Can Roku Replace Cable TV Service?

Category: Gadgets , Television

If you're thinking about dropping your cable TV in favor of online TV and movie streaming, you should know about the Roku 3 box, which makes it simple to bring online video to your big screen TV. Here's a review of the latest Roku model, and my take on whether it can replace your cable TV subscription...

Roku 3 Review

Essentially, the Roku 3 is a very small WiFi streaming-media box that offers over 700 Internet "channels" of video and audio services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, Pandora, NHL, NBA, and MLB. The Roku product line brings internet movies and online TV shows to any standard or HDTV television sets, and its remote control with headphone jack doubles as a Wii-like motion-sensing controller for casual gaming.

Roku has built its reputation as one of the best values in streaming-media devices by continually improving its product and its service offerings. It's widely hailed as easy to set up and use. Although the latest box is dubbed Roku 3, the product has gone through several iterations since its debut in 2008. Roku 3, which replaces the discontinued Roku 2 XS, packs a lot of features into a palm-sized box priced at less than $100.
ROKU 3 Review

Four Roku models are available to accommodate different tastes. If you're into gaming, you will want the top-of-the-line Roku 3 model, priced at $99.99. It includes the motion controller you'll need to play games as more become available. (Angry Birds Space is included with Roku.) The Roku 3 sports an Ethernet port in addition to dual-band wireless connectivity, so you can connect to your Internet router with either wired or wireless. It also features a USB port so you can play local video, audio, and photo files. The Roku 3 supports 1080p HDTV, and can only be used with an HD-capable television. But don't worry, other Roku models will work with older non-HD TV sets.

The next step down is the Roku 2 XD model, priced at $79.99. It supports up to 1080p video quality, but doesn't come with Ethernet, USB, headphone jack or the motion controller. However, you can add a motion controller for an additional $30. The XD comes with an infrared remote for video control and menu navigation, but that device is not for gaming.

The entry-level Roku HD model costs just $59.99, but its HDTV capability is limited to 720p. Most people cannot tell the difference between 720p and 1080p, so if you want to save a few dollars, and you can live without the fancy features of the Roku 3, the Roku HD model is the way to go. With the HD, you can watch movies and TV shows to your heart's content. There's also a $49 Roku LT, which lacks the instant replay feature on the remote.

The Roku is so small it's actually cute. The Roku 3 box is only 3.5 inches square with rounded corners, weighs a mere 5 ounces, and stands an inch high. It's reminiscent of a hockey puck, but a bit curvier than older Roku boxes. The newest model comes with in-ear headphones and two AA batteries to power the remote. The Roku 3 is packed with connection options: an HDMI port (you supply the cable, or order one with your Roku for $10), a microSD slot, plus Ethernet and USB ports.

Can Roku Replace Cable TV?

So does it make sense to drop your cable TV package and use Roku to stream your entertainment from the internet to your TV? It really depends what you want to watch. The Roku box doesn't require any monthly fees, but some channels do require a subscription. However, there's plenty of free content to choose from, including free movies and TV from Crackle, CNBC, CNET video, Disney, Fox News, Pandora and a few dozen other niche focused channels.

If you add Netflix and/or Hulu Plus (both $8/month) and snag an occasional movie from Amazon Instant Video, you'll probably end up paying a lot less than what you're paying for cable now. Hulu has all your favorite shows from ABC, NBC, Fox, Comedy Central, MTV and other networks. Netflix has the movies pretty well covered. But if you're a sports fan, you'll have to add another subscription to the mix. Roku can't replace EVERY channel on your cable lineup, so you'll have to make the call. One service that's unfortunately not available on Roku is YouTube.

In case you're wondering, Roku is pronounced "row koo". If you catch your friends saying it as "rock you" or "rah koo" you can confirm your alpha geek status by setting them straight. The Roku product line competes primarily with Apple TV, and a few other also-ran streaming boxes, but because of its great features and pricing, it is well positioned to remain at the top of streaming-media heap.

