Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. In this case, let me introduce you to Roku.
Roku is a little streaming device that works off your wi-fi connection so that you can stream movie and premium channels, both free and subscription-based to your television. I wanted to get Netflix and Hulu Plus, but I don’t like watching movies and other stuff on my computer and have no use for an expensive gaming device. I have a living room with comfy chairs and a big screen. That’s where I want to watch movies and television.
The Roku comes in different flavors — although they all work the same way. More expensive “advanced” models offer additional or augmented options, such as high-definition streaming, gaming, and earphone connections through the remote control.
In our case, there wasn’t much point in getting a very advanced model. Our high-definition television is an older model and only has one high-definition port which is already occupied with the connection to the cable box so we weren’t going to be able to take advantage of Roku’s 1080P capabilities and we have no interest in gaming.
The price is right: the entry-level model is just under $50, the next model up (the one I got) is just under $60 and the top of the line is around $100. It’s cheaper than any gaming machine. It’s small and connecting it is so easy that I could do it without help (though there were some nervous moments).
Basically, you plug A into B, B into C, C into D then follow the prompts. The instructions promise that this will bring out your inner geek. My inner geek is not hiding. I just don’t like dealing with hardware. I still don’t really believe that electricity isn’t going to spill out of the walls.
I got it put together and by golly, it worked. Despite appearances, there are only a very few free services. Most of the services are by subscription. I already belong to Amazon Prime, so I had one to start with. I wanted Netflix and was willing the pay the $7.99 a month for it. I haven’t decided about Hulu Plus yet. I figure I’ll jump into this slowly. Roku is as easy to set up as they say it is. And it works.
The bad news. It is what it is and that’s all it is. It is not configurable. There are no options to make it easier to use for people with special needs. There’s no help for the hard of hearing or visually impaired or anyone else who isn’t nimble of finger, sharp of eye and keen of ear.
The “search” capabilities are primitive and don’t hardly deserve to be called “search capabilities.” The tools, such as they are, are clumsy and slow. It’s easier to find whatever it is on your computer than go back and pick it up on the television. Keep your laptop handy because you’ll need it. Closed captions are available on Netflix, and I believe Hulu also. You can’t set it up so that anything on any channel that has closed captions will display them. You have to turn them on for each channel. Amazon doesn’t offer closed captions at all (shame on them). That’s not the fault of Roku. You can’t display captions if none are provided.
This is a fine piece of equipment for the price and it does what it promises. It’s absolutely worth the money, whether you buy the ultra economy model or the top of the line.
Is it going to replace your expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe yes, maybe not. It depends on your viewing habits, your technical aptitude, creativity and how your cable company has structured their prices. They don’t make it easy to delete pieces of your package. However, if you currently just can’t afford movie packages from your local cable or dish provider, this is a godsend. It’s affordable, easy to use (really as easy as they say it is) and it works.
Roku needs a better, more sophisticated user interface and a more efficient way of searching. There is a great deal to watch but finding it isn’t easy. Practice helps. It takes a while to get used to it. I’m fine on Amazon because I can set up my watch list on the computer and it is automatically available on Roku. You can also set up favorites and preferences for Netflix via the computer (easier than doing it directly on the Roku). I believe Hulu offers a similar option. You need a computer to get the most out of the Roku, but most of us have a few of them.
Standard set up couldn’t be much simpler.
Eventually, I will figure out how to find what I am looking for more efficiently. I figure Roku will also make a few improvements to the interface. In the meantime, it beats out the competition by several country miles (unless you are absolutely married to iTunes) and the price is more than reasonable. You get a lot of bang for your buck.
Note: You need one unit per television, but you don’t need a different account for Netflix or whatever for each Roku. One account works on all your devices: Roku, gaming devices, computers, tablets, telephones, and so on. It’s a pretty fair deal, especially compared to the price-gouging of traditional providers. Check them out. You may find it is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
- Roku 3 first look: Is it good enough to make you upgrade? (news.consumerreports.org)
- Roku 2 XS 1080p Streaming Player $79, New Roku 3 for $99.99 (hrblogs.typepad.com)
- 99$ Roku 3 is out With Impressive Specs to Take on Apple TV (techpp.com)
- Blockbuster On Demand launches on Roku (roku.com)
- Roku LT Streaming Player, Only $39 at Amazon! [DEAL ALERT] (epicagear.com)
- Roku cross-platform search supports Netflix, Amazon Instant, HBO GO, Vudu, Crackle (reviews.cnet.com)
- Roku adds headphones to latest online video player (news.yahoo.com)
- Return of the $79.99 Roku-Hulu Plus combo deal (reviews.cnet.com)
- Set-top showdown: Apple TV vs. Roku 3 vs. Boxee Box vs. WD TV Play vs. Google TV (digitaltrends.com)
- Roku 3 Review: Yeah, It’s The Best Media Streamer (leapbit.com)