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November 19, 2018
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television

Roku’s voice-powered wireless speakers and tabletop remote start shipping

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In July, Roku unveiled its entry into the voice-powered speaker market, with a pair of Roku TV Wireless Speakers designed to work with the company’s lineup of partner-built smart TVs. Those speakers will now begin to ship to customers starting on Friday, November 16. They’ll also go on sale in advance of Black Friday at a discounted price, Roku says.

The speakers were previously available for pre-order and will normally retail for $199.99.

However, Roku will sell them starting on Sunday, November 18 through “Cyber Monday,” November 26, for $149.99.

The company had earlier said the speakers would begin shipping in late October, so this is a bit of delay on its part. But they’re still here before the holidays and in time for Black Friday, which is what’s most important.

The company’s goal with its voice-powered speakers is not really one of trying to compete with Amazon Echo or Google Home devices, however. Instead, the company wants to leverage voice specifically to enhance the experience of browsing, searching and controlling Roku’s software, which runs on the TVs.

Roku’s voice assistant is nowhere near as powerful as Google Assistant or Alexa, but in terms of navigating your TV by way of voice, it’s sufficient enough.

The speakers ship with the Roku TV Voice Remote, allowing you to press a button to issue voice commands, without having to get up the convenience of using a remote control to navigate your TV.

Of course, consumers aren’t expected to buy the speakers just for voice control – that’s just an added perk. Instead, the draw is that speakers do the job of a soundbar in terms of improving the sound quality of the TV’s audio. The speakers additionally include Roku’s Automatic Volume Leveling technology, which brings the volume down when the movie or show gets loud, and increases the volume during the quieter scenes to provide a more even audio experience.

Roku is also shipping another new product, the Roku Touch, on Friday, it noted.

This is the company’s somewhat odd battery-powered remote that sits on a tabletop, which is designed to work with the wireless speakers. The remote includes a press-to-talk microphone for controlling your TV from afar and is sold separately for $29.99.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Amazon’s Fire TV Recast is a decent DVR for antenna users

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Amazon’s Fire TV companion DVR, the Fire TV Recast, is available today to the public, after previously having been only offered for pre-order. The new device offers a way for Fire TV owners to easily access free, over-the-air broadcast television directly from the Fire TV’s software. Starting at $229, this cord cutters’ DVR is something of a modern-day TiVo, as it combines access to live TV, recordings, and on-demand programming all in one interface. But while the Fire TV Recast works as advertised, channel reception in your area can hinder your experience.

The Fire TV Recast was one of many products Amazon introduced at its over-stuffed Alexa event this September.

The device is designed to work with your existing Fire TV Edition television, Fire TV, or Fire TV Stick and a digital antenna, allowing you to watch live television directly in the Fire TV interface, as well as record programs.

Notably, the DVR recordings and live TV streams are also available via mobile, when you’re away from your home Wi-Fi network, even if you’re only on cellular.

This feature is available at no extra charge, just like the rest of what Recast offers – including its Live TV channel guide, DVR storage (either 500GB or 1TB with the option to expand through its USB port coming soon), and the companion mobile app.

 

If you’re already a Fire TV owner – or preparing to become one – it makes sense to consider the Recast over a competing solution like TiVo or a Plex DVR setup, because of how it integrates with your existing Fire TV. That means you’re using the same software you’re already familiar with, but enhanced with extra features like an “On Now” row that displays what’s currently airing and a “DVR” section to access your recordings.

From a software design standpoint, these additions feel natural, easy to locate and easy to use.

But in terms of being a usable, real-world solution, the Fire TV Recast is ultimately hit-or-miss, simply because it depends on an antenna.

Antennas aren’t for everyone

The Recast is an HDTV antenna-dependant solution. Antennas aren’t the best way to watch TV, they’re just the cheapest. That will appeal to some users, but turn off others.

Channel reception is highly variable based on a number of factors, including your location, surroundings, terrain, distance to TV broadcast towers, and channel availability in your area.

 

Before spending a couple hundred dollars plus on Amazon’s new DVR, you’ll want to first check out Amazon’s Purchase Assistant to see what’s offered in your area, as well as the FCC’s reception maps. You could also just buy the digital antenna first to test reception at your home before plunking down the big money for the DVR.

