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Media hubs

14jun media hubs hero default

Stream digital content on a big screen.

Media hubs are like mini content providers that can connect your devices to your TV. We tested 5 models to see how easy they were to use.

From our test

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Streaming media

You’ve got a bunch of digital content and a TV that’s not connected to your content. So how do you play it on the big screen?

Media hubs are the latest answer – they’re essentially mini content providers. They stream content from online services like Netflix but also from your mobile devices and computers. However, you’ll need a home WiFi network for them to work.

How streaming can help

Beyond the usual TV channels, websites like Netflix offer thousands of titles. YouTube alone has 100 hours of video uploaded every minute and users watch over 6 billion hours of video each month. Without a smart TV or media hub, you can only watch that content on your computer or mobile device.

There are a few other services that allow you to stream media like this. And if you don’t mind doing some technical work, there’s a host of overseas companies you can get content and media from as well.

Our test

We tested 2 kinds of streaming media hubs: the more traditional “black box” style and the new “stick” style.

We tested them for ease of use – which covers everything from the initial set-up to streaming content.

Become a Gold or Silver member to find out how they rated.

Jargon buster

Black box

The “traditional” media hub. It sits in your entertainment system, often has an internal hard drive, and streams media you already own from another source (like a laptop or external hard drive). See “Stick” for info on the newer type of hub.

DLNA

Stands for digital living network alliance. It’s a protocol to help simplify the process of sharing content around the home. It allows connected devices to “talk” to one another as seamlessly as possible over a wireless or wired network.

DNS

Stands for domain name system and is essentially a “phonebook” for turning website names (like consumer.org.nz) into a unique “phone number” for a website (such as 8:8:8:8). Using these numbers websites can tell where your computer is located. So-called smart DNS services allow your computer to pretend it’s in another location.

Ethernet

A cable connection for your computer or network.

File types

There are dozens of different media file types and not all devices can play every one of them. The more file types supported by your media hub the better. This is not really an issue for streaming devices like the Roku, Chromecast or Apple TV but it comes into play for devices that let you plug in a hard drive.

Geoblock

A “technological protection measure” designed to stop users from certain countries from accessing content. It’s like a digital version of DVD regions. Under New Zealand law you’re allowed to circumvent these geoblocks to access legal content.

iTunes

Apple’s movie store. You’ll need an Apple ID and account to use it. Once logged in you can rent or buy movies in HD. It’s strong on new releases and has a large selection of titles.

LAN

Stands for “local area network” and means (in this case) the home network all your devices are connected to.

Legal content

Content that you’ve paid for, or that’s available for free.

Netflix

A paid video-on-demand service based in the US. For a subscription you can watch as much as you like of its extremely large catalogue – but not that many new releases are available. Netflix also makes its own TV shows such as House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black.

Router

A device that creates a home network (unlike a modem which connects you to the internet).

Stick

A newer type of media hub. It plugs directly into your TV and is best for streaming media from external sources. It also uses USB power, so if your TV has a USB port then you don’t need to plug the stick into the wall.

Streaming

Transmitting content over a LAN or via the internet.

Unblock-US

A “smart DNS” service. By using Unblock-US you can fool international sites into thinking you’re from the US, UK or any country that’s required for access.

Setting up the Roku

Before you can use the Roku Streaming Stick, you have to jump through a couple of hoops to get it to work.

All Roku devices – including the Streaming Stick – are designed to be used in the US. Under New Zealand law you’re allowed to get around these so-called “geoblocks” to access legal content. And that’s what we’re going to help you do here. (Doing this is legal in New Zealand but it may breach the Roku or Netflix website’s terms and conditions, which can change without warning.)

Here are the 5 steps we took to get Netflix working on the Roku Streaming Stick:

  • First we signed up for Unblock-US. When you access sites on the internet, they “ask” your computer where it’s from. Unblock-US (and similar services like UnoTelly) can be used to change settings on your computers, tablets, phones and other devices, so they answer “USA” instead of “NZ”. Conveniently it’ll only do it for certain sites, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on TVNZ or TV3 OnDemand.
  • We added the service to our router so that it would automatically work for all our devices. There are simple instructions on the site for doing this.

  • Next we used a computer to go to roku.com and set up an account. If you’re asked for a postal address or zip code, use the one provided by YouShop. We’d already used YouShop to buy the Roku so we already had the address ready to go.

  • We then set up a Netflix account (also via a computer). This was similar to the Roku account, and again we used the zip code and address from YouShop as the billing address. (If you get to Netflix.com and it says it’s not available in your country then it’s likely you’ve made a mistake setting up Unblock-US.)

  • We then fired up the Roku stick, added it to our WiFi network, put in our details and were good to go. From time to time there was a glitch with Netflix that said we were from the wrong country, but restarting the Roku always fixed this.

And that was it. As soon as the set-up was over we were able to stream movies and TV shows from Netflix directly to a TV in full HD. (Netflix is a paid service, see the “jargon buster” above.) This technique doesn’t work with the Chromecast because it uses Google’s hardwired domain name settings (DNS) that Unblock-US can’t get around as simply.

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