Monday, July 18, 2011

Oooh Roku: An Introduction

I'm taking a week off work but only to allow myself the opportunity to sleep in after the very late rehearsals I'll be having for the next musical at the Simi Valley Cultural Center. Opens Saturday, locals! Anyway, you may recall that I'm too cheap to pay for cable because I'm never home to watch TV, except once in a while. THIS WEEK, for example.

So I went online and found myself a used Roku player.

The little black box, which is about the size of a CD box set of Johnny Cash rarities, outputs to your TV and gets content from the internet, either wired or wireless. There's all kinds of services supplying to Roku, and the price ranges from free (Crackle, for example) to $12 bucks a month (Hulu Plus) to video on demand movie rentals (Amazon). The sheer volume of official channels is staggering. Unofficial ones, even more so, because it is apparently not too difficult to draw up a Roku aggregator.

It is, of course, much cheaper than cable otherwise I wouldn't be writing about it. I'm paying $9.00 for streaming Netflix and $12.00 for Hulu Plus, though I will probably drop one of those two in the next few weeks. The thing that Netflix has on Hulu is they don't run commercials in their movies, but Hulu has a content deal with Criterion, which means I can finally see Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman. As I say, I'm still deciding.

Also interesting is Crackle, which works just like Hulu but is free. They're making money on the ads alone. The Crackle library is all Columbia Studios product. I think that means it will be exclusive but what the hell, like I say it's free.

Is there porn? Of course there's porn. No official channels, but lots of home baked ones.

Basically almost any video that's available on your computer, the Roku box is glad to serve up to your TV. The one exception is YouTube, which is a real peculiar exception. I understand that arrangement broke down earlier this year.

The picture quality varies like crazy, as befits a wild-west cable buster. There is one channel which showcases only 1080p footage, for example. (Don't try it with wireless!) Then on the other end of the scale, some of the stuff for Archive.org's channel was digitized at 320x240 and looks caaaaarrrrappy on the big screen. Hulu and Crackle both offer acceptable bigscreen viewing, Netflix as well.

From what I've seen if you like HBO and Showtime, you still gotta pay for cable. My advice, stop liking them. Look, ultimately any media service lives and dies on whether they carry what you want to see, but this crazy little box carries so much that there's gonna be something in there for you.

Next time: Spacehunter - Adventures in the Forbidden Zone

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