Roku advice, internet filters and USB-C
Bob's Tech Talk
June 1, 2017
Q. Is Roku the easiest streaming device to use? I can’t seem to get a handle on it so I can watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.
A. I love my Roku. My son gave me one a couple birthdays ago, and since then I’ve found many ways to enjoy it. Of course, he knows how much I enjoy tinkering with gadgets. Roku is loaded with features that make it a tinkerer’s dream, which makes it definitely not the easiest to use.
None of the streaming devices are as easy to use as they should be, all of them are a challenge. For basic access to services like Netflix, the smaller “stick” devices like Chromecast and Roku Express are easier to use, but their functionality is limited. Among the full-featured streaming boxes, AppleTV is probably the easiest to use overall, with Amazon Fire a close second. But don’t give up on Roku just yet.
With software updates, the devices keep getting smarter. Updates should install automatically when they are released, but check to make sure your Roku has the latest software.
Voice control is the feature that is eventually going to make TV as simple to operate as it was back in the last century. It still has rough edges, but voice control is the best bet to make things easier. Some Roku devices accept voice commands, but you can also install the mobile app on your smartphone, turning your phone into a voice remote for supported Roku models.
One last bit of advice. Streaming requires solid internet connections. Your broadband speed should be at least 4Mbps and a good wireless network is essential. If your troubles include random playback pauses, dropped connections, or long delays, the cause is more likely the network.
Q. I would like to have more control over my home internet, especially when my grandchildren visit. Do you have any suggestions?
A. Controlling the internet is a bit like trying to take a sip from a wide-open fire hose. Not only does it take considerable strength to hold on to the hose, the speed of even a trickle can sting your face and drench your clothing. Innocent bystanders get wet too. In short, it is a mess.
My solution until recently has been physical control of the device. If the tablet is out of reach, it is not being used. Parental controls can be useful as well, although they get complicated when you try to juggle an entire household full of phones, tablets, game consoles and TVs. I am very impressed by Circle with Disney (meetcircle.com). Circle is a small device that connects to your home network and enables some of the best options I have ever seen for managing connectivity. The initial setup takes a few minutes. Once installed, Circle can filter content, limit access to specific devices or services, and log activity for later review.
With the Circle app on my smartphone, I can control how my internet is used. For example, I can disable the internet at bedtime, or limit the game console to one hour per day. I can see when devices are in use, and which sites they access. No internet filter is perfect, but Circle is the best solution yet for helping protect your family from too much of a good thing.
Q. What is USB-C?
A. USB is the most common type of cable for everything from laptops to cellphones. It has been in use for over two decades. There are a number of different flavors of USB, but usually they fall into two categories, called USB and Micro-USB. USB-C is the new standard that will replace them all with a single, universal cable.
Devices have been slimming down for decades, but in the last few years devices have become so thin that the current cable ports are a tight squeeze. USB-C allows devices to be even thinner. The connector is smaller, and it is reversible, so it will always be right side up.
Until most devices come with USB-C, we may have to use adapters to interact with older devices, but eventually USB-C will be common, and our devices will keep shrinking.
Wander the Web
Streaming Search Engine
If you stream movies from the internet, this site can be useful to find a specific movie. It allows you to search for movies by title, and the results point you to the collection of subscription services and online stores where you can watch the movie. Just add popcorn. http://www.justwatch.com
Social Network for Movies
Filled with detailed information and movie lore, Letterboxd encourages you to keep a diary of the films you have seen and those you want to see, and optionally, share that diary with your friends. A must-see for film aficionados.
Read a Good Book Instead
Bookbub is an up-to-date index of eBook deals. It also serves as a front end for their email newsletter, which delivers a daily summary of free or deeply discounted eBooks to your inbox. You can make a list of the kind of books you prefer, and it will focus on your favorite genre or author. If you read a lot of books, this can be an inexpensive way to build your eBook collection.
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at email@example.com.