Roku and Friends: Can You Cut the Cable?

Category: Television , Video

The Roku family of streaming media players has become the go-to product for those who want to drop cable TV and rely on Internet video sources like Netflix, Hulu and Youtube for their entertainment needs. But it's not the ONLY choice... check out these seven Roku alternatives that can bring movies, TV shows and Internet content to your HDTV...

Alternatives to Roku

With over 750 channels available, third-party apps that enable access to more, and innovative features like the headphone jack built into the Roku 3’s remote control, this product dominates the field. If you're not familiar with Roku or streaming media players, see my article Can Roku Replace Cable TV Service? for some background info.

But there are alternatives to the Roku box, and some of them offer features that Roku lacks. Here are some of the “other” streaming media players available on the market:

Apple TV is the $99 box most often compared to Roku. Classic Apple design includes a minimalist footprint sometimes described as “hockey puck-like,” a single HDMI port, and no legacy analog ports. An internal power supply eliminates wall-wart hassles and gives the device some weight so the power cord won’t pull it off the shelf. It streams audio or video content directly from an iPhone, iPad, Wi-Fi-connected computer, or your iTunes library. In addition, it supports Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio.
ROKU Alternatives


Netgear’s NeoTV family of “boxes that hook up with your TV” includes the original NeoTV Streaming Player (with Pro and Max variations, up to $70); NeoTV Prime with Google TV capabilities (up to $10 for voice search and Web browsing on the big screen); and the Push2TV Wireless Display Adapter (up to $80) that puts on the big screen what was designed for little screens, like a Commodore 64 used to do.

Of course, you could have all three boxes’ capabilities in one box for one competitive price but consumers like the illusion of frugality. Why buy features if you don’t yet know how to use them or what they’re good for, right? What product differentiation really does is allow a seller to charge significantly more for “premium” features that cost virtually nothing to add to a deliberately crippled product arbitrarily defined as the baseline.


The Asus CUBE seems to get the highest marks for implementing Google TV in a streaming media box. Santa brought me one, and I heard through the grapevine that it cost only $60, after the $40 rebate. The promise of Google TV is unified search, meaning that it'll find what you want to watch with one search, whether it's on TV, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Google Play or other video sources. You can use the full keyboard on the back of the remote, or use the voice search feature. (See my related article What is Google TV?)

I've been trying it out, and so far I'm not sold on keeping it. The setup instructions were a bit spotty, and I'm not sure if a non-techie would have slogged through it all. The voice search didn't work at all until I did a software update, and it keeps dropping the wifi connection for some reason. Netflix sometimes fails to load. By contrast, my Roku never fails to connect to Wifi, and I've never had a problem watching Netflix or other content.

But the Roku doesn't implement any of the coolness of Google TV, and I really like the CUBE concept. Choices, choices...


Sony’s NSZ-GA8 Internet Player with Google TV makes YouTube easier to watch on TV; seriously, that’s one of its principle selling points. The price was recently lowered from $200 to $130, coincidentally.


Panasonic offers two DMP model Digital Media Players only $10 apart in price. You may as well buy the fully equipped DMP-MST60 with built-in WiFi, Web browsing on TV, and streaming from Android devices. (The DMP-MS10 model garners only a one-star rating on Panasonic's own website!) Note, however, both products say “only a few left in stock,” suggesting that the DMP line is a failure or Panasonic is trying to con you into a hasty purchasing decision.


The D-Link Movie Night Player (DSM-310) is a simple $35 box that delivers 1080p HD-quality video from Netflix, VUDU, Hulu, and other streaming video sources, plus Pandora Internet radio and all of YouTube. There's also a Movie-Nite Plus (DSM-312) model which retails for $99, but can be found online for half that price. Aside from the "Plus" added to the name, D-Link's website makes no effort to differentiate the two products.


