Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Simplify Life With Technology: Roku Edition

Today's topic is the first of a hopefully long series, called Simplify Your Life With Technology.

While some may advocate avoiding technology for a simpler life, I disagree. Technophobia is a path toward more complications down the road. Technological advancements, when carefully selected and used correctly, are wonderful things that can simplify all areas of our lives. This week, I'd like to focus on the wonderful, tiny, cute little machine known as The Roku Box.

What is it?
The Roku Box is about the size of a small Linksys Router. It runs quietly (almost silently). It is capable of Composite (Yellow), Component (Blue, Red, Green) and HDMI video outputs, and Optical and Composite (Red & White) audio outputs.

Via an ethernet port in the back or Wifi (I have mine plugged in to avoid wireless headaches), the Roku connects online and plays streaming movies from your Netflix account onto your TV.

Netflix's streaming video options isn't the most impressive thing in the world, but there are thousands of great movies to choose from (12,000 and counting). Think of Roku more as 50 free movie channels than video-on-demand: you'll have a wealth of movies to choose from, but if you have a specific movie in mind that you're dying to see, there's a good chance it isn't available via instant stream (get the DVD mailed to you instead!).

Some Roku favorites in our household are Star Trek (the original series), South Park, a decent-sized Woody Allen collection, a great documentary selection, and plenty of blockbusters from the "Stars" channel.

Right now, Roku also offers Amazon video-on-demand, where you can buy or rent your favorite TV series' and new releases. We opt for saving $$ and just getting those delivered as DVDs, but if you like the idea of impulse, pay-per-view type watching, and you have some cash to burn ($3.99 for a new release), check out the Amazon channel.

You can also purchase digital copies of movies through the Amazon video channel. This is essentially like buying a copy of the movie: you own it, and the rights to play it whenever you want (assuming Amazon never goes out of business). This is an appealing alternative to buying DVDs, which for me either get scratched, borrowed, or just end up adding clutter. still, I'm holding off on making the switch to buying digital movies from Amazon until they offer a streaming AND downloading option. I'd like to have a copy of the movie on my hard drive, in case Amazon ever went under.

The folks at Roku have hinted at a few new channels coming this year (fingers crossed for Hulu!), but we'll just have to wait & see.

Bottom line
Roku isn't a 1:1 replacement for cable; you won't get live TV and you won't get the new TV shows (for free, at least). It is a great replacement, however, for the overpriced movie channels that cable companies offer. If you're already a Netflix subscriber, and you're also paying a large cable bill, the Roku box will pay for itself with the cheap pricetag of $99.00.

4.5 / 5 stars!

Buy it at Amazon for $99.00
Check out eHow's How to Simplify Your Life With Technology

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