Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My new toy & step into the Android world - PC-on-a-stick

We've been using a Roku HD player for two and a half years now and cut the cord in January 2012. The Roku is great but some of the new channels & features are no longer being rolled out to our version. So I started looking at upgrading the Roku, maybe even to one of their streaming sticks. However, I was intrigued by the PC-on-a-stick idea. I started watching it a bit, setting up a Google Alert on the term. I always meant to dig in and find out more. But the Roku was fine and I didn't really want to spend any money on replacing what already worked. However, we tried watching The Dark Knight Rises on Vudu, which was advertised as a channel on the Roku. Unfortunately, it wasn't available to install on our version. That, the media center capabilities, and lack of a web browser really started me thinking a Roku replacement was sooner rather than later. The Roku is a solid, stable product so I definitely recommend it and a bit more user-friendly than the TV stick from our experience.

Back to the TV stick. I half-jokingly put a gift request on my Christmas list, not expecting my parents to buy what they maybe didn't understand. To my pleasant surprise, they purchased a SainSmart SS808 PC-On-A-Stick for me, currently $40 on Amazon. As excited as I was to get it, I was actually a bit nervous it wouldn't live up to expectations. As soon as I could, I started setting it up. No problems getting connected to wireless router. I had to use a wired mouse to navigate the Google Play store and download Netflix, Crackle, Skype, WatchESPN, among others, and pay for Instapaper. My first impression of Android and the Play store was it was very similar to Apple iOS. Since install and initial setup, by far I've spent the most time in xbmc. I actually installed the off-shoot XBMC for Android apk. However, most of the time is spent searching the add-ons for content to watch. Also, you have a different favorite add-on each week since they can be plagued with script errors. Skype is greatness on the big screen TV but we've had some stability and quality issues with it. I've actually been spending a bit of time in Instapaper lately, which isn't bad after cranking up the font size. I didn't think I'd like reading on it but I've had to get creative while watching our 9 week-old! Recently installed Al Jazeera but uninstalled after they killed their live streams.

Cons:
video is pixel-y
Not all Google Play apps are compatible
No Amazon app on Android (at all)
advertised "Dual WIFI Module On Board" but I have not been able to connect to my 5GHz wireless network (only 2.4GHz)
Made in China and comes with some pre-installed apps
Typically have a wired mouse connected in case the air mouse runs out of juice
Not user friendly in terms of navigation (although my air mouse choice could be the culprit here)

Additional purchases:
     Measy Wireless 2.4G Bidirectional Voice Air Mouse Keyboard and Remote Control RC13
     Logitech HD Webcam C525, Portable HD 720p Video Calling with Autofocus
You'll also probably want a USB hub for a wired mouse, wireless mouse charger, external hard-drive, etc.

Some items to check out or keep an eye on in the TV stick space:
Dell Project Ophelia Android TV allegedly coming out summer 2013 soon
Microsoft Xbox One was announced on May 21st, 2013 for release later this year
Roku has solid array of user-friendly devices. But looks like the streaming stick requires a "Roku-ready TV"

Resources to follow:
http://www.minitvstick.com/
http://xbmc.org/
http://www.xbmcandroid.com/
https://aereo.com/
http://www.broadcastingcable.com/

Some interesting posts:
Scott Burns TV is dead, long live TV
Scott Adams Chromecast review
Doc Searls Earth to Cable

Conclusion:
We'll keep our set up for now and continue to use the Roku for Netflix and Amazon. I don't see us subscribing to more than one service (Netflix). We'll continue to use the Android for Skype, Instapaper, and (rare) web browsing. I'm getting close to giving up on xbmc and just using Amazon since it is so much easier, although the choices on Amazon can be limited. I'm hoping more options keep coming available for cord cutters, although the Al Jazeera development was not a good sign. I like having both options and occasionally fighting the Android, but would recommend the Roku for most folks.