March 12, 2018

Roku Is My New Friend

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

Like many other people in these here United States, we became tired of the ever-increasing prices for cable TV, and decided to join the "cord cutters" revolution. This is the streaming video thing happening. We did not even know it was such a big deal!


Cable Itself Became Expensive

Sure, cable television is very useful, especially for specialized channels or for people who live in areas that do not have over-the-air broadcast variety of availability. The biggest complaint is that prices keep going up. Another complaint is that you can get hundreds of channels but nothing to watch, or the same movies on several channels. (Satellite TV is not an option for us, and that has its own set of problems.) We started with the company of many names, one of which was Time-Warner Cable. We got the package of three services that had phone, high-speed internet and television. Prices kept going up, and when Charter Communications bought Time-Warner Cable, it became Spectrum. When the price reached about $244 USD a month and my bank account kept zeroing out, it was time to change.


There was Talk of Streaming Television

Y'all know about streaming, it happens on teh interweb all the time. You can hear a tune or watch a video while it is still downloading to your device, and when you turn it off, the content is gone. Big difference from a more standard download that stays on your computer. With streaming, you can watch live broadcasts of some television channels and podcasts. For a while, we were watching Netflix on the Wii gaming device, since it hooks up to the internet, but lost interest.

I remember hearing Ian Juby mention Roku back when he was doing Genesis Week. He said his program was available on the Genesis Science Network, which is available online and the Roku device. But since I could watch Genesis Week on YouTube, I wasn't all that interested in Roku.

But I kept hearing about it.


Making the Change

Spectrum offered us scaled-back packages, but they were still too expensive. Having done some reading up on Roku in the past, when the cost of Spectrum cable became too much to handle on our budget (and resentment at the constant price increases), we got serious about finding out our options. However, we don't watch that much television. What we do watch, we want to continue to see, you see. Can a Roku help with that?

I learned that Roku is an established player in the streaming competition. Someone stated that they use a gadget called "Fire Stick" in their house. Wazzat? Turns out it's a product of Amazon, and some versions work with Siri voice activation. Naturally, it has a heavy emphasis on Amazon rentals and purchases. Google is joining in the fray with "Chromecast", which has some nifty features where you can "cast" videos from your computer to your television. Apple TV and others are also joining in the streaming TV marketplace.

The prices on these things vary quite a bit, from about $29 to much higher. The more expensive versions have more capabilities, but we didn't feel the need for those. Roku is even installed in some "smart TVs". Just get us some channels and we'll learn as we go along, you savvy?

Roku is based in Los Gatos, California, which is considered a part of the Silicon Valley. Appropriate location. Their devices and services are primarily used in the US and Canada, but other countries have some of their services as well. Humorous observation: Pluto TV, another California-based service (mentioned below) has a channel called Cats 27/7. Los gatos is Spanish for "the cats". Except it's not for the ones you want in your home. Maybe that observation isn't so funny after all.


Special Hardware Needs

Since these streaming widgets work off the internet, you must have WiFi happening in your abode. Some have a direct ethernet connection plug, but the one that we needed did not. Besides, even though ethernet supposedly does not suffer from signal degradation over long distances, even if we had the right kind of TV, running the cable would be a logistics nightmare in this apartment.

Most of the major companies market toward newer televisions and HDMI connections are necessary. Yes, you can get a converter, but those can be expensive, and they still may not work with your set. Roku has the Express Plus, which works with both HDMI and our old composite set. So, we got that one.


Roku Express Plus and composite television

There's our Roku Express Plus. I wanted to show just how small it is (the Roku "Stick" models are not exactly huge, either). My distance glasses are next to it for perspective. I tampered with the screen and added an image so the picture looked better, and for another purpose that will be mentioned later.


Source: Imgflip, which directs us to the original video from Roku
The basics for connecting are not complicated. Users need to select the correct input.

"But Cowboy Bob, I'm content with my cable TV provider!"