I wasn’t favored with good reception, unfortunately. No matter where my antenna was mounted – walls, windows, the second story, etc. – some of the channels were still garbled and glitchy. This is really a “your mileage may vary” solution – I’m many miles from some broadcast towers. The better your reception, the more you’ll enjoy the Fire TV Recast.

Another factor to consider is that while adding a digital antenna to your cord cutting mix is cheaper than, say, a year of Hulu, you’re not getting high-quality content. While the FCC has approved a new broadcast standard (ATSC 3.0) that will support 4K UHD picture quality, there are no 4K over-the-air TV broadcasts available today – and that won’t likely change for some time

That means when you’re switching back and forth from 4K programming on your Fire TV Stick 4K to this lower-quality, over-the-air content, you’re really going to notice the difference.

That being said, there are things people want an antenna for – like live sports, local news and programming, and other live events, like award shows. While some of this content is moving to streaming, it’s not typically streaming for free.

Getting Started with Recast

The setup was extremely simple.

The antenna connects to the Fire TV Recast, and can be placed anywhere in your home. That’s actually the best part because no matter where you mount a digital antenna, it’s not exactly a thing of beauty. In fact, it pretty much junks up the room, aesthetically speaking.

Seriously, the best part is that using an antenna doesn’t have to ruin your living room anymore

The newly updated Fire TV app walks you through a series of setup screens that helpfully offer tips on antenna placement, and helps you get the Recast connected to your Wi-Fi network. (It’s the same process as connecting an Amazon Echo, and only takes a minute).

When complete, the Recast scans for available channels.

My app crashed once during this scanning process, but it’s a beta build. This may or may not still be bug when the public release arrives.

When finished, you can watch TV or recordings right in the Fire TV app, in addition to Fire TV itself. Soon, you’ll be able to record programs from the app, Amazon says.

Multiple people can stream from a Recast at the same time, but streaming to multiple iOS devices is rolling out shortly after launch, Amazon also noted.

Using the Recast with Fire TV

As far as browsing the Recast, everything is nicely organized on your Fire TV interface.

Scroll down on the Home screen, and a row of live TV shows is blended right in with your other options, like Amazon’s Prime programming or your Amazon Channels subscriptions.

The “DVR” menu at the top lets you quickly get to your recorded programs, so you can watch or delete them, as desired.

And the Live TV channel guide lets you search ahead up to two weeks’ of programing to find things to record.

None of this feels tacked on at the last minute, and navigation is not confusing. It all fits in seamlessly with Fire TV’s other content and its user interface. There’s zero learning curve.

In my experience, the TV programs loaded fairly quickly, if slower than launching a show on Netflix, for comparison’s sake. I personally felt that watching on mobile was a better experience than viewing shows on the big screen, because you don’t notice the poor picture quality as much when on mobile.

The other key feature is voice control.

You don’t need a Fire TV Recast in order to voice control a TV, to be clear. That’s a Fire TV feature, too.

But Alexa has been updated to work with the Recast, so you can say things like “Alexa, open Channel Guide,” “Alex tune to NBC,” or “Alexa, show my recordings,” among other things. You can even record shows, cancel recordings, and delete recordings by voice commands, as well as rewind and fast forward by a period of time.

For giggles, I suppose, you can also stream live TV and watch recordings on an Echo Show, Amazon’s screen-based Alexa speaker. You can pair your Bluetooth headphones with an Echo Show and have a great desk accessory for the office, I guess, or catch up on shows while cooking dinner in your kitchen.

I am probably never going to watch TV on an Echo Show. But hey, have fun with that if you do.

A good addition, if you’re happy with antennas

If you’re in the market for a connected DVR and are a Fire TV owner, the Fire TV Recast can be a good addition to your setup – if you get reception and don’t already have another way to watch the TV you want – like through Hulu or Sling TV, for instance.

If you’re a Roku or Apple TV owner, however, it may not be worth abandoning your current platform just for the Recast, unless you’re really in need of cheaper access to live TV,  or on-the-go access to live TV and recordings.

For those who fit that description, it’s easy to recommend the Fire TV Recast over rivals for its well-designed software, easy of setup, mobile streaming, and the ability to hide the ugly antenna in another room.

Depending on how much you TV want to record, there are two Recast models to choose from: the $229.99 50GB Recast offers 2 tuners and up to 75 hours of HD storage, while the $279.99 1TB Recast offers 4 tuners and up to 150 hours of HD storage.