Even drive maker Western Digital jumped on the streaming appliance bandwagon. Now its WD TV Play Media Player is in Best Buy’s clearance sale and Amazon is offering it for $40 instead of the MSRP of $80. The device has 4.5 stars but it doesn’t seem to have caught the public’s imagination.

So there are alternatives to Roku; they’re just not Roku so most of them aren’t selling well. Have you tried any of these streaming media players? Does the variety of content make it possible for you to drop your cable TV subscription?

 
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Most recent comments on "Roku and Friends: Can You Cut the Cable?"

(See all 28 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Mikey
08 Jan 2014

I record and view HD broadcast TV on my PC, but I've been using my PS3 for all my streaming video since the day I installed it, so much that the PS3 got the powerline connection rather than my PC.


Posted by:

Shawn Rosvold
08 Jan 2014

We gave up DirecTV about 5 months ago. I removed the dish and used the mast and cabling for an antenna. The reception is terrific for the off-the-air channels. We broke down and bought a Tivo unit and subscribe to the TV guide service for $15 a month so we can record shows to watch later. We have a Samsung smart TV, so I can use the All Share program to view programs that are stored on my computer on my TV. I also have Chromecast which I use occasionally to send web streams to my TV. We also have a Roku which we don't use at all since we bought the smart TV.


Posted by:

Leslie Sloan
08 Jan 2014

We LOVE our Roku and usually watch a couple movies every night but we can't cut cable because that's how we get internet. We've tried satellite and phone internet and NOTHING compares to the speed and dependability to our cable internet, especially for $35.00 a month!


Posted by:

Al.S
08 Jan 2014

What you fail to mention is that Netflix, Hulu+ and Vudu are not free. Some Cable Providers include Netflix and Hulu for free with a subscription. Hulu+ is extra.

With my Comcast I get hundreds of movies for free and Streampix offers many new movies at low cost and very many free ones along with Sports news and more, So many free I can't even keep up, but you can record five channels and watch one at the same time. The thripple pack with Internet and Phone costs less than a cup of Starbucks Coffee or Big Mack daily.


Posted by:

John
08 Jan 2014

One thing I don't like about Roku is the constant upgrade of hardware and their limiting their new listings to the newer hardware. I have a two year old 1080P ROKU box (I think XD). I was very excited when ESPN 3 became available on Roku. Unfortunately, my box will not display ESPN3. Roku wants me to upgrade to a newer box to get ESPN3. I ended up getting Chromecast instead.


Posted by:

salim
08 Jan 2014

though reluctant to comment on this, i felt to correct AI.S when it said bob failed to say some streaming services are accesible by paying an extra monthly fee.
besides the fact he's mentioned this several times in the past, he also mentioned this fact in this article when he wrote it "supports" these services, which is a word which implies optionality. he didn't say "includes", which is what you were suggesting.


Posted by:

Jane
08 Jan 2014

I refuse to pay $250/month for cable with Internet, so I've had Roku for about three years and I love it. I have Netflix and Amazon Prime, having recently given up Hulu Plus (although I'm still on the fence about whether I want to resubscribe). I have a Leaf antenna for local broadcast TV.

I've become an addicted binge-watcher and now I can't imagine watching TV shows any other way. I also watch movies and enjoy the variety available. I don't care about the latest megahit so I'm happy with the choices I'm given. I might watch a comic book movie one night and a French movie the next.


Posted by:

nick suite
09 Jan 2014

I don't own a streaming device, but I know some people who swear by the gbox midnight, which uses the xbmc program for viewing media. It links to all sorts of online sites (crackle, project free tv, etc). The downside is it's really slow unless you have an ethernet or cable connection.
http://www.gboxpower.com/


Posted by:

Anne
09 Jan 2014

Thank you, Bob, for all of this timely information. NetFlix was recently installed on my TV so I am in the experimental stage. My new TV's are all "over-the-air" and so far, I have no regrets about cancelling that portion of my cable service. If I could find a less expensive way to get e-mail, etc. I would do it. So far, my experience with NetFlix and Roku is quite limited but so far, I am happy with my decision. I do not expect entertainment to be free all the time. I used to run back and forth to Blockbuster and pay to rent each movie. My former cable TV provider had eliminated CNN and the program guide among other things when I reduced my service. Only time will tell but so far, I am pleased and look forward to more evenings with Roku.


