My Dish Network subscription is going to run its course in about a month or so, and I’ve long decided that this is when I will finally cut the cord on cable / satellite TV and just go with over the air signals and internet content. Even a year ago, I don’t think that this would have been possible. But now that practically all of the same shows are on either Hulu or Netflix, there’s really no point in paying a middleman such as Dish Network a monthly fee for any of it.
I already have a few Netflix boxes around the house like what’s built into our Blu Ray player and the Netflix software on the Wii, but I’ve always been tempted to pick up a Roku. A year or two ago it was simply another Netflix box, but now it has a full “channel store” not at all unlike the App store on Apple’s products. Just for the sake of explaining our own use case, I’m not putting it on our main TV in the living room, but instead in the bedroom TV so we can watch shows and movies before hitting the sack. We’ve only had it a few days, but so far I am super impressed.
I got the Roku HD model, which is the cheapest you can get at $69. It doesn’t include a USB slot, which you can get on some of the higher end models for around twenty bucks more. Also, this one only outputs to 720p, which is fine for us as that’s the highest resolution of the small TV we’re connecting it to.
The box itself is deceptively small, way smaller than it looks in any of the photos or videos you may have seen. It’s about the size or a portable hard drive and doesn’t take up much space at all next to whatever TV you are connecting it to. The remote feels just a little bit on the cheap side, but works well enough. It also comes with some standard RCA cables to connect it to, you’ll need to get an HDMI cable separately. But seriously, you can buy one of those for a dollar or two on Amazon.
The hardware is kind of moot though, as you’ll really only look at it once and quickly forget about it even being there. The real product is the software on it, which is really great. Channels install on the main menu really easily, there’s not even a download process for them. Click them in the channel store and they’re there when you go back to the main menu. You can also add private channels such as YouTube and RSS feeds that aren’t in the store, but these do take some time to load. Some of the channels that I tried out did have had a few hiccups, particularly Facebook Photos. The URL it gives you to connect the box to your account is dead, but I suspect this is a problem on the side of Facebook. Also, some of the live channels might not initially work on the first time. I’m not exactly sure what is occurring, but it seems as if the software updates itself when live video feeds in, so this is probably a one time thing.
The video quality on the big name services like Netflix is great. We’re on a 1.5 to 2.0 Mbs connection, but even on that the quality looks like DVD quality or better to us. I haven’t yet tried out Amazon’s video service on it yet, but I can’t imagine it not being comparable. The only other big con on the Roku that I can think of is that the navigation isn’t exactly fully there yet. When browsing Netflix movies, sometimes it isn’t initially clear how to go back one page instead of just going all the way back to the Roku’s home menu. However, the entire box is updatable whenever Roku pushes new software. So you get the feeling things like this might be corrected before too long.
My suggestion is that this is a definite buy whether or not you’re cutting the cable. If you aren’t, it’s a great supplement that doesn’t cost much extra. If you are, this is an absolute must have. Especially if you don’t have any other boxes capable of streaming Netflix. Once you have it, you’ll wonder why you were paying your cable or satellite provider so much a month in the first place.