Welp. I received a Roku for Christmas. And while there’s much to talk about with all the CES happenings, Hulu’s original content slate for 2014, and all the scuttlebutt surrounding the season premieres of “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” (already happened) and “House of Cards” (almost a month away!), we’re going to start the year off with a first-hand account of what it’s like to live with one of these things.
First, this should be said: In an ideal world, I would have initially preferred to run with Aereo, the … wait, you don’t need me to explain it all again, now do you? Good. Anyway, the problem is that the service doesn’t extend up to these parts of the state (anybody else looking to relocate to Carroll County on account of this?!), so that’s out.
Secondly, there’s something inherently off-putting about Google’s Chromecast. I don’t know what it is or why I feel such a way, but something that looks like a jump drive can’t possibly bring all the goods, now can it? Plus, you need to be married to all things Google in order to really utilize its fullest potential. Well, that and/or an Android phone. I tend to lean toward Mac, which leads me to …
Thirdly, while I’ve heard a bunch of great things about Apple TV, I’m so enormously fed up with the flirting Timmy Cook’s henchmen constantly go through with an actual television set, that I wanted to take my own, little minor stand against the Cupertino cronies. Plus, Apple is pretty strict about Apple customers using only Apple things. To me, iTunes is dedicated to music and podcasts. That’s it. I don’t own any videos, movies or TV series on it and I’ll never want to. I compartmentalize things. Sue me. Unless you’re Apple, of course. Because then you’ll ruin my life.
And finally, years ago, I unexpectedly came into owning a Playstation 3. No, I never have time to play games, duh, but for the past few years, I’ve been using it to occasionally stream Netflix and/or YouTube content. Therefore, the idea of a Roku, to me, seemed a little redundant at first — I rarely plug in the PS3, so what in the name of Hulu Plus could Roku possibly give me that I don’t already have access to?
Turns out, a lot.
Easy-to-use interface? Check. Normal-looking remote, as opposed to some alien controller I guess people use to play shoot-em-up games against other teenagers online? Check. Netflix? Check. Hulu Plus? Check. Crackle? Check. Countless other channel-based apps that grant me access to things like “60 Minutes” or the evening news on a dime? Check. And, now for the most important thing …
Live TV? Check.
I’m sure you could find all these applications somewhere on a Playstation 3 if you wanted, yes, but Roku makes this stuff simple. Case in point: The Watch ESPN app. A quick download. A quick plug-in of cable provider information (feel free to borrow a normal TV-watching person’s account, if you must), and boom. I have high-definition live feeds of all the ESPN channels. SportsCenters. PTIs. ATHs. Bowl games. Monday Night Footballs. The NBA. 30 for 30s. All of it is right there for the taking. This, alone, was worth the price of the box.
Still, what if you don’t care much for sports? Is there any way you could access the basic stuff without having to pony up a few extra bucks for access? Well, for the first two weeks, that question didn’t even matter to me — between Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, the CBS News app, the PBS app and the Vevo channel (oh, so this is what MTV was supposed to be), I had more television than I even needed (go about eight years cutting the cord and you’ll realize you simply don’t have nearly as much time to insert “stare at a picture box” into your daily routine as you thought).
And then I found USTVNOW.
Providing subscribers with live feeds of NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and more (if you don’t mind paying for the “more”), it’s a revelation in Roku lore. Like everything else, the picture comes over in high-definition quality, and the hiccups regarding any buffering or connection issues are nonexistent. Watch “Jeopardy” in real time. Check out all the late-night shows as they go down. Quit waiting for episodes of dramas or sitcoms to hit Hulu and watch them like normal people do. In short, it’s exactly like owning a typical limited cable television package.
Now, the channel is private, so you have to search online before opening the Roku store, but rest assured: It’s there. A couple clicks, a few synchs and you’re good to go. From what I understand, this isn’t the only private channel that you could use for access to live content, of course, but as someone who finally stumbled across it earlier this week for the first time, I will say it’s got to be one of the best. Easy to navigate. Reliable connections. Shortcomings simply don’t appear to exist (fingers crossed).
All told, you couldn’t dream of a more complete way to consume Web TV. Enough free live broadcasting mixed with more applications and content than you’ll ever know what to do with, it’s so hard to imagine Chromecast, Apple TV or any video game console working better or being more well-rounded than the Roku does or is when it comes to Internet television. It’s more than all I could ask for out of a 99-dollar black box (mine is the latest generation) that’s supposed to be your sole source for home entertainment. Some would argue it might even be better than Aereo (i.e., no subscription fees here).
It’s no wonder the people behind it announced plans this week to unleash a Roku TV on the world before the end of the year. And, as I keep saying over and over and over and over again, the longer Apple waits … .
Buy a Roku. Thank me later.