10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Roku

Your Roku isn’t just for streaming hours and hours of Netflix entertainment. Did you know that you can also use it to watch YouTube videos, check your Google Voice account and keep Mom happy? Check out all the details in our list of ten helpful tips & tricks every Roku owner should know about:

1. Get YouTube

Roku ships its media players without a YouTube channel, but there’s an easy way to get your YouTube fix on these boxes: Simply go to Roku.com and add it as a private channel (channel code B8VVK). Don’t know how to do that? Then read on for tip two.

2. Get other third-party channels

You guessed it: There are plenty of other private channels aside from YouTube available for Roku. Some of them are more experimental, while others don’t quite fit with the content officially available on Roku. Case in point: A few companies make premium adult material (read: porn) available through private channels. Others have hacked a screensaver displaying your Twitter feed, a Woot channel and a channel that gives you access to all the podcasts listed on iTunes. Check out the two lists maintained on Roku-Channels.com as well as the Roku Yahoo Group to see what’s available.

Once one of the private channels has caught your interest, subscribe to it the following way: Go to Roku.com, log into your account (or sign up if you don’t have one yet, after which you’ll also need to register your device). Go to the Add Private Channel option, add the channel’s five letter code and click on Add Channel. The site will now tell you that your newly added channel will appear “within 24 hours,” but in most cases, it’s easy to get access right away: Just fire up your Roku box, enter the Channel Store, wait until everything loads, and then exit the channel store again. Scroll through your channels, and there it is: Your new private channel.

3. Connect your hard drive

Roku’s XDS player features a USB port, and it can play content from both Flash and hard drives. Roku is slated to launch its official USB channel as early as next month. Until then, you’ll have to rely on a private channel (channel code KGULU). Results with this channel have been mixed, but things will hopefully improve once USB support is officially enabled.

4. Play content from your local network

Luckily, USB drives aren’t the only way to access local media. There are also a number of channels available that make it possible to stream videos and play music as well as photo slideshows straight from any computer in your network. One of the easiest approaches is Chaneru, which works in conjunction with software you install on your Windows PC or Mac. Chaneru automatically scans your iTunes library for music and even allows you protect certain folders with a pin number. Chaneru offers users a 30 day trial period, after which you’re charged reasonable $10. Chaneru can be found in the Roku App Store under Photos & Video.

Want more control over the way files are appearing on your Roku? Then take a look at Roksbox, which utilizes a web server on your computer to access local media. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually really simple, especially if you’re on a Mac. Just open your System Preferences > Sharing and enable Web Sharing. Now install the private Roksbox channel on your Roku (channel code P1KWQ). Roksbox offers a bunch of additional features to organize your media and display additional information about your videos and music files — so if you’re a serious data hoarder, take a look at this one.

5. Convert your videos for the Roku

Roku only plays a limited number of video formats out of the box, which means you may have to convert some of your media before playing it via USB drive or over your local network. The player is limited to MP4 and MOV files, but doesn’t play DivX, Xvid and similar formats. That means that videos you recorded yourself with your Flip camera will work just fine, and you won’t have any trouble with podcasts downloaded via iTunes. However, some of your other downloaded media may require converting in order to optimize it for your Roku. There’s a number of tools available online to convert video files, but people on the Roku forums swear by Handbrake, and Roksbox has helpfully listed all the necessary settings on its site.

6. Watch live TV via Roku

Want to watch something that’s going on right now? Then install the Ustream channel (add it as a private channel with the channel code IN4DN), and you’ll have access to sports events, live concerts, CBS News and countless other live streams. Check out the Ustream blog for highlights.

7. Control your Roku with your cell phone

Don’t like to clutter your couch table with tons of remote controls? Then simply get a Roku remote control app for your cell phone. There are a number of free as well as paid apps available for iOS as well as Android devices. Personally, I use the free RoMote on Android, and it does the job just fine.

8. Play your music from the cloud

Here’s another way to get media onto your Roku: Simply upload your MP3s and video files at MP3Tunes.com and then install the MP3Tunes Roku channel (in the channel store under Music) to stream straight from MP3Tunes’ servers. MP3Tunes currently offers free 2GB accounts, and you can upgrade to a 50GB account for $4.95 per month. The company also occasionally invites users to free 10GB accounts, and everyone signing up via Roku is automatically entered to receive the free upgrade.

