TECH TIPS: ROKU Cable Digital TV and You!

After probably a decade without having a cable bill, and no issues doing so, I’m happy to still be cable bill free, but… you knew there was a but coming. :)

I was quite satisfied for 10 years doing without Television as a medium, and doing DVD rentals (typically for no or low cost at the library) or DVD purchases. But more often than not just spending far more time consuming books, and audio programs, and traveling.

So I’m happy to say I am still cable bill free, however of late I’ve become aware and become a