Time to Buy a Roku?

This week, early adopters began receiving their Roku 3 streaming media players.  Already, the Roku 3 is the ‘#1 Best Seller in Multiroom Digital Music Systems’ on Amazon.com — whatever that means.  Should you buy a Roku 3?  Will a Roku 3 let you cut the cable?  In the next couple paragraphs, I’ll try to help you figure that out.

This is a blog about cutting the cable not streaming media, so any review of streaming media players has to begin with a discussion of where the media player fits into the cable cutting strategy.  Obviously, this kind of a discussion is going to be subjective — people who watch Netflix 80% of the time are going to be more excited about streaming media players than people who turn on the local news in the morning, the evening news at night, and syndicated sitcoms in between.  I fall into the latter group and am not terribly excited about streaming the internet to my television.  Just the same, I own eight streaming media players of which five are Rokus.

What exactly is a streaming media player? A streaming media player is a device that formats files and streams available on the internet for presentation on a television.  Generally, you get a nice menu and a remote and an interface that allows you to connect your streamer to the interface via your internet service provider.  That might not sound very exciting, but I promise you Netflix is more exciting on a 50″ plasma that a 15″ laptop and the Roku’s remote works better than a mouse.  The Roku 3 is a device that formats internet media for presentation on a television with an interface that looks good from ten feet away and can be managed with a small remote control

Can I cut my cable if I buy a Roku 3?  No.  If you enjoy local programming, cable sports, continuous programming, or time shifting, the Roku 3 is not going to replace your cable or broadcast television service.  I think Roku and other streaming media interests misrepresent themselves as a substitute for cable or broadcast television.  It’s obvious that they are not once you plug the device in and, as a consequence, there is no shortage of refurbished Rokus.

Why do I need a Roku?  You don’t.  But, you may want one.  While the Roku is no substitute for cable or broadcast television, it is a great supplement.  In fact, you might find that buying a Roku will allow you to ‘trim’ your cable service.  I personally prefer to wait for a popular series to arrive on Netflix.  The reward for my patience is a block of drama or comedy in a couple days that most have to experience over a year.  I like that a lot.

And there are a lot of compelling channels…

  • ADC: Free movie channel
  • Amazon Cloud Player: Play all the free music Amazon sends my way
  • CNN: Includes CNN International Live for background news and information
  • Crackle: Sony’s FREE version of Netflix
  • CS50: Harvard Intor to Computer Science course
  • Comedy Time: ‘Play All’ makes for good background noise
  • CBSSports.com: ‘Play All’ feature makes for a nice sports news channel
  • CNBC: Streaming business news for news and information
  • FoxNews: Stream from web site plus clips of popular shows with ‘Play All’
  • Kaplan College Prep: Help your kid with his SATs
  • Lecture Kings: Librivox audio box is hidden in a channel of university lectures
  • Netflix
  • Nowhere TV: To install Nowhere TV on your Roku, click here
  • OVGuide: Free movie channel
  • Playon: To install Nowhere TV on your Roku, click here
  • Plex: Stream your own files to your Roku via a Plex Server; lost of supported and unsupported channels too
  • Popcornflix
  • Popflix Classic TV: 26 Men, Adventures of Robin Hood, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bonanza, Burns and Allen, Date with the Angels, Dragnet, Life with Elizabeth, The Lone Ranger, The Lucy Show, Man with a Camera, Petticoat Junction, Sherlock Holmes, Westerns, You Bet Your Life
  • PubDHub: The stuff your dad used to reminisce about — ancient cartoons, PSAs, commercials, and movies
  • Smithsonian: Better than the Discovery channel
  • TWiT: Steve Gibson, Leo Laporte, and others talk tech
  • WSJ Live: WSJ had good election coverage

Is the Roku 3 the Right Steamer for Me?  Probably.  It’s the newest product from the most popular streamer maker.  Roku boasts 750 channels of programming and games.  The Roku 3 remote has an audio out jack so you can listen to the Roku via included ear buds.  The R3 rocks a new user interface that presents nine channels at a time.  This combined with the new processor provides a zippier user experience.  The R3 also supports dual band wireless connectivity — just like the obsolete Roku 1.  What’s not to like?

  1. No composite out.  If your television does not support HDMI, the Roku 3 is not for you.  Those analog outputs come in handy even if you do not have an older television.  There are a lot of audio only Roku channels.  I route the analog audio output to a separate channel on my sound-bar so that my 50″ plasma TV doesn’t have to be powered on when my wife listens to IHeartRadio or Spotify.  Some of the first gen Rokus had component out.  This connectivity is welcome when you have a lot of devices plugged into a television.
  2. The new remote is WiFi.  Like the BT remote that shipped with the Roku2 XS, this remote cannot teach learning remotes.  Twenty years ago my X-10 remotes paired IR with RF.  Not sure why Roku chose not to.
  3. Some existing channels (especially games) do not work with the R3.  No doubt this will be addressed, but I’m concerned this incompatibility will become an issue as new channels created for the R3 do not work with obsolete models.  Roku has abandoned a lot of hardware in five years.

On the horizon… There are some cool things going on in the internet television arena.  As disappointing as Simple has been, a lot of early adopters are pretty satisfied.  Simple.tv allows you to watch broadcast television on a Roku.  Aereo streams broadcast television to your Roku via the internet.  Aereo is going national this summer after fighting the cable companies in the courts most of last year.  Time Warner Cable (TWC) has a Roku channel that will let its customers use a Roku as a set top box replacement.

Not for me!  I’m going to pass on the Roku 3.  While the Roku 3’s processor improves response over previous models, I did not think this was a problem. R3 has a remote with an earphone plug, but I do not know why anyone would want that. It offers no new features other than a new interface that will be delivered to Roku 2 owners as a free upgrade in April. The R3 removes composite connectivity. I’m very unhappy about this because I use the analog audio outs as audio input to my HTIB which allows me to listen to Pandora, Spotify, and other audio channels without running my 50″ plasma tv. For the same money, I would recommend an R2XS. Hopefully, price drops on the R2 line will make this an easier choice.

This may be the most negative review you will read of the Roku 3, but I am probably the only reviewer who actually owns a Roku.

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