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Cable Technology Feature Article

August 12, 2013

Roku iOS App Offers AirPlay-Style Streaming

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

When it comes to set-top boxes for viewing video, one of the biggest names in town is definitely Roku. But with a variety of competitors coming to the fore, the front of the line is under constant threat from outsiders, and this requires regular innovation to be brought into play just to hold position. Roku isn't shying away from that task, however, and recently rolled out an update to its iOS app that offers new utility for those using both Roku and a bit of iOS hardware.

With Roku's 2.3 update, the “Play on Roku” feature gets a little extra power. Essentially working like a kind of AirPlay (News - Alert) mechanism for Roku, Play on Roku allows users to stream content from iOS gear—it also at last report works with Android devices—and offers several different functions depending on the type of media presented. For instance, when the Roku is used to play music from a device, cover art and information about the artist is also presented, along with the ability to run songs over slideshows. Meanwhile, when it comes to video, anything that's recorded on an Apple (News - Alert) mobile device can be presented via Roku. However, there are some limitations here, as Play on Roku doesn't work with third party apps. It also doesn't work with TV shows and movies that users had previously synced with said mobile devices.

Additionally, the Roku iOS app allows users to browse Roku channels and convert an iOS device into a remote control, and offers several other features as well. The Play on Roku feature, at last report, can be found on Roku 3, Roku2, newer Roku HD and Roku LT players, as well as the Roku Streaming Stick.

This is a good addition, of course—as much as I personally enjoy the Roku box, I have a less than pleasant time dealing with that remote—though it's enough to make some wonder if it's going to be enough to keep up with the increasing number of competitors in the field. While the Roku box offers quite a bit of value, devices like the Chromecast and others are looking to give Roku some serious competition. Play on Roku may well not be enough to fend off the advances of the array of competitors coming into play. Some have noted that Roku already offers a Chromecast competitor in the Roku Streaming Stick, and adding some key features to such a design—along with a marked price drop as the Roku Streaming Stick is at last report selling for more than twice the Chromecast’s price—would in turn make Roku a much more attractive buy. Throwing in Play on Roku, meanwhile, would do even better.

The market in set-top boxes is getting very heavily packed, but with a little engineering and a little marketing savvy, the end result can ultimately propel a company to the top of the food chain. Roku's offerings may well do just that, if same can keep up with the flow of competition in the field.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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