What is Roku?
As more and more people are looking to cut cable providers out of their life, they're looking for alternatives. One alternative to cable, or something that can make scaling back your cable package, is a Roku player.
Founded in 2002, Roku's original product lineup included two SoundBridge products that let you play Internet radio stations or music sent to the device over a wireless network, and a PhotoBridge product that let you connect external storage devices to the PhotoBridge player and then view the images on the device in up to HD quality on a connected external monitor. Roku rolled out the Roku DVP in 2008, which let users view Netflix Watch Instantly content through the device on a connected external monitor. Since the Roku DVP, Roku has released a variety of newer players that offer additional functionality beyond just being able to play Netflix content.
Current Models and Hardware Options
Roku has discontinued the PhotoBridge and SoundBridge products, but it's still releasing newer Roku player models. Current models include: Roku LT, Roku 2HD, Roku 2 XD and Roku XS. All of these devices offer composite and HDMI video outputs. The Roku LT and Roku 2 HD output to 480i, 480p and 720p, while the Roku 2 XD and Roku 2 XS output to those resolutions and also 1080p. Older Roku player models offered an optical audio out, but that feature isn't included on more recent models. Additionally, all newer player models operate on the 802.11 wireless frequency, but the Roku 2 XS also offers Ethernet connection capability. Further, the Roku 2 XS is the only model to include a USB port for connecting external devices, and the Roku 2 models are the only models that offer Bluetooth connectivity.
More Roku Articles!
- How to Control Roku with iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch
Roku makes an app available for the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that lets you control your specific player with your Apple device. You can add and remove channels, adjust the channel setup on your Roku player's home screen and use the virtual remote.
So...What Does Roku Do?
Roku operates using apps that perform very similarly to the way they do on your iOS or Android mobile devices. After connecting your Roku player to either wireless Internet or an Ethernet connection and connecting it to an external monitor, you'll notice Roku players come with some some built-in apps, such as Netflix, Crackle, Pandora and Hulu Plus. Some apps, such as Crackle, don't require an account to start accessing content (most of this content is ad-based or commercial-heavy), while other apps require a subscription, such as Netflix. Some apps let you access content that's heavily ad supported, and give you the option to sign up for a pay subscription where you can eliminate or significantly reduce the presence of ads, such as Pandora. You download apps from the Channel Store very similar to the way you would download apps to your iOS or Android mobile device: by downloading content from an online store. You can access the Channel Store directly on your Roku player, or you can search it at Roku.com or through the Roku app available in Apple's App Store and Google's Android Marketplace.
Can You Use Roku to Replace Cable?
This depends on what content you absolutely can't live without. If you can't live without watching your favorite baseball team play, a subscription to MLB.TV will cost you roughly $20 a month. If you also require a subscription to Netflix and Hulu Plus, those will run you $8 apiece. Additionally, a lot of the content from news providers, such as CNN and NPR, is nothing more than a re-posting of the audio podcasts those companies make available for free online, in Apple's App Store and on Google's Android Marketplace. As a result, there are very few channels that actually resemble shows in the traditional sense, and there are still very few content channels to choose from (as of May 2012, there are only roughly 300 channels). And, if you're pulling in your local channels in HD through your cable provider, you'll likely need to get an HD antenna to pull in a quality HD signal for local channels.