9. Send your family photos to your Mom’s Roku

Let’s say you give your Mom a Roku for the holidays. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could automatically update it with content so she can always see new family photos? Well, guess what: You can, thanks to a clever combination of Dropbox and Roksbox. Just install the Roksbox channel on her Roku as well as a Dropbox app on her PC. Then share a folder via Dropbox with her — and now every time you drag a photo into that shared folder in your local computer, it’s available on her Roku. Roskbox has all the details on its site.

10. Check Google Voice

This would be very cool, if it worked: A developer came up with a way to check your Google Voice account via Roku. I haven’t been able to log in, unfortunately, and others in the Roku forum report similar issues. However, it seems to be working for some, so it may be worth a try (channel code NXFBW).

Have some Roku tips of your own? Share them with us in the comments, or check out the following episode of our weekly Cord Cutters show to see whether it’s worth to subscribe to Hulu Plus on Roku:

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20% of All Peak Traffic Due to 3.5M Netflix Data Hogs?

Just how many Netflix subscribers does it take to clog a broadband provider’s pipes? It’s probably less than you think, if you believe one analyst’s estimates for the number of Netflix streaming users that already make up 20 percent of all U.S. Internet peak data traffic.

Earlier this year, network management vendor Sandvine issued a report with the shocking revelation that about 20 percent of all data traffic during the peak hours of 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. was due to Netflix streaming. Well, in light of the ongoing dispute between Comcast and Level 3 over the costs of Netflix traffic being sent to the cable network’s subscribers, BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield decided to do a little back-of-the-envelope math to determine how many Netflix users were probably streaming during peak hours.

Greenfield’s math starts with the assumption that approximately 6-7 percent of broadband users were streaming Netflix content during peak hours and that about 70 percent of broadband users, or 56 million, use their Internet connections during peak hours. From there, he estimates the number of Netflix subscribers streaming during that time — 3.5 million — which is roughly one-third of Netflix users who stream content, and only one-fifth of its total subscriber base of 16.9 million. If true, that’s an astonishingly small number of users driving an incredibly large amount of broadband traffic.

The implications for broadband providers are huge, especially since it seems like Netflix is just getting started. About 66 percent of Netflix subscribers now use its streaming service: a number which has grown from 41 percent a year earlier. Its users now watch more video hours of streamed content than they do hours of DVD rentals, and these numbers will continue to grow, especially as Netflix adds subscribers as part of its new, lower-priced streaming-only plan. The amount of data attributed to Netflix will also increase as more consumers buy and connect new TVs, Blu-ray players and other devices to the Internet for streaming and begin watching full-length movies and other content on them.

It’s no wonder Comcast isn’t thrilled about the amount of Netflix traffic crossing its networks, and not terribly surprising it might want to be compensated for the imbalance. Comcast has resisted the urge to charge its end users for the increase in their bandwidth usage, saying it has no plans for usage-based pricing and keeping a 250GB usage cap in place instead. Getting compensated for interconnection fees may be one way it can deliver content to the end user, without drastically raising their bandwidth bills.

Photo courtesy of Jim Champion.

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Studios Fear Netflix Will Kill Cable VOD

Getting a DVR from your cable company? Then don’t expect Netflix to run on it, even if it’s capable of doing so. TiVo boxes supplied by cable TV provider Suddenlink are stripped of their Netflix functionality, Light Reading reported this week.

However, the culprit isn’t the cable company, for once. Suddenlink says it would love to rent out TiVo DVRs with Netflix to its customers, but Netflix’s contracts with the studios don’t allow it to do so. Netflix has since confirmed the story, saying its licensing agreements don’t extend to devices supplied by pay TV providers.

These types of restrictions add an interesting twist to the ongoing love-hate relationship between the studios and Netflix. The subscription video company and its booming streaming service has been blamed for everything from declining DVD sales to cord cutting in recent months. Looks like it’s time to add endangering VOD to that list.

It’s not hard to see why Hollywood is concerned; cable VOD has become a massive cash cow for the industry. Consumers are expected to spend $1.2 billion this year on VOD offerings provided by pay TV services, and studios want to increase that income through premium offerings and shorter windows. The plan is to offer new releases just 30 days after their theatrical release for $20 to $30 a pop straight through your cable box.

Of course, that proposition could look a lot less desirable if movies from Netflix were available on the same device for free. Granted, Netflix can’t quite compete yet with the films Hollywood wants to sell you for more than what a movie ticket would cost. However, the company has been busy striking deals with content owners to get access to premium content faster.

