Saturday, December 8, 2012

Do You Roku?

** Please note the following is NOT intended as a product review. This is simply to share my experience of a new gadget. Thank you for reading. **

Since 2008 I have live without cable TV. My TV viewing habits continue to survive with the help of services like Netflix, Hulu, and even YouTube. My decision to leave cable TV behind was motivated predominantly by Steve Jobs who pushed the idea that in the future all conventional medias will become obsolete. Users will not desire their content to be delivered to them by the will of a TV network. Neither will users want to deal with physical media such as CD, DVD, even BlueRay (a media dead before it was born). Or even deal with useless equipment such as PVRs. The future of TV and movies rides on copper, fibre, and open space on a series of TCP/IP packets pipped directly into our desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. And I love it!

My decision isn't without consequences. In my living room stands a Sony 46” LCD TV that has been neglected by me, cause the only time it gets lit up is when I plug my laptop to it over HDMI. And it doesn't happen often. Most of my contents is delivered to my Mac Mini displayed over a 23” Cinema Display. Until recently....

A couple of friends/coworkers of mine, Bill and Dennis, each bought a Roku box, and enjoy having it as part of their home entertainment. Dennis uses it along with his cable TV subscription (though, he desire to get rid of it), while Bill has cable internet only (as i do).

I've pondered on the idea of getting one myself, but dismissed it, cause I figured what’s the point when I can just plug my laptop to my TV and enjoy the same content from Netflix and Hulu.

Bill invited me over to his place to check it out. It was after tinkering with the Roku that I learned there is content exclusive only to Roku. The more I explored the channels, and the contents of each channel I was impressed. I began to realize that this would be a needed addition to my home entertainment.

About 4 weeks later I walked into a BestBuy, bought a Roku 2 XS, and walked out the store proudly thinking “Damn, I hope this was worth it.”

Unboxing the Roku was somewhat reminiscent of unboxing an Apple product, like my 3rd gen iPod or Mac Mini. Opening the box was pretty swift like a gift box. Everything inside the box was laid out nicely starting with the Roku box and remote greeting you up front. The power adapter, AV cable, and a set of batteries were tucked on the sides of the cardboard frame that held everything together. On the bottom was the simple user instructions.

I plugged the Roku to my Sony 46” via an HDMI cable, and power it on. Before I could enjoy the Roku I was required to open a Roku account, on the product's web site, which included my credit card info. I wasn't going to be charged for using the box, but like iTunes, in addition to free content, Ruko also offers paid content, which a user is billed for. Much like how an iPhone user buys an app from off the app store.

Once I got my account set up, it was all about exploring the channels they offered, and adding them to my Roku box. Many of the channels found on Roku’s site are free to add and view. Some free channels offer paid content. Some channels you have to buy, or have a cable subscription to view the content.

There are even channels available to the Roku box not offered on their site. These are called “private channels”, and can be added to the Roku box using special codes. These private channels and their codes can be searched on the internet. Once added they extend the content offering of the Roku box.

It’s been a month since I purchased my Roku. Every evening my butt plants in front of the TV to watch something from either Netflix or Hulu+. On the weekends I’m watching content from other channels.  My TV has never been used this much before.

The model I bought also plays games.  The remote for this model includes game buttons, along with motion sensing controls. The Roku 2 XS comes with a free copy of Angry Birds which illustrates the use of the motion control on the remote.  But so far the catalog of games offers very little, and of those games very little appeals to me.  Hopefully that'll change as time goes on.

What I have come to appreciate about the Roku is that this tiny little box uses very little energy to run.  I don’t mind running all the time. That fact the remote is a radio controller means I can hide the Roku behind the TV for that clean look. I’m using my TV more often, and I have more content than I know what to do with.

However, what I don’t care much about is the annoying on-screen navigation. If I’m watching content from Netflix, and wish to switch to Hulu+, I have to back out to the main screen, and scroll through the channels until Hulu+ appears. Another problem is that channels cannot be organized by genre, alphabetical, or to a users preference. And lastly channels are limited to how much content they can display. This is especially annoying on Netflix where I have to use the Search bar to find most of the content I want to view.

Roku released a neat app for the iPhone (also availble for Andriod) that allows you to manage channels, control the Roku box over the home network, and even view photos from you iPhone over the TV. One of the things I really like about the app is that I channel jump. I could be watching something from Hulu, and instantly jump to Netflix, or any other channels.

But I wish the app to take things a little further by allowing you to jump from content to content. For that to work the app would have to include a content guide so you can view what’s being offered on other channels.  Perhaps a search function that spans all channels so you can see who is offering the content, and jump to it instantly. Let’s take it a step further; if I’m in the middle of watching something on my Roku, why not take the content with me when I leave my home, and continue watching on the app itself? This may not matter with Netflix and Hulu+ as I have already their apps on my iPhone, but for the other channels it may be a nice service.

All in all I’m very happy with my Roku. I've enjoyed the convenience it brings, along with the exclusive channels you cannot get directly from the Internet.  Leads me to ask others, "Do you Roku?"


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