blc
Posts: 465
Joined: Mon Sep 05, 2011 9:28 am

Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 10:30 am

Has anyone else heard about these little boxes of joy?

Sky have released a re-branded Roku LT with custom software for £10. £10!

By default it will only access content from Now TV, which is basically either Sky Movies or Sky Sports (with a monthly subscription of course!), and a couple of streaming "catch up" services like iPlayer & 4OD. The "app store" is a heavily cut-down version of the Roku app store, and doesn't offer all of the normal Roku apps. And no, it doesn't have Netflix.

But what it does have is a developer mode to let you install source-based applications. Applications such as the Plex client for Roku :D (before you ask, yes there is a Netflix plugin for Plex, but I - and many others - can't get it working in the UK, and even the US version is apparently quite flaky).

I cannot get over how awesome this little box is; I've really been blown away by it. Of course I've hacked on non-standard software on to it, and it's closed, locked down proprietary stuff, but how could I resist: it's a box capable of playing up to 720p streaming video for £10 - including delivery and an HDMI cable. It only really comes to life if you have a proper PC running Plex Media Server, but if you can scavenge (or beg; or borrow; etc!) enough hardware to pull a spare Core2Duo machine together then it is totally worth it (I had the aforementioned spare machine anyway).

Not to denigrate the Pi in any way - the Pi can also function as a dedicated Plex client, play videos directly, and do so much more than just play videos - but I've truly been bowled over by this thing! So much so that I'm considering importing one of its bigger brothers, either the Roku 3 or the Roku 2 XD, from the US. My partner and I use Netflix a lot, so having something that can play Netflix content - without having to use a hack that could stop working any time that Netflix decide they need to change a single bit in their data stream - with a proper 10-foot user interface would be fantastic. I haven't found anything that does this so far; the best I've come up with is using a browser with a keyboard and mouse on my TV. It works, but it's an ugly kludge.

The ideal scenario is that someone figures out how to replace the "Now TV" firmware with the Roku LT firmware.

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LemmeFatale
Posts: 253
Joined: Fri Feb 01, 2013 8:47 pm
Location: UK

Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 11:44 am

blc wrote:Has anyone else heard about these little boxes of joy?
I hadn't, I must admit!
But what it does have is a developer mode to let you install source-based applications. Applications such as the Plex client for Roku :D (before you ask, yes there is a Netflix plugin for Plex, but I - and many others - can't get it working in the UK, and even the US version is apparently quite flaky).
How easy is this?
So much so that I'm considering importing one of its bigger brothers, either the Roku 3 or the Roku 2 XD, from the US.
Just curious, is there some particular advantage to these models, as opposed to the ones released in the UK last year? :?:
Classic - Raspberry Pi Model B (512MB) with Motorola Atrix Lapdock
Lemcon-One - Raspberry Pi Model B (256MB) PiMAME TV-Box

blc
Posts: 465
Joined: Mon Sep 05, 2011 9:28 am

Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:05 pm

LemmeFatale wrote:How easy is this?
There's a few keystrokes on the remote to enable Developer Mode and then the box will reboot. Once it's rebooted, you can open a web-browser on any OS (I managed it with an ARM chromebook) and point it at the IP assigned to the Now TV Box; there's a web-based interface for uploading apps to it. I can't link to the thread at work (as 90% of forums are blocked), but there's a thread on the Plex forums with a zipped version of the Plex client that can be uploaded using the web interface - it also has the combination of key-presses needed to enable developer mode. I'll link to it when I get home, but a quick google should find it easily enough.
LemmeFatale wrote:Just curious, is there some particular advantage to these models, as opposed to the ones released in the UK last year? :?:
Cost! :)

The Roku XD is also available in the UK at around £80-£100 (£80 on Amazon, anywhere between £80 and £100 on the high street), but it's available from the US Amazon site at $79.99; even with shipping and import taxes it still works out slightly cheaper than the UK - at least it did when I looked at it the other evening... Apparently it makes no difference to the content available if you use an imported model; if you set the country to UK when you register it then you'll get access to the UK content.

The Roku 3 is currently selling for $100 on Amazon US, and it's not officially available in the UK at all; It may never be released over here, now that the Now TV Box is out (Sky invested heavily in Roku - hence why they are able to rebadge a Roku LT as their own product). The main advantage I can see to the Roku 3 over the XD is that the Roku 3 has faster WiFi (though I think they both have ethernet also...) and a remote with a headphone socket (apparently this uses WiFi Direct....whatever that is...:?: ). Having a headphone socket on the remote is a neat idea: I'm often up late watching films when the other half has gone to bed and stringing a 3.5mm extension cord across the room is awkward!

The other model about is the Roku LT (about £35 over here, $50 in the US), but that only does 720p and is what the Now TV is based on in the first place :).

drgeoff
Posts: 9759
Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2012 6:39 pm

Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:49 pm

Yes I've had a NOW TV box for just over a week.

