LinkedIn expands Lynda.com to Roku with new learning channel

LinkedIn is expanding its Lynda.com platform to Roku devices, and in doing so it might prove streaming video services can be more than mindless entertainment.
First some background. LinkedIn spent $1.5 billion to buy Lynda.com in April. The platform boasts more than 4,000 courses featuring 150,000 videos made by expert instructors, and despite an emphasis on high production values, LinkedIn said in an email that it’s adding more lessons to the platform every single day.

A shot of Lynda's new channel on Roku set-top boxes.

A shot of Lynda’s new channel on Roku set-top boxes.


The app available on Roku devices will provide access to all of these videos. It will even synchronize a user’s position in various lessons across devices, so they don’t have to worry about losing their place if they move from a TV to a laptop. The catch: Most videos are exclusive to members who pay $20 to $35 per month.
“Our goal is to extend the Lynda.com footprint and create a new channel for users to engage with our content, while providing a consistent and seamless experience across multiple screens,” a LinkedIn spokesperson said. “Now you or your family members can learn new skills from the comfort of your couch.”
Or they could do something cheaper. They could get access to countless movies and television shows from Netflix for $10. They could watch commercial-free television on Hulu for $12. Hell, they could even get access to HBO’s original programming and videos unavailable on other streaming services for just $15.
Compare that to the $25 a single month of Lynda.com access costs — the lower $20 price is for people who pay for the service annually instead of monthly — and it’s easy to see where a budget-conscious person might choose to spend their money. How’s education supposed to compete with endless entertainment?
There are some real benefits to having an app available for set-top boxes, prime among them is the ability to follow along with a lesson on a laptop without having to switch between multiple windows. It could also help more people learn about a skill in a group setting instead of being an otherwise individual activity.
Existing subscribers to Lynda.com might rejoice at being able to view the platform’s lessons on television sets. But with a monthly fee that could cover two other streaming services (almost three for Lynda.com’s premium members) it’s hard to see the Roku expansion getting more people to sign up to the platform.
That might change if Lynda.com’s subscriptions ever fall in price. Until then, however, it looks like the mindless entertainers are going to remain undefeated.

Amazon will stop selling Apple TVs and Chromecasts. So what?

Although it seems pretty cut and dry, there are folks in tech media that feel Amazon shouldn’t actually stay competitive, as businesses tend to do to survive.
Case in point: Amazon doesn’t like that neither the Apple TV nor Google’s Chromecast provide easy access to its Prime Video service, so it’s taking steps over the next month to stop businesses from selling the products through its website.
“Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime,” Amazon said in an email to employees. “It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.”
This means that products which play nice with Amazon’s streaming video service — like most game consoles, Roku’s set-top boxes, and the company’s own FireTV — will remain available on Amazon. Apple and Google are the only ones being booted.
It’s hard to be too upset about this. Could this frustrate Apple and Google? Maybe. Will it be annoying for Amazon Prime customers who expect to be able to purchase anything through the company’s marketplace? A little, I guess. But that’s about it.
But let’s not pretend this is going to hurt Apple or Google that much. Apple has the highest sales per square foot of any retail store in the United States, and it can easily promote its products by emailing the hundreds of millions of people who gave the company their email addresses so they could download stuff from the App Store.
As for Google? Well, running the world’s most popular search engine has its perks. It can also put ads for the Chromecast on YouTube, in Gmail, and basically anywhere else it desires through its advertising platforms. Sure, it won’t offer free two-day shipping, but I doubt most people are in a rush to purchase a new dongle.
Could this be the start of a worrisome trend? Maybe. I guess it would be a problem if Amazon stopped selling e-readers that don’t support the Kindle Store, given that it’s all-but-synonymous with the product category. But those competitive devices are still listed on the company’s site, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon.
At this point, the only entity harmed by this action will be Amazon. It’ll frustrate people who want to make it their one-stop-shop for all things commercial, and it makes the company seem like a petulant child stomping its feet because the other, more popular kids don’t want to play with it. Does that seem like a stable company?
This move reeks of desperation. Amazon might be the biggest online retailer in the United States, but it’s not the only place where people can buy these products. It would’ve been better off allowing them to be listed on its site, if only to keep up its appearances, than to plan the products’ downfall to serve its own selfish purposes.
But we’re only discussing this because of the companies involved. Remove the brands and this becomes a lot less interesting. A retailer pulled some items from its virtual shelves. There are other stores, and luckily for anyone with a decent Internet connection, it only takes a few seconds to visit them and buy those items.
Yawn.

