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TV and Roku - are you sitting comfortably?

August 2013

I’ve written before about the blurring of the boundary between television and the internet; I’ve now found a contraption that obliterates it.

It’s all to do with our very sensible desire to watch TV on our own terms.  Given the choice, we like to pick the time to watch a programme, rather than be told how to spend our evenings.  This is common sense; what’s more, it’s exactly what the internet does well; allowing us to call up bits of a distant computer’s memory whenever we want; that’s how websites work.

However, watching TV on a laptop is no match for sitting in an armchair in front of the television, but unless you have an expensive and fairly new television, connecting it to the internet has hitherto involved a lot of cables, boxes and possibly even a laptop, with all the dramas associated with settings, passwords and the rest. 

I have long wanted a widget that simply allows my television to talk to the internet, and allows me watch what is available there, but I don’t want it to involve monthly payments, help lines or complex equipment.

Roku LT-2I can’t be alone, because our demand has finally produced a product to fill the hole, as it tends to do.  A company called Roku make just such a gadget (technically, a streaming player), and they sent me one to try.  The Roku LT model costs about £40, and is about the size of a small pile of beer mats.  You plug it into the mains and into your television, and once set up (pretty easy) it connects to your wi-fi to work its magic.

It gives you access to hundreds of online TV services and channels.  That’s all very well, and the technology works nicely, but a device like this is only as good as the programmes it provides.  Most of the Roku channels are tosh, but the device is utterly redeemed by three services which I think will especially appeal to Oldie readers, and alone make the cost worthwhile: these are the BBC iPlayer, Netflix and NowTV.  

Watching the BBC iPlayer in comfort, on a proper television rather than your computer, is very attractive; watch what you want whenever you want.  You suffer no irritating continuity announcements, and can pause it if you need to.  The same applies to Netflix, which you do have to pay for (£6 pm), but they offer thousands of films and TV programmes without commercials (perfect).

Then there is NowTV which is something I’ve wanted for years.  I’ve always refused to pay for Murdoch’s SkyTV; £500 a year to watch a few rugby and cricket matches is just too much.  What I’ve always craved is the ability to pay to watch just one event, from time to time.  That’s what NowTV is; for a tenner I can buy 24 hours of all the Sky sports channels, delivered through the Roku box.  I can now to watch the special match that I really want to see and give Mr Murdoch as little as possible for it.  He’s got me at last; you have to admire his resolve.

In short, I like it the Roku box.  There are other devices that do the same job, such as Xbox and Wii games devices, but they are all much more expensive and really designed for something else.

You do need a moderately strong internet connection, probably at least 1.2 Mbps, which is medium broadband speed, and a bit more if you want to watch the live TV broadcasts.  Mine is usually about 2.4 Mbps and that seems to be just about enough; picture quality on live streaming is good enough, if not the best; I imagine that if you have a higher speed internet connection it would improve.

There are other gadgets that already do some of this - notably the games consoles like X-box, but they cost a great deal more, and are really designed for something quite different.

By the way, it's worth mentioning that I have no connection with Roku and received no fee for writing this review; nor will I receive any commission for any sales (more's the pity). 


Since writing this piece, things have moved on.  

SkyTV have just started selling what is actually a re-branded Roku box for only £9.99 inc P&P (they call it a NowTV box.  Click here).  The cheapest Roku box is about £40.

I haven't had one in my hands, but the technology is identical, and all the instructions are the same so Roku have obviously done a deal with Murdoch.   The main difference is that it has many fewer channels than the Roku branded version, but as almost all the channels on Roku are worthless, the only thing I would miss is access to Netflix.  If that doesn't bother you, go for this cheaper option.

It wouldn't surprise me if NowTV did a deal with Netflix anyway, at some point.

Here are some links to find out more:

The main Roku site: Click here

NowTv site: Click here

Netflix site: Click here