It uses the same CPU/GPU as the RPi but the firmware only supports 60Hz field rate. That has two potential drawbacks.

1. Although most, perhaps even all HDMI equipped TVs can handle 60Hz, if you want to use the composite video out to an older TV you will discover that the signal is NTSC not PAL. Many older TVs will display colour when fed PAL60 but only black and white when fed NTSC.

2. Even if your TV is OK with 60 Hz video, much of the content from the NOW TV box was shot at 50 Hz. Motion, especially panning shots and scrolling credits, is not smooth.

An HDMI connected display must support HDCP, else you get a purple screen where you should see video. (Yes there is Macrovision on the analogue video out too.)

AFAIK the NOW TV box (and the Roku LT from which it is derived) do not support MPEG-2 video decoding.

The NOW TV box does not have the full set of channels available in the Roku channel store.

The NOW TV box (even with the PLEX app sideloaded) is unable to play content from UPnP/DLNA media servers.

There is no guarantee that Sky will not remove (via a firmware upgrade) the "developer mode" needed to install PLEX.

So yes, a nice little ready to use box for £10* but not as flexible as an RPi.

(* It is possible to use the box for free services such as BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 without spending any more than the initial £10. You don't need a Movie sub or Sports pass to get the box online.)

blc
Posts: 465
Joined: Mon Sep 05, 2011 9:28 am

Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 1:47 pm

drgeoff wrote:It uses the same CPU/GPU as the RPi
Was that actually confirmed? I know there are teardown photos of it and it was speculated that it was the same Broadcom chip, but I don't see how they can confirm that from looking at a BGA package-on-package when the only spec you're seeing is on the memory chip... Granted, it probably is the BCM2835, but I don't know if anyone has actually confirmed that.
drgeoff wrote:but the firmware only supports 60Hz field rate. That has two potential drawbacks.

1. Although most, perhaps even all HDMI equipped TVs can handle 60Hz, if you want to use the composite video out to an older TV you will discover that the signal is NTSC not PAL. Many older TVs will display colour when fed PAL60 but only black and white when fed NTSC.

2. Even if your TV is OK with 60 Hz video, much of the content from the NOW TV box was shot at 50 Hz. Motion, especially panning shots and scrolling credits, is not smooth.

An HDMI connected display must support HDCP, else you get a purple screen where you should see video. (Yes there is Macrovision on the analogue video out too.)
The Now TV does not have composite video; it's HDMI or nothing. The Roku models it's based on do have composite, but that's been stripped out of the Now TV implementation (presumably to slim down the BOM and reduce cost).

Just bear in mind that these are designed to stream content to a TV, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a commercial TV with a HDMI socket that doesn't support HDCP. Plus, not even 24p bluray displayed at 24p is "smooth" - you still get tearing and judder in panning shots. You can largely blame the "movie industry" sticking to an antiquated framerate for that...
drgeoff wrote:AFAIK the NOW TV box (and the Roku LT from which it is derived) do not support MPEG-2 video decoding.
Nope, but Plex Media Server can transcode to a compatible format.
drgeoff wrote:The NOW TV box does not have the full set of channels available in the Roku channel store.
I know, I said that :)
blc wrote:The "app store" is a heavily cut-down version of the Roku app store, and doesn't offer all of the normal Roku apps.
drgeoff wrote:The NOW TV box (even with the PLEX app sideloaded) is unable to play content from UPnP/DLNA media servers.
That's not a loss for me, to be honest. I have a UPnP/DLNA media client built in to my TV and even if the interface was better, it still doesn't offer half the features that Plex Media Server does (metadata, thumbnails, background theme music, etc). PMS is just a nicer experience, as is XBMC.
drgeoff wrote:There is no guarantee that Sky will not remove (via a firmware upgrade) the "developer mode" needed to install PLEX.
Indeed, but at a tenner I was willing to take a punt on developer mode being disabled by the time I got it! :). Developer mode, from what I understand, is a pretty standard feature of the base Roku software; of course there's always the chance that it'll be locked out, but that's also part of the reason I'm considering one of the "full fat" Roku boxes... (that, 1080p and Direct Play in PMS...)
drgeoff wrote:So yes, a nice little ready to use box for £10* but not as flexible as an RPi.
I said that, too :)
blc wrote:Not to denigrate the Pi in any way - the Pi can also function as a dedicated Plex client, play videos directly, and do so much more than just play videos
I'm not trying to say that this is a "Pi-killer", and never meant it to sound that way (this is the "Off Topic" section after all). But this thing costs a tenner and - unless the functionality is disabled - offers a relatively easy way to get your content off your computer and on to your TV. It may not satisfy an avid Home Cinema "purist" but it's a tenner - I can easily spend that much every day just buying lunch & tea/coffee at work!

