My wife hates paying our cable bill. It’s expensive and we don’t get a whole lot for our money even in the so called “500 channel universe”. That makes “cutting the cord” a very attractive option. If you want to “cut the cord” with your cable company and you still want to watch TV, you have to have a streaming device and lots of content to access. One of the leaders in the streaming device market is Roku and they have just refreshed their line of streaming devices. The top end of the food chain for Roku is the Roku 3. Here’s what you get in the box:
You get the Roku 3 set top box, a power cable, a remote control, a set of headsets and instructions. However, you do not get a HDMI cable. Keep that in mind that you’ll need one of those too. You can get the Roku 3 online via Ethernet and by WiFi. I chose the latter and one thing I noted is that it saw both my 2.4 GHz WiFi network and my much faster 5 GHz network. The latter is great for making sure that content from the Internet gets streamed to the Roku 3 efficiently so I took advantage of it. Setup took all of 7 minutes with the help of my computer to create a Roku account. After a reboot to update the software, it was online.
Now that I had the Roku 3 online, I had to get content to watch. Now Roku has made some significant software updates to make finding content easier. The key one in my mind is that you can search with your voice via pressing the search button on the remote and speaking into it. I was able to use my voice to search by artist, title or actor and the ability for the Roku 3 to recognize my voice was almost perfect. When it searches it will search multiple streaming services to find the content you’re looking for. A key feature of the remote is that you can plug in the supplied headsets to listen privately to whatever show or movie you’re watching which means you can watch a movie in your bedroom without disturbing your spouse. One big plus is that the remote appears to be radio based rather than line of sight infra-red. That means that objects won’t interfere with its use. Now if you don’t like the remote, you do have another option. You can also control the Roku 3 with your smartphone or tablet using the free Roku app for iOS and Android. The app also supports text input, voice search, and streaming media from your mobile device to your HDTV over the Roku 3, not to mention that you can use it to find and add channels and apps. In my usage, it was often crash prone on my iPhone 6 and it would often say that the Roku service was not available from time to time. It sounds like an update is in order. Another key feature that Roku has introduced is the Roku Feed. It can track recently released movies and provide you with updates on when they become available on Roku through the various on-demand video services. That may prove useful to some, but I have to admit that I did not make use of this feature.
Roku has a pretty extensive channel store. But what you get depends on where you live. Because I live in Canada, I don’t get services like Hulu. But I do get services like Google Play, Crackle and Netflix. Plus if you hunt around, you can add what are called “private channels” which are channels that are not officially supported by Roku. That way you can get the content that you are looking for. Though I will say that being in Canada there was content that is available for Roku that I wish I could get, but I can’t because I live in Canada. Pity. But I was still able to set up the following channels:
- Crackle – This is a service that has a decent selection of movies and TV shows that are available for free. It does have ads though.
- National Film Board – This is a service that allows you to watch movies from Canada’s National Film Board. There’s a lot of choice here from documentaries to short animated films.
- Cineplex Store – Cineplex is a chain of movie theaters that also offers this online service to give you access to first run movies and TV shows for a fee.
- Google Play
- Docudrama – This service offers all sorts of documentary movies.
- FilmOn.tv – This is a private channel that allows me to watch live TV from the UK among other countries. I was able to watch the FA Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Reding (which my beloved Arsenal won by the way) using this service and I can get the BBC as well. There are free and paid options available.
- Sky News
- Sundance Doc Club – This is a service that offers documentary movies that have been viewed at the Sundance Film Festival.
- Funmation – This is a service that allows me to get my animated TV fix.
What’s missing, at least in Canada, is the ability to stream first run TV shows as in shows like Arrow, Orphan Black, and the like because most likely Canadian telcos like Rogers, Shaw and Bell own the streaming rights to those shows for their own steaming services. That may change due to the CRTC wanting to force Rogers Bell and Shaw to make their streaming services available to all. Also missing are Canadian broadcasters such as CTV, CBC, and Global. In contrast, there’s a fair amount of US local TV available on Roku. Plus there’s no Canadian news such as CBC News Channel. In contrast, CNN is available to American Roku users. Perhaps Roku can work to get more Canadian content on their service as I for one would love to have them available and be able to “cut the cord” with my cable company. That’s something that would make my wife really happy.
But the Roku 3 isn’t just an online streamer. If you have a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device or a hard drive that you can plug into the USB port of the Roku 3, you can use the Roku 3 to play the content that you already have. To test this, I set up the Roku to access my DLink DNS-323 NAS which supports DLNA and I was able to access movies, music and photos. The catch is that the content has to be in a supported format. Here’s what the Roku 3 supports:
- Video — MKV (H.264), MP4 (H.264), MOV (H.264), WMV
- Music — AAC, MP3, WMA, FLAC, WAV
- Photo — JPG, PNG, GIF (non-animated)
If you’ve got media in one of these formats, it will work perfectly. I should mention that there are apps of all sorts available that range from what I described above to browsers (Firefox for example) to screen savers and games (though hardcore gamers will take one look at the games offered here and go back to their PlayStation or Xbox). All of this combined with all the streaming services that the Roku 3 has access to illustrates the value proposition of the Roku 3. You get the ability to see the content that you want to see regardless of where the content comes from. Be it from a streaming service or content that you have on a storage device or some other device. That’s the exact opposite of something like the Apple TV which is basically a walled garden that only play nice with other Apple products. Speaking of walled gardens, I experienced that when I tried to leverage the Roku 3’s ability to mirror the display of a computer or smartphone to the Roku 3. It worked fine except for my Mac which apparently isn’t supported. Is this a Roku issue or an Apple issue? I’m not sure but my money is on the latter. While this is a beta product, it was a real letdown to not be able to have any of my Macs be able mirror to the Roku 3 and hopefully this changes.
Gripes? Other than the lack of content in Canada that would truly allow me to cut the cord, I only have two. If you log into Roku.com using your Roku account which is tied to your Roku streaming device, the webpage does have the ability to add channels from the webpage to your Roku device. However, this functionality isn’t supported in Canada. But strangely the same functionality is supported from the Roku app. Another note, the webpage lists channels that you cannot get in Canada. Now some of these channels clearly say that they aren’t available in Canada once you click on them to get more details, but others do not and you only find out when you try to add the channel. Not that you can actually add it via Roku.com if it were available in Canada. I say that that needs to be straightened out ASAP.
The Roku 3 goes for $109 CDN and is worth a look if you’re considering “cutting the cord” if the content that you want to watch is available for you to do so. Roku does offer other options for your streaming needs, but if you want the best that Roku has to offer, the Roku 3 is it and I am pretty sure that you’ll love having it in your home.