What Can You Do With a Roku?

What Can You Do With a Roku?


This is a discussion on What Can You Do With a Roku? within the Internet TV forums, part of the Streaming TV Discussion category.

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  1. #1
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    What Can You Do With a Roku?

    Originally published by MrPogi on his blog, Cache Free TV

    What Can You Do With a Roku?


    Several people have asked me recently about streaming media set top boxes. Having a HTPC media computer connected to my LCD TV, I never used one of them. After asking several people their opinions, I decided I would try a ROKU box. In fact, I tried 2 of them: The top of the line Roku 2 XS, and the bargain priced Roku LT. Roku first introduced the streaming set top box to the market, and continues to be the industry leader. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to connect your TV to the internet nowadays, ranging from Apple TV, Boxee, and Roku, Internet connected TV sets and Blu-ray players. I chose the Roku because of its reputation, access to lots of content, and price.
    Compare Roku Models

    350+ entertainment channels available, including hundreds of free movies
    Works with virtually any TV
    Built-in wireless (Wi-Fi b/g/n)
    Plays high-definition video (720p)*
    Expandable memory slot plus Bluetooth**
    Plays the best HD video (1080p)*
    Enhanced RF remote with motion control for games
    USB port for playback of your own media ***
    Ethernet port for wired Internet connection


    * Availability of 720p or 1080p HD video varies by entertainment channel.
    **All Roku 2 models feature a MicroSD memory slot for adding additional storage capacity, plus Bluetooth for adding an RF remote control.The Roku LT does NOT. The microSD card is for game and channel storage only. You will not be able to read files, such as videos and photos, from it. If you are interested in personal media playback, you can do that via USB on the Roku 2 XS model.
    ***See specs for list of file formats supported via USB
    Please note that Roku is no longer available with output for component (RGB) cables, or S/PDIF digital sound output. If you need these features, I suggest you search the used market for one of the previous generation of Roku players.

    Having looked at both the Roku XS and the LT, I strongly recommend the Roku XS due to the fact that for less than $50 more, you get a motion sensing Bluetooth remote, SD card slot to store an almost unlimited amount of channels and games, wired Ethernet port, and a USB port to store and play back music, pictures, and video.

    Roku 2 XS Pros:

    • Easy setup
    • Nice user interface
    • Nice free channels (CNET TV, Anime, etc)
    • Compact size
    • Angry Birds
    • Plays MP4 + .MKV movie files
    • Pandora, Amazon Prime
    • Fast Forwarding on movie files
    • Plays movies from USB memory sticks
    • Plays movies from external 2TB hard drive (2TB max, can't do 3TB)

    Cons:

    • Doesn't play AVI movies files
    • Can't play Windows Media Player movie files
    • Only 1 USB slot
    • Media folders from external USB are not in A-Z order
    • Menu customization is limited
    • Doesn't have YouTube*

    * Yes it does, but you have to use PlayOn. See below.

    A shortcoming of the Roku XS is the very short battery life on the motion sensitive controller. Since the back of the remote is rounded, every time it is touched, it wakes up from sleep mode, thus draining the batteries. My suggestions are:

    1. Place the remote face down when not in use to minimize motion.
    2. Get 2 sets of good rechargeable batteries.
    3. Or, buy an extra Instant Replay Remote, and only use the motion sensing remote for game-play.

    What can you do with a ROKU?

    First, I suppose I should cover what you can't do with a Roku. Some people get the impression that a streaming media player is a direct replacement for your pay TV. It is not. It can only deliver content that is on the internet, that the content provider allows access to. And keep in mind that most of what is available is NOT LIVE STREAMING. It is mostly a collection of content that is available ala carte online. And if you're looking to watch live sports, you will be extremely disappointed. It's not that live streaming is difficult, but that content providers for the most part refuse to put it online. There are some live news channels - Al Jazeera, RT, and if your internet provider has an agreement with ESPN, you can watch ESPN3. There also are pay channels for some sports like hockey, soccer, and baseball. And in the ultimate irony, some content providers (like HBO) will only allow you to view their content if you are already paying for it through a pay TV provider. In the case of HBO, your provider will likely require you to pay for a $60 package before allowing you to pay an additional $14 for HBO, just so you can play it on your Roku. HUH?

