Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Roku 3: It Could Have Been Great

When I get into any extended conversation about how much I love the Chromecast (click for review), invariably two other devices will get mentioned. The Apple TV (that you can automatically veto, more later) and the Roku 3.

"The Roku does so much more" 

which is kinda true. The goal is an all-in-one device that will replace regular TV and give you all the movies you could ever desire. It gets the movie part down, and it gets a lot of the TV part down, at least the TV that you can get from Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and Hulu. The subscription based services. But you can forget HBO, Showtime, A&E, etc. Unless you are willing to spend a LOT more than you would on regular cable. Why you ask? Simple. The pricks that run the cable companies are blocking installation of those apps now. I'm on Comcast, and I can not use Showtime Anytime, or HBO Go on the Roku.

Now, on the Chromecast this isn't a problem because of Tab Casting. Just open those pages in Chrome on a laptop or desktop, and send the video to your TV. Easy peasy. You keep a little bookmarks folder with links to your shows, and you are done. And that my friends is the deal killer. I spent some time with the Roku, and really tried to make it work. This was going to be another "one week with" kind of review, but it became obvious pretty quickly that the Roku wasn't going to cut it. That, and it has no volume control from the remote. That's a sin. But it did have some positives.

1) Very easy setup. Not Chromecast easy, but still very easy.

2) 1080P output. But for 100 bucks, it friggin better have it. Especially when the 35 dollar Chromecast does. It's criminal that the Roku LT does not while costing 50 bucks.

3) Headphone remote. You can plug a pair of headphones into the Roku remote, and it will mute the TV instantly. But it also serves to remind you that those volume buttons on the side for the headphones do nothing for your TV volume when you aren't using headphones and that is annoying.

4) A bunch of weird little fun channels. Free cartoons. Free fringe movies. I love stuff like that.

But there are even more negatives...

1) Scam channels. Lots of them. Channels that want to charge you a monthly subscription for content that is free on the net or YouTube. Speaking of YouTube...

2) No YouTube. In fact, No Google integration whatsoever. No way to play your Google music or videos or content. No iTunes either for that matter.

3) Fiddly usage. With Chromecast you can at least manage content with direct bookmarks on a laptop. With Roku? Remember where you found it and hunt for it. Was that show on Netflix? Was it Amazon Video?

4) ADVERTISING. On the main screen. I'm finished with initial setup and a friggin ad comes up for cod liver fish oil. You should NOT experience this with a 99 dollar streaming device. More ads for 6 month old movies I've already seen for two bucks a pop.

5) Too much reliance on pay-per-view content. If we wanted to pay for pay-per-view, we'd just pay for cable. And the Roku 3 menus and limitations and design try to corral you towards it. They want you to pay 2 bucks an episode for your favorite shows. Wonder why.

6) No HDMI cable included. This is bullshit. They could have thrown in a 5 dollar cable. The Chromecast essentially is its own cable.

7) No keyboard option. Stupid onscreen keyboard and arrow key hell. So if your WiFi password is line noise like mine (or worse, WPA2 Enterprise and requires a username AND password) you are screwed. Get ready to get it wrong three times and get ready to start swearing. Unless you have an ethernet cable (also not included).


As for Apple TV, all the problems above with even more attempts to coral you towards pay per view content (but it does have working volume control). iTunes is just a massive expensive ripoff. And the reality is that if you get an Apple TV, you should just wipe it and install XBMC on it. And worse than that, you can't even install XBMC on a Apple TV 3. And that brings us to the reality of it all. The "decision tree" if you will. 

Cheap or Spendy

On the cheap side, the Chromecast is the easiest to use, and cheap as sin. Yes, it has a lot of the limitations of the Roku and the Apple TV, but at least it only costs 35 bucks. And your Internet provider can't stop you from casting HBO Go, Showtime, or ANYTHING you want from a web page to your television.

On the spendy side, you are shooting for the best experience. And nothing on this earth is as good as XBMC. With Sickbeard. And Couch Potato. And XBMC Video Server. And Sabnzbd and/or torrents (but usenet is easier) and you aren't going to run that on something cheap. But you can pick up a Mac Mini 2009 for around 200 bucks and it will work fine for all those things. Plus, you can attach the storage you might need cheap. And there is nothing on this earth as good. It's better than cable. 

Your shows and movies
when you want them
automatically fetched for you
in one menu
with notifications

This is a lot easier

It sucks, but it's true. Even if it is expensive. No, it isn't even half as cool as a good XBMC setup. But it is easy.