Month: October 2016

Roku Ultra after one week (review)

Roku Ultra device

I’m throwing in the towel and giving up on the Amazon Fire Stick. Between the 5.1 audio problems, laggy performance, and crashes, I decided to look at the current state of home media streamers. I couldn’t have picked a better moment, because literally the same day I made the decision I was walking around Best Buy and noticed the new Roku Ultra. I didn’t buy it on the spot since I wanted to do some more research. After going home and convincing myself that it was worth the $129 price tag, I placed my order on Amazon.

The new Roku Ultra arrived in a snap thanks to 2-day Prime Shipping, and I had it plugged into my TV faster than you could say “Smart TV”. From the very get go, setup was a breeze. A simple, guided wizard takes you through the process, and orients you to the new device. “Channels” are what Roku calls apps, and you pick out your favorite in order to get it to do exactly what you want. For me, that’s mostly Plex, Netflix, and YouTube. But I also browsed the catalog a bit and found several other interesting ones to add, such as NatGeo, HGTV, a few news channels, etc.

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Using Roku Ultra’s search is also pretty impressive. Press and hold the magnifying glass on the remote and speak into the top of the remote. Release when finished speaking. Roku will then search the channels you’ve added for content, and return the results for your selection. It’s pretty cool that it will search multiple channels! Definitely makes finding content much easier. I was also impressed because I asked it for a live stream of the Presidential Debate. The Roku Ultra pulled it right up on the Fox News channel/app. I’m a guy that doesn’t have regular cable television, so it’s really cool to be able to do this.

The point-anywhere remote is also a good touch. Most users might under appreciate this, but that’s kind of the point. The remote just works. I have other traditional IR remotes that get fussy when they aren’t lined up just right with the receiving equipment.

My only complaint so far is that sometimes buffering audio is about 1-2 seconds off. I’ve noticed this in both Plex and Netflix, so I’m wondering if it’s a systematic problem. Basically what happens is that when I select a video to watch, the video will start playing, but I won’t be able to hear any audio for the first 1-2 seconds. It’s a small thing, and something I can definitely live with, but if Roku is looking to polish the edges here, this would be one thing to buff(-er) out! (Pun intended for my nerd friends!)

Starbuck’s New 0 Calorie Sweetener: what exactly is it?

On September 9th[1], thousands of Starbucks locations across the USA started stocking a new 0 calorie sweetener in a green packet, produced by Whole Earth, called Nature Sweet. If you’re like me, you are intensely interested in the things you put into your body, so naturally, I flipped the little green packet over and found the ingredient list.

Ingredients: erythritol, fructose, chicory root fiber, stevia leaf extract, monk fruit extract.

So what exactly are each of these things, what do they do to you, and are they really zero calorie?

Erythritol

Erythritol is a natural sugar alcohol that is found in certain fruits and produced by certain fermentation processes of regular sugar. It has a long history of human use, is FDA approved, and contains 0.2 calories per gram, which is pretty low. It also has a “cooling” effect making the mouth feel a bit different than regular sugar. Useful in food stuffs that are going for this, such as mint flavored things. It’s about 60-70% as sweet as sugar and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. FDA, and doesn’t typically stomach distress like other sugar alcohols can, when consumed in large amounts.

Fructose

Fructose is the name of sugar that occurs naturally, and in abundance, in fruit! This is decidedly not a 0 calorie ingredient, having the same caloric value as refined sugar at 4 calories per gram. Also the fact that it’s the 2nd ingredient on the list means is the 2nd most prominent ingredient by weight, so that’s a bit suspicious. But in the end, fructose is completely natural and is safe to consume. The entire packet is also only 2 grams total, so the actual amount of fructose in here is negligible.

Chicory Root FiberRelated image

Chicory root fiber, also known as inulin, is a soluble fiber with many recorded health benefits. It is also not really calorie free, and weighs in at 1.5 calories per gram. This is a rough estimation though, as inulin is fermented heavily in the digestive tract by beneficial gut bacteria, so the amount available to the body as calorie energy is somewhat variable. Inulin is safe to consume, and actually promotes healthy gut bacteria! It is about 10% the sweetness of sugar.

 

Stevia Leaf Extract

Stevia comes from an herb, and truly has 0 calories. The downside is that it doesn’t quite have the same taste or mouth feel that sugar does, so many people aren’t fond of it alone. In high quantities, it can impart a bitter flavor. But at 1500% sweeter than sugar, you really don’t need much for it to have the sweetening effect! This is probably why Whole Earth has it in here in such small amounts. Stevia has been used for a long time and is generally regarded as safe.

Monk Fruit Extract

Monk fruit comes from a melon-like fruit and also has a long history of human use. It’s around 1500-2000% sweeter than regular sugar, and also truly has 0 calories. This is the last ingredient on the package, so it is contained least by volume. Monk fruit is a powerful sweetener, making a little go a long way.

So is it truly zero calories?

The true answer is: no. It is not truly zero calories thanks to the erythritol, fructose, and chicory root fiber ingredients. What concerns me the most is the inclusion of fructose, because it is equal to refined sugar in terms of calories, carbohydrates, and effect on blood sugar. But the reality is, the amount of fructose in one packet is very negligible and most of the perceived sweetness seems like it must be coming from the very strong stevia and monk fruit ingredients. The whole packet itself is definitely less than 5 calories, because that is the only way the FDA would allow them to claim it as a 0 calorie sweetener.[2]

“It is not truly zero calories thanks to the erythritol, fructose, and chicory root fiber ingredients.”

In my mind, it’s a better choice than the artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose), and better than regular sugar. Whole Earth claims one packet (2 grams) is equal to 2 tsp of sugar (8.4 grams). So if you’re using 1 or 2 packets for your venti coffee, I think you’re fine, and you’re adding less than 10 calories to your drink.

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References

[1] https://news.starbucks.com/news/starbucks-offers-nature-sweet

[2] http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064911.htm