Look at this…


Instead of routing your broadcast signal to each television, feed the signal into a bank of Simples and stream programming to Rokus.

You will want one Simple and one Roku for each television plus one Simple to serve as a whole house DVR since the Simple serves as a tv tuner for the Roku.    Of course, any/every Simple can be a DVR, so designating a lesser used tuner (guest room) is fine.  In this configuration, you can schedule favorite shows to record with the Premier software.  It will record only new shows or new shows plus reruns.  Either way, it will not re-record an episode already saved.  From your Roku equipped television, you can pause, rewind, fast forward, and record live television.  You can watch shows recorded on any Simple device on your network.  You can do all of this on the road as well (I haven’t tried this yet).

So, that is the concept.  How does it work?

Let’s start with the DVR.  Before connecting anything, you need to set up an account using the provided code.  Then you plug in a USB disk, an ethernet cable, an antenna, and power.  The web app will discover the DVR, prompt you for local information, and set up your guide.  It will offer to format the USB disk.  Once the disk is formatted, you are ready to begin watching live tv via the web interface and schedule recordings.


DVR Screens


Roku Channel Screens

Setting up the Roku channel is even easier.  Install the private channel.  Open the channel, type the code into https://www.simple.tv/roku and you’re done.  The Roku channel is about an [un]impressive as any Roku channel — simple drill down navigation with 2D scrollers, limited search and programming — but it works and some of the screens like ‘upcoming’ are pretty nice.  They key missing features are…

  1. Device oriented
  2. No play all in My Shows
  3. No search for programs to record
  4. No slow motion
  5. Limited record functions

By device oriented, I mean that you have to select a DVR in the Roku menu before you can use it to tune channels or watch a show.  If you save programs on multiple DVRs, you need to know which one recorded the show you want to watch.  If you connect to a DVR that is currently recording a show or on which someone else is already watching television, your connection will interrupt the current activity.

One other shortcoming is that the Live TV list is a list of programs not channels, so if you have the same program on a strong and a weak channel, you may not be able to select the strong channel.

Some Roku channels have an option to record all programs.  The Simple pops out to the show description upon completion.  Search is limited to shows on the DVR.  Via the Roku channel, recording options are limited to record this episode and record the series.

My ideal Roku channel would be device independent.  If I wanted to watch live tv, the first available DVR would be connected.  The Live TV list should include all tuned channels even if the same show is on two channels. Recordings should start on the next available tuner.  When I choose to watch live tv, if a tuner is already in use, I should be prompted before it is disconnected (this tuner is recording the Super Bowl, do you want to interrupt the recording?)  I should be able to search programs on all local DVRs.  When I choose to watch a show, an option ought to be to watch all recorded episodes.  I’d also like to be able to start and stop recording manually or record channel 38 from 6pm to 8pm every week night.  I’d like to be able to rewind something and watch it in slow motion.  This is essential for sports and wardrobe malfunctions.

Let’s think through some use cases…

  • You cut the cable and installed an antenna and have run cable to your televisions and are enjoying broadcast programming.  You have installed a Roku for Netflix and other internet programming.  You might install one or a few Simple devices to record programs and to use to view, pause, rewind, and fast forward for some programs.
  • You want to put a tv where you have no coax and do not want to run coax.  You install a Simple DVR where there is coax and stream wirelessly to a Roku where the television is.
  • You want to watch tv by the pool or on the deck.  Simple can stream to a laptop, a tablet, or a wireless Roku by the pool.
  • I have five DTVPal DVRs scattered throughout my home.  We also have five Rokus.  We just installed our first Simple DVR.  I program it to record shows we like and we watch them using the Roku channel.  Five Rokus can stream a program at the same time.  This is a great way to intelligently record programming without spending for a Tivo.

I’ve only had this for a couple weeks and I love it.  I’ll post a followup once I have had a chance to use it for remote viewing (college boy is supposed to test this for me).  In the meantime, I strongly recommend anyone watching unencrypted cable or broadcast television grab one of these.  Watch Woot — these have been $100 with lifetime twice.  In case you missed the link in the first paragraph, here is a big on to the specs on the v2 device…


By Len Mullen Posted in OTA