One statement I made early in this blog, was that I would not endorse or indict any purely commercial products. I am sorry to say that right now, I feel the need to break my promise to some degree.

I just bought myself a ‘Roku’ – and when we say that word, we are supposed to roll the ‘R’. In order not to praise this little gadget too much, I will try to hold it short on this subject.

A Roku is an Internet-TV device, similar to Apple TV. We connect it to a digital TV via HDMI cable, and also connect it to the Internet, and then we can watch movies on it in 1080p, that are being streamed to us over the Internet. It has the option of an Ethernet connection, but also has a blazing-fast 802.11ac WiFi capability.

One advantage it has over Apple TV, is that it is multi-sourced. It allows us to subscribe to a plethora of channels, each of which is being sold by an independent group of entrepreneurs.

One channel in its list that is important – to the success of Roku – is ‘Netflix’. The first thing I did when I set it up, was to activate the Netflix account I already hold. And at that point something happened which was unusual for me. I started a Netflix movie, which I usually only use to set up laptops and other configurations, but then became absorbed into the movie! I mean, I would have the ability to watch this same movie on numerous other devices, but never really got into the mood to do so. But then, to be able to watch the same movie on my big living-room TV, put me in the mood.

And I would say, that this is a major selling-point for the Roku, especially for Linux-people like me. It often happens to us that we can only watch content in reduced resolution. For example, if we watch Netflix on a Linux-based Chrome browser, I think we are limited to 720p. So to have that access to 1080p may mean something tom certain audiences.

On that note, the movie I just finished watching – “Ex-Machina” was also intended as a test, to see whether my current Internet configuration can support the bit-rate. But since I also just received a new Modem, capable of 802.11ac speeds, the answer was a clear Yes for me. I was expecting a lot of troubling spots within the movie – hesitations and hangs. But in truth, there was only a single stutter, when a buffering-symbol appeared for a few seconds, because just at that moment, my speed did not keep up. But for the most part the playback was good.

Another note about this device would be, that one channel we can link, is our ‘CinemaNow’ channel. The way this works for the most part, we need to have a Netflix subscription, in order to link that to Roku. Likewise, we need to have a CinemaNow subscription, in order to link that as well.

CinemaNow is a service which allows us to buy movie-licenses online, to add those to a collection and view them. But unless I am mistaken, I think that our CinemaNow account will also show all our ‘Ultraviolet’ licenses. This could mean that if somebody out there has a large Ultraviolet collection, he should be able to collect those into his CinemaNow account, and then watch them on Roku in 1080p! Please do not be angry with me, if I got this wrong.

I have yet to link my own CinemaNow account, because my phone is charging right at this instant. The way it works, we control our master-account – if you will – from a PC-Web-browser. But then in order to browse the Channel Store, the recommended thing to do is to download either the Android or the iOS app, and to browse that from our mobile device. We set up a PIN number to restrict what we can buy from our mobile devices.

When my phone has finished charging, I think the next thing I will do is link my CinemaNow account.

There is one word of caution which I must add however. Much of what Roku customers get to see, is based on having paid subscriptions of one sort or another. What we get to see purely for free, is somewhat limited. We can watch “Sky News”. But I do not know how enthusiastic most people would be about Sky News. ;) Sorry. Now I have not only endorsed the product, but cast an aspersion on it as well…


(Edit : ) I have just linked my CinemaNow account to my Roku device, and doing so worked like a charm. Mind you, my own Ultraviolet collection is small, but all my movies are there!

In order not to hurt any brand-names, I should also add, that the Roku device itself can go up to 4K resolution – if the content is available. But I, personally, just do not have a 4K TV to benefit from that.

And, I hear that CinemaNow also offers some free content. but I think that the free content by itself is also not the main attraction for CinemaNow.

Further, if the reader does not think much of Sky News, there is a better alternative: ‘Reuters TV’, and it is free.

And, we can link our ‘Google Play Movies & TV’ as an additional channel, but granted, this assumes we have purchased content from that source. I have not.

(Edit 02/12/2017 : ) I have discovered that for some reason, our Ultraviolet collection on CinemaNow will not play. I get to see my full collection, but if I click on any one movie to play it, I get a message-box which says: “The selected content is currently unavailable. Please try again later.” :(


Instant Article versus AMP Showdown Looms.

There seems to be a development on the horizon, which has not hit the front pages yet, but which I think will become a major topic in the near future.