Earlier this year, it signed a deal with Relativity Media to get movies exclusively that otherwise would have gone to pay TV. This fall, it secured the right to show episodes of Saturday Night Live the day after they air on TV. And Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has reportedly offered as much as $100,000 per episode to get access to new TV content.

All this seems to make Hollywood nervous. The studios are willing to license some of their content to Netflix, provided that the price is right, but they’re not willing to give up on existing revenue streams like VOD — so don’t expect Netflix to pop up on your cable DVR anytime soon.

It’s unclear what these restrictions will mean for TiVo. The DVR maker has been losing subscribers by the hundreds of thousands, but hoped to make up for some of these losses by striking deals with cable TV providers like Suddenlink and RCN. Customers may feel less inclined to sign up for a TiVo DVR through their cable company if it doesn’t offer all the features a retail version does — but then again, it’s not like cable companies offer lots of different devices to choose from.

However, locking Netflix out of DVRs provided by cable companies could possibly spell trouble for a number of other innovative approaches for combining online video with linear cable programming. For example, cloud solutions provider Clearleap announced earlier this year that it integrated linear programming with Roku boxes. That sounds good on paper, but it’s hard to imagine any cable company shipping Roku boxes if the devices don’t offer Netflix.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Hoggarazzi.

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When All Content Is Personalized, Who Needs TV Networks?

The world has been a-buzz with news focused on making the next-generation of viewing experiences more personalized. But recent moves by companies like Netflix, Facebook and Comcast could sap some of the power of media companies that create today’s TV programming.

Over the last week, we’ve seen:

In all these cases, one thing is clear: The world is gradually moving toward on-demand viewing based on personalized recommendations. But in a world where viewers choose what to watch based on their own personal interests, what happens to the gatekeepers who previously had toiled to make sure people tuned in to a certain show at a certain time?

We’re already seeing the erosion of programmers’ influence in the way viewers watch TV through DVRs and online, with some shows getting nearly 40 percent of their viewers after a show airs. More than 5.5 million viewers of ABC hit Modern Family, for instance, watch the show on-demand or on their DVRs. It’s not as important today that a show has a particular time slot when so many of its viewers aren’t actually watching it live.

Personalizing recommendations, and allowing for new means of content discovery, takes that one step further. When content is discovered, through recommendation engines or by other means, it doesn’t matter to the user who made the show, what channel it’s on, or even whether it’s new or not. Perhaps the best example of this comes from Netflix’s recommendations engine: its streaming service doesn’t thrive because it offers users the hottest new releases, but because it consistently serves up content that is relevant to the user.

For users, the result is a steady stream of new and fresh content, and also content that’s more relevant and engaging than what one might find by purely channel surfing. And for content creators — especially independent content creators — personalized recommendations serve as a way to level the playing field. No longer does it matter whether a show appeared on broadcast, cable or online; the only factor that matters is whether or not a user might be inclined to watch it.

But for programmers — especially those at big media companies — the democratization and personalization of content is a direct threat to their business models. The ability to program a show lineup becomes less important when lead-ins are out of the control of the network. When a fan of a show like the U.S. version of The Office is recommended episodes of British comedy The IT Crowd, it takes away NBC’s ability to control and aggregate audiences in a way that’s necessary for the ad dollars it depends on.

So what’s the future of network programming, and how do media companies reach an audience that isn’t tuning in to a certain channel at a certain time? How do they get audiences to watch their shows, when an algorithm is in control of the recommendations?

In a personalized world, there will be more emphasis on quality of content, certainly, and niche content and the long tail will have its time to shine. But there will also be a place for sponsored placement, of the sort we already see on YouTube, for catching the user’s eye. The question is if that kind of placement will be enough to capture new audiences that otherwise might not tune in.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kiersten Balukas.

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PHOTOS: The 10 Best Dressed Republicans Of 2010

Whatever your political persuasion, there's no doubting that there are style stars on both sides of America's great political divide. And for Republicans in offices both large and small, sharply tailored, classic clothing imbued with modern styling is what makes the difference between those who stand out and those who blend in. Herein, ten members of the Grand Old Party who make dressing well as important as toeing the party line.

