Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Roku review and install pics

The Roku streaming player is a small device about the size of a hockey puck that connects to your TV and brings a huge amount of the videos, music, movies, games and TV shows available online straight to your TV screen. By purchasing a Roku (multiple models that currently range in price from $49.99-$99.99), the one-time cost gives you access to over 500 different entertainment channels. Roku players are very quick and easy to install, connect to virtually any TV, and require only AC power and a wired or wireless Internet connection. I recently installed a new Roku 2 XS and have provided pictures to show how quick and easy installation is:

Here is the Roku 2 XS box

Here is the TV that I will use with this Roku. As you can see, it is an older TV (at least 8 years old) and does not even have an HDMI input. As you will see, Roku works with new or old TVs.

Here's what the inside of the box looks like

A closer look at the Roku 2 XS and its remote

Here is a look at everything that's included - RCA (video and audio) cables, batteries for remote, AC power adapter, Roku 2 XS (rear view) and remote control

A closer look at the back of the Roku 2 XS

Closer look at the included accessories

Extreme close-up of the Roku 2 XS. Micro SD card slot for additional storage and future expansion (optional - Micro SD card is not needed for setup or normal use), standard size HDMI port for digital audio & video connection, A/V out for use with the supplied RCA (yellow, white, red) cable, ethernet port for a wired Internet connection, manual reset button, and DC in to connect the supplied AC power cable.

Note the time on the clock. After opening the box and taking a few pictures, we began the install at 6:42pm.

Another view of the Roku 2 XS and accessories. The AA batteries give some perspective as to the size of this incredibly powerful and awesome device.

An extreme close-up of the connections I used to install the Roku 2 XS. I only needed the power cable and used the A/V out with the supplied RCA (yellow, white, red) cable for video and audio connection to the TV.

A look at the back (and very dusty) connections available on the TV

Once connected to power and the TV, the Roku automatically begins the setup process

Rear view of the remote control

Front view of the unwrapped Roku remote control

First step is selecting a wired or wireless Internet connection. I used a wireless connection - the Roku lists the available wireless networks and I used the remote to enter my network password.

After connecting to the Internet, you are prompted to choose your local time zone

Once your time zone is set, the Roku automatically checks for updates and downloads any that are available. You must set up a free account at the Roku website to complete activation (and provide payment information in case you purchase any paid channels).

Before I knew it, updates were installed and the Roku was ready to use! The latest generation of Roku players allow game play and some come with Angry Birds pre-installed.

And here is the finish time - 7:28pm. Total setup time took me 46 minutes and that included extra time to take lots of pictures, about 5 minutes of rearranging and rerunning wires behind the TV, and my first game of Angry Birds.

The finished product - sitting nicely next to the Wii

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our current setup

For almost a year, we paid nothing at all for our home entertainment, using the methods listed in our last post.  I had been researching the Roku and AppleTV streaming boxes, which both provide a huge amount of free and subscription content to your TV with an extremely simple interface and a small easy-to-use remote.  If you are an Apple person with more than one device (iPhone, iPad, iPod or Mac) and/or use iTunes to watch TV and movies as well as music, then AppleTV is probably best for you.  It seamlessly brings all of your iTunes content to your TV, has many other apps for content and entertainment, and uses AirPlay to instantly play content from another iOS device on your TV screen.

We chose the Roku box for three reasons:
1) We used iTunes for playing our imported, previously purchased music and were not buying music, TV or movies from iTunes.
2) Similar to Apple vs. Android in phones and tablets (although Roku has nothing to do with Android), Roku is a much more open system than AppleTV.  On this platform, Roku has more apps and anyone with programming knowledge can create their own apps (Roku calls them channels).
3) Roku has multiple versions of its hardware, offering different features with multiple price points.  We chose the top-of-the-line Roku, which cost the same as an AppleTV but offered better features - 1080p vs. AppleTV's 720p, plus our model has a USB port for accessing pictures, music or videos on portable USB drives or USB hard drives.

We use our Roku every day and LOVE it - so much that a month later we bought a second Roku for our second TV.  The easiest way to describe Roku is that it replaced everything we were doing on our laptop.  Using the many different channels available, Roku can stream virtually any content available online using a simple interface and an easy-to-use remote.  Roku has an "official" channel store (like Apple's iTunes app store or Google Play) as well as private channels which are user-created apps that Roku does not officially support.  Google "Roku private channels" for listings/databases of private channels and instructions on how to add them to your Roku (it's very easy).

Our Roku does everything that I was using our laptop for - streaming TV shows and movies, podcasts, radio station streams, streaming music services, plus so much more.  I occasionally watch "live" over-the-air TV for NFL football and some other network sports on the weekends, but our Roku boxes provide about 90% of the information and entertainment that we consume.  My next post will show you how easy it is to install a Roku.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How we cut the cord

I spent a lot of time researching entertainment options before making the call to AT&T to cancel the TV portion of our U-verse service.  Along with the TV service, we also had 6Mbps U-verse high-speed Internet, which we have kept and has provided almost all of our entertainment for the last three years.  Dropping U-verse TV took our monthly bill from around $105 monthly to $35/month for AT&T U-verse 6Mbps high-speed Internet only.  The Internet price has increased to $40 and now $43 monthly, but is still a great value for us at about one-third the price of what we would be paying for TV and Internet.

My first step was to invest in two indoor "rabbit-ear" type powered antennas - one for each of our TVs.  These can be found at Amazon or some local retailers and vary in signal strength and price.  I bought Zenith and RCA antennas that cost around $30-$40 each.  If you live in or near a city with local TV stations, you can receive more local channels in better quality than cable or satellite provides absolutely free.  How?  Now that TV broadcasting is digital, many local stations offer a second and sometimes third channel as well as the main channel you are used to watching.  Some extra channels may have continuous local weather information while others may offer music videos or other variety programs.  The extra content may or may not be of interest to you, but it is absolutely free and unavailable on most cable and satellite systems.  When watching an HD program with an antenna, you are getting the best signal available anywhere.  The HD signal you pay for with cable or satellite begins with a direct connection or antenna feed, is highly compressed to travel along with the hundreds of other channels, and then uncompressed when the box or receiver sends the picture to your TV.  Visit, enter your zip code, and you will see the type of antenna you need and a list of channels you can expect to receive.

Most of our favorite shows were on the major networks - ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX.  If we were unable to see them live, most were streamed on or the network's website.  I bought a cable that used the S-Video output and headphone audio output of our laptop to connect to our TV's RCA inputs.  It is even easier to connect with an HDMI cable if your laptop and TV have HDMI ports.  A note about using HDMI - DO NOT pay for an over-priced, "premium" cable.  Look for a low-cost one on and see how much you can save.

Our cord cutting journey began with absolutely no monthly cost for entertainment (besides our monthly Internet access) - only the one-time cost of antennas and the laptop-to-TV cable.  Having twin newborns at home cut down on our free time, but one of us was always home with the boys, so we had a lot more time at home than when we were both working.  Our entertainment consisted of local over-the-air TV, local radio, streaming radio/music/podcasts, our rarely-watched DVD collection.  I also used the laptop and iTunes to create a huge library of our MP3 music and many of our music CDs for instant access to lots of music that we were able to control from anywhere in the house with the iTunes Remote app on our phones.