Never heard of Roku? You’re not alone. Roku is an IPTV device, like Boxee, Apple TV and Google TV.
Roku is a small device that streams movies, TV shows, music, and other entertainment to your TV via the Internet. Since Roku streams (rather than downloads) video, it provides instant access to a huge library of entertainment without having to use a computer or store files locally on a hard drive.
Once you set up Roku, you do not need a PC to make it work. Roku connects directly to your TV and to your wireless (or wired) home network, then lets you access the streaming entertainment channels that you sign up for (like Netflix) right from your TV, using a handy remote.
The “small device” is actually a low power computer. With no disk drive or any moving parts it’s quiet. Plug it in and a few seconds later it springs to life.
Technology aside I bought my Roku with the thought of spending more time in my upstairs office. It was Roku or a DVR. Roku is supposed to help me adapt TV’s schedule to my schedule and let me get what’s on cable without cable.
First what works well. The Roku is capable of providing good looking HDTV. Some shows look every bit as good as what you see on ‘regular’ TV.
The list of what’s not good is a lot longer!
Let’s start with the other side of the picture quality coin. Lots of the video looks a whole lot worse than what’s on TV! That’s not Roku’s fault. Some suppliers are just streaming out poor quality bandwidth starved programs. It’s still a problem on Roku that’s not a problem on cable.
I expected a much larger selection of shows than what’s available. No–let me restate that. I expected a much larger selection of quality shows than what’s available!
There’s plenty of niche material. I can watch Twit and Revision3 shows. PhotoshopuserTV is available through Roku. There are hundreds of seldom watched, undesirable, low budget ‘dreck’ shows that slow down any search for something to watch!
When it comes to the more familiar TV fare The Simpsons are a no show. Until last week The Daily Show was also a no show. Sixty Minutes is there, but only as audio–no video. Don’t try guessing. It’s nearly random–very hit-and-miss.
Often the quality programs you can see are only available behind a paywall. Hulu and Netflix have subscription services for Roku and its brethern.
I was surprised programs Hulu streams for free on my computer are paid services with Roku. Paying for Hulu Plus does not stop the commercials!
The weakest part of Roku is the user interface. Since you’re using a remote control versus a keyboard moving from show-to-show is frustratingly slow and cumbersome. Shows you watch on a regular basis are hidden behind click-after-click-after-click from the main menu. There is no ‘channel grazing’ as you might do on your TV.
Even worse there’s no universal program guide. There might be great stuff hidden where it will never be discovered. Very frustrating!
You would think after all these negatives I’d be packing up the Roku and shipping it back to the factory. I’ve considered it. I’m not going to do it.
Roku is a product with promise, but it’s still immature. There’s a lot of work still to be done.
At this point I use it, but can’t recommend it.