Do you have a Roku? Tell me what you like (or dislike) about it. Post your comment or question below…

 
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Most recent comments on "Can Roku Replace Cable TV Service?"

(See all 40 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Lee McIntyre
03 May 2013

It's pronounced "ROH-koo" As in "ROH your boat to shore to hear the pigeons koo."


Posted by:

Ross
03 May 2013

@Lorraine: The 'downside' is that if you're gonna do all that from your laptop then you don't even NEED the ROKU device. Save your money and just subscribe to the services you want; in fact I recommend (to you and anyone else) to just try Hulu.com for FREE (for ever) (not Hulu Plus, which is $8/mth) instead and see if you get what you want there.
Hulu.com has a LOT of TV shows (current: usually 8 days after aired on TV, and previous seasons) and even OLD TV series and BBC shows, and a LOT of movies available FOR FREE. I've been watching, happily, since April 2010. No regrets, never joined Hulu Plus or Netflix. :o)


Posted by:

Kevin
03 May 2013

My wife and I once rowed a boat together, actually it was a canoe, pronounced ka-new. I'm not really sure if wife and I ever had a 'row', but if we did, I'm sure I'd never hear the end of it, I think.


Posted by:

Rob
04 May 2013

One big limitation not mentioned so far is the very flaky delivery of TED. This has some amazingly good content but is frequently almost unwatchable.
Agreed that a local news feed and YouTube would be ideal.


Posted by:

chris
04 May 2013

If you are undecided as whether or not a Roku will provide the desired tv content, you can access via the internet on your existing computer any programming that it can provide. the roku simply provides it on your big screen tv.
check out Bob's articles on "internet tv on your computer" for more info.
I've noticed more and more channels being restricted, the latest is espn3 :(


Posted by:

MJHughes
04 May 2013

I've got Roku3. I subscribe to Netflix streaming, and I have an Amazon Prime membership. I don't have cable and I'm not inclined to watch cable news or most sports, so I don't feel like I'm missing anything. I have a Leaf antenna if I want to watch antenna TV or local programming, which is an extremely rare urge.

Netflix streaming usually requires waiting to see shows, but if I want to watch something running currently, Amazon nearly always has it. I quickly became addicted to watching every episode of a show back to back with no commercials.


Posted by:

Steve Eide
04 May 2013

I have both a Roku (two years old) and a Boxee Box and actually prefer the Boxee. I got a wireless keyboard with extended range and I can actually surf the web while sitting on the couch. The Boxee displays almost anything that can be seen on a regular PC plus it has all or most of the Apps that Roku comes with too.


Posted by:

another Bob
04 May 2013

In general I have been pleased with Roku, but I haven't cut off cable because I still use the cable company for internet and landline phone service, and dropping just the TV service doesn't really reduce the bill very much.


Posted by:


04 May 2013

Hmmmm
I thinks it assimilates the Japanese pronounciation as in roo koo


Posted by:

Bruce
05 May 2013

If Roku requires a broadband internet connection, how can I "cut the cable"?

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can drop your TV subscription, but not your Internet.


Posted by:

Jammer
05 May 2013

Can I have Roku3 and basic Direct TV service hooked up to my TV at the same time and both be operable?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, you just select the appropriate input with your remote.


Posted by:

Andrea
06 May 2013

There's a Roku app called VideoBuzz that offers a way to watch YouTube. There's also a phone app called TwonkyBeam.....install on your phone and go to YouTube, find what you want to watch, and the app can beam the video to your Roku and TV.


Posted by:

HERBERT
07 May 2013

I have very bad experiences with any kind of streaming devices. I have windows xp pro PC with 3.5 GHZ with a 500 GB hard drive and 4GB memory also have diskeeper to take care of defragmenting all the time and i have the maximum internet speed by comcast but let me tell you...
these streaming movies freeze every 10 to 15 seconds so you are watching a series of play-pause-play-pause.... thru the entire movie and I
don't have any doubts tha this Roku will behave the same unless you have a $2000 pc with quadcore turbo intel with 20 gb memory but the average pc is not build for streaming.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Herb, the streaming boxes don't use your PC at all. They connect to directly to your internet router. Sounds like your streaming issues are a function of a spotty internet connection, and not your PC.


