Roku: A New Hope
Say hello to my little friend!
Today I would like to introduce Roku. I don’t often gush about electronics but this little guy has got me all hot and bothered.
I think it was maybe a year ago when my wife and I stopped by the local home theater store. Those are always fun places for me. We were looking for a nice set of speakers.
My current home theater consists of a $5 receiver my wife found at a garage sale, a set of used speakers that were a gift from my gerbil (also from a garage sale), and an older smallish TV since our ultra-cool 42 inch plasma died a few days out of warranty. The cable box from Charter Communications is also in there somewhere but I detest the bloody thing.
At the home theater store the salesperson gave us a demo of a device that would play internet music on your home stereo and even included on-screen menus. I believe it played Shoutcast radio stations. It was love at first sight!
Since then I’ve also fallen in love with Pandora and I pay the $3 a month for “Pandora One” which includes higher-quality streaming and removes the limitation of 40 hours per month that comes with a free Pandora account.
So, when my wife recently asked what I wanted for a present, I spouted off the usual logical and responsible ideas: A remote control helicopter that would fit on my hand, a gaming keyboard that glows in the dark, and bottles of Kahlua, Baileys Irish Cream and Grand Marnier – something I have affectionately have dubbed “The B-52 Kit.”
Aside from such practical ideas, however, another thought began to tickle my brain. Perhaps, just perhaps, the time had come to find one of those little devices to play Pandora music through my home stereo. That would be the bomb. I’ve seen Pandora boom boxes and such, and something like that would be cool, but playing Pandora music through my home stereo would be so much cooler.
My search criteria was simple: It had to work through my wifi, would not require my computer to be turned on, and would absolutely not require any subscription service with monthly fees. (Like a Tivo.)
I began to scour the internet but quickly became dismayed by how complicated things seemed to be. There were too many choices and too many horror stories of products that seemed to be almost what I wanted but also difficult to work with your computer, hard to configure, etc.
So I gave up. It wasn’t long after that when, completely by chance, I heard of something called a “Roku.” (Which is also the Japanese word for “six.”)
I quickly learned more and became very excited. This is a device that hooks into your home theater system (both stereo and TV) and grabs music and video from your local wifi router. (It also has a jack for a network cable.) And your computer does not need to be left on, either.
This thing does everything I wanted and more. So we got it.
It’s so small it was easy finding a spot in the cabinet. There is a power adapter and luckily I had room on the power strip. Then two RCA cables connect the audio out to my receiver. Lastly, a yellow “composite” video cable connects the Roku to my TV. (It also supports HDMI but does not include the cable. Unfortunately my TV is too primitive for that.) Installation done!
The thing hooked up, we turned on our TV. We selected our wifi using the remote control (also provided) and setup was a breeze. I did have to go to my computer to create a Roku account, and a computer was required to connect channels, like Pandora. But there were no glitches and it went amazingly fast. Within 5 minutes of power up we were listening to Pandora through my home stereo and never had to do anything excessively geeky. It was great!
The Roku account was completely free and did not ask for credit card information. I can understand why it is required. It is how they tie channel access to your device.
I love listening to music through the Roku. Not once has it ever glitched or paused to “buffer” or anything like that. I like to listen to music when I do the dishes and switching out CDs is a pain. Now my wife says I can do even more dishes! (Curse you, Roku!)
The extra fun, though, it how much other stuff the Roku can do. We were already Netflix subscribers and now we can stream Netflix movies right to our TV. And it works way better than Charter’s “On Demand” ever did. The only bummer is that only certain movies and content are available for streaming. If you can watch something from Netflix on your computer then you can watch it with your Roku. We watched an episode of Saturday Night Live and with no commercials!
There is also something called Hulu Plus. I’d never used Hulu before, but apparently Hulu Plus (which costs $8 a month) does NOT include all of the Hulu content. I signed up for a one-week trial and found very little that I was interested in. In my opinion most of the content is pure crap. Plus, even after paying $8 a month, the content still includes commercials. Yuck! I doubt we’ll be keeping Hulu Plus at this time. I think it still needs to improve.
We also found a free channel called Vimeo, which seemed to be a lot like watching someone’s home movies. We found a video of a family riding around in a boat. I think it might be like another YouTube, but it was a little hard to find anything interesting to watch.
Even more fun – there are lots of free channels. You just select a channel you want, and it adds it to your channel bar. One of those we found is called “Chow.” It’s a channel about food and has even won a James Beard award. And it’s completely free. We watched a show called “How to eat Sushi” and it was pretty good. Something tells me that more free content may show up over time, too.
There are three different Roku devices to choose from. Roku HD is $59.99. The Roku XD is $79.99. (This is the one we got.) And there is one called the Roku XD|S for $99.99. (Which is discounted by $10.00 if you order online for the next day or so.) You can learn more here.
We’ve only had the thing for a week now but we love it. I think it is one of the coolest electronic devices I’ve ever owned. We’re even buying another to give out as a gift. If you like this sort of thing I don’t think you can go wrong with a Roku.
Roku is going to enable me to dump my cable box from Charter Communications once and for all. Yeah!
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Roku in any way and received no compensation in any form for writing this post. These are all just my opinions and my actual experiences with the device.
Pandora, why hast thou forsaken me?
I had quite the love affair with Pandora Internet Radio. I have to admit their Music Genome Project was pretty cool. They claimed each song in the project was analyzed “using up to 400 distinct musical characteristics.”
That meant if I started a new “station” with a song I liked, I was likely to enjoy the rest of the music they matched me up with. Last time I looked I had 63 stations, most of which I had extensively customized by rating the songs I did and didn’t like.
I admit I was a hardcore consumer of Pandora. I used it almost 40 hours a week while at work.
Yes, there was advertising, but since I kept Pandora in it’s own tab, it wasn’t too intrusive. And, to be quite honest about it, I didn’t mind the ads so much since they were built into the Pandora page and didn’t impact the listening experience at all. I understood they were a necessary evil that paid for the service I enjoyed.
A few months back, though, Pandora dropped me an email and said that they were limiting free accounts to 40 hours a month. If I wanted more, I’d have to upgrade to “Pandora One” for $36 a year, which would also take away the ads.
I thought by receiving the ads I was already “paying” for the service!
So now I listen to Pandora until it runs out, then simply dump it for the rest of the month, which means the ads targeted at unpaid users like me are stopped. I now listen to free radio through Windows Media Player where there are minimal advertisements and no time limits.