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March 24, 2014

Report: Apple, Comcast Discussing Streaming Video Deal

comcast revolt diddy

Apple and Comcast are reportedly in talks for a deal that would allow Comcast users to access the cable provider's content via an Apple TV set-top box. But the arrangement would also include an interconnection deal intended to make sure Internet-based content does not fall prey to buffering and other delays.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, a deal is not imminent, as the interconnection bit will require "significant investments in network equipment and other back-office technology."

Ideally, a deal like this would modernize the TV experience, replacing the clunky, traditional set-top boxes with which cable customers are familiar with an interface that more closely resembles the apps and widgets found on tablets and smartphones.

It would also stream live and on-demand TV programming from the cloud. But as anyone who has ever been met with the dreaded "buffering" notice on a mobile device knows, streaming video is not always as reliable as content on your TV. As a result, Apple "wants the new TV service's traffic to be separated from public Internet traffic over the 'last mile,'" the Journal said.



March 4, 2014

Roku Reveals $50 HDMI Streaming Stick

Roku Streaming Stick HDMI

Roku stuffed its already tiny media hub into a stick no bigger than a pack of gum two years ago with the Roku Stick. It was an interesting experiment, but its MHL requirement and spotty compatibility held it back from standing on the same level as the Roku 3. Roku hops its next iteration will change that.

The company just announced a new Roku Streaming Stick in an HDMI version. Instead of using MHL, which requires a special HDMI port to send power as well as video to the device, the HDMI Roku Streaming Stick has a separate micro USB port that can connect to an HDTV's USB port or an included power adapter. This means, as long as you can plug the USB cable into something, the Streaming Stick should run on any HDTV instead of just "Roku Ready" models from certain companies.



January 22, 2014

Report: Amazon Denies Plans for Live TV Streaming

Amazon Headquarters

Amazon this week denied that it is prepping live TV programming for its online streaming service.

"We continue to build selection for Prime Instant Video and create original shows at Amazon Studios, but we are not planning to license television channels or offer a pay-TV service," the company said in a statement provided to Engadget.

The denial comes after The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon had met with three unnamed major media groups about distributing their television channels.

Recently, there were also reports that Amazon was developing a television set-top box to stream video via the Internet. Like the Roku, Apple TV, or the dongle-sized Google Chromecast, an Amazon product would allow consumers another option to stream content—like its own Amazon Video on Demand and Instant Prime Video.

Amazon did not immediately respond to request for comment.



December 31, 2013

Netflix Testing New Monthly Streaming Options

Nefflix LogoNetflix is testing two new streaming options to help fill in the gaps between its current viewing plans.

Some new members are being greeted with the option (see below) to spend $7 per month for single-screen access, or $10 each month to share content among three screens—be it a TV, smartphone, or tablet.

"At Netflix we continuously test new things. Not everyone will see this and we may not ever offer it generally," a spokesman told PCMag in an email.

Current subscribers must stick to the two-screen ($8/month) or four-screen ($12/month) arrangements.

Those prices have been in place for more than two years, since the company split its DVD-by-mail and streaming services and began charging $7.99 per month for each, or $15.98 for the package deal. Previously, the unlimited-streaming-plus-one-DVD-at-a-time plan cost $9.99 per month.

Unsurprisingly, the price hike took its toll as 800,000 angry customers dropped their service in 2011.

The backlash has since dissipated and the service regained its good standing, streaming about 5 billion hours of content during the third quarter of 2013.



October 14, 2013

Cable Deals Could Bring Netflix to Set-Top Boxes

Nefflix Logo

Netflix is reportedly in talks with cable companies to provide quick access to the company's streaming service via cable set-top boxes.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Netflix is discussing the option with firms like Comcast and Suddenlink Communications. If it goes through, cable customers could access content from Netflix from their TVs much like they would access TV shows and movies on demand.

Last month, Netflix signed an agreement with Virgin Media to bring Netflix onto a pay-TV platform for the first time. Using the Netflix app, Virgin Media TiVo customers can watch streaming content through their set-top box.

Netflix declined to comment on the report.

If Netflix did secure a deal with U.S. ISPs, it would mean cable customers would not need a smart TV or DVD player or a separate gadget - like Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast - to access Netflix streaming content.

According to the Journal, a deal between Netflix and U.S. cable firms would require those firms to sign on the company's Open Connect program. Netflix launched Open Connect in June 2012, and it serves as the video provider's very own content delivery system.



September 25, 2013

Roku Unveils New Roku 1, 2, and LT Players

RokuRoku just added three new media hubs to its lineup, which are scaled-back versions of the Editors' Choice Roku 3.

The Roku 1, Roku 2, and Roku LT are the newest media streamers from the company, though their names could be very confusing since there are previous versions that share the same names (the Roku 3 was originally named because it was the third generation of Roku media hubs).

