Thanks to a winning combination of solid performance, lots of content, and affordable prices, Roku streaming media players have become a favorite choice of many staffers at Consumer Reports—including me. That's why we were especially interested in taking a first look at the company's newest model, the $100 Roku 3, which replaces the Roku 2 XS at the top of the company's lineup.
If you were bummed when Netflix split its hybrid streaming/disc-by-mail service into two separate (and higher-priced) offerings, here's something you may like: Redbox Instant, which combines unlimited streaming with one-day disc rentals via kiosks. I gave Redbox Instant a spin when it was in a private beta and required an access code to register; yesterday the service had a soft launch, so you can now get your own one-month free trial.
If you've ever wondered why Netflix movies look better at your friend's house than in your own living room, Netflix has launched a new website that compares Internet speeds from various broadband providers.
Facebook today announced a number of changes to its News Feed, the continually updating stream of stories that appears on subscribers' home pages. " We've completely rebuilt each story to be much more vibrant and colorful and highlight the content that your friends are sharing," the company said in a press release.
Despite the appreciation for standalone, client-based e-mail programs professed by Jeff Fox, Consumer Reports' Technology Editor (and I do use such programs myself), there are a few good reasons to use webmail—browser-based e-mail services such as Gmail and Hotmail— in lieu of or at least alongside a resident e-mail program.
Web-based e-mail—webmail—is e-mail, such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo, that's implemented as a Web app and accessed through a browser. These services are usually free, and it's a rare computer user who doesn't have at least one active webmail account. But I restrict my use of webmail because of security and privacy concerns. (Dean Gallea, a senior program leader at Consumer Reports, takes the opposite view; see his counterpoint argument, "5 Reasons to Use Webmail.")
Looking to turn a plain-Jane television into an Internet TV? The new Roku 3 flagship streamer ($100) has an updated user interface that should make finding movies and TV shows easier, plus a new motion-sensing remote control with a built-in headphone jack for private listening. And the device's more powerful processor will provide faster browsing and navigation, the company claims.
Last week the content-creating industry launched a new effort aimed at preventing copyright infringement: the Copyright Alert System—CAS, also called "six strikes." It's a warning system intended to curb illegal downloads of music, movies, and other content by consumers over peer-to-peer networks. Instead of imposing heavy fines or arresting egregious downloaders, ISPs will warn them (up to six times), attempt to educate them, and then take corrective measures.
Leveraging an asset—a Hollywood movie studio—that competitors like LG and Samsung must envy, Sony is planning a summer launch of a new distribution system that will allow Ultra HD TV owners to download 4K movies to a new streamlined media player.
If you're a fan of "Cupcake Wars," House Hunters," or "Bizarre Foods," you'll be interested in today's Amazon news: The company has announced a deal to carry shows from Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Food Network, HGTV, and Travel Channel.
Given that millions of consumers choose to use prepaid wireless plans for their phones, is it that much of a stretch to think the prepaid model will work for home Internet access? That's what Comcast is trying to figure out with its new Xfinity Prepaid service.
Western Digital, one of the few companies to offer a streaming-media player with a built-in hard drive (the WD TV Live Hub), is taking a different approach with its new entry-level model, the WD TV Play. Given its hockey-puck design, $70 price tag, and selection of streaming content, the WD TV Play seems to be targeting those who might otherwise be considering a Roku.
Google TV, which just a year ago looked like it was on life support, seems to be gaining some converts here at CES: Both Netgear and Asus announced new streaming-media players that use that platform to delivers video, apps, and other Web-based services.
You have to give Google TV credit—it isn't a quitter. Despite the lackluster reception of the first Google TV–powered products back in 2010, the company has refused to throw in the towel. Instead it has regularly revamped its software to address some glaring issues, such as its initial inability to access Google's own Android marketplace (since rechristened Google Play).
Boxee TV, the new streaming media player that offers a cloud-based DVR service for subscribers, is now available. But you can only get it at Walmart stores, walmart.com, or directly from the Boxee.tv for the remainder of the holiday season.
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