Q: What is a Roku?
A: The Roku is a standalone streaming solution that requires very little technical knowledge, does not rely on media purchases or rentals, and is perfect for your mom and dad who have cut the cable but still want to see what Fox and Friends or Jon Stewart have to say. Plug it in, establish a network connection, associate with your Roku account (the only time you will need a computer), and watch TV. Roku players support streaming of all major entertainment services including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, VUDU, and HBO GO plus news, sports, and music. Some versions support applications and games as well.
Q: Why doesn’t everyone switch to free streamed television?
A: It isn’t exactly free. You have to have a robust internet connection to to stream media. If your only internet option also happens to be your cable provider, you may find internet expensive without the television and phone bundle discounts. Part of a cable or satellite bill pays for infrastructure and service. With streamed television, the consumer is responsible for both. When your Roku breaks or becomes obsolete, it’s up to you to provide replacement equipment. At $100 per set, this can pay for a lot of months of cable television. Premium services provide a LOT more channels. If you are a fan of baseball, basketball, hockey, profanity, or nudity, broadcast television may not work for you. You can subscribe to pay services, but those costs add up and you may not be able to stream your teams due to blackout rules. Finally, some internet service providers (ISP) cap or throttle bandwidth which may lead to degraded or no service.
Q: Can I get rid of my premium provider if I buy a Roku?
A: Maybe. If you are a fan of baseball, basketball, hockey, profanity, local programming, or live television, streaming may not work for you. You will still need that premium provider for internet access and, maybe, telephone service. You may not even be able to stream at your home if the connection to your internet service is not fast or reliable enough. Best first step is to post a note to the Introductions topic describing what you watch on television.
Q: Can I watch live programming on my Roku?
A: Yes. While the Roku generally streams video clips from the internet, there are a number of ways to get real time or ‘live’ programming. Aereo and Time Warner Cable (TWC) have begun streaming live content. Aereo streams broadcast channels and TWC streams their programming. Aereo includes a virtual DVR. Simple makes a product that connects to your antenna like a TV and streams to five devices concurrently. Simple.tv offers local DVR capability and remote access as well.
Q: Can I watch YouTube on my Roku?
A: Yes. You can download the VideoBuzz source and run it as a side-loaded channel on your Roku. The code is FREE. They ask for a donation for $1 to $15, but if you email them, they will send the source for free. Source code and instructions can be found here. If you are not up to side-loading a channel, and are willing to run a server on your network, you can watch YouTube using Plex or Playon. Playon is the easiest solution — install the Playon server, install the Playon Roku channel, and you are done. The Playon server can be found here. The Playon channel for Roku can be installed here. Instructions for installation are here. Piece of cake, right? Roku streams at 480p, so, if high resolution is your thing, playon may not be for you. Plex is a more complex solution, but supports HD streaming. Install the Plex Media Server and install the Plex channel on your Roku. Once Plex Media Server is installed, click on the Plex icon in your taskbar. Click on Preferences then go to the myPlex tab and create a Plex account using an email address and password. Click on the Plex Server Home button, scroll down to the channels section, click the + button, click More, click All Available Plugins, scroll down to the bottom, click the YouTube icon, and click the Install button.
Q: Do I need to provide Roku with a payment method?
A: No. You can call or instant message Roku support for help setting up your streamer.
Q: Should I buy a refurb?
A: I think you should consider a refurb when shopping for a Roku. Refurbs can be discounted 40% or more and carry the same warranty as new units.
Q: Where are private channels?
A: Private channels are channels that are not listed in the Roku Channel Store. These channels may be distributed privately because Roku does not like the content (adult) or because support for the implicit support for the channel could damage relations between Roku and a content distributor.
Q: Where can I find private channels for my Roku?
A: Lists of private channels abound. Some of the best are Catastrophe Girl’s blog, Roku Private Channels, Roku Private Channels Database, mkvXstream, and Streamfree. My favorite Roku channels can be found here.
Q: Which Roku should I buy?
A: The Roku 3 is the newest model. It features a phone jack in the remote so you can listen privately through a pair of included ear-buds. The Roku 2 XS is my favorite Roku. It has composite and hdmi outputs, so it works with older televisions as well as modern HDTVs. You can use the composite audio to drive an auxiliary input on a home theater so that you can turn your tv off while enjoying internet radio or your MP3 collection on the Roku. Both models have a usb port, so you can connect a usb disk full of videos or MP3s. Both have wired and wireless ethernet. There are a lot of Roku 2 XS refurbs out there. For the price of a Roku 3, you can buy two Roku 2 XS units. Look here for a comparison of features for all models.