The Roku 2 replaces the Roku 2 XD, just like the Roku 3 replaced the Roku 2 XS$74.20 at Amazon. It lacks the motion controls and games of the Roku 3 and Roku 2 XS, but it supports 1080p video playback, features dual-band Wi-Fi, and has a headphone jack built into the remote just like the Roku 3. The headphone jack was one of the most appealing additions to the Roku 3, and the Roku 2's $79.99 price tag makes it a tempting media hub.

The Roku 1 replaces the Roku HD, offering all of the same features as the Roku HD with the addition of 1080p video support. It doesn't have dual-band Wi-Fi or a headphone jack in the remote, but it has a price tag of $59.99 to make up for it.

The Roku LT replaces the previous Roku LT$49.96 at Amazon, and is primarily a cosmetic upgrade. It's still a purple, $49.99 box that can stream video at 720p, but it's smaller and lighter, with the more curved profile of the Roku 3 and upcoming Roku 2 and Roku 1 instead of the slightly blockier Roku 2-series design it previously had. While the Google Chromecast now stands as the least expensive way to stream Netflix and YouTube to your HDTV wirelessly, the Roku LT could still hold up as a versatile, affordable media streamer.

The Roku 1, Roku 2, and Roku LT are available for pre-order and will hit retail stores in October.

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August 14, 2013

Apple Acquires Shuttered TV Startup Matcha

Apple logo

Apple's latest acquisition — video-discovery firm Matcha — marks another step in the company's efforts to build an all-encompassing television experience.

Matcha.tv launched in late 2011 as an iOS application with a comprehensive overview of TV, from cable providers (Comcast), streaming video services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime), and digital video stores (iTunes, Amazon).

And while the service went offline in May, CEO Guy Piekarz promised that it wasn't gone for good; Matcha was simply moving in a new direction.

That direction just happens to be Cupertino.

Neither Apple nor Matcha immediately responded to PCMag's request for comment. But the tech giant told Venture Beat that "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."



July 9, 2013

Pandora iOS Update Includes Auto-Pause, ‘Stutter-Free’ Playback

Pandora iPhonePandora's latest iOS update includes new features like auto-pause when muted and "stutter-free" playback.

Version 4.4, launched on Monday, also includes bug fixes and "improvements to keep your music playing as it should," the company said.

According to Pandora, the update allows users to simply mute their phone to pause a song, without having to open the Pandora app and manually pause. A quick test of the feature at the PCMag offices was not able to make the auto-pause function work. A company spokeswoman, however, said that the app only pauses playback when it's apparent that the listener has left music playing while the device was muted (pictured below).

"To see the feature in action, just lower the volume all the way down to 0 and leave the device running for a few minutes," she said. "It is built for those instances when you realize you left Pandora playing only to come back to a station history full of all sorts of great music you wish you hadn't missed."



June 27, 2013

iTunes Radio Royalties Reportedly Higher Than Pandora’s

iTunes Radio WWDC 2013

Apple already hooked the big-three music labels for its new iTunes Radio service, but now it's looking to bolster its indie cred.

The company has reportedly been sharing details with independent record labels about the royalties it will pay to major labels for iTunes Radio, and those rates are more than what rival Pandora pays to stream songs on its service, the Wall Street Journal reported.

During the first year of iTunes Radio, Apple will pay 13 cents each time a song is played, plus 15 percent of net advertising revenue, according to the Journal, which reviewed Cupertino's terms. That amount gets a boost in year two, rising to 14 cents per listen, plus 19 percent of ad revenue.

Pandora, meanwhile, pays out 12 cents per listen on its Internet radio service, which currently boasts more than 70 million listeners, as well as a library of more than 100,000 different artists.

But Apple does not pay for performances of songs already in listeners' iTunes libraries or those on an album the user already owns part of. Those tracks selected for special promotions also come royalty-free, the Journal said, and Cupertino will get away without paying for songs that listeners skip in the first 20 seconds — applicable only to two songs per hour for any given user.

Apple did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment.



June 7, 2013

Report: iRadio Closer to Reality With Apple, Sony Deal

iRadio

Apple and Sony Music have reportedly inked a deal, moving Cupertino's anticipated iRadio service another step forward.

According to All Things Digital — which cited a person familiar with the companies' negotiations — this means Apple now has the support of all three major music labels, including Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group.

Don't expect to start tuning into iRadio just yet, though. Cupertino still needs to snag the support of Sony/ATV, Sony's music publishing department, ATD said.

Neither Apple nor Sony Music Entertainment immediately responded to PCMag's request for comment.

Excited iFanatics may want to keep an eye on next week's Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, where details about the aptly named iRadio service could surface. ATD described the service as "an enhanced version of Pandora" with more control over songs, but not as full-featured as something like Spotify.