It was a sunny Saturday afternoon here in West Michigan. One of the first we've had in a long while. What did I do to celebrate it? Caught up on episodes of Perfect Couples and 30 Rock on Hulu. What? It's still cold out. Besides, I opened the shades.
It's this Roku, see? It's given television new meaning for me. I'm not sure that's an entirely good thing for my productivity but it's nice on the weekends when typically I'd sit around watching stuff I hated just because I didn't feel like doing anything else and there was nothing on the 200+ available channels of "stuff" that I wanted to watch at any given time.
I bought the Roku because I wanted to save money. After seven plus years of being a faithful DirecTV customer, I was tired of seeing my bill go up and up and, well... UP. I'd been thinking about it for a while but I was having trouble making myself take the plunge. I'd always really loved my DirecTv. But, just before Christmas, I saw a special deal. Roku had a deal going with Netflix that if you signed up for Netflix on demand at $7.99 a month, you could take $20 off the price of any Roku unit. And so for $59.99 and free shipping, I ordered the Roku XD. I figured I had nothing to lose, it was less than the monthly cost of my (basic) DirecTv service and if nothing else it would be a nice supplement.
Considering I ordered my Roku during the Christmas shipping season it arrived incredibly fast. The box itself is tiny and incredibly light. I didn't have an extra HDMI cable so I hooked it up using the included RCA cables and breezed right through the little bit of setup it required, including applying software updates, joining it with my wireless network, adding channels and activating it to work with my Netflix and HuluPlus accounts. Because I have the slowest internet that AT&T offers (1.3 MB down) I figured I'd have to upgrade but to my surprise, the streaming worked just fine and I was still able to browse websites while watching TV.
In January I took the plunge and dropped my DirecTv service. I went from paying $68 a month for TV to paying about $16 a month for my Hulu and Netflix subscriptions. I was already paying for internet service and I didn't end up having to upgrade so no change there. Not bad. The interface is easy and uncluttered. The Roku works with Amazon Video On-Demand so you can rent and purchase content. There are also quite a few other channels available and several have been added just since I started using my box. One of the big draws is Pandora, everyone's favorite Internet radio.
It's not perfect. CBS isn't partnered with Hulu so none of their current content is available. You can watch it on their website but I can't stand watching TV on my computer. Mostly because whenever I'm watching TV I'm also on the computer! However, if you have a digital TV this can be remedied by hooking up and antennae to pick up local stations. (If you don't have a digital TV you'll still need a digital converter box to use with your antennae.) BBC America is another content provider that hasn't really jumped on the streaming bandwagon. I miss watching Graham Norton. I also miss The Soup and Chelsea Lately, a couple of big hits on E! that aren't currently available on HuluPlus. But I expect that as more people switch over to streaming devices that content providers will be forced to fall in line. And as much as I miss those few shows, I don't miss the big bill every month. It just wasn't worth it.
So far the biggest down side is that I find myself watching more TV. I have access to classic shows that haven't been available in syndication for years right up to current episodes of almost all my favorite shows and I can watch them when it's convenient for me without worrying about setting my DVR to record or worrying about filling up the hard drive. I've discovered new shows I didn't know existed because I was never watching during the right time slots. I recently discovered Raising Hope, Perfect Couples, the IT Crowd and I plan on going back to catch up on Parenthood from the beginning of the season. I can finally go back and watch Desperate Housewives from the beginning and figure out who everyone is. I can spend a boring Sunday watching an entire season of programming back to back.
The biggest positive, besides cost savings, has been the advertising. Netflix doesn't have ads during the content. HuluPlus does but it's very minimal and not obnoxious at all and doesn't distract from television viewing. It is exactly the way advertising on television should have always been and the way I hope it will remain, at least for streaming content.
There are a few technical glitches from time to time. It's a new technology, after all. Roku just announced that they sold their one millionth box during 2010. If you really think about it, one million is a pretty small number for a product like this. From time to time my box will freeze. Usually it restarts itself and it's a pretty quick process. Quicker, in fact, than waiting for my DirecTv receiver to start back up after a restart- or a rainstorm! Sometimes there are software updates that need to be applied which is so easy as to be almost automatic. Occasionally there will be an interruption in the streaming content but I think this has more to do with the content provider, or possibly my slow internet. I am always able to recover and pick back up where I was. Overall, I am impressed. The quality of the picture is clear, the sound is great. Everything syncs up fine and doesn't look pixellated or jerky. I can pause my viewing whenever I want and because the commercials are so brief I often do. No time to run out to the kitchen for a snack or take a bathroom break!
Streaming content changes your viewing experience. At first I found it cumbersome and somewhat overwhelming to have to decide what I wanted to watch rather than turning on the TV and just flipping through channels. It's a much less passive means of entertaining yourself. I got used to it pretty quickly though and I have to say, I really prefer it. I don't feel tied to my television at certain times and I tend not to turn it on simply for background noise so even though I'm probably watching more TV, my viewing is much more focused and the TV isn't on as much.
I love my Roku and I highly recommend purchasing one if you have any ideas about dumping your cable or satellite provider. It was the right choice for me and several friends and family members have happily purchased one at my recommendation. Even if you don't intend it as a replacement for cable or satellite service it's not a bad supplement to these services. If you're considering a purchase, however, remember that you will need to subscribe to Netflix and HuluPlus in order to get the most out of your player. Just keep in mind that if you order a box, you may spend more time watching TV for a while. Don't say I didn't warn you!