Posted by:

Susan
09 Jan 2014

I cut the TV portion of my cable service a few months ago and upgraded our cable internet service. Our bill is now less than half what we used to pay for TV and internet combined. I'm fairly happy with my Roku 3 boxes. Annoyances include having to re-pair the Roku remotes with their boxes every couple of weeks and very spotty/fickle reception from the antennas I use to watch over the air channels.


Posted by:

Luckner
09 Jan 2014

Thanks Bob, I too find your articles very informative. I'd like to know if the new outdoor digital antennas are any good. And, if so, what do you recommend. I am thinking of replacing my direct tv service and using a digital antenna for the local channels, and getting a streaming device like Roku or Hulu for movies.


Posted by:

Harry Homan
09 Jan 2014

These units all sound very good; will they work in Africa?


Posted by:

ray
09 Jan 2014

I think this will be worth a lok at ( thats the truble with living down under all the letters keep falling out)


Posted by:

Bob Cutting
09 Jan 2014

Bob - You left out one of your sponsors, the Chromecast! Like Roku, it supports Plex for streaming local media and is adding apps in bunches for $35 or less.


Posted by:

Mike Foremany
09 Jan 2014

I bought a WDTV box over a year ago as I couldn't find Roku or others up here in Canada. Works great albeit some drop-outs ( live in the boonies and my hi-speed is 2 Mbps !!!) but I luckily have Netflix USA set up as Netflix Canada sucks.
Sometimes faster to surf via my PC and pick it up on the WDTV box but otherwise happy with it.
I'd drop cable tomorrow bu t have to have it for guests as we have a small B&B with TV in each room.
Other than that , great newsletters. Find a lot of useful information and have just switched to Avast from AVG, same problems as yourself. Thanks Bob.


Posted by:

Doug
09 Jan 2014

Why does nobody talk about needed bandwidth for all this internet streaming stuff that is being promoted .... there is no more unlimited service in Canada .... all bandwidth costs $


Posted by:

Joshua Warren
09 Jan 2014

I have had my Roku 2 streaming device for more than two years and have no plans to replace it. I may upgrade to the Roku 3 but that would be it. It has worked flawlessly and gives me everything I need in such a device.

In all that time, I have not regretted my decision to leave Direct TV behind. My monthly bill for entertainment went from $89.00 per month to $8.00 per month (NetFlix).


Posted by:

GILBERT
27 Jun 2014

hi
oh ROKU maybe a very good box but they are the most discriminative peoples in the world.has a foreigner living in the PHILIPPINES did order the box but a soon i send the payment or PAYPAL or credit card he was blocked reason any order from the PHILIPPINES are suspicious ??? even my bank account his in AUSTRALIA still not good ???i do order many items on line never encounter such dilemma ,even contacted the ROKU hot line help grr still no success even did pay then pl deliver to my friend in USA well pl keep away from them they are useless.


Posted by:

alain smithee
26 Sep 2015

The reason that I chose a Roku 3 is that it has a USB port that allows me to attach an external hard drive (up to a 2TB xFAT formatted drive) so that I can watch either watch local content or streaming video.

If there's another streaming video device out there with the same features, then I missed it.


Posted by:

unco frankie
26 Jan 2017

I live in the South Pacific.
What is my BEST bet to satisfy my needs for MOVIES, SPORTS, AND FREE TV,
I am THOUSANDS OF MILES from any over the AIR channels, and cable(s) show the same shows 4 nights a week for a month, then changes one and re-shows these for six months.
Is there any hope for me to enjoy FREE TV, or must I re-locate?
retired with a budget
UNCO FRANKIE


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