Goodbye Roku, Hello GoogleTV

Posted by Thoughts and Ramblings on Sunday, December 18, 2011

In my previous post, I said “I think I’ll elect to forgo a player for an external drive and rip every disk that I might buy.” That thought didn’t last very long. I decided to buy a Sony NSZ-GT1 which contains both a BluRay player and a GoogleTV together. I did this because I finally realized that the Roku that bought was never going to live up to my requirements, especially amid their numerous regressions in firmware updates.

So, I bought a Roku a few months ago after my dad bought one. He got one of the first generation devices, as well as a second. It was able to play his ripped media, with a little coaxing, but the feature that caught both of our attentions was the 1080p playback. I decided to buy a second generation as well, since it had the ability to create third-party apps (they call them channels).

I started to program for the Roku, only to be first struck by the programming language. While it has similarities to several other scripting languages, it is a new programming language. Those out there familiar with the realities in computer science are screaming in the heads how this is a poor decision, but they made it anyway. I was then struck by the complete lack of library availability. Unfortunately, I had allowed myself to accept the premise that I had no choice in the matter and tried my best to plow on. My father and I had designed a Java server, which facilitated transcoding of files to be served to the Roku. I then started to add in the metadata features found in Sapphire to this server. I had browsing working from the device as well as playback initiated from the device. It was starting to look like a replacement for my AppleTV running Sapphire.

Then came the updates. Roku issues a firmware update, which caused numerous problems. The most notable was when one would play an MP3 on the first generation device (streaming a radio station for instance), then later played an MP4 with H.264, the device locked up requiring a reboot. This bug took a month and a half to fix. Additionally, the HLS streaming, which is what’s used to deliver the transcoded data to the device, was suffering from numerous audio dropouts. Supposedly, this bug was fixed in the update that was released today, but I’ve found reports of this bug in the firmware betas dating as far back as May. This means that roku was aware of the regression for 5 months before releasing the firmware. Furthermore, try to report this bug on their forums, and the fanbois descend on you like a coming plague, insisting that nothing is broken, or that a fix is coming and you must be patient. I’ve even seen some do both, even though they are diametrically apposed positions. I then noticed a firmware update on my second generation roku including some of the same regressions.

I’ve had it.

I decided to get something else. When I looked at the list of options, I narrowed my choice down to AndroidTV and GoogleTV. AndroidTV is essentially hardware vendors taking the open sourced Android OS (the versions that are), and putting in on their devices. GoogleTV is the Android OS, with some additional addons including a large host of codec/container support. I went with the latter, so I now had to pick which device. Sony makes a BluRay player and several TVs, and Logitech used to make their Revue. I went with the BluRay player since it was not discontinued and I didn’t want to buy a TV right now. Also, the GoogleTV’s new firmware is based on Android 3.1, and the AndroidTV devices are mostly on 2.2 or 2.3.

When the device arrived, I started doing some tests. It played nearly everything I threw at it without issue. I played everything over http, just giving the built-in VideoView class a URL to play, and it played it. I tested MKV, AVI, MP4, and MKV files. All had no issues. It even played the killa sample, which is something that the roku failed to play. The programming language is far better, since they used Java, and the programming environment actually works instead of the occasional lockup of the device in the debugger from which the roku suffers. It’s also much faster, and stable. My dad found that Amazon was still selling the Revue, so he bought one based on these results. I don’t know what we are going to do with our roku devices. I expect I may finish the Angry Birds levels, then call it failed experiment and box it up.

In short, don’t buy from roku. Buy a GoogleTV instead. Yes, they are more expensive, but you truly get what you pay for here. The programming environment is far superior, which means the apps will be better. The device works, and it appears that Google actually does regression testing. Additionally, Google appears to be ambitious in the devices future. It looks like GoogleTV truly is the route to go. I just wish I had seen it earlier.

BTW, I plan on fully porting Sapphire over to work on the GoogleTV in a client-server relationship. I’m doing this because I plan to allow sharing a single library across multiple devices. I don’t know yet whether I intend to release it to the public. Sometimes it is nice not having to deal with “customer” support. Browsing and playback is done, as well as an importer to read the previous version’s metadata. All that’s left is the metadata importing of new files. Time will tell on where I go with this.

Legacy Comments:

William Reading - Dec 18, 2011

Yeah, local media access seems like the biggest downside to the roku, though I like the different channels on mine. It does seem like the GoogleTV is a pretty good alternative, at least in terms of the SDK.