Sunday, June 01, 2008

OT: Tech tips--why the fuss over Roku?

Updated to add: This reads very differently in 2021, when I am totally in love with Roku and it is my friend.

I'm confused about the fuss over Roku, a box that allows you to watch streaming video from Netflix for only $8.95 a month. The reason I'm confused is that Netflix members can already do this for free. You have to have Internet Explorer (it won't work with Firefox) and download the free player, but as far as I know, Netflix members have just about unlimited viewing for free. And the TV part? You just need to hook up the laptop to your TV as if it's an external monitor using an SVGA cable [or an S-video cable] and an audio cable. If you had an HDMI cable and a port for that on your laptop, you could probably use that, not that I've ever been able to make an HDMI cable work. Fellow tech nerd souls, what am I missing here? [Updated to add] An anonymous commenter has kindly explained that the $8.95 is for the cheapest Netflix subscription; if you already have Netflix, you wouldn't have to pay an additional amount to use Roku, just the $99 to buy it to begin with. Although the current system works well for now (laptop cables to TV), it sounds as though Roku might be worth a look. [Updated 4/24/09]: If you have a newer laptop with an HDMI port, an HDMI cable works even better than an SVGA or VGA cable plus audio cable.]


Anonymous said...

The $8.95 a month they are talking about is not for access to the streaming library. It is the cost of the cheapest monthly membership to Netflix if you are not a subscriber.
Once you have a Netflix subscription then you can gain access to the unlimited streaming library for free.
The Roku box cost just $99 dollars(one time fee) and allows you to stream the library for free to your television. It is a great deal.
The best part of this is that Roku does not have an exclusive contract with Netflix. This means that when future web sites decide to do PC to TV streaming, you will already have the box to use. Since one of the features of the box is software upgrades loaded to your box automatically from Roku, it should be able to accommodate all kinds of PC to TV streaming.
As far as being able to hook into your TV directly from your PC for streaming purposes, I have never been able to make it work. If the material is pre-downloaded then I am able to watch from my laptop to my TV. However, I have never been able to stream from my PC to TV. As far as I know the box is a signal decoder that allows the streaming signal to transfer.
Hope that fills in some of the holes.

undine said...

Anonymous, thanks for explaining this. I thought the $8.95 was in addition to a Netflix subscription, and that's why it didn't make any sense to me.

I've so far had good luck in getting the Netflix instant content to stream to my tv via the laptop, but I haven't tried it lately. The Roku box sounds like a good device to have for the future.

Anonymous said...

The Roku box isn't needed if you have the ability to connect your pc to you tv. Alot of newer computers have this capability from the factory. It is also just as easy to by a video card that has dual monitor support for your computer for nearly the same price as a Roku box. If your tv has a pc input (like many newer models) you can run the tv as an extended desktop monitor. I personally have my comuter hooked up to my tv and enjoy the ability to watch the streaming service that netflix offers. You do not need the Roku box if you already can connect your pc to your tv. It seems that the Roku box is aimed at people whom do not have this option or are not technically orientated enough to do so. Either way you look at it, it is a good option for bringing on demand video to you. Just my thoughts.

Unknown said...

undine, I am a HUGE fan of Netflix Watch Instantly, so I just ordered my Roku box about a week ago (hasn't arrived yet). I've been watching streaming Netflix content for the past 9 months far more often than anything on TV. There are hundreds of television show edisodes from dozens of shows, including some of my favorites such as Hereos, Sliders, the original Battlestar Gallactica (the new one isn't available yet), and The Office. I have also watched dozens of movies through the service, including the original Frankenstein (Boris Karloff), the Neverending Story, the original Nosferatu (silent version), Annie, Searching for Bobby Fischer, and Logan's Run, just in the past week.

I've told all my friends about the Netflix service and I think it's as revolutionary to home video entertainment as TiVo. The Roku box, although new and a bit primitive, is just another natural step in Netflix's superb history.

To answer one of your questions, though, I believe something you're missing is that not everyone (1) has a laptop, (2) has the hardware to connect their computer to a TV set, and (3) wants their computer near their TV sets.

We don't have a television anywhere near a computer, and we don't want them close together for various reasons. Even if they did, I don't have the hardware for connecting them anyway, not to mention that I despise viewing computer content on a TV. Controlling it is painful, it takes forever to setup, and it would consume two major entertainment devices in our house at the same time. With 4 people in our household using the tv's and computers, it's not practical for someone to use two of them at once.