    The Basics: Setup

    Setup of the Roku is so incredibly easy, I will just refer you to the Roku quick start guide. You will need to use a computer to complete the activation process, and you'll also need to enter a credit card number for channel purchases. Make sure you use a PIN to prevent unwanted channel purchases. (Protip: if you want to activate your Roku without providing a credit card number for channel purchases, call Roku Phone Support: 888-600-7658.)

    Public Channels:

    The first thing you'll want to do after activating your Roku is to head to the Roku Channel Store. Here, you can select the "public" channels for your Roku.

    Some Featured Public Channels:

    Adding a channel is as easy as going to the channel store and clicking for most channels, for other channels you will also need to go to that channel's web site and sign up, then link your accounts. That's all there is to it!

    If you have a Roku player with a USB port make sure you install the free Roku USB Media Player channe.


    • Click here to see supported video, audio and photo file types.
    • Click here to see how to convert videos for playback on the Roku USB channel.

    NOTE: Only the Roku 2 XS, Roku XDS, and Roku HD-XR models have a USB port.


    Private Channels:

    There is an additional category of Roku channels known as "Private Channels". These are either channels that are under development, or channels that content providers have chosen to keep private.
    How to add private Roku channels

    Log into your Roku account and click “add a private channel". Enter the channel code for the channel you want to add.

    Or use this link if you are already logged in or log yourself in: https://owner.roku.com/Account/ChannelCode/


    For the most complete list of private Roku channels I've found, click here:catastrophegirl's roku channel list


    The Super Double Secret Roku Hack: PlayOn
    .Roku's "official" forums don't talk about it. No, it's not illegal, they just don't support it, and they don't want to talk about it. PlayOn is a program and a service that downloads streams on your computer and transfers the stream to your Roku, Wii, Xbox, Boxee, etc. Why, you ask? Well, some services on the internet are only available to computer users. Hulu, for example, is free on a computer, or paid. But on your Roku, only the paid service is available. Yea, I know - pretty stupid, right? PlayOn serves as a "bridge" from an actual computer to your streaming device, sort of a "back door". There's a 2-week free trial and it comes with over 30 channels, including YouTube, with dozens more available as 3rd party plugins:



    PlayOn Scripts :: Home :: PlayOn Scripts and PlayOn Plugins

    PlayOn Plugins - Unofficial Plugins - Development - Help - Index


    PlayOn does require a fairly good computer to be running on your network when you're using it. But I've run it on a Windows 7 Celeron 2.2 laptop with 3 GB ram with only minimal glitches. It runs great on my dual core P 2.3 desktop.

    I'll let you research PlayOn further yourself. Suffice to say that I did purchase a lifetime license, and I can watch Hulu for free on my Roku. Another nice feature of PlayOn is the ability to play almost any kind of media from your computer. With a plugin, I am also able to watch HLN live - I've been watching Clark Howard LIVE on Sunday morning, just like I used to back when I had Pay TV. Oh, yea, I also found "The Network of the Mouse" using a PlayOn plugin - live and streaming - making cutting the cable much easier in households with teens and tweens.

    And speaking of children, tweens, and teens...
    What About The Children?
    Won't Someone Think About The CHILDREN?


    One shortcoming of Roku for families is the complete lack of parental controls. It would be pretty easy for Roku to implement a pass-code for restricting access to some channels, and it has been requested in the Roku forums. Maybe such a function will be included in future updates. But for now, there is little you can do to prevent a child with the remote from accessing whatever content is available on any installed channels.

    So, what's a good parent to do?