If you ask me, more competition can only be a good thing - especially at these sort of prices. First we had the Raspberry Pi at $25, which does an excellent job as a media centre; more recently we have the Chromecast at $35, which admittedly has limited applications; and now we have the Now TV box at £10. What's not to like?! :)

chrisy
Posts: 7
Joined: Sat May 25, 2013 7:34 pm

Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:01 pm

drgeoff wrote:It uses the same CPU/GPU as the RPi but the firmware only supports 60Hz field rate. That has two potential drawbacks.

2. Even if your TV is OK with 60 Hz video, much of the content from the NOW TV box was shot at 50 Hz. Motion, especially panning shots and scrolling credits, is not smooth.
Please can I request that people "like" this "idea" on the NowTV forums: http://community.nowtv.com/t5/Your-Idea ... i-p/122642
If it gets enough interest they might do something about the 60Hz output.

drgeoff
Posts: 9759
Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2012 6:39 pm

Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:12 pm

The NOW TV box does have composite video and analogue stereo audio. There is a four pole 3.5 mm AV jack. A suitable cable is not supplied with the box but is the same wiring as used by Apple. (My cable - 3.5mm plug to 3 phono plugs - was a previous purchase from Poundland.)

You cannot have composite video and HDMI simultaneously. You get composite unless the HDMI cable is plugged in. But the analogue audio is available even when HDMI is in use.

IIRC it was jamesh who posted (more than once?) in these forums that the Roku LT and the RPi have the same Broadcom chip. Given that he works for Broadcom, I think he should know! The table at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roku shows the LT models as having a BCM2835.
Last edited by drgeoff on Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

blc
Posts: 465
Joined: Mon Sep 05, 2011 9:28 am

Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:27 pm

drgeoff wrote:The NOW TV box does have composite video and analogue stereo audio. There is a four pole 3.5 mm AV jack. A suitable cable is not supplied with the box but is the same wiring as used by Apple. (My cable - 3.5mm plug to 3 phono plugs - was a previous purchase from Poundland.)

You cannot have composite video and HDMI simultaneously. You get composite unless the HDMI cable is plugged in. But the analogue audio is available even when HDMI is in use.
Then consider me corrected - I didn't know that :). To be honest, I assumed that was just analogue audio.
drgeoff wrote:IIRC it was jamesh who posted (more than once?) in these forums that the Roku LT and the RPi have the same Broadcom chip. Given that he works for Broadcom, I think he should know!
Afraid I didn't see that either :lol:. I didn't know whether that was actually confirmed or not; the only site I saw speculating that it used the same SoC as the Pi was one that I would not trust to look after a potted plant!

It does make me wonder then why they only support 720p with both the Roku LT and the Now TV. The GPU is more than capable of decoding any 1080p content thrown at it, including a straight bluray rip (provided that it's using a fast enough storage medium or network), so it could be a case of the user interface not being smooth enough with the higher resolution graphics (no idea how much RAM these devices have). It could also be a case of deliberately crippling it to make you buy a more expensive product for 1080p (which is a fairly standard business practice)... but for £10 I don't exactly feel like I've been ripped off ;)

drgeoff
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Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:31 pm

Further to my edit above, the Wikipedia page indicates the BCM2835 being clocked at 400 MHz. (cf the default 700 on the RPi.)

drgeoff
Posts: 9759
Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2012 6:39 pm

Re: Now TV Box

Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:35 pm

chrisy wrote:Please can I request that people "like" this "idea" on the NowTV forums: http://community.nowtv.com/t5/Your-Idea ... i-p/122642
If it gets enough interest they might do something about the 60Hz output.
Yes, sir! :)

m1cha3ll0w3
Posts: 9
Joined: Tue Sep 09, 2014 10:00 pm

Re: Now TV Box

Tue Sep 09, 2014 10:11 pm

Hi I just wanted to ask does anyone know or remember the keys strokes in order to enter into dev mode on the now tv remote? this plex media center thing sounds intriguing?
The other thing off topic - I used to use openelec on my rpi to watch things on 1channel, then uk service providers blocked the site and so they provided a proxy but never seem to get it to work. Anyone know of any further developments on this as my now tv subscriptoin runs out in november and my sky movie pass being 5 quid for the next 3 months 9 squid thereafter is a rip off as far as I am concerned and may even just stop it all together. about 90 % of the films available to stream are fast becoming fossils! wouldnt mind if they were good fossils but its crap that you can watch for free on blinkbox, and netflix and amazon , all the same films, heck they might even stream from the same bloody servers, its like going to the store and buying a stores own brand of cereal because you know its exactly the same thing as the big brands, perhaps even made at the same factory! any pointers in the right direction would be massively appreciated thanks.

drgeoff
Posts: 9759
Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2012 6:39 pm

Re: Now TV Box

Wed Sep 10, 2014 4:07 pm

Sheesh! Any search engine would have found http://digiex.net/guides-reviews/guides ... v-box.html for you in a fraction of the time you took to register for this forum and compose your post. (And yes, that guide does include the key strokes to enable developer mode.)

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