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Vid-Biz: Comcast NBC, comScore Video Metrix, Cablevision

Comcast/NBCU: No Basis For Online Conditions; if there were any doubt that the FCC is considering putting online conditions on the Comcast/NBCU merger, Comcast ended it today in an exparte filing. (Broadcasting & Cable)

Facebook, Hulu Lost Video Viewers In November; new stats from comScore indicate that both companies failed to match past performances last month, with Facebook losing a spot on a top ten list and Hulu falling off it. (WebProNews)

Cablevision Board Approves Rainbow Spinoff; after little less than a month of consideration, Cablevision’s board has decided to spin-off its Rainbow programming unit as a separate company. (paidContent)

Netflix Using Oprah’s Support to Drive Subscription Gifting; the savvy marketing team at Netflix has been able to leverage Oprah’s vote of support into a highly visible gift giving strategy. (BTIG Research)

Tribune Media Services Acquires CastTV; TMS customers will now have access to all the metadata necessary to create entertainment-discovery guides directing consumers to programs available on linear, on-demand and online video platforms. (press release)

Cable Penetration Hits 21-Year Low; according to Nielsen data, cable penetration represented 60.7 percent of households in November, down from 61.7 percent in November 2009. (TV News Check)

Major League Gaming Utilizes Brightcove for New MLG.tv; the largest video game league in the world chose Brightcove to support the launch of its new video portal. (press release)

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Metacafe CEO: Hulu to Abandon IPO, Get Bought By Comcast

Mark this up as just one person’s crazy prediction, but it’s interesting nonetheless: Metacafe CEO Erick Hachenburg thinks Hulu will abandon its much-anticipated IPO plans, and will be acquired by Comcast instead. That forecast is from a video that Hachenburg posted — where else? — on Metacafe Wednesday, and strikes us as an outcome that is not likely to come true.

Most of what Hachenburg thinks will come to pass is pretty boring — YouTube will be the top video ad network, advertisers will realize young people aren’t watching TV, etc. — but somewhere along the line he comes up with this:

“Everyone’s talking about Hulu’s IPO next year, but I think the big news next year is that Hulu is going to abort its IPO. The reason it’s going to abort is that you have three networks that are all going to have different interests in mind, and you have Comcast entering the space. The likely outcome is Comcast is going to buy Hulu before the IPO happens.”

While we agree Hulu has a potentially complicated future ahead — and could, in fact, pass on an IPO — the suggestion that Comcast would purchase Hulu seems a bit problematic, for a number of reasons. For one thing, Comcast is fighting against regulatory scrutiny of its plan to merge its cable networks with NBC Universal.

Some critics of the deal have questioned the effect that a Comcast-NBC combination would have on the future of online video, and some have even suggested that certain restrictions are placed on Comcast before the deal is allowed to go through. That could include NBC having to give up its stake in Hulu, for instance, or requiring the new entity to ensure its content will be available online to competing pay TV operators. The last thing Comcast wants to do right now is rock the boat or appear to have too much of an interest in controlling the emerging online video ecosystem.

As for Hulu’s IPO: It’s clear the online video company has ambitions to go public, but those plans will be dependent in part on its ability to strike deals with its broadcast content partners, who just happen to also be its major stakeholders. According to reports, Hulu’s broadcast content deals end next year, so its independence will rely on locking down their content for some time. But as Hachenberg alludes, NBC, Fox and ABC all have differing opinions on the value of Hulu and their own plans for their content going forward.

Hulu has declined comment, with a spokesperson saying the company doesn’t talk about its capital plans. Comcast, meanwhile, couldn’t be reached. As for Hachenburg, we’ve reached out for more context for why he thinks Hulu will be acquired by Comcast, and will update this post when we hear back.

Updated: And here’s Hachenburg’s response for clarification:

“The core issue is that Hulu is first and foremost about free TV, while Comcast is the single largest advocate of pay TV – as illustrated by its commitment to its TV Everywhere initiative (Xfinity). With the NBC Universal acquisition, Comcast is now an owner of the leading free TV provider in the market. It’s hard to imagine that Comcast would have entered the Hulu joint venture at its inception, but this is now where they find themselves. So they’ll need an elegant solution – such as buying Hulu outright – to put the issue to bed.

Additionally, the reality is the three broadcast TV networks behind Hulu have been surprised by Hulu’s success and now face the prospect of being long-term partners with their rival networks. If Hulu become beholden to its public shareholders, the networks would lose much of their control – which has to be scary for them.

Of course, Hulu does have a single private investor, who most likely would like to see an exit path for Hulu. A Comcast buyout is a win-win-win.”

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