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sky-anytime+-thumb.jpgSky Anytime+, the broadcaster's video-on-demand offering that opens up a massive catalogue of shows and movies to be streamed whenever a viewer chooses, is now available to users connecting to the internet over a far broader range of ISPs.

Initially, Sky Anytime+ was only available to Sky subscribers who also chose Sky Broadband as their internet service provider, but now more than 5 million homes will be able to enjoy the service, regardless of their provider.

"It's great to be able to bring our on demand service Sky Anytime+ to even more customers, helping them to get more out of their Sky subscription," said Luke Bradley-Jones, Sky's Director of TV Products.

"We already know how popular Sky Anytime+ is and how the flexibility of the service gives customers more choice and control over how they watch an amazing range of content. We've seen strong demand for it to date which we hope to increase now that the service is available with any broadband provider."

For more info on how to access the service, head over to Sky's FAQ page.

now-tv-thumb.jpgSky are to launch a brand new video on-demand offering called Now TV, which will open up their catalogue of shows and movies on pay monthly and pay as you go deals.

Though details are scarce at the moment, Sky's Now TV offering will be a web-based streaming service, and will be available through PCs, Macs, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, games consoles and connected TVs. It will be the first time Sky's premium content will be available without a long-term contract.

"The launch of a second brand is an exciting opportunity for us and the rationale is very simple. Having two brands will allow us to meet the needs and preferences of different customer segments more effectively," said Sky's chief executive, Jeremy Darroch.

"We'll offer two distinctive ways to watch: the market-leading full Sky service for the whole family, complete with the widest range of channels, high quality products like Sky+, HD and Sky Go, and the peace of mind of a monthly bill; or the flexible, more spontaneous, pay-as-you-go service of Now TV.

"Because Now TV will also be 'powered by Sky', customers will still know that it will give them the best, exclusive content and a high quality experience, from a provider they can trust. Either way, we believe we can offer even more customers a product that's just right for them."

The move puts the broadcaster into direct competition with other streaming services, such as Netflix and Lovefilm.

Head over to nowtv.com for more details.

REVIEW: Roku 2 XS streaming player (UK)

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Roku XS 13.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Roku 2 XS

Type: Streaming Player

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £99.99 from Amazon

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Already holding the title of the most popular TV streaming box in the US, Roku are now setting their sights on the UK market. The Roku 2 XS, with its Bluetooth motion controlled gaming capabilities and access to Netflix movie streaming, is their top of the line streaming box. Read on for our verdict.

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Sitting snugly in the palm of your hand, the Roku 2 XS is as small as streaming players get. An 84mm x 84 mm x 23mm box with rounded corners, it weighs just 85 grams, with a gloss-black finish that will see it hide away easily among your other AV gear. Connecting to the internet over 802.11n Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection, the rear of the Roku 2 XS player has four simple connections; HDMI (with 5.1 surround sound pass-through) an A/V out port (which uses an included bespoke mini-jack to left/right/composite video RCA cable), the afore-mentioned Ethernet port and an AC socket. Using less than 2W of power when streaming HD video, there's no power button, with an auto-standby mode kicking in after a short period of inactivity and using only minuscule amounts of energy. You'll also find a USB port on the left hand side for playback of a modest range of media files.

Once everything is plugged in, you'll need to head online to activate your Roku 2 XS box. A reasonably short web form has to be filled out on the Roku website (which includes your credit card details, though these will only be used if you purchase premium content through the box), after which you'll be given an activation code for your streaming unit. It's a shame that this couldn't have somehow been achieved with a set-up process through the XS itself, and if you're a subscriber to the likes of Netflix, you'll also have to manually add your credentials to some of the streaming channels too.

Considering how clunky the initial set up is, using the Roku 2 XS after that point is as simple as can be. The XS comes with a Bluetooth-enabled remote, which looks much like a squat black Wii controller, complete with a D-Pad, A and B gaming buttons and Home, Back, Return and playback controls. There's even a little wrist-strap to stop it flying out of your grasp. The remote is used to navigate the tile-based UI, as well as the odd bit of text entry in search fields. It can also be used for motion-based gaming, which we'll get onto in a minute.
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The first, home screen of the Roku 2 XS box has the settings and Channel Store tabs, and also houses the channels you download from the store, scrolling left to right. With hundreds of channels available and more on the way, this area may quickly fill up and become a little unwieldy, but for now works well enough.