Facebook has announced that it is releasing a “WordPress” plugin, which will allow the creation of “Instant Article” articles, basically on a WYSIWYG basis. This could potentially become big. It should not be forgotten, that Google has a competing software product named “Accelerated Mobile Pages”, or ‘AMP’. This recent news about the WP-plugin, made me aware for the first time that both products exist.

Apparently, the way Facebook Instant Article works, is that the XML which usually makes up an RSS feed, has extended functionality. It would still get fetched from the server via HTTP 2.0 , but should give a better user experience to the owners of smart-phones, who have found for a long time that regular Web-browsing is still awkward from any type of phone. Granted, there do exist Web-browsers that are meant to optimize the layout of text dynamically, as well as versions of many sites that are optimized for phones, but apparently, this all still leaves users wanting.

And so Instant Article XML cannot really be said to be an enhanced type of XML, because the nature of XML is already stated in the acronym: ‘Extensible markup language’. In general, XML may contain definitions of custom tags, followed by actual content that uses these tags. This exists alongside a certain usage of XML, in which the tags are merely defined by a specific application, which uses a similar format to store data.

But Instant Article intends to be XML which contains tags, which some other XML would not contain. And while any advanced browser capable of subscribing to an RSS feed might also be able to view Instant Articles, the main advantage of this format is supposed to be, that it will adapt itself to easier viewing on smart-phones specifically. AFAIK, Facebook is also going to rely on its iPhone and Android apps, to display the Instant Articles in ways that require platform-specific implementation of the XML. Specifically, if the navigation of content is supposed to be possible ‘by tilting the phone’, then this goes beyond what XML tags can do, that are defined entirely in XML.

The Google product ‘AMP’ is supposedly not based on XML, nor on RSS feeds, but rather on HTML, which has added tags, which the browser can interpret due to a JavaScript library. This could be seen as homologous to how ‘JQuery’ can be understood by most browsers, because they are also able to download JavaScript libraries and work with those. But AMP is also designed to adapt itself to the type of browser dynamically, as well as to the size of each display, and give a better user experience than plain-old HTML does.

One aspect which both these products seem to sport, is the intention of providing greater content by way of images and video, and less by way of text. And this is one reason for which private hosting may not play any great role in this area in the near future. For the reader to be fetching this blog from my server, for instance, the browser is only needed to fetch a few kilobytes of data. With images that can turn into megabytes, and with HQ video that can turn into gigabytes.

I would not pretend to have the bandwidth needed, to stream video directly to the readers of my blog. And so there may also be little point, for me to look into ‘Instant Article’ or ‘AMP’ authoring for now.

And yet, the dominance of one of these platforms, or both, is likely to be determined on the basis of authoring, as well as on the basis of hosting / streaming. AFAIK, ‘AMP’ still needs to be coded in a somewhat difficult way, by the content authors. The fact that Facebook is releasing a WordPress plugin means, that affiliated publishers will also be able to create content more fluidly than before. And, the hosting service is likely ‘to have dibs’, before the open source version is released next month, even if users would like to get in on the game.

And so it would seem that the pressure is on Google for the moment. But I’m sure that Google will do what the competition does, which will be to offer something in response.

With Instant Article, the source is to be streamed by way of Facebook itself. With ‘AMP’, Google has already made its Cloud Platform available, to act as an additional component to the system, acting as the ‘AMP-Cache’, by which perhaps a less-restricted set of authors will be able to make content available.

And either way, I think that the usage scenario will be, that more in the spirit of how television used to work, viewers will be able to select their content, by tuning in to a specific feed they’re interested in, maybe to get up-to-date information.

For the past 20 years or so of the WWW,  HTML has dominated the scene. I see this development as a potentially valid form of progress, especially since it does not seem to be providing a monopoly to the providers. I welcome ‘AMP’ and ‘Instant Article’ content to my phone.

As far as my personal blog is concerned, while I cannot stream, I also have a solution. I can upload a video I would like people to see to YouTube, and can drag-and-drop the YouTube links into my blogs. Here, they would form URLs that seem to play as if embedded into my blog entry, while truly being streamed from the Google / YouTube server. For my purposes this should be good enough, since I also do not produce a lot of video footage, which would truly fascinate my blog readers.

And yet in comparison, I also appreciate the fact that there is no regulatory system in place, which would tell me that I cannot use HTML and PHP in this way. And therefore, I also appreciate that the extended usage of XML and JS-libraries, seems to be opening up new possibilities.

Only, I don’t think that many viewers are aware of this yet, since in many cases ‘Instant Article’ and ‘AMP’ are already providing content, in ways that do not need to announce their presence, while working on our phones.