Because our TV has multiple inputs, I was able to do something I thought was ironic, and watch our Spectrum TV through the Roku. Yes, we were not going to just jump into it, and did a side-by-side comparison to see if we wanted to invest more money by paying for channels on Roku. Some folks may want to have both cable and a streaming device so they can have more channels (both paid and free) than they know how to handle.

When I called Spectrum to cut out both the phone and television, they tried mighty hard to keep us and offer package deals. No go. But we have to keep the internet connection, since there are almost no other options here. Later that day I took back the DVR and remote. The guy looked...sad. Almost like I had slapped him in the face. Nothing personal, buddy, it's just business. And my money.


So Much to See

Roku has thousands of channels available. Many of these are free, and you can get classic movies, old television programs, comedies, musicals, cooking, anime, more recent movies, and more. One free venture is Pluto TV, which has many channels in itself, and you can even download it to your PC or smartphone. (I don't want TV on my smartphone, the screen is tiny and I don't want to waste battery power. But that's just me.) Some of the programs rotate; what was available last month has jumped the corral fence, and new stock has been herded in for this month. The Roku TV channel itself does this as well.

English is not your preferred language, or you want to improve your linguistic skills? There are many channels for viewers who want international content.

With all those things to watch, you may still want to see something that is unavailable for free. If you search on the main Roku screen, you are given the option to rent or buy movies and television episodes so they will be there when desired. You can also add those big names like HBO and such for a monthly fee.

Since I am a Christian, I looked for those channels. Yes, they are there, but many are Heretic Central, and not so many that are Bible-based. Also, I found a wagon trainload of Westerns, especially the very old ones.

There is also so much to hear as well. Quite a few radio stations are also available.


A Political Moment

Some folks of the leftist persuasion may want to skip this section. Those are the people who believe and propagate false reports about school shootings. In mid-February 2018, it was stated that there were eighteen "school shootings" year to date in the US. People have connotations of the extreme incidents where evil or deranged people went on shooting rampages in schools. However, the reported number is false, where incidents were included in the figure that should not have been there.

Naturally, Democrats and other leftists blamed the National Rifle Association and Donald Trump. NRA memberships have benefits, such as discounts on car rentals and such. Those leftist sidewinders wanted a corporate boycott (that's who they are and what they do), and several companies removed benefit participation. Obviously, they do not have the kind of spines that once made this country great. In the wake of the ridiculous bullying by the left, NRA memberships have soared.

Roku carries two NRA channels. Even though they are based in ulta-leftist California, Roku wasn't having any part of it. I speculate that since the NRA memberships have increased so dramatically, Roku may be glad they held their ground. Thanks, Roku!


Being of Some Account

Many of the services, including Roku itself, require users to have an account. This is generally free. A couple of times, I had to create an account, sign in, and enter the code on the TV screen so I could have the channel. When that happens, it's only once for each that requires you to sign up. Fine, I have a business email account. So far, this has not resulted in spamming.

Pay channels are plentiful, with a range of prices. Some are about $5 a month, others are $50 or more, depending on the package you choose. (I reckon that if you got one of the big packages, you might not be too keen on getting all those other channels. Clutter can happen quickly.) We opted for three pay channels. Most of these have free trial periods. (So far, I have not seen one yet that doesn't have a free trial period.) Unless you get something like an annual plan, you can cancel at any time, even after the trial period. Same with the free channels, just delete them and/or close the accounts if you've a mind to.

Many of these channels (pay and free) have apps or web access so you can watch the content on something other than a TV. These accounts often give you control over what channels appear; you can enable and disable some items.

DirecTV is smart. They have a long history, and were bought out by AT&T. At the end of November 2016, they launched DirecTV Now in the United States. This is a subscription service that is accessed through streaming providers and online. In areas where the provider has successfully negotiated and contracts allow, people can watch many channels live. See, this kind of "get with the program" is what cable providers need to consider if they want to survive — in my unhumble opinion. 

Portable

Since you have an account, your stuff is available on other Roku devices. You may have one for your main TV, and another in the bedroom. Same material. For that matter, if you have a "stick" version, you can take that with you. It was described as being useful for dorm rooms, hotels, and so on — as long as you have a WiFi connection available and the TV is modern enough to accept it. Sounds good, I might have to try that if I travel again.


