Roku Ultra – My review of 4K TV streaming gadget

roku-ultra-boxThere are plenty of TV streaming gadgets to chose from; AppleTV, Google Chromecast, and a whole array of devices from Roku. Roku Ultra is a new, top of the line media streamer with all the bells and whistles you could want. It will stream content from hundreds of online channels, it’s 4K/UHD compatible, it’s got HDR support for better colour, and it has an enhanced remote with voice search and private listening options.

I had a chance to spend several weeks with a Roku Ultra device. Here’s what I learned:

Getting Connected to Roku Ultra

Getting the Roku Ultra set up was easy, as it has been with more than half a dozen other Roku devices I’ve tested. The user interface is easy to follow and understand, even for newbies.how to connect older TV to new streaming device google chromecast, apple TV, Roku Express

The device will get you to connect to the internet first using Wi-Fi (or ethernet). After you put in your home’s Wi-Fi password it will likely download a software or firmware update.

Next, you have the option of letting the Roku Ultra to automatically select your display or TV type, i.e. HD or 4K resolution. The Ultra will blank the screen for a few seconds to auto-detect your TV’s display capabilities, then set itself to the correct choice for your TV, and ask you to confirm the setting.

Once that’s finished you will need to ‘activate’ your Roku to access content. From your PC, phone, or tablet go to roku.com/link then enter the code displayed on your TV screen. Once done, the screen will automatically advance and allow you access to the device.

Auto update is easy

roku-ultra-5With that process complete, you’ll log into your Roku account. Then, very helpfully, Roku will automatically update your preferred channels, if you already have an account with them. That means that if you have more than one Roku device, you can access the same stuff on all of them without having to set each one up individually. The setup process couldn’t be simpler. The longest portion of it will be creating a new account if you don’t already have one.

What you need to use Roku Ultra in 4K

Roku Ultra is one of the company’s three devices which is made to support 4K resolution. 4K TVs are a higher quality TV than HD, and have four times as many pixels as HD TV, so there’s a sharper, clearer video picture, but there are some things you must have in your set up to make it work.

For starters, you’ll need a 4K TV. As I noted, 4K TVs have higher resolution, and more pixels in each screen, so you’ll need one to display the 4K picture correctly. You’ll also need 4K content; including made-in-4K movies, or TV shows. Fortunately there are many dedicated 4K channels, and you can search for 4-only K content, so it’s easy enough to find.

HDR support

Another advancement in TV technology is HDR.  HDR provides better colour replication in video. Roku says it allows you to get, “rich, realistic color detail—even in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights—when you stream HDR content on a compatible HDR TV. HDR displays a wider range of colors, brighter whites, and deeper blacks to create more natural, beautiful, and true-to-life imagery.” Similar to 4K, you’ll need a TV that’s HDR compatible, as well as content optimized for HDR to get the most from this technology.

Using Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra is easy to navigate, with a simple main menu. You can search for or add shortcuts to your favourite channels so everything is easy to get to. Speaking of easy to get to, the Roku remote has a couple of shortcut buttons. You can navigate to Netflix, for example, with the touch of a button.

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While you can use your smartphone as a remote control for many streaming devices, this one included, Roku comes with a physical remote too. I like the convenience of having a dedicated remote because I sometimes fund it clunky to grab my phone, access the lock screen, find the remote app, open it and then make my move. Assuming the remote isn’t under the sofa, it’s quicker to use.

Lost Remote Finder

But even if it IS under the sofa, you’ll know in an instant. There’s a built-in lost remote finder. You push a small button on the Ultra box, and the remote beeps loudly. I tested this with the remote stuffed under a cushion and could still hear it well enough to locate it.

Built-in Voice Search

The Roku Ultra remote has voice search capabilities. Just push and hold the search button while you talk. For the most part this works well, but you need to push it and wait half a sec, or you’ll clip your request, and the device will get confused. The Ultra does have some trouble with some words, mainly more obscure names.

If you’d asked me, I’d have said the voice search worked correctly ‘most’ of the time, but then I did some testing on the tool by running repeated requests. I did 20 searches, and the device got only 11 correct. Some searches took multiple tries to find, but found them eventually, others, it never found via voice but did locate using text search. I wouldn’t say the voice search was frustrating, but it could use some improvements. You definitely need to speak slowly and clearly.