Amazon is also selling an equipment bundle with the Recast, Fire TV Stick 4K, and 35-mile HDTV antenna for 249.97, which is a good deal if you’re ready to commit.

Tech Specs

  • Size: 7.1″ x 7.1″ x 2.9″ (180 mm x 180 mm x 73 mm)
  • Weight: 2.4 lbs (1066 g)
  • ASTC Tuners: 2 or 4
  • Storage: 500GB or 1TB
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 G WiFi 2×2 Wi-Fi b/g/n and 5 G  Wi-Fi 2×2 Wi-Fi a/n/c
  • Ports: 1 x Type A USB 3.0 (storage support in the works); TV antenna input; Gigabit Ethernet, Power
  • Regional Support: US only
  • Accessibility Features:  VoiceView screen reader; Closed captioning, where available
  • Included in the box: Fire TV Recast, 50W Power Supply, Quick Start Guide

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

TV streaming services see 212% jump in viewing hours over past year

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Live streaming TV services, like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Hulu with Live TV, and others, are gaining steam in the U.S. as more consumers cut the cord with traditional pay TV. According to a new report from Conviva out this morning, these services (called virtual MVPDs) now account for over three-quarters of all plays and viewing hours in the U.S. That growth has come at the expense of dedicated apps from individual publishers, the report found.

Over the past 12 months, streaming TV services – the virtual MVPDs like Hulu with live TV, Sling TV, or PlayStation Vue – have seen a 292 percent increase in plays and a 212 percent increase in viewing hours, while publisher apps have seen declines of 16 percent and 19 percent, respectively, across those fronts.

The services have also been improving over time. Many suffered from glitches and outages at launch – and this continues today, on occasion. But overall, they’re more stable than in the past.

The report found that across these streaming TV services, there’s been a 22 percent decrease in video start failures, a 7 percent shorter wait time for video to start playing, 25 percent higher picture quality, and 63 percent less buffering.

The draw of streaming TV services is a cable TV-like experience with added benefits, like the ability to watch across devices, record shows to a cloud DVR that’s not (in theory) limited by disk space on a set-top box, integration with your smartphone’s notification system for alerts about favorite shows or events, and more.

But the ability to tune into live content – like live events and sports – is a major draw for cord cutters, as well.

Year-over-year, live TV content has seen a 49 percent increase in plays and a 54 percent increase in viewing time. The NFL is a huge part of this, with plays up 72 percent and viewing hours up 83 percent in Q3 2018, versus the year-ago quarter.

In the weeks that games were airing, NFL viewership accounted for 3 percent of total plays and 2.8 percent of all viewing hours in the U.S.

Because many viewers tune in at the same time to watch a live broadcast, compared with other content, there’s still room for improvement on this front. The firm also found that live television streams take 10 percent longer for videos to start, and see 72 percent more exits before the video starts, as a result.

The way consumers are watching streaming TV services is changing, too, the study said.

Though one benefit of these newer services is no longer being tied to a TV for viewing, it seems many still prefer it. While mobile viewing continues to grow – it’s up 57 percent year-over-year – it no longer dominates.

Connected TVs – such as those connected to Roku players, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, etc. – now account for as many streaming TV plays (38% on TVs) as mobile devices (39%). They also account for more than twice the viewing hours, with a 56 percent share to mobile’s 25 percent share.

Viewing on the PC is down by 18 percent, meanwhile.

Conviva, like other reports, have found that Roku leads the market – in this case, in terms of viewing hours. Roku accounted for 40 percent of viewing hours, but Amazon Fire TV gained. Amazon’s connected TV device platform increased its share of viewing hours from 3 percent to 18 percent over the past 12 months, and increase its share of plays from 4 percent to 19 percent.

The report is a snapshot of the industry that comes from Conviva’s global footprint of 50 billion streams per year across 3 billion applications and 200 million users. The company works with brands like Sling TV, HBO, Sky, Turner, Hulu, Discovery, CBS, Canal Digital, and others. That gives it deep insight into the streaming TV space to see trends, but not a complete look as not all providers are Conviva customers.

 

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Reelgood acquires Guidebox to bring streaming TV data to more places

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Reelgood, a startup aimed at helping cord cutters find shows and movies to watch on the services they subscribe to, has made an acquisition in the hopes of bringing Reelgood’s data to more places. The company has bought Guidebox, a streaming availability data provider which powers Roku, TVGuide, Metacritic and others.

