Monthly Archives: October 2011

Cutting the TV cord, added a Roku

As we continue our quest to be happy with entertainment solutions without a monthly cable bill, I decided to add a Roku to the mix. We’ll use this at Emerald Isle, where we’ve got an Apple TV box hooked up to the set, but didn’t have a way to stream Amazon Prime (at home, I’ve got a Mac Mini that we use for Amazon). Apple TV offers a beautiful interface as well as access to the iTunes ecosystem, Netflix, and streaming radio. As a multiple-iPhone/iPad household, AirPlay is a great feature, as is PhotoStream. However, no Amazon Prime streaming, and given the relationship between Apple and Amazon, it’s unlikely that the Apple will sprout an Amazon streaming client. The Roku box fills that gap. I picked up a Roku XD for $69 with free shipping (had a $10 coupon) so I thought I’d give it a try. Given that Amazon’s streaming library is rapidly approaching Netflix, it may be that not too far down the road I can drop Netflix. I get my money’s worth from Amazon Prime on free shipping for some “subscribe & save” grocery items that we order regularly, and movies/TV are a bonus.

The Roku is another small black box, very similar to the Apple TV, but a little taller and narrower and lighter. It does have a little tab on it that lets you know it’s a Roku, as does the remote. This is really a very handy feature on a remote, since it’s often confusing to look at pile of remotes and sort them out 😉 . The Roku is a nice box, all kidding aside. It does exactly what it says it does, provide Netflix, Amazon, Hulu+ and many other video sources. I use Pandora, and it logged on just fine to my account. I like the weather service apps on the Roku. I’m hoping that Apple will open up app development on the Apple TV (since it runs iOS) but I’m not holding my breath. The thing, though, about the Roku, is that while it works well and the video quality is excellent, the user interface is just plain ugly. It looks like it was designed by 1st year CS student. Contrast that with the elegant interface of the Apple TV. Oh well…

What I’d really like is the flexibility of the Roku, with Apple’s user interface!

Cutting the (TV) cable

In mid-July, we decided that we’d had enough of paying $116/mo (nearly $1400 per year!) for TV that we hardly ever watched. We had ATT U-verse, and it was much better than Time Warner, IMHO for value for cost. However, we were paying for 3 U-verse boxes, HD tier, some movie channels, and watching very little other than network (CSI, NCIS, Hawaii-50) and local news/weather. We already had a Netflix subscription, Amazon Prime (for recurring grocery purchases), an Apple TV on one set, and a Mac Mini on our primary set, so we had options.

I put in an over-the-air antennae on the roof (a Channel Master 4228), a +8 db Channel Master powered splitter, and bought a d-to-a converter box for our oldest TV set (total about $200 for all this). With streaming movie/TV from Netfix, Amazon, Apple iTunes and Hulu, we had plenty of choices for on-demand programming. When we first did this, we knew that we could stream shows from TNT, which was one of the few cable channels we watched with any regularity. We knew that we were going to miss ESPN, but in keeping U-verse as our Internet ISP, ESPN3 was a viable option though we’d still miss some games. C’est la vie. I did decide to spring for a TiVo for $170 (including the wifi adapter) and $20/mo. to record network shows. Given that I can get about 45 channels OTA it makes a reasonable setup. The quality of digital OTA TV is actually better than cable, as there’s no compression…but just like satellite, it is affected by weather.

We did have a minor crisis last week when we discovered that TNT had gone behind a pay wall that was only accessible if you subscribe to a TV provider that carries the network. That knida defeats the utility of streaming access, I think. I would consider a streaming subscription for a la carte channel access. I’d pay $5/mo or so for a channel like TNT or ESPN. Then, I realized that I could buy episodes of “The Closer” and others from iTunes, and that while you pay $2 to $3 per episode, the iTunes TV library is extensive and an option when Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime wasn’t an option for a show.

The bottom line is that pay TV has just gotten so expensive that it makes sense to look at what you are spending and try to figure out a plan that works for you. The whole business model for broadcast and cable entertainment is in flux right now, and I don’t think that the cable providers are going to give up easily. Paying for what you watch and having some streaming subscriptions though, is likely to be a path chosen by many.