Private Listening

The remote also features private listening. I love this feature, since it allows you to effectively silence what’s being watched, without a need for additional or complicated wireless headphone set up. You plug the included earbuds into the side of the remote, and voila! Instant quiet. It’s great for kids when you don’t want to hear Toopy and Beanoo for the millionth time.

Streaming Speed

The Roku Ultra was fast enough for my needs, and I never experienced any buffering or delays. It was quick and responsive. Roku says that’s thanks to its “fast quad-core processor and 802.11ac dual-band wireless”. Of course some of this is dependent on your homes Wi-fi speeds and in some cases you’ll be at the mercy of your service provider. Before you go looking for a device like the Ultra, it’s best to check with your internet provider to make sure your home has enough bandwidth to allow it to work properly.

Overall thoughts on Roku Ultra

I definitely recommend this device, and frankly, I don’t hesitate to recommend all Roku devices. They’re very easy to use, easy to set up and after testing numerous Roku devices, I have yet to encounter any major (or minor) problems with them. They’re consistently bug-free. I own two Roku devices already (both Streaming Sticks) and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the Ultra for my 4K TV set up, or for the additional features like the enhanced remote and private listening.

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How to stream with an old TV (even without an HDMI plug!) Try Roku Express+

Is there a TV sitting in your basement that is basically obsolete? Wondering how you can stream today’s shows on that old TV?

When HDMI ports emerged years ago, allowing reliable strong digital connections from peripherals to TVs, many sets fell out of use as the popularity of HDMI-connected gaming consoles and streaming devices grew. But that also means that TVs without HDMI ports can’t connect to today’s streaming devices like Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast. But there’s now a reliable, easy way to get streaming TV on your old set.  Continue reading “How to stream with an old TV (even without an HDMI plug!) Try Roku Express+”

Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016

I’ve tested a lot of gadgets and gear this year. Picking favourites is hard, because unlike previous years, many of the items that have come into the tech test kitchen in 2016 are really high quality, and work well, so picking the cream of the crop is a challenge. Nevertheless, here are the Top 10 tech gadgets I highly recommend having in your life. Continue reading “Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016”

Great gear for back to school – CTV Tech Talk

tech-talk-sept16This week on CTV Tech Talk I showed you three cool gadgets that can make back to school easier and more fun.

Moleskine Smart Writing Set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycThis gadget has really surprised me in terms of how versatile it is, and how well it works. It would be great for students, artists or just compulsive note-takers who never want to lose their notes, or who need an easy way to share them with others.

We barely had time to scratch the surface of everything this device can do on Tech Talk, so be sure to click the link below and read the full review.

The Moleskine Smart Writing Set  consists of a thick notebook in traditional Moleskine style; a bound and wrapped cover with an elastic to keep it closed, plus a special pen (called Pen+) that has the ability to connect to your smartphone, and automatically and seamlessly transfer whatever you draw or write in the notebook, direct to digital format, using the free Moleskine app.

The pen is larger than a standard pen and has built-in technology.  You push a button on the end of the pen, and connect it to Moleskine’s M+ Notes app.  Then, it tracks where you write on the page, and transfers it in real time to the app, in your own handwriting, or converted to text. The uses for this really cool technology are almost endless.

Read more about exactly how the Smart Writing Set works, and my full review of it here.

Roku Insignia Smart 4K TV4k-UHD-Insignia-Roku-TV-Best-Buy-Canada-1024x536

4K TV is the newest innovation in TV technology, and it’s all about the pixels. A 4K TV has millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

While the screen resolution is amazing, the Roku Insignia TV is also smart. You can stream shows with it, using Netflix, and you don’t need a seperate streaming device.  You can also surf the web, watch YouTube or play digital content. A 4K Roku TV brings you the best available resolution plus all the smartest TV features.

Click here to read the full review I did of this TV, as well as more about 4K technology.

Epson Ecotank ET-2550 Printer

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve had a printer in my home.  I haven’t missed having one for many years, that is until I started testing some new ones.