Anyway, I am extremely giddy about Netflix (been a customer for 10 years), it's streaming service, and the new Roku player. Even if the quality is sub-par, just the fact that I can get unlimited video-on-demand (at 1/3 of the price of digital cable that doesn't even offer ANY video-on-demand capability) it's a fantastic deal.

Alex said...

I have done exactly what this post says - connected my laptop to my HDTV to watch netflix streaming videos - and it's a hassle: you have to buy an expensive VGA+audio cable to snake across the room, and switching the video format on my laptop back and forth keeps scrambling up my screen. Consequently I don't end up watching as much as I could. So... if the Roku box works like the reviews say, I'll be very happy and I'll be watching a lot more.

Unknown said...

No need to use MS IE either. Use Firefox's wonderful "Open in IE Tab".

Right mouse click on the desired site's icon or, when already on the site, right mouse click on the button or highlighted item.

undine said...

anon@6:19, I've never installed a video card, so the Roku would probably be a better option for someone who, as you say, doesn't have the technical chops to install a system like the one you describe.

maitreg, I hadn't thought of those issues you mentioned (about tying up a computer and all). I've only tried the streaming Netflix a little bit but think I might use it more if it were available through the Roku box.

alex, hooking up the cables is a hassle. I have them already because I use them to hook up my laptop when I teach, but right now it takes time to get them out, hook them up, etc.

Robert, as a devoted Firefox user I've wanted to try that Open as IE feature but haven't yet. Thanks for that tip.

Anonymous said...

It has native HDMI out....just the DVI to HDMI connector is expensive enough...and a hassle to drab my laptop to the TV...etc, etc...this box is a good choice...because it's a network appliance...that's all it does..and it does it well.

Anonymous said...

My laptop is currently connected to my HDTV via 15-pin VGA component cable for video & RCA audio cables for audio. I use it for online gaming. I have never been a Netflix subscirber nor have used the Roku box or TiVo but now become interested. My questions are:
1. Assuming I already subscribed to Netflix, do I need a Roku box to stream Netflix video based on my current set-up?
2. If not, do I need to modify (in any way) my set-up to view Netflix streaming video if necessary?
3. If I want to use my laptop for internet surfing while using it to video stream Netflix movies to my HDTV at same time, are there any extra software, hardware and/or set-up configuration I need to do to make it possible?
Hope anyone can explain in detail. Thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

Also, in addition to my questions above posted on 9:49am:
4. My HDTV has HDMI input and I have an extra HDMI cable but my laptop has no HDMI output/connection. If I want to watch Netflix streaming video movies with the best clarity and resolution possible, am I better off getting the Roku box since some say that it can be directly connected with HDMI cabling and can deliver HD output?

undine said...

anon@1:55, that's good to know. It seems that Roku is useful if you do have Netflix.

anon@9:49, I'm not an expert by any means and have not hooked up my laptop for gaming, but if you are using a VGA cable and a sound cable, you should be able to get instant Netflix on your TV. I don't know about the Roku box and HDMI; I've never gotten an HDMI cable to work, even with my cable box and an HDMI-capable TV.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment undine! Any more answers to my questions (above)? The more inputs..the better for all including readers who might find it useful..;-)

Anonymous said...

Chiming in late here -- I too have a Roku. It just arrived and I'm setting it up tonight. The reason I got mine (it was gifted, actually) is that I have a Mac and you can't use instant watch with the Mac yet. Yes, I could install windoze on my mac, but that that's a real pain if ya ask me. I don't have any windows disks, etc.

Even if I did have a PC, I like the total convenience of the box. For a non-techie like me, the simple point 'n click is perfect.

Are you going to ask my 85 year old grandma who uses netflix to set that up? How about the housewife from Ohio? Or the single mom in Oregon? Should a family of 5 hog up the use of a one computer to be able to instant watch on the TV?

I know it's difficult to think outside your own box, but there are many reasons why this is an awesome product for many people.

It's smug and immature to think that just because a product is of no interest or use to you, it's not something to be fussed over.

Me? I can't wait to get home and do some fussing.

undine said...

I wasn't trying to be "smug and immature," anonymous@4:02, or to say that this isn't a good product. I was just posing a simple question, which the other commenters have answered (thanks, all!). The Mac is a good reason, as are the other ones you mention. My question was directed at those who *don't* have those constraints. I'm sorry you took this as an affront; it wasn't meant that way.