Heading over to the Channel Store tile brings up the wide-range of content available to be streamed through the Roku 2 XS box, some available for free, others requiring a subscription to access.. As well as big name providers like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Flixster and Vimeo, there are tons of niche channels whose content ranges from everything from religious sermons to retro public announcement videos. There are a few notable omissions however, and we'd have loved to have seen for instance a YouTube channel, as well as some other UK broadcaster's catch-up offerings, such as Channel 4's 4oD and the ITV Player. Having said that, there are also some excellent, rarely seen VOD offerings, such as the inspirational lectures from the TED channel, as well as plenty of web radio options.

Though not officially supported by Roku, you can also use the Roku website to access a large number of "private" channels, which are downloaded to your Roku 2 XS player by inputting a code on the website. These range from international video content streams to adults-only movies. Some really useful channels, like a third-party Last.fm build, are available, and if you do fancy putting a bit of blue on your Roku, there are password protection options to keep young eyes from stumbling on what they shouldn't. As "private" channels are often beta builds or made by enthusiasts, there is however no guarantee they will forever be available on the streaming box.
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For the most part, the channels make use of a tile-scrolling navigation set up, barring a few exceptions, such as the iPlayer's bespoke UI (familiar to anyone who has browsed the platform on any number of other devices). It's easy to browse with the directional pad, but not so easy to search; few channels allow you to look for specific content by keyword, and when you do, it's a painstaking task of scrolling around a virtual keyboard, press by press. As such, it's mostly a curated experience. With such a vast array of video content to browse through, we'd have loved the chance to favourite videos for later viewing, but the functionality is missing. On one isolated occasion we found that the UI inexplicably slowed down to a crawl making it impossible to use, but a hard reset achieved by disconnecting the XS from the mains solved the problem, and it hasn't happened again since.

The quality of the streams however are uniformly excellent. Thanks to an adaptive streaming system, you'll rarely, if ever see a buffering sign on the Roku 2 XS, with the stream's visual quality adapting to match that of your web connections capabilities. Even with a modest connection however you should be able to view stutter-free 1080p HD streaming. Using the Netflix app as an example, its 1080p high resolution output was pretty much a match to that found on the PS3, with clear, sharp images that just fall short of Blu-ray quality.
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Also available from the Channel Store are a dozen or so gaming apps. Though most are premium, paid for downloads, Angry Birds is included for free. Thanks to the Roku 2 XS's motion capabilities, it controls much like a Wii game, with a wave of the hand translating to a yank of the in-game catapult. While admittedly basic stuff, it worked surprisingly well for what is first and foremost a TV streaming box, and we look forward to more big-screen gaming on the Roku XS. Also, thanks to the Bluetooth nature of the controller, playing games doesn't require line-of-sight with the Roku box, meaning it can be tucked away behind a TV without disrupting play.

If there's one real disappointment with the Roku 2 XS, it's with its lack of robust media playback options from a local USB storage device. The only formats supported are MP4 (H.264) video, AAC and MP3 audio and JPG and PNG image files. Pair this with a lack of DLNA functionality and the Roku 2 XS falls short of being a comprehensive multimedia experience.

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The Roku 2 XS streaming box is a great bit of kit. With access to so much online TV content, much of it of a high quality nature thanks to the likes of Netflix, TED and the BBC iPlayer channels, it's more than a match for its Apple TV rival. Of course, you're going to have to have a paid subscription with a few of the channels to get the most out of the box, but that's no different than with the Roku 2 XS's competitors. The visual quality of the streams, particularly where HD content is available, is superb, and navigating all the features is fairly simple.

Where the Roku 2 XS is found lacking is in its poor file support over USB storage and lack of DLNA features. For a UK audience, there are also a few notable catch-up providers missing but there's every chance these will be added in due course.

The real question is whether or not you need the Roku box. If you've got a HD games console or a Smart TV, you've probably already got access to many of the Roku's features. If you don't already have access to these services, the Roku 2 XS does however come highly recommended.

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4/5
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REVIEW: Onyx Digital Stream DPS-1000

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Name: Digital Stream DPS-1000 (Onyx)

Type: Web connected media streamer

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £89.99 from Amazon

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Looking for web-connected features from your ageing flatscreen TV? Then the Digital Stream DPS-1000 from Onyx (recently refreshed to add LoveFilm support), may suit your needs for a bargain price, providing you can put up with a few glaring omissions.

