Roku Premiere Review

Last year leading up to ‘Black Friday‘ we started to think about getting a modern console gaming system – our Nintendo Wii and PS3 were starting to feel a little dated both having been initially released in late 2006.

The Ps3 has been my blu-ray player, and streaming box at the heart of my home theatre. When I bought it, it was one of the best players you could get, and it was reasonably priced for the quality. I was frustrated earlier this year when the Plex app stopped working with the PS3 and it was clear that it would no longer be supported. We’d also noticed that Netflix was starting to feel like it took a long time to start up. The Amazon Prime app would also glitch out on the rare occasion.

We decided to get a Nintendo Switch, but that got me thinking about getting a new TV for the playroom so I could reclaim the theatre as my domain and have the after school game sessions happen somewhere else. This meant finally saying goodbye to the 24″ Sony Trinitron, it was still going strong 15yrs after we bought it.

The TV I picked was the TCL 55″ 4K Roku 55S423CA from CostCo. This is the 4-Series version of the set, but at the sub $400 price point it’s hard to go wrong. This is a 4k display: 3840 x 2160 = 8294400 pixels. If my math is right, that’s 20k pixels per dollar!

While I was looking forward to a modern TV, I had not really thought much about the ‘Smart TV’ features. I just wanted all those pixels. The TCL comes with Roku built in.

 

Yup, before I can even use the new TV I have to do a firmware upgrade and log into Roku, which also requires me to create an account. I’d much rather turn on my new toy and immediately get to use it, but it was a pretty smooth experience given it happened all over WiFi. You did need a second device to complete the setup (web browser), but at this point that’s not a bad assumption.

Once we get past the initial setup, the Roku TV experience is pretty slick overall. Netflix and Prime both appear to start faster than the PS3. While I initially purchased the TV primarily to be a game console display, it’s ended up being used to watch shows quite a bit. There is a fireplace in that room, as well as the treadmill where I often run and watch a movie.

Roku has a useful Android app, and that app supports local listening. This feature lets you redirect audio from the Roku to your android device (phone). Paired with a wireless bluetooth headset and I’ve got private listening.

With the PS3 starting to show its age, and the Roku feeling like a slick media player I began to think I should pick one up for the theatre. My requirements for such a device were:

  1. IR control – to integrate into the existing single remote setup
  2. SPDIF (optical or coaxial) output to feed the sound system
  3. Ideally wired networking

This make me think the Roku Ultra was the right choice, but frustratingly the Canadian devices are a subset of what was available in the US. I did think seriously about picking up the Ultra anyways, but concerns about getting an old stock (7th generation vs 8th),  software compatibility (Canada vs. US) and generally the hassle of actually buying one resulted in my picking the Roku Premiere.

The Premiere is an 8th generation device, is officially available in Canada, and is a really nice price point too. It only has one of the 3 requirements, but the Ultra only had 2. I did have a minor concern about the WiFi support not being dual band, but it turns out that hasn’t been a problem at all. I did find the wikipedia article helpful in finally arriving at a decision on which model to get.

If I can live without wired networking, I still need to get SPDIF output. This was easy to achieve with an add on HDMI box that stripped out the audio. The box I got is pictured in the top photo on the right. What is amusing is the back of the box.

This is very clearly a single box used to packaged multiple devices, and it suffers from some inaccuracies (no power supply required?). If I had to guess, the device I got was the HDV-M612. On Amazon it was advertised as “HDMI Audio Extractor HDMI to SPDIF/Toslink Coaxial 3.5mm Stereo Audio Splitter Converter with USB Interface for DVD HDTV STB Laptop PS4” – yeah, jam in all those keywords.

Aside from the suspicious packaging, the device itself was simple to setup. HDMI input, USB power, HDMI output, Coaxial SPDIF output. It has a small red LED indicating it’s powered, and it just works.

Maybe not surprising, but I thought it was pretty amazing that it was only 25hrs between ordering it on Amazon and having the two devices in my hands – with free shipping.

All in all, it was easy to setup and just works. The Roku experience is simpler than the PS3 and just works. It’s hard to argue with the quality and performance of the Premiere.

 

Home Theatre Seating – Octane Contour HR (Review)

It’s been a while (apparently 7.5 years) since I’ve written something about home theater here. To be honest, not a lot has changed in my setup. I’ve moved from having satellite TV and watching (buying) lots of DVDs to primarily streaming content – Netflix or Amazon Prime. We still enjoy the occasional Blu-ray, but the quality of streaming is good enough and the convenience factor is high. I think there is also a social aspect to keeping up with what your friends are watching as well.

There are many many options out there for seating. We’ve had two rows of couches from the start, but while couches are comfortable if you want to stretch out you either end up with some sort of foot stool – or you’re lying sideways. Honestly couches are a great solution, but they don’t have that fancy feel to them. Recliners are fancy. Many (all?) of the movie theaters today in our area have fairly nice recliners now.

This got us looking at recliners. Ideally we’d go for Canadian made, but after searching around buying local drives the price up to double or more (and the quality). The couch we had in the front row was really showing it’s age and needed replacing. Specifications I was looking for: leather with power reclining, Jenn also wanted to make sure they looked ok because quite honestly many options are fairly ugly.

With leather there is a lot of variation. You want to avoid any of the gel or bonded leather, these tend to be in the very low end of the market and simply won’t last or feel all that great long term. Sadly, leather appears to be completely unregulated and ‘top grain’ leather has a huge range as well. The other gotcha here is that the selection is nearly 100% online (at least in the price range we were looking at).