Deal terms weren’t disclosed, but we understand the price was in the “multi millions.”

Guidebox began its life in 2012 as a consumer-facing website that brought together full show and episode data in one place, then pointed you where you could watch – very much like today’s Reelgood, in fact. But over the years, it shifted its focus to working with publishers and device manufacturers. For example, it’s been well known to be the service that powers Roku’s universal search feature.

It was most recently reported that Guidebox was sold to video data and recommendation startup ColorTV. However, Reelgood says that deal never actually happened – the announcement of the acquisition was premature. (ColorTV now appears to be shut down, as it turns out. We’ve attempted to reach them for confirmation.)

Reelgood says it decided to buy Guidebox because it aims to be more than just a guide for streaming TV.

“Imagine asking your Alexa, ‘Which of my shows has a new episode?’ or reading about a show online and, embedded within the article, seeing where you can watch it,” the company explains in its announcement about the deal. “For TV to ‘just work,’ we need to make it easier to get Reelgood’s data onto other products, too.”

The need for better organization of streaming services’ content is more critical than ever in today’s cord cutting era, as consumers increasingly ditch their cable and satellite TV subscriptions to build their own bundles of video services. The average U.S. household now uses four different streaming apps, says Reelgood, and this acquisition will allow it to expand its reach to over 50 million of those households.

The company says it will build on the existing Guidebox technology to make it even easier for companies to help their own users find streaming content. This data will be made available through an API.

That also means that Reelgood isn’t shutting down Guidebox or ending its existing business relationships – it aims to expand them, as well as pursue new business opportunities. It’s currently in the process of renegotiating some of Guidebox’s deals with larger TV and cable media-centric companies which provide service to some of the bigger networks, we understand.

Guidebox had been working with content providers like Lionsgate, the WWE and Fandor, Variety reported last year.

In terms of the Guidebox team, not all are joining long-term. The executive team is on an earn-out plan, and will help to integrate the technology with Reelgood and transition the client relationships. A few employees working on data  integrity and quality assurance have been hired by Reelgood to help as it expands the product and service.

“No one wants to spend time hunting through apps for the right show,” says David Sanderson, Reelgood founder and CEO, in a statement about the deal. “People expect their devices to help them decide what to watch and where to watch it. Whether it’s a search engine, website, streaming media player, or voice assistant, this is an opportunity for companies to get the experience right.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

AT&T’s streaming video device is now in beta testing

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AT&T has begun beta testing a streaming device that seems to be something of its own Roku competitor, according to a statement made by John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, during the company’s third quarter earnings call. The device, first scooped a year ago by Variety is an Android TV-based set-top box which integrates other streaming apps and ships with a voice remote, according to an FCC filing.

While AT&T didn’t comment on Variety’s report at the time, it did later confirm the device on an earnings call earlier this year.

The box was then described as a way for customers to watch DirecTV Now or other streaming services from their home. The plan at the time was to have the device launched by the end of 2018, the company had said.

The word today is that timeframe has shifted.

Donovan said the service was in “beta testing” now, but added that AT&T planned to “roll out trials in the first half of next year.”

The thin client-based service – as this product was referred to as by the exec – would be the next step in transitioning traditional pay TV customers to the streaming service, DirecTV Now.

It could also be used to target cord cutters in search of a more traditional TV experience, by offering access to streaming TV without requiring the installation of a satellite dish.

“This will be a more measured roll out,” Donovan said, of the new thin client-based service. “Like our introduction of WatchTV, we expect this service to be EBITDA positive. And over time, it should lower our acquisition cost of our premium video service. And both of these use the common platform we introduced with DirecTV Now,” he noted.

The device’s arrival comes at a time when AT&T’s pay TV business is in decline.

The company reported a 346,000 net loss in traditional TV customers (DirecTV and AT&T Uverse) in the quarter. However, it gained 49,000 for its streaming service, DirecTV Now, which has grown to 1.86 million subscribers.

AT&T said it would also begin evaluating its channel lineups, in order to better “align content costs with the price.” That seems to mean that AT&T may also be thinking about breaking up content into even skinnier bundles – something that Hulu says it’s doing, as well.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

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