Product Review: Roku

April 18, 2012

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Image representing Roku as depicted in CrunchBase

Recently, my wife and I tried out Amazon Prime, mostly for the free Amazon Instant Video selections.  Although I used the free month to watch the Swedish version of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, the overall selection of movies left something to be desired.  So we’ve decided to go to NetFlix instead.  I’d been using Amazon Instant Video on the computer downstairs, and was unpleasantly surprised to find out that it didn’t quite meet the hardware requirements for NetFlix (just 0.17 GHZ too slow).  Boo.  I’d need a different option for the downstairs TV.

We had just recently purchased a Blu-Ray player for the upstairs computer.  It was a Panasonic DMP-BDT210 (since replaced by the newer BDT220 model).  We’ve used it far more for streaming video than for playing Blu-Ray at this point.  We paid $130 for the 210 model, but the 220 model is $190.  That would be an expensive option … and not even a workable once, since the player only has HDMI output (the TV is 10 years old and only has coax and RCA).

Replace the TV with a newer model that supports NetFlix out of the box?  That’s an option, but I can’t justify spending $500+ on a TV at the moment … especially when the existing TV is working just fine.

Apple TV?  I’m a Mac guy, so I take a look at this.  Alas, only digital output.  The requirement for RCA output is becoming a larger stumbling block than I had hoped.

My search then took me to the Roku.  There are a few different models of the Roku, but I wanted the bare bones model, the Roku LT.  The price – $50.  I ordered it and a few days later, it arrived on my doorstep.  The size of the device caught me a bit off guard.  As an IT guy, I logically knew that this sort of a device didn’t have to be very big … but the Roku was about the same size as the remote.

(Here’s a question: why doesn’t NetFlix partner with a hardware supplier to sell a similar box?  They could sell it for the same price and include a three month trial of NetFlix.  In return, they’ve made it slightly harder for someone to switch to a competitor, since they have a NetFlix-only box).

The setup

The setup was pretty quick and painless.

  • Physical – Attached the RCA cable to the TV.  Plug in the AC adapter.  Note: the Roku does also support HDMI output.  720 for the cheaper options, 1080 for the more expensive ones.
  • Account setup – During the initial setup, you’ll be asked to get on your computer and register your Roku, using an activation code that appears on the screen.  Note that you are asked to enter a credit card to be used when you purchase premium channels.
  • Add channels – You’re ready to add some channels!  I added Netflix via the web site.  Then I went back to the Roku and used the Roku remote to enter my account credentials.  It would have been easier if I could have entered this info on the computer instead of Roku’s site, but it was still a pretty quick process.

Overall impression

I’m really not using many of the advanced features of the Roku.  I’m going to use it for NetFlix and maybe a few other channels (of which there are hundreds including NetFlix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Pandora, sports channels, etc).  I wanted something relatively inexpensive and easy to set up.  The Roku definitely fits the bill.  It’s so easy to set up that there’s not point in looking at the instructions.

The Roku will pay for itself next year.  The Roku and Blu-Ray player both support MLB.TV, so I’ll be able to subscribe to that instead of MLB Extra Innings.  That’s a cost savings of around $75 per year.  #Winning.

You can purchase the Roku by clicking on the image below (which will take you to Amazon) or you can purchase directly from Roku.  We do receive a small commission on each sale.

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