    My first suggestion may sound like heresy to some: You may want to, you know, take your parental responsibilities a bit more seriously and actually WATCH your children! This IS the internet we're talking about here, after all.. There are even adult channels available on Roku - for free! Other than that, here's some things you can do to...

    Make Your Roku More Child-Safe:

    • Setting up a password in your Roku account can prevent anyone from adding ANY channel, even free ones, without the password.
    • Netflix presents its own problem: it's wide open, anyone can watch anything. You can either remove the Netflix channel from your Roku, and add it back in when it's time for "grown-up" TV time, or...
    • Try MultiQs:MultiQs | Roku Guide. It's $4.99 a year and allows multiple Netflix queues, with access controls, for Netflix. I haven't tried it yet, but it has a free one-month trial, and I plan on giving it a test drive and I will post a review after my trial is done. It could even be useful for families without children! If you use it, don't forget to uninstall the default Netflix channel.
    • Buy the kids their own Roku, (The $50 Roku LT would be ideal for this!) and set up a separate account for it. Add only channels you approve of. You could either connect it to a "kids only" TV, or connect it to your main TV through another HDMI or composite port. - most modern TVs have a lot of inputs available - then hide the remote for your own "big people" Roku.


    Summary

    Overall, a Roku box is a bargain. $50-$100 for a one time expense is not a lot to spend, and along with an antenna on your roof, Roku can make life without pay TV even better than it was when you had "The Cable." (sounds like an affliction, doesn't it?)


  2. #2
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    Thanks Mr Pogi!! Does the XS model have any zooming capability? The only thong I don't like about my Roku is that it doesn't zoom 4:3 programming, while my Blu-Ray player does. Overall I do still prefer the ROKU for Netflix streaming as it is a bit less glitchy. They both provide a killer picture with a good HD source on an HD display.

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    Quote Originally Posted by No Static At All View Post
    Thanks Mr Pogi!! Does the XS model have any zooming capability? The only thong I don't like about my Roku is that it doesn't zoom 4:3 programming, while my Blu-Ray player does. Overall I do still prefer the ROKU for Netflix streaming as it is a bit less glitchy. They both provide a killer picture with a good HD source on an HD display.
    I don't think any of them provide a zoom. The only 4 settings on the XS are SD in 16x9 or 4x3, or 16x9 in HD, be it 720p or 1080i. I think some TV sets provide a zoom?

  4. #4
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    Big fan of Roku here.

    The only gripe I have about it, is that they didnt use a better decode chipset, that is the reason for the necessity of PlayOn. (PlayOn is very glitchy when I tried it and I found the picture quality to be lacking.)

    Furthermore they didnt make Netflix subtitling backward compatable, with previous generation boxes....not even using the standard subtitle files in a hacked backdoor manner. Lame.

  5. #5
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    What Can You Do With a Roku?

    I have still been considering a Roku. Some of the previous generation would probably be fine for me. The price of a Roku is actually not that far from some of the Blu-Ray players that have built in streaming video, so I might just get one of those. Some of the refurbished Sony BD players were about $100 this winter from on line dealers.
    Last edited by Jim1348; 01-28-2012 at 05:24 PM. Reason: Details

  6. #6
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    (PlayOn is very glitchy when I tried it and I found the picture quality to be lacking.)
    I do view PlayOn as a work in progress. If the choice is PlayOn or paying for Hulu when all I need is Hulu Free, I'll "suffer" with PlayOn. A lot of the poorer quality video can be traced back to original sources.

  7. #7
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    Or the speed of your processor and video subsystem. There is a lot of hardware decoding going on these days in the video chipsets.....I used a several year old Pentium Core Duo, with a decent Nvidia rider card laptop....when I experimented with PlayOn.

    I would much prefer a more robust hardware decoding chipset in the Roku.....that would negate the need for much of what PlayOn brings to Roku.

    That Roku decodes video encoded to play on iPhone and iPad helps it tremendously.

    That being said, Im happy to own and enjoy the extra content that is available on Roku. These are merely small gripes.

 

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