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Though its heavily vented black chassis wont win it any style awards, the Onyx DPS-1000 is attractively small. Measuring up at roughly 16cm x 12cm x 3.5 cm, it'll sit discretely alongside most AV set ups. On the rear you'll find one HDMI port, a scart connection, two USB ports and an Ethernet port. That Ethernet port will be of the utmost importance here, as the DPS-1000 lacks a Wi-Fi connection. It seems a remarkable oversight considering the device is used primarily for web and network connected media streaming; you'll have to make sure your TV is placed near your router in order to wire it up tidily, or else hunt around for a compatible third-party Wi-Fi dongle.

It's a shame that this may put off potential buyers, as the interface and content portals on offer in the DPS-1000 are very good indeed. Built around UK-based Oregan's web platform first seen in last year's Cello TV range, it does away with many of the international fluff found in many larger brands web-connected TV portals. Instead, you're treated to a line up that includes the afore-mentioned LoveFilm, BBC iPlayer, BlinkBox, YouTube and a host of other Web TV offerings.

A mainscreen features a series of widgets, including Twitter, Facebook and news and weather feeds down the right hand side, which while welcome, likely wont get much use as they can be fiddly to navigate, particularly the social networks. The rest of the screen is made of a carousel-like series of icons leading to each content provider.

First up is the iPlayer portal, almost identical to that seen in Cello's iPlayer TV range. It's a slick and fast interface, with the usual "Just In", "Highlights" and "Last Played" tabs. Normal, high and HD quality video, where available, can be toggled through, while a serviceable search function lets you browse the current BBC catalogue.

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LoveFilm offers information on all 70,000-odd movies it has in its catalogue, though only a fraction of those can be streamed via the DPS-1000, and none of those in HD. That's not a problem unique to this device though; it's the same with the LoveFilm desktop portal and the one found in the PS3 games console. Regardless, it's again a tidy and well organised interface, giving the option also for subscribers to order Blu-ray or DVD rental versions of those films not available for streaming. Dynamic searching of the LoveFilm library, throwing up new results every time you input each letter, is a little unnecessary in this format however, often annoyingly slowing down search speeds. £5.99 will give 2 hours of online viewing time, while those who opt for the £15.99 subscription will get unlimited access, as well as the ability to order physical disc rentals from LoveFilm.

BlinkBox, while offering a slightly more clunky interface than LoveFilm, is just as well stocked, with US shows such as the West Wing sitting alongside The Inbetweeners, as well as a fair few movies too. Blinkbox's value rentals (starting at £1) gives it a slight edge over LoveFilm in regards to pricing, and there are nice options to nab full TV show boxsets from between £12.99 and £15.99.

Of more questionable quality is the WebTV portal, pulling in video content from myriad sources. Here's where you'll find the likes of YouTube and Flickr, alongside more unusual sources such as Disney Channel Movie Previews, Larry King, the Discovery Channel, UEFA.com and Sesame Street. Presented in a list with thumbnails, it's a motley crew of feeds and video sources, though they're disparate enough to offer at least a few gems to most viewers.

Once connected to a networked PC or media server, or by plugging in a USB drive loaded with media content, you'll also be able to access various image, music and video files through the box. In a nice touch, a search feature will scan both your networked content and the web portals available here, pulling results into one compiled list. In terms of file playback, BMP and JPEG images and MP3 and WMA files work fine, but things get a little more complex on the video front. AVI (DivX), WMV, VOB, MP4 HD, MKV (DivX HD), and WMV HD files worked from a USB stick (but not H.264 MOV or QuickTime) while network searches only recognised MOV, DivX, MP4 and AVCHD files.

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Verdict:

It's worth noting that anyone with a Wii or PS3 console will already have access to most of what is on offer here. While the lack of built in Wi-Fi support may keep the price of this diminutive media streamer down, it could prove a deal breaker for all but those with a router very nearby their television sets. If you fall into that likely very small bracket, you'll come away impressed with the DPS-1000, whose many features and content portals gives even the most recent web connected TV offerings from major brands a run for their money. It's well polished on the software front, even if its hardware leaves a little to be desired.review-line.JPG

3/5

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Official: Google TV on its way

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It's been rumoured for quite a while, but yesterday Google officially unveiled Google TV, bringing the Android OS and Google Chrome to HD TVs and set-top boxes.

The idea is to bring the best of the internet and Google's operating system to your living room, making it easier to combine web and traditional TV sources to find the shows you want to watch. You'll have access to a full unrestricted web browser with Google TV, as well as apps from the Google Chrome web store.

Google TV will be powered by an Intel Atom CE4100 "system-on-a-chip" processor, which Google claim will be able to produce home cinema style levels of performance. Sony have signed on to make the first batch of Google HD TVs, while Logitech are working on a companion box and universal remote to give existing TVs similar functionality.

