March 1, 2012
By Tom Kelley
Even with hundreds of cable and satellite TV channels, eventually you’ll come to a point where you can’t find anything to watch. Renting a DVD is one solution, watching streaming video on your computer is another, though neither option is ideal. With DVD rentals, there’s the hassle of returns, and unless your computer setup looks like hacker central, the computer video screen leaves much to be desired.
A more ideal solution is to use a video streaming player that will connect to any Standard Definition (SD) or High Definition (HD) television. Among the few streaming players that are widely available, the nearly universal choice of most gadget reviewers is the Roku Streaming Player.
Some of the competitive players are only compatible with newer HD televisions, leaving those of us without an HDMI jack out of luck.
The compact size of the Roku player, about as big as a hockey puck, provides a level of portability that would allow easy relocation from truck to home on layovers, and from home to truck when it’s time to get back on the road. The Roku device’s user account is tied to the player, rather than a phone number, physical location or a cable connection, so it will work anywhere you can find a decent internet connection, via ethernet or WiFi, making it even more trucker-friendly.
The only travel shortcoming is that there is no web browser in the Roku player (yet), so for those hotels/truckstops where it’s necessary to make an initial login to the venue’s network, you’ll still need your laptop or other browser equipped device.
Our test unit was connected to our phone provider’s second-slowest DSL offering, and experienced little or no “buffering” delay (waiting for the program to download).
Roku doesn’t provide the streaming content itself, so there is no fee for the Roku account. Some of the available content comes from well-known providers including Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. To access content from these providers, you type a PIN number provided by your Roku device into the appropriate location on the provider’s website. The Roku player is then registered with that provider until you subsequently un-register it at the provider’s website.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that because we already have an Amazon “Prime” account to reduce or eliminate shipping costs on physical purchases from Amazon, we automatically received unlimited, free streaming access to much of Amazon’s video library.
Even better than the access to an extensive selection of mainstream movies and television series offerings though several streaming providers, is the access to content that is far too specialized to be carried by the big TV networks or the popular streaming providers. The big networks and streaming providers need to focus their offerings on content that has extremely broad appeal. Because a device like the Roku relies on the content creator’s streaming infrastructure, and the viewer’s broadband connection, most of the cost barrier associated with delivering content from the creator to the viewer is avoided.
To offer an example, much of the team from the popular but now defunct “Tech TV” satellite/cable network, wouldn’t go down without a fight, quickly re-establishing their presence in the then-nascent world of streaming video under the name “This Week in Technology” (TWiT for short, twit.tv on the web). TWit started as a single audio “netcast,”
but quickly grew to an extensive stable of long-format, tech-related programs, most with a video edition. As a long-time fan of Tech TV and a frequent listener of the TWit audio programs, the free TWiT channel was one of my first subscriptions after setting up the Roku device.
Special-interest channels on Roku aren’t limited strictly to just geeky tech stuff. A quick check of the database at the third-party site www.roku-channels.com lists nearly 500 channels with topics ranging from rock-climbing, to music, to religious content, and international programming.
There are four different Roku player models ranging from just under $50.00 to just under $100.00. The base model Roku LT provides all of the basic functions: providing hundreds of channels, connecting to virtually any TV, built-in WiFi, and 720p HD video capability, all for $49.99.
The three up-level Roku 2 models feature built-in wireless, Bluetooth for connecting a game remote and a MicroSD slot to support additional game storage. The Roku 2 HD player supports up to 720p HD video while the Roku 2 XD player supports up to 1080p HD video. The Roku 2 XS also features an Ethernet port for a wired Internet connection. The Roku 2 HD, the Roku 2 XD and the Roku 2 XS are available for suggested retail prices of $59.99, $79.99 and $99.99 respectively.
Check it out at www.roku.com on the web.