This is what we ended up getting:

BestBuy had a fairly good sale on, and they seemed to have real leather. When you go digging there are not very many reviews of these, and the result vary quite a bit. You can find Octane Seating – the company that makes these (in China). If you dig around, you find out that Octane allows for orders with custom fabric, and they have quite a range of grades they support as well. I think this explains why there is such a variety of reviews for products that are described similarly.

I think we bought a day before the sale ended. While I was waiting for the delivery, I couldn’t help but check the website – and I wasn’t very surprised to see this.

Ok, so the 3 day sale didn’t really end after 3 days, it was extended. Maybe they are trying to drain stock or something.

Yeah, at this point it’s starting to get a little bit silly. It’s the sale that goes on forever. I was wrong, on the 17th it returned to normal full price.

But… other models were now on sale. It seems there is always a sale for entertainment furniture, in fact – while I was writing the post they were back on sale for the same discount.

We’ve had them a few weeks and have really enjoyed them. Going for the power recliner was absolutely the right choice, it was worth the price increase for that. The Octane Contour HR have motorized headrests which I would recommend, as a feature it seems like a gimmick, but it is really useful (and comfortable).

The leather is not as nice as the love seat we bought a couple of years ago for basically twice the price. That said, the product that we received felt like it was worth the sale price. I wouldn’t pay the full price for these, or at least not what BestBuy is asking as full price. While these exact chairs may not be on sale, there seems to always be some of the models on sale. I’d also consider CostCo as another source.

The motors are audible, but quiet enough that it’s not too intrusive if you adjust while watching. I’m basically 6′ tall, and I fit but I suspect a taller person may not be as comfortable.

Oddities. The two seat pair, ships in 4 parts. Both back rests come off (and are easy for 2 people to put back on). You get 1 full chair (two arms) and 1 with a single arm. You simply place them together on the floor – and the weight keeps them in place. I expecting there to be some sort of locking / connection mechanism but no, it’s just placement.

Overall very happy with the purchase, already thinking about converting the 2nd row of seating to recliners too.

Pros:

  • Power recline and power headrest
  • Much more comfortable than the worn out couch they replaced
  • Fancy looking, premium seating at home

Cons:

  • Seats are not physically attached
  • Kids play with the controls
  • Leather quality is ‘ok’ and may vary from vendor to vendor

Footnote: We initially tried to buy a set of seats that EastPorters carries, but was sold / shipped by Staples. The ordering process seemed to go off the rails, so a week later we assumed they had just cancelled the order. Weeks later, a shipping company calls to arrange drop off of our assumed cancelled order. They ended up leaving seats on the front step with no signature. They did come get the unwanted delivery and we eventually got a 100% refund, but only after chasing them a bit. I wouldn’t recommend Staples for this type of purchase

Convert DVD for PS3 with 5.1 under Ubuntu

There are many, many questions on how to convert video to be suitable for streaming to the PS3 – and as many solutions. Some of the issues I ran into are due to the configuration of my home theater, and others were because I was trying to accomplish this under Linux.

My setup for playback is a PS3 connected wirelessly (but wired will work fine) to my home network. The PS3 outputs the video over HDMI, and the sound over TOSLink. I run XBMC on my Ubuntu desktop to serve up the video content stored there.

The first, and most obvious path to success is to use HandBrake – it is available across platforms and is simple to use. More recent versions have dumped the specific PS3 encoding options, but the iPod/iPad encoding settings seem to create videos that work just fine in my experience. Where Handbrake fell down for me was that the default encoding settings change the audio into stereo. I’ve got a 5.1 setup and wanted to keep the surround from the DVD.

HandBrake will let you create an AAC 6 channel encoding if you poke around a little in the configuration. Sadly for me, the TOSLink connection does not have enough bandwidth to handle 6 channel PCM, so the PS3 re-encodes the 6 channel mix into a 2 channel mix. This was a bit of a downer after a 2hr encode. If you have your audio going over HDMI, or don’t care about 5.1 then HandBrake may be the perfect solution.

It is also worth mentioning that ps3mediaserver can handily deal with .iso files (and lots more) and re-encode on the fly. I specifically didn’t want to go this route, for no reason other than I didn’t want to be bothered to set it up as I already had XMBC handy. I’ll assume there are others out there as stubborn as I am and they may find this useful.

My path to success turned out to be using k9copy to create an .avi file from the DVD that contained only the movie and the AC3 5.1 sound track. Then I used ffmpeg to convert that .avi file into a VOB format file that the PS3 would accept for streaming.

ffmpeg -i video.avi -acodec copy -vcodec copy -r 23.976 -f vob video.mpg

Once done (and it was fast as there is no actual re-encoding happening in the ffmpeg step) the resulting file streamed just fine from XMBC to my PS3 over wireless. As with most solutions, I spent plenty of time banging my head on more complicated paths until arriving at this very simple solution. I do have to give credit to a blog post that helped me reach the ah-hah moment. What I really like about this solution is the video and audio are exactly what appears on the DVD, only the wrapper they are stored in has changed: k9copy extracted the bits from the DVD that I wanted to have, and ffmpeg fiddled the container around to make the PS3 happy.

I’m still a huge fan of HandBrake and will continue to use this for converting video for portability (Android phone, iPhone, etc). However, k9copy has earned a place in my video conversion toolbox.