Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. Let me introduce you to the Roku.
Roku is a little streaming device that works off your wi-fi connection so you can stream movie and premium channels, 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 a pricey 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 — 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 (currently on sale for $39), the next model up — the one we bought) sells for around $50 right now. The top of the line is under $100, less than any gaming device. 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 really is as easy as they promise. It works. And keeps working.
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 deserve to be called “search capabilities.” The tools, such as they are, are clumsy and slow. Although there has been some improvement since I originally bought and installed it, the improvement is not substantial … and in some ways, actually makes it more difficult to use. It’s at best klutzy and at worse, brings out my resentment of poorly designed software.
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 some channels, not others. You can’t set it so that any channel that offers closed captions will display them. You have to turn captions on for each channel individually. Not all stations offer close captions at all. Shame on them.
All that being said, the Roku is a fine piece of equipment for the price. It does what it promises. It’s worth the money, whether you buy the ultra economy model or top of the line.
Is it going to replace your expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe yes, maybe no. 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.
You need one unit per television, but you don’t need a different account 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.
It’s on sale all over the place right now for Christmas and it’s a great gift for yourself or any friends that have a WiFi connection.