Though there are now plenty of internet connected TVs and services, such as Samsung's Internet@TV and the Cello iViewer, few have been as ambitious as Google's plans to put the web and apps at the heart of your living room. With the platform set to be open source, it'd be unsurprising to see many TV manufacturers experiment with Google TV in the near future.

No word on pricing yet, but expect an early 2011 release date for the first batch of Google TVs. Steve Jobs must be looking at his Apple TV unit and sighing pretty heavily right now.

sony thumb.jpgSony don't like to feel the odd ones out of the tech-playground games, so, in an attempt to keep up with the pack here come's their first go at video streaming. You've had iTunes, you've had Netflix; the next contestant in the great "Battle of the Online Movie Services" is Sony's Qriocity.

Heading to anything with a Xross Media Bar on it (be it your PS3 or soon-to-be-released web-connected Sony sets) in February, you'll be able to stream video in standard-definition or 720p straight to your screen.

Theres already a load of film publishers backing the service, and Sony promise "hundreds" of films ready to go at launch.

Inspired use of the letter "Q" aside, it's a pretty dumb name for a rather important service. Here's hoping more thought went into the service than the moniker it wears heavily around its neck.

cello iViewer.JPGUK based TV manufacturers Cello launched their new iViewer TV range today.

Available in 32" and 26" sizes, the TV's are the first in the country to have BBC's iPlayer built in. Through a wireless or Ethernet connection, users can stream content straight from BBC's online platform onto their televisions, as well as offering widgets for news feeds, various web TV channels and YouTube content.

Web TV channels currently supported include Disney Movies Preview, Movie Rush, Autocar Magazine, Sky Sports Boots and All, the CNN daily video podcast, Jamie's Ministry of Food, Delicious TV Veg, Revision 3 Diggnation and the Larry King video podcast.

Users can also stream video and other media content directly from a networked PC to the Cello iViewer TV.

In terms of picture quality, the 32" 16:9 model will be capable of displaying full HD 1080p video, with a contrast ratio of 3000:1, and will include a pre-installed Freeview tuner. The 26 incher will also have a built in Freeview tuner, with a 1080i HD ready video output and a contrast ratio of 800:1.

I got to have a quick play around with the 32" model this morning and was impressed by the clear UI and simple navigation controls. The iViewer software has a dedicated remote button, and with plenty of connectivity options on the back, including two HDMI slots, two USB slots, composite/component inputs and a built in DVD player, £499 seems a very reasonable price. £399 will bag you the 26" model.

Though it's not a feature Cello are keen to officially promote (as they cannot guarantee its quality), the industrious among you can even hook up a keyboard and mouse and access a modest web-browser hidden within the iViewer software.

If Cello can keep updating the onboard Onyx software with content and fresh widgets, the iViewer TV could be the perfect bedroom telly.

Keep an eye out for these Marks and Spencer's exclusives within the next week.

xbox360.jpgIn tonight's keynote address at the E3 conference, Microsoft announced a major upgrade to its LIVE Marketplace that will bring "instant on" full high definition video streaming to Xbox 360 owners.

As long as the user has a fast enough broadband connection, 1080p video with 5.1 surround sound audio will be streamed to a HDTV without a start-up delay.

Not surprisingly, it requires a fast and reliable connection to function. Minimum specification is an 8Mb line -- and that's a minimum speed.

Sounds like a good addition to the LIVE Marketplace but one that a lot of people won't be able to access until broadband speeds in the UK drastically improve, and speed capping/throttling is abolished.

In news that is hardly likely to surprise anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the difference in quality of a Blu-ray disc compared to a high definition download, a recent test carried out by CEDIA found that nine out of ten participants favoured disc over download.

Albeit a small survey of just 25 people, it required participants to view the same film on two identically set-up non-calibrated 40-inch LCDs, one displaying the Blu-ray disc of "Twilight" and the other an iTunes download of the film.

It proves that, comparing pictures side-by-side, many users can tell the difference.

That doesn't mean HD downloading is dead in the water, though. Not only will quality improve as bandwidth and connection speed increases, but many consumers are happy to watch lower quality content if it's convenient to get hold of it.

In any case, the differences will be less marked on smaller TVs.

(Via Blu-ray.com)

Microsoft, Warner Brothers UK and Pathé UK have partnered to bring more exclusive UK-produced films to Xbox LIVE! customers in high definition.

Details of the exact titles that will be available, and when, are sketchy, but it could include Slumdog Millionaire, The Duchess and Hunger.

Naturally, executives from all companies concerned are very happy about the deal.

