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 54 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Joshua Warren
26 Oct 2013


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:

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:

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:

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

Posted by:

Theresa Slauf
05 Nov 2014

So, as I continue to study this ROKU it seems like it wouldn't replace cable t.v. but it would eliminate the need for a DVR which then would reduce the monthly cable bill. Right now I am paying almost $20 per month for the DVR service and the DVR equipment. I know I wouldn't be able to record on the ROKU but because of Netflix I wouldn't have to.

Posted by:

Joseph Armstrong
06 Nov 2014

Hi, I have a couple of questions about the ROKU, I'm been thinking about buying the ROKU DEVICE in the next few months, I'm getting tired of paying the high price of cable, my main concern is the channels, I like watching TCM, ENCORE, STARZ, HISTORY, and some others, will I be able to watch these channels on the ROKU Device or will I have to pay for these channels, my second question, is this Device better than cable. I'm getting tired of COX Cable saying that I'm a valuable customer because been with them over 17 yrs, but why is my bill still high? So if this device is good I would like to try it out, so if anyone can help me decide it will be real good, looking forward to hear your feedback.

Posted by:

Roger C.
30 Dec 2014

Roku isn't the easiest product to troubleshoot because when I needed help, I could not get it from the Roku site. The CHAT function was not available, and phone support was nonexistent; after dialing the support number, I waited for 20 minutes without getting an answer; so, I gave up.

Also, good luck trying to add a channel from Roku's web site. From that site, I tried adding a channel that I couldn't find in Roku's list of channels displayed on my TV. Even after clicking "Add" to add the channel, and noticing that Roku said that the channel was installed, it did not show up on the list of installed channels on the TV.

Posted by:

01 Jan 2015

You can get YouTube now on Roku 3. It been on Roku 3 now for a year. I have had Roku 3 for over a year now. It OK. I watch it most every night. I have cable tv at 149.00 a month including TV,Phone,and Internet. Since this is a new year cable is going up anywhere from 2 to 9 dollars. One thing about my service is when your power goes off, they already know and have fast service to restore you electricity .. The are a local company and do a great job. I do hate paying the cost. I am tore between keeping cable TV since I like sports.

Posted by:

Janet Mertes
27 Jan 2015

I have Roku and really like it. I have not cut my cable as I need the internet but am going to down size it to a minimum to save monies. I wish Roku had a better version of Fox news. Otherwise I am pleased. Jan

Posted by:

22 Mar 2015

I currently have Netflix (dvd not streaming) and have been considering buying a Roku as my dvds are taking so long to ship lately from Netflix. I generally tend to rent television series on Netflix more than actual movies. Could anyone tell me if they are able to get old seasons of tv shows with the Roku? I know you can get current seasons of course but a lot of shows I have not seen and like to start from the beginning (for example, I just finished watching Breaking Bad and am now watching Sons of Anarchy and never saw either while they were on tv.) Thanks so much.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2015

All I wanted are watching sports like MLB, NFL, and NBA. Can I get them from Roku?

Posted by:

23 Apr 2015

I have had the ROKU 2XD now for almost two years and it's actually pretty great. There are lots of apps... I currently have about 53 installed. I do not subscribe to Hulu or Netflix. I did at first but then I found two apps that would allow me to play video content from my PC (which I have made in to a video server) and they are PlayOn and Plex. With Plex you can install many video apps that may not be available on ROKU; ABC Family, Discovery, Food Network, MTV, VH1, CMT, and many others. It is preferable to have an internet connection that streams at 20mbps and above, though.

And though these apps don't offer live television, you can work around that with PlayOn; which has users who upload links to live streaming channels over the internet. Or if you don't feel comfortable with that option, there are paid services you can subscribe to with USTVNOW and Sling.

Posted by:

26 Apr 2015

Can I use the Roku 3 with my current cable (Comcast) or do I have to choose only one? I would like to keep Comcast for the DVR but still have the option of watching Netflix on TV. Thx

EDITOR'S NOTE: You don't have to choose. In fact, you need Internet service in order to use the Roku.

Posted by:

rick Gutierrez
07 Jul 2015

i am totally confused about this Roku 3 thing. I want to get one but i see i still need to keep my Directv too. The whole purpose of me wanting to get the Roku 3 was to get rid of my directv. I like to watch current seasons of Survivor, Grey Anatomy, The View, etc. as well as nickelodeon , disney channel, TBS, comedy central. Can i watch those shows and get rid of directv?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Roku does not replace your Internet service. It provides a way to stream content from your Internet connection to your TV screen. You'll still need Internet service from someone.

Posted by:

Kathy DiCaprio
26 Aug 2015

My son loves sports especially football. I think I am reading here that these channels will not be available. Am I right? He is a divorced dad of two young girls and cannot afford cable. He has internet and an antennae. Is there anything that will allow him to watch NFL football.

Posted by:

Shelly Malohifo'ou
21 Dec 2015

I pay over 200.00 a month in cable and internet.
My question is. Would Roku work for us? We basically like to watch our local stations for news, etc, I like to watch the Today Show in the mornings. My husband likes sports and nature shows. that's about it.. And I'm just concerned about our internet for our computers etc?

Posted by:

Linda Lindley
31 Dec 2015

I have had ROKU for over two years. It's hard to beat. I use HD antenna + ROKU with paid subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Acorn TV. Acorn TV gives you a lot of British programming which is, in my opinion, superior programming. Some free channels that are really great are PBS, Fox News [video clips of their shows], You Tube. I recently subscribed to SiriusXM which gives me great music plus Fox News, CNN, etc., simulcasts. You can also get CBS All Access which will give you all of their series, both current and past seasons for $5 a month. However I have found that I can get a lot of these series on Amazon or Netflix. If you're a big sports fan, ROKU isn't as good as cable. But for other entertainment, it's great. I cut my cable two years ago, and I'm very happy with ROKU. Even with subscription fees, I pay 1/3 of what I was paying with cable. I like to choose what I watch. With cable, I had 1000 channels and nothing to watch.

Posted by:

29 Nov 2016

I have an RCA HD Tv. it has a roku setting on the tv and on the remote. I have a netflix subscription and I have wireless interweb. How do I make my roku work?

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