My review of the Picasa “channel” for Roku

For a while now, I’ve been in search of an easy way to browse my Picasaweb albums on the big screen television in my living room. Little did I know that the answer was right under my nose… or under my television, to be more precise!

First some background: I organize all the photographs I take using Google’s Picasa for Windows. And then I upload them to Picasa’s online photo sharing service called Picasa Web Albums (aka Picasaweb). I upload most of my albums with Picasa’s “Anyone with the link” sharing option.

So I’ve had a Roku box for, oh, maybe a year now? When they first added the ability for developers to build their own channels, I was disappointed to see that there wasn’t a Picasa “channel” for the device…. but sometime between then and now, someone added one! Specifically, this guy, Chris Hoffman, appears to be the man behind the Picasa Channel for Roku.

hoffmancs’s Picasa plug-in for Roku on my Roku’s main menu (yes, the plasma is badly burned in)

Setup: the way it works is pretty simple: you first install the Roku channel and then when you go to access it, you’re given an access code to enter in on this page:

You pull up this page on your laptop/netbook/desktop/whatever and then you enter your “claim code”.

Then you’re asked to link the Picasa Roku Channel with one of your Google Accounts, via OAuth (which is much more secure than the Picasa channel asking you to give it your Google username and password).

Then, that’s it as far as setup goes!

Using it: From here, using this Picasa channel, you can:
– browse your albums
– browse your tags
– browse by some other things (that I don’t remember)

Albums menu option in hoffmancs’s Picasa channel for Roku

Some notes from my using it about 30-40 times now:

  • I mostly use the “browse by albums” screen to choose an album and then start playing it back.
  • Playback is automatically in “slideshow” mode, with the default delay being 3 seconds. You can change this on the settings screen.
  • The Roku plug-in also seems to pre-cache four or five photographs — that’s the number of photographs I can quickly clickthrough before the app forces me to wait so it can load another photograph.
  • It displays the entire photograph on your TV screen, so if it’s a portrait photograph, you’ll have large black areas to it’s left and right (which is the right thing for any slideshow viewer to do by default).
  • Assuming you have your Roku hooked up to an HDTV and you have the Roku configured for 720p mode, it displays your photographs in beautiful high-definition (subject, I’m sure to whatever resolution you uploaded them at).
  • It handles video: The Picasa channel for Roku also handle videos you’ve uploaded. Assuming you have an album that includes videos, when you choose that albums, you’re presented with a sub-menu of viewing the photographs in that album or the videos in that album. If you choose to view the videos, you are presented with a list of the vidoes and when you choose one, it buffers it and starts playing. I was surprised at how good the videos looked when played back through the app!

Bottom line? The Picasa channel for Roku is a big winner. The quality of the photographs is great. It handles videos. It nails my core use-cases. I’m already using this thing all the time, sharing photographs I’ve taken with my family, with friends that have come over. It’s great! I’m surprised that this thing hasn’t gotten more attention — the only really relevant google search result for “Roku Picasa Channel” is this thread in the Roku forums.

But like any good early adopter, I have my wish list of things that I wish this app handled:

1) multiple picasa account support: I wish this thing supported multiple accounts. In our family, my father and I take all the photographs — he uploads his to his own Picasa account and I upload to mine. Switching between accounts is a big pain right now (ie I’d have to go through the whole setup process described above). I wish I could configure one account and then another and then have it interleave the albums or even just let me then pick one account or the other. BTW, I noticed that the Picasa Web Albums viewer in Google TV (from when I tried out one of Sony’s new Google TV devices) supports multiple accounts.

2) album & photograph search: I don’t think the app supports searching my albums at this point. I have several years of photographs in Picasa Web Albums so going back to one from say 3 years ago involves my scrolling through a very long list of albums (they’re presented in reverse chronological order).

3) better “browse photographs in album” support: right now, I’m able to browse through photographs in an album, but the interface is a horizontal ribbon of all my photographs. Like Picasa’s web-based interface, I wish I would get a grid of photographs and then choose from a grid. When I have a large album (say 500+ photographs of a family trip to Europe), I may want to jump to a particular part of the album and doing that now, like browsing for an album from a while ago, is painful.

4) more robust account linking: I don’t know if I’ll see this happen again, but for some reason the Roku at my parents house loses it’s connection to the house wifi every so often. If you’re disconnected from WiFi (and Roku doesn’t give you a very good notification of this) and you try to access the Picasa Web channel, it fails and appears to disconnect you from your Picasa Web Albums account. Once you reconnect the Roku, you have to go through the setup process again.

5) better caching of photographs: like I mentioned above, the app appears to cache a handful of photographs but when you get to the end of that cache, which in my case happens after I click quickly through four or five photographs, then it stalls without any feedback that it’s loading the next photograph(s). I’ve figured this out, but I can guarantee this would confuse my Dad.

6) support for viewing other picasa web albums: Other people occasionally share picasa albums with me. I wish I could somehow take an e-mail with a link to a picasa web album and pull that up album up on my TV. I’m not sure exactly how this would work, but it would be useful and handy.

Anyhow, most importantly, thanks hoffmancs for the great Roku app, I’m using it all the time!

Update: here’s a slideshow of a lot of the screens (I took ’em using my iPhone’s camera):

5 thoughts on “My review of the Picasa “channel” for Roku”

  1. How can we get print capability in the tv/internet world of tomorrow? will I be able to print that google map off my tv or will i have to go back to my office and use the traditional way?

  2. Agreed. This is pretty cool. I came to this blog to make sure it was not malware or anything. Thanks for the confirmation before I set it up!

    1. Glad to hear my post was useful to you. I continue to use this app all the time. My number one feature request, after many weeks of use, is multiple account support. Since my Dad and I both upload photographs to Picasa, I’d like to be able to show albums from his picasa collection or mine.

    1. This claim code should appear on your TV screen in the Roku interface when you go to link the Picasa-Roku app to your Picasa account.

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