(Via Electronic Theatre)

Microsoft has announced a new technology for its Internet Information Services (IIS) Media Services and extending the functionality of Silverlight.

The Smooth Streaming feature allows full quality high definition video, up to 1080p, to be streamed by a web server. However, it also offers adaptive video quality based on a user's web connection, thus delivering the best quality of video and with minimal buffering and fast startup times.

Adobe has announced that a version of its Flash runtime software will be integrated into various Internet-connected televisions, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players and other home devices, with the intention of bringing partner content via the web into the home.

Partners will include Atlantic Records, Broadcom, Comcast, Disney Interactive Media Group, Intel, Netflix, STMicroelectronics, The New York Times Company, NXP Semiconductors and Sigma Designs.

Adobe claims that "consumers will be able to enjoy rich, interactive viewing experiences and amazing new ways to engage with HD content on televisions. Flash technology-based applications will allow users to quickly switch between television programming and Web content outside the Web browser."

bbchd.jpgA leading UK broadband comparison service has warned that users taking advantage of the BBC's new HD iPlayer could run into trouble with their Internet service provider.

Even on many unlimited broadband packages, fair usage policies apply which could see users either charged, speed throttled or facing dropped connections if they exceed certain download limits, particularly during peak times.

While the iPlayer certainly isn't the only application that can use a large amount of bandwidth over a short period of time, its move to high definition format means that more data needs to be shifted over an Internet connection.

In January, the BBC's head of digital media technology, Anthony Rose, said that the iPlayer would get high definition content later this year.

Today that's been confirmed.

Rose said that, "the new adaptive bitrate technology and speed diagnostics page help optimise the viewing experience, while the resizable window gives users flexibility to switch between different quality streams, hopefully leading to a more satisfying experience overall."

An exact launch date for the upgraded iPlayer service isn't specified, but we'll keep an eye out and let you know when it's ready.

ituneslogo.jpgOver the weekend, Apple announced that its US customers can now rent and buy a selection of high definition movies including "Quantum of Solace" and "Twilight", with prices starting at US$4.99 for rentals within 30 days of the film's release, and US$19.99 for purchases.

As usual, UK customers will have to wait an unspecified amount of time before high definition versions arrive here, but given that most things drift across the Atlantic eventually, it's a fairly safe bet we'll get them sometime this year.

"Movie fans are going to love being able to buy and rent films including 'Quantum of Solace' and 'Twilight' in stunning HD from the iTunes Store," said Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of Internet Services.

"Customers have made HD content on iTunes a hit, with over 50 percent of TV programming being purchased in HD when available."

www.itunes.com/movies/hd

Related posts: Lost now available as HD iTunes download | Apple sells one million high definition TV shows on iTunes | iTunes Store movie downloads finally come to the UK | More HDTV via the Web news...

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Apple has just announced that Season 5 of Lost is the first TV show to be available in high definition in the UK iTunes Store.

Each episode costs £2.49, or a series pass costs £41.99, with new episodes downloading automatically as they become available each week.

It's a great alternative if you want to watch Lost (legally) in high definition but don't subscribe to Sky.

iTunes store link to Lost Series 5

As well as the many other "firsts" associated with Barack Obama's presidency, one less obvious one is that his weekly addresses are now available to download in 720p high definition.

The five-minute video is around 54MB in size so of course it's been compressed, but it still looks pretty good.

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Whitehouse.gov blog (via Fudzilla)

iplayer_pic.jpgAdding to ISP bosses' gnashing of teeth, a senior BBC executive has suggested that the BBC iPlayer could get a boost to high definition later this year.

Speaking at the C21TV exhibition, head of digital media technology Anthony Rose said that the iPlayer's quality would improve again over the coming year, with the likelihood that it will eventually reach HD quality.

lg.pngLast year, before CES 2008, Netflix and LG announced a partnership to build Internet-enabled set-top boxes for streaming movie content to a connected TV.

Now, LG has announced that it will build LCD and plasma high definition TVs with a Netflix streaming service already built in from spring this year.

Three British heavyweights - BT, the BBC, and ITV - have joined forces to promote a common industry approach to the provision of on-demand TV via broadband.

This would see an open, standards-based environment for broadband-connected digital TV receivers, and could lead to a new generation of subscription-free devices carrying free-to-air channels and a large selection of on-demand TV services such as iPlayer and ITV Player in both standard and high definition.

Director-General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, said: "Audiences tell us that they want more services through their television set. I am pleased that the BBC is working with industry partners such as device manufacturers, ISPs and other content providers on proposals which will bring real benefits for consumers.

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