Roku: The Thing For My TV I Wanted To Love, But Don’t

At this point I use it, but can’t recommend it.

I was a cable TV subscriber 40 years ago. I owned a computer in the late 70s. I am an early adopter. I like to be on the bleeding edge with technology. That’s why I own a Roku.

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.

This definition is two clicks deep on the Roku site. If you don’t already know what it is just going to Roku.com and reading the home page might not help!

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.

15 thoughts on “Roku: The Thing For My TV I Wanted To Love, But Don’t”

  1. sounds like a neat device once they get it together.
    on another subject how can i get my homemade vcr tapes into my computer with out a lot of expence?

    1. Has the service improved in the two years that you’ve been a user or is it the same as it was when you first became a subscriber?

  2. I got a Roku box about a year ago. It was great for what I wanted it for which was streaming my Netflix account and Amazon On Demand account to my t.v. instead of having to watch them on the computer. I understand what you mean as far as the rest though. I also had problems with “stalling” on which I blamed my old, over-worked wireless router. I’m not so sure now it’s the router since I got a BluRay Disc Player for Christmas and have replace the Roku box with that and haven’t had any problems with “stalling” or “freezing” with that. [shrug]

  3. I wonder if the current Blu-ray players that have internet connectivity and can get to things like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Pandora, etc will put a dent in companies like Roku? I’d think so, although the Blu-ray players probably aren’t quite as flexible. Roku is competing with the likes of Sony (and others) now, so they’d better be on top of their game. Blu-ray players have morphed into set-top boxes.

  4. THANK YOU for this review!!! I was going to order it this week, and I now have many reasons not to order it. I am so glad I follow your blog! Thanks Geoff, still missing you on the news ­čÖü

  5. Lol. If that were me it’d be going back! As for a poor selection of quality programming, well isn’t that what television is now? I’ve never seen more channels to choose from and less I care to watch….

  6. I’ve known about Roku for a while, and it just doesn’t quite sound like it’s there.

    I actually have a desktop machine I built with DVI Out into my Sharp TV. Couple that with netflix or hulu, and a blu-ray drive, and there isn’t much need for any other peripherals.

    I had tried to get linux mythtv working (mythbuntu actually) with the firewire out on my cable set top box, but the two devices wouldn’t communicate as well as I hoped.

    Of all the various things I’ve tried, using my PS3, playing with my friends roku and apple tv, just using an actual computer through dvi or hdmi seems to be the best option.

    With the hulu desktop client on top of it, I can fullscreen on the TV and still multitask on facebook, my e-mail and the like while watching the latest episode of White Collar that I missed.

  7. Roku is OK and convenient for streaming instant watch video from Netflix, the quality depends on the bandwith of your internet connection.

    However, the most significant problem with the device is that many fail after 4 to 18 months. The unit was designed with unreliable WiFi components that fail relatively quickly. The company will replace the device for up to one year, but after that, you’re on your own. Don’t believe me, search the Roku website user forms on failed WiFi there are an unacceptable number of complaints of unreliability and poor (offshore) customer service. Ours died just after 12 months, no replacement or repair offered. It’s reliability is unacceptable compared to current electronic devices.

  8. Hi Geoff,

    I love reading your posts regarding technology. I have to say I have been an owner of an appleTV for several years now. I had the first generation appleTV (the larger white model which contained its own hard drive) and now currently have the newer smaller $99 model. Both of which I have been very pleased with. Although I do wish they offered more free services like hulu, I am very please with the streaming of my $5.00 netflix account. Totally worth the $5.00 especially for our kids. There’s always something on there for them to watch. I do have to say that the appleTV causes me to spend quite a bit on iTunes and I yearly have to upgrade my hard drive to accommodate my ever growing music/tv/movie library BUT my conscience justifies this when I think to myself “if all media was distributed through free services how would the entertainment industry make money”. (I only pay for those which I believe deserve my money)

    Paying comcast the amount they want a month- I still have not been able to justify because I really have no idea where their money is going nor do I really like them as a company.

    Apple however… I’m ok with throwing some money their way. But I’m a girl who cried when Steve Jobs went on medical leave. I also not long after cried AGAIN when I found out he was working from home. So I may be a little biased. Anyways, thanks for your post. Keep ’em coming.

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