It’s not that I haven’t needed to print anything, but you know, you find other ways around that; snapshot photos, email copies, and yes, printing stuff at the office.

I have to say, that since I’ve re-adopted having a printer in the house, I’ve found them quite handy; and so has my family. Particularly because they’re now easier to use, more versatile, and there’s less fussing with ink and cartridges.

No ink cartridges in this printer!

epson-ecotankOn Tech Talk I showed off the Epson Expression ET 2550 EcoTank Printer. It’s a wireless printer/copier/scanner/fax/ethernet, which has a unique feature: it doesn’t use printer cartridges.  Instead it contains “eco-tank” ink bottles that are equivalent to about 20 cartridge sets. The printer I have includes enough ink to print up to 4000 pages in black or 6500 pages in color. That’s a long, long time before I’ll need to worry about running out of juice; possibly a couple years.

I reviewed a different model of EcoTank printer, one that has a slightly higher print capacity; read that review of the Epson Workforce ET-4550 here.

Whether it’s watching documentaries in glorious 4K resolution, printing book reports without the fuss of cartridges, or taking and sharing notes instantly and digitally, these three gadgets can help make back to school season easier, more productive, and more fun.

Contest – Enter to Win!

Want to enter the contest we talked about on CTV? Click here to be re-directed to the contest page. (*not active until Tuesday Sept 13)

Roku’s new 4K TV is easy to use with a gorgeous picture

roky tv4K or Ultra HD is the newest revolution in TV technology.

If you’re new to this TV term, 4K is all about the pixels. Millions of pixels. Millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

4K TVs are becoming much more common, and even though there are complaints there’s not enough content to watch, that’s starting to change.

Meeting the 50” Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV

I had several weeks to test and review a new 4K TV to see what all the fuss is about. I cobbled together a temporary set up in my basement to test it out. The TV is the 50” Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV. For the newbies, Insignia is the manufacturer, and Roku is the smart software or operating system platform that the TV uses. Roku is a well known maker of smart streaming devices like the Roku Streaming stick, and it’s a platform that’s bug-free and easy to use.

Set Up – Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV

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Setting this TV up is very easy. Unpack it, plug it in, and connect to your home’s Wi-Fi. You’re ready! You can of course also connect to a 4K Blu-ray player (I tested it with the Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player) or other 4K compatible device. Yes, you can connect other non-4K devices, but the whole point of a 4K set up is to enjoy maximum resolution.

The full review of this TV was done for Best Buy’s Plug In blog.  Check it out HERE.

Testing the new Google Chromecast lineup 

Google recently announced it’s expanding and improving the Chromecast lineup. In addition to a newly revamped video streaming device, the company announced an audio version.

So far the Chromecast TV disc (changed from a stick) is proving easy to use and useful. I’m a little more puzzled by the Audio version. It streams music without the need to pair, but I don’t own a stereo that it would be useful on. If Chromecast Audio is something you’re considering, I’d love to know how you’d use it.

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Read the full report and review on the Best Buy tech blog .

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Checking Out Streaming TV; What are the options, and how do I pick?

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You probably know there are different options for streaming TV out there. But what exactly is streaming TV? Do you need it? What will it do for you that regular TV won’t?

Let’s take a look at the top three streaming TV options available in Canada, what differentiates each one, as well as their price points to help you pick the right streaming TV choice for you.

 

 

 

If you’d prefer to watch me explain them, as opposed to reading, check out my segment on CTV Morning Live.

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What is Streaming TV?
Streaming TV is basically a way to get TV programs from the web, directly to your TV. Increasingly, broadcasters, and content providers like Netflix are making their programs available via the Internet, but many people still get them the old-fashioned way, by sitting hunched at their computer. Streaming TV boxes or sticks mean that you can get those programs on your living room, family room, or other main TV set, without complicated hook ups or the need for an entire squad of teenagers to come to your house. You simply plug them in, connect them to your home wifi network, and they’re ready to go.

What are My Streaming TV Options?