Roku gets a new Plex app that looks nothing like the old one

Good news for Roku users: everyone’s favorite media center app maker Plex just launched a new Roku channel that makes you forget you’re using a Roku: Gone are the endless rows of square cover art and the complicated, nested information architecture that’s present in so many Roku channels, and also dominated the look of the old Plex app.

Instead, the new Roku app is using big imagery, wallpapers and a great-looking full-screen music player, and offers access to Plex’s new content discovery features as well as trailers and enhanced multi-user support. It’s visually very close to the Plex apps on Sony’s Playstation, Microsoft’s Xbox or Vizio’s smart TVs.

This is how an album looks like with the new Roku app...

This is how an album looks like with the new Roku app…

The app is currently only available to paying Plex Pass subscribers, but will eventually make its way to regular Plex users as well. And right now, it only supports movies, TV shows and music, but support for photos, playlists and channels will be added soon, according to a post on the Plex blog.

... and this is how it used to look like.

… and this is how it used to look like.

Plex is also currently working on integrating music videos from Vevo into its apps. The company first showed off this feature at CES, and executives told me at the time that the goal was to eventually make iTunes obsolete.

Tablo is building a beautiful Roku app for its cord-cutting DVR

Thought all Roku apps look the same? Think again: Tablo is getting ready to launch a beautiful new Roku app for its DVR for cord cutters that doesn’t look like any of the old-school Roku apps you still see a lot on that platform. Tablo previewed the new app at the Pepcom Digital Experience event at CES in Las Vegas on Monday night, and Grant Hall, CEO of Tablo maker Nuvyyo, told me that he hopes to have the app ready before the end of this quarter.

Tablo's new Roku app.

Tablo’s new Roku app

A detail that developers will appreciate: Tablo is building this new app with Brightscript, Roku’s own scripting language. Roku has only allowed a small number of hand-selected partners to use HTML5 for their apps, and making visually stunning apps has proven to be a bit harder with Brightscript than it would be with HTML5.

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Tablo also showed off a great-looking new app for Android TV and Fire TV at CES. Hall said that app will be available even before the Roku app.

Tablo's new app for Android TV and Fire TV.

Tablo’s new app for Android TV and Fire TV

Finally, the company showed its new Tablo Metro DVR, which comes with tiny built-in antennas that are able to pick up HD TV broadcast signals in metropolitan areas where a big external antenna isn’t necessary. It’s a little bit like Aereo’s dime-sized antennas, albeit with a slightly different technology, and for the DVR in your home.

Those star-shaped patterns are tiny TV antennas.

Those star-shaped patterns are tiny TV antennas.

Tablo is currently only selling its DVRs online, but Hall said the company may start selling them in retail stores later this year.

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Insignia and Haier start making Roku TVs, Roku builds 4K support

Roku scored two new partners in its quest to rule the living room: Best Buy’s Insignia brand and Haier will both joining the list of TV manufacturers using Roku’s smart TV platform in 2015. This indicates that Roku continues to bet on bargain-priced TVs for budget-conscious consumers. But with future 4K support, Roku is also gearing up for higher-end devices.

[company]Roku[/company] announced its first Roku-powered TV sets at CES in Las Vegas last year, at the time signing up [company]TCL[/company] and [company]Hisense[/company] as its first consumer electronics partners. Now, [company]Best Buy[/company] is throwing its hat in the ring as well. The retailer will be starting to exclusively sell Roku TVs made under its Insignia in-house brand this spring. [company]Haier[/company] will start selling its very own Roku TVs in Q3, with screen sizes ranging from 32 to 65 inches. The company will also continue to sell so-called Roku-ready TVs, which are essentially just regular TVs with a bundled Roku streaming stick.