Posted by:

nana
07 May 2013

Have had Roku for a little over a year now and am very happy. I'm not a TV junkie so Roku provides all the entertainment I could ever want. And the price is right. It sure beats paying for a lot cable channels that I would never watch. My Internet service is excellent so I have no problem with streaming music or watching movies/shows.

One happy camper!


Posted by:

Joshua Warren
26 Oct 2013

Roku ROCKS!

I gave up cable ($90.00/month) and bought a Roku 2XD two years ago and have not regretted that decision. I also purchased an antennae ($89.00) to pick up over-the-air channels (many in true HD). With my Netflix and Hulu Plus subscriptions, my total monthly outlay is about $16.00.

As for the content, I can access almost anything I want to access. Many current shows are available over the air, movies are plentiful, and if I want any sports package, for a price, I can have that too. There are also sources for educational and niche content. And, one feature that the Roku has that some of the other "boxes" don't is the ability to search across all its content providers.

One other consideration is the ability to go back and watch a TV series that perhaps you missed while it was running in prime time. I recently watched the series, "Lost" and probably had a much better experience than those who watched it "live". For example, I could watch several episodes back to back when I had time.

I think cable is a dying breed and will continue to decline in popularity as products and services like Roku become better and better.


Posted by:

Bill Davis
19 Nov 2013

I really like ROKU ,, but there is ONE BIG PROBLEM ,, Most Internet Providers have a LIMIT !! to how much TV that you can watch ..

They Never tell you UNTIL you start getting a SPECIAL Add On Cost BECAUSE you have used more than the PRE SET LIMIT of 500GB or more DEPENDING on what their USAGE LIMIT really is .

I really HATE finding out that a Internet Provider has Built In USAGE LIMITS !!

Are there any Internet Providers that are really UNLIMITED for their Internet USAGE . ????

I am Disabled and I am ONLINE almost 24-7 either Browsing , Sending Emails , Chatting with Friends , and or Watching Netflix or Downloading Music Files .


Posted by:

chris chilson
24 Dec 2013

CNET stated that the Roku 3 does accommodate YouTube, can anybody out there verify that it does? (without a work around)
I'm also curious about monthly data limits for ISP's. At 6 GB's or so per hour of HDTV, one could exceed a 500 GB per month limit rather quickly if the internet is the sole signal source.
I'm guessing, but I'd wager that ISP's do have a limit just as "unlimited" phone service providers do.


Posted by:

Paul
27 Dec 2013

@chris_chilson YES! The Roku3 now finally has an official YouTube channel which works very well IMHO. It allows you to also use the Youtube app on your portable device and then send it to be displayed on your TV. I use my Nexus 7 tablet's YouTube app to send videos to the Roku3's YouTube channel which then displays it on the TV.

Searching YouTube content using the Roku remote is kind of clunky (scroll to the letter than click the OK button, repeat) which is why they have allowed us to use portable devices.

With official YouTube support I feel that the Roku 3 is the best streaming device by far.


Posted by:

Sandy
13 Jan 2014

If I subscribed to HULU or Netflix or Amazon Prime...the TV shows on ABC, CBS, MTV, Comedy Central...are they current...same shows as I'd be watching on Cable? or previous seasons etc.?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Netflix and Amazon are for movies. Hulu Plus will give you on-demand access to both current and past seasons of many TV shows.


Posted by:

LeAnne
04 Aug 2014

I am a TV junkie. Currently have Dish paying $100/mo! Never streamed anything ever and are considering buying a Roku and signing up with HULU, cancelling Dish. I have basic internet with Time Warner. I love the idea but worry there's something negative I'm not seeing. Like a max on internet usage? what? Scared to pull the trigger. Any advice or a direction I should research? I watch all things from Walking Dead to Wives with Knives to the Mindy Project. Can't miss my shows! Thanks


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