There are three main players as far as streaming TV is concerned. Yes, there are other options to get streaming TV on your television, such as using a gaming console.  But today we’ll focus on just those devices that exist for the purpose of streaming TV.

fs apple tvApple TV
Apple TV is definitely the most long-standing player, and possibly the most familiar one for Canadians. It’s been around since about 2007 or 2008, depending on which version you’re considering.  Once upon a time, it was pretty much the only way to get to streaming TV. Now it has competition, and it’s my opinion that anytime now, Apple will upgrade, streamline, shrink the size, as well as the price of Apple TV in the near future.  Apple TV is basically a small box the size of two slices of sandwich bread. It plugs into your HDMI port, and uses an included remote control to allow you to surf for streaming TV channels. What kind of channels are available?  The big ones are Netflix and YouTube. But there are dozens and dozens of available channels nowadays, covering everything from south American soap operas, to Japanese anime cartoons, to NFL and NHL, plus dozens more genre specific options. Whatever your preference as far as unique TV channels goes, you can bet it’s out there on a streaming TV device. (Check the full list of Apple TV apps here)   Apple’s TV is controlled on your screen, using an included remote control.  You’ll also need an iTunes account.  The major bonus of the Apple TV for me is access to much of the iTunes library of current TV content, unlike other players, where the most current TV is not easily accessible.

Apple TV retails for about $110.
roku-streaming-stickRoku Streaming Stick

Roku was the second major player to arrive in Canada.  It’s had a couple of different streaming TV options that are similar in size to the Apple TV, but in the spring of 2014, they brought in the Streaming Stick.  It’s a streaming player the size of your thumb, that plugs invisibly into your TV, and comes with many of the same third-party channels as Apple does.  Its size is a bonus, and its price is even better – $59. This unit too comes with a remote included, and interfaces the same way as Apple TV; right on your TV screen.  Check out what’s available on Roku, here.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 2.14.40 PMGoogle Chromecast

Google is the latest arrival to Canada, having launched several months after Roku’s stick.  Google Chromecast has a totally different user interface, in that you must use your tablet or smartphone to control and play the content.  While Apple and Roku provide you the content, and upgrade it as new channels come online, with Google, you need to download individual channel apps onto your smartphone in order to play them. I found this kind of tedious, because there’s no surfing for stuff to watch, or to see what’s new.  In order to keep up on Google’s available content, one needs to go to the Chromecast website, then see what’s been added.  From there you go to your app store, and download the individual channel apps you like.  Then you need to go into each app, pick your content, and tell the Chromecast to play it back.   I also found the apps quite buggy compared to Roku and Apple. Read more about what’s new on Chromecast in my recent Tech Blog article for Future Shop. While it’s the most work for your streaming TV, the Chromecast is the cheapest option at about $39.

One more thing…

Increasingly, TV manufacturers are building smart TV capabilities right into their TVs.  One example I recently tested out was VIZIO.  Using their Via remote, you can access many of the same channels as you could with a streaming stick, directly within the TV.  While the major players like Netflix and YouTube are there, there’s definitely not as much content available – yet.  One major bonus though? You can access your social media accounts right on the TV; and it’s definitely cool watching a season finale or big game on TV, while you keep a specific hashtag up in the Twitter window, and watch the online comments as they happen.  You can do the same with Facebook.  Want to learn more about VIZIO’s Smart TV?  Check out my recent review.

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Do you have questions about Streaming TV? Ask away in comments!

Thumb-sized TV Streaming Device Just Announced in Canada. And it’s only $59!

Click HERE to read full article.

Getting content from the web to your TV has almost always involved 2 things; 1)  hooking your computer up to your TV, a complicated process best reserved for techno geeks, or 2) purchasing a third party box or web-enabled TV.  Well now you have options, and Roku has just announced what may be the most pocket-friendly option; the Roku Streaming Stick,

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Preorder now at Futureshop.ca.

 This little gadget looks like your standard USB stick, but inside is a wealth of video options, or as I saw one TechCrunch writer put it, “it makes dumb TVs smarter”.  The Roku Streaming Stick allows you to stream content direct to your TV, simply by plugging this little gadget into the back HDMI slot.  Roku says it contains instant access to 700+ channels (in Canada)……

 Click HERE to read full article.