Spring TCL Roku TV_front

Roku TV launch partner TCL is also back for more: The company will announce twelve new Roku TV models this spring. A Roku spokesperson wasn’t able to provide any further details on features and screen sizes, but a recent FCC filing suggests that at least one of these devices will feature a 55-inch screen size, and go by the model number 55FS3700.

That TV, as well as the other eleven the company is set to announce, will all feature regular HD resolution, but TCL is also the first partner to commit to Roku’s forthcoming 4K support. Roku is announcing a reference design for 4K at CES, which TCL and others can use to build their own 4K-capable Roku-powered smart TVs.

Roku SVP of Product Management Jim Funk told me during a recent interview that Roku-powered 4K TVs will be able to play 4K content from Netflix and other yet-to-be announced streaming partners. Funk didn’t want to commit to a firm date for 4K Roku TVs, but said they’d likely not be available in the first half of this year. Funk also declined to comment on whether Roku plans to make 4K-capable streaming boxes.

4K was supposed to be a big deal last year, but failed to really take off due to limited content. However, Funk was optimistic that this will change in the long run: “I have no doubt 4K will be a successful format,” he told me.

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WatchESPN goes down during the Rose Bowl

WatchESPN, a service that allows cable subscribers to stream live sporting events on devices like Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, and iPhone and iPad, has been serving error messages instead of streaming live video on Thursday. The outage happened during the Rose Bowl, one of the most anticipated college football games of the year and the first of three college football playoff games streaming on WatchESPN.

Upset Oregon and Florida State fans aired their displeasure on Twitter.

Timothy Burke at Deadspin speculates that the issue has something to do with ESPN’s playlist, and that it’s not a content delivery network problem. This incident isn’t the first time WatchESPN has gone down under high strain.

[company]ESPN[/company] is aware of the issue and says it’s been “largely resolved on all platforms.” I can watch the stream in a browser, although I’m still having trouble connecting on Apple TV.

One thing is clear: If your team ends up making the championship, and you actually want to watch it, you might want to find a friend with cable.

Comcast customers can finally watch HBO Go on their Rokus

Hell has frozen over for Comcast customers: Subscribers to the company’s Xfinity cable TV service can now watch their favorite HBO shows via HBO Go on Roku streaming devices. Re/code was first to report about a deal between the two companies Monday, and Roku confirmed the breakthrough with a blog post Tuesday, which reads in part:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”Just in time for the extra holiday streaming time, we’re pleased to announce Comcast has been added to the list of participating television providers that support HBO GO and SHOWTIME ANYTIME on your Roku device. We are glad to be able to bring this long-awaited feature to Xfinity TV customers.”[/blockquote]

Roku first added a HBO Go app to its streaming boxes in 2011. But as with any of these apps that require users to also get the channel as part of their TV line-up, the app needed users to authenticate with their TV provider — and that’s where Comcast didn’t play ball. Comcast did give subscribers access to HBO Go on mobile devices, but not on anything connected to a TV. One reason was that the company wanted to own the experience on the TV screen, and preferred that users access HBO shows through its own catch-up service.

However, Comcast’s hardball stance eventually caught the eye of regulators. At a time when the company is looking to merge with Time Warner Cable, that alone may have been enough to bring Comcast back to the table and give Roku some advantage in striking a deal.

That could also be good news for other device manufacturers. Comcast is still blocking HBO Go access on Sony’s PS3, Samsung’s smart TVs and Amazon’s Fire TV, all of which likely can’t wait to get a similar deal.

Roku just got a Google Play Movies channel

Roku users just got another way to rent and buy movies and TV shows — but this one is worth mentioning regardless: Owners of current-generation Roku players now have access to a Google Play Movies and TV Shows channel on their devices, which means that they’ll also have access to any of the movies or shows they have previously bought from Google on their Android devices. The Google Play Movies channel also comes with info overlays that identify the actors on screen. Support for Roku TVs will follow soon, according to Roku’s press release.