Cut the Cord With a Roku?

Monthly Cable / Satellite Bill too high?

The term “cut the cord” is used to describe those who have turned off their land line telephone services – usually in favor of cell-phone-only service. I have done that but I used the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) alternative – Ooma to replace my home wire line phone (for more, see this article).

cable guy

Like the Cable Guy?

The term is also descriptive of cutting the TV cable. I have had DirecTV for about 15 years. There was no cable service in this remote area until a couple years ago when Charter ran a digital cable. DirecTV is nice and I really like having the stop / rewind / start of my DVRs. But the cost of the service has gotten awfully high! And, cable is just as expensive – if not more so. But, what can you do?

Have any of you guys “cut the cord” and dumped your cable / satellite provider? What services, sites, equipment are you using?

I have had an account with NetFlix for the past year or so and started streaming video from there as soon as it became available. I used my Vizio BluRay player and that works well. However, it seems that the shows my wife likes best are not available via NetFlix streaming.

Recently, Woot.com had the Roku N1000 players on sale for $40. I bought two – one for the living room and one for the bedroom. One of the (reconditioned) units was defective and had to be returned. I got the replacement today and it works fine.

The Roku device is a small box that pulls video from the Internet (via your local network connection) and sends it to your television set. The N1000 can be connected via wireless (b/g/n) or with a wired Ethernet connection. I prefer the wired connection and the N1000 includes that capability. The NEW Roku2 devices have some additional features but you have to buy the $99 version in order to get a wired connection. Since that device also offers 1080p resolution (vs 720p of the N1000), I may purchase one the next time I find an extra $100 bill in my pocket. But for most viewing, there is little difference between the two resolutions.

What I like about the Roku.

The device allows you to easily add any of hundreds of available “channels.” These channels include an almost unlimited variety of content. Some channels are by subscription (NetFlix, Amazon, Hulu Plus), while many others offer their content for free (AOL HD, iTunes Podcasts, etc). Several channels insert commercials into the stream. This is understandable with the free channels but Hulu Plus is a pay service and they still insert commercials.

  • The NetFlix channel allows you to access and stream any video that NetFlix includes in its “Watch Instantly” library. At present, the “streaming only” service costs $7.99 per month.
  • The Amazon channel offers free streaming if you are a member of their “Prime” 2-day shipping program ($79/yr). If you discount the shipping and consider the annual fee to be entirely for the streaming service, the cost comes to less than $6.70 per month. Not all of Amazon’s video is free to Prime members but over 6000 shows and movies are free.
  • “Hulu Plus™ lets you watch hit current and back season TV shows and acclaimed movies anytime in HD for $7.99/month with limited advertising.” (From their site.) Note, there are two versions: Hulu.com streams ONLY to your computer at standard definition. Hulu Plus is required to stream via Roku but it includes additional programming and is generally streamed at high def, 720p.
  • The AOL HD channel just launched (July 27, 2011) and it is very good. The free service features three main channels of high-definition AOL Huffington Post Media Group content – entertainment, technology and home. Within each of those groups, there are many sub channels covering a wide array of content. This one channel could easily provide all the TV viewing a user might need.
  • There are hundreds more free or paid channels. Many are listed on the Roku Channel Store.

Other video sources are available via what Roku calls “Private” channels. When you sign in on the website, you can enter a private code to LINK to a 3rd party channel. Just Google “roku private channel codes” to find several lists. The list at http://www.roku-channels.com/ seems to be one of the better ones.

One of the best of these private channels is the iTunes library of podcasts (audio & video). Evidently, the entire library of podcasts is available as if you were using a computer or Apple device. Although I am not an Apple person, the idea of access to “hundreds of thousands of podcasts” is pretty awesome!

The quality of the content: Content from the paid providers appears to be current with some providers offering content when the DVDs are released or the day after the TV episode is broadcast. Free services tend to provide video from the public domain that is “classic” (nice term for “very old.”) The resolution of the content is likewise varied from high definition on the paid services to very poor definition on some of the free channels.

Android Remote: I found the Roku Remote app on the Market ($1.49) and I am VERY pleased with it. It links to the Roku via your local network so you do not need to be within direct line-of-sight as you would with an InfraRed (IR) remote. Also, it gives several additional features that are not available with the regular remote.

What I don’t like about the Roku: 

I was surprised to learn that there is no access to YouTube videos. The service is still available via my BluRay but I read that Google (parent company of YouTube) requested Roku remove the channel earlier this year.

The quantity of content is too large to easily manage. This is both a good and a bad thing. The fact that there is so much content available (either free or with a small subscription) makes the device almost sufficient to “cut the cord.” However, I have yet to discover a good management tool to guide me through the mazes of the various (different) menu options on each channel. That is just to browse what is available. If you want a particular TV show or movie, then you must search on each channel to determine what they have available. Some websites, such as Yidio.com propose to link the shows which are currently available on the Internet with the website where it can be viewed. But, there is no Yidio channel on the Roku and it is not convenient to search on the computer, link to the content and then find it on the Roku in order to view it on your TV.

No live content. There is some live content on Roku channels – but not much. Some news channels (and home shopping channels) may be streamed live, but most of the content is recorded. If you want live content from the major networks, you will need to add a physical antenna for over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts. Such antennas are not terribly expensive. If you live in a metropolitan area, you may be able to use a set of rabbit ear antennas. For suburban viewers, an external antenna may be required. Don’t be put off by the “snowy” content that one received via OTA broadcasts of yesteryear. Today, local stations broadcast in full HD (1080p) without the loss of compression that cable and satellite providers impose. Bottom line: you will get a BETTER picture with an antenna than with cable!

Summary:

I would recommend the Roku N1000 to anyone wishing to start the process of cutting the cable cord. Although this device gives you access to an almost unlimited amount of content, it is difficult to navigate so many different sources. There are a multitude of free channels and even if you add all three major paid channels (NetFlix, Amazon, & Hulu Plus), your subscription cost will be less than $25 per month – considerably less than any cable or satellite service. You will need to acquire some type of antenna if you want to view live content but that is entirely free, after the initial cost of installation.

Your comments are always encouraged…

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