Non-Certified Channels

There are some channels that are not officially recognized, called private, non-certified, hidden, and so on. Some are for test purposes, and any could come and go at a moment's notice. Looks like I could have The Question Evolution Project channel (as implied in my picture tampering). However, can't be doing things that violate copyrights! Some private channel makers do that, and Roku has shut some down. With things like YouTube and other video services, I wonder why I would need to make a channel. Maybe someday.


Streaming is Growing into a Deluge

The whole streaming business is growing, and growing rapidly. Things are changing almost monthly, with more services and channels being added. It's interesting to see how these providers and streaming services have developed, and I'm curious to see what the future brings.

There are many sites with information and tips to help people commence to doing the cord-cutting thing, and you can find more on social media, including forums. Several of those sites are linked in this article.


Disadvantages

These are based on my experience, observations, what other people say, and so forth. They may be common among all streaming devices. Again, this technology is developing and growing mighty fast, and these disadvantages may be a thing of the past soon.
  • The Roku remote is tiny and could be easy to lose. However, you can download a remote control to your smartphone, which some people prefer because of the phone's keyboard option. Each service has a different menu layout for you to navigate, and many are tiny. I'm about ready to get out the binoculars so I don't have to keep standing close to the screen to see what's happening in menu land.
  • On a related note, the sites for some of the services are user hostile. Very annoying to navigate, and some are mighty uppity, saying they won't support your browser. Quit with the prima donna stuff, Sally, and make things usable.
  • Local channels are difficult to obtain through streaming, so you may have to subscribe to pay services or get an antenna. Because of contracts between providers and such, people are not able to stream certain channels that are not in their area. You can pay extra for some, such as CBS All Access. I want to see MacGyver and a few others, but to pay? Well, sometimes you just have to, and the CBS thing also has content that is only for subscribers. You know, like Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, and others are doing.
  • Lack of DVR is a big problem for us, since some shows we like are on at inopportune times. Providers like YouTube TV ($40/month) and others have a kind of cloud DVR service. Just interrupted myself while writing this and signed up for YouTube TV, I'll let you know how it goes. One of our other pay channels may be getting put out to pasture. 
  • Similar to DVR, channels that provide live TV need to ramp up the "on demand" services. Even if last week's episode is kept available for a short period, say even two weeks, I suspicion that it would please quite a few people.
  • Finding where you left off can be difficult. Where was that movie, again? I started it Thursday night, had to stop, now it's Sunday evening. Maybe I'm asking too much because of all the channels involved, but it seems like there could be a "bookmark" function on Roku.
  • The media player needs work. Great idea to hook up streaming with your computer so you can watch on a bigger screen, but other developers have taken up the slack. This article mentions two of the possibilities, but I have not tried them. I think Roku needs to improve their version of that service.
There are other disadvantages, but they can be endured, worked around, or we wait until the services get more developed. Several of these are more like preferences than actual disadvantages.

Over All, It's Awesome

Will there come a time when offices, waiting rooms and such are using streaming devices instead of cable? Cable providers need to wise up. Although I'm just sharing my experience and not hawking for any particular service (having almost no knowledge of the other streaming devices and their services), I get to wondering if I should sign up for the Roku affiliate program. Yes, I'm enthusiastic and even having some fun. Also, I can breathe easier because now I can pay my bills without fear of zeroing out my bank account.


via GIPHY

2 comments:

George In Florida said...

Good article, except for the political statement. I could care less what your political position is, left or right. If you want to write an article about the Roku, fine, just keep your politics to yourself, please.

Piltdown Superman said...

I did clearly mark that content and suggest that people who don't like it can skip it. Now you come along and tell me to "just keep your politics to yourself, please". Although it was pertinent to the article (indeed, it was praising the Roku company), you presume to tell me what I can and cannot say on my weblog? Ain't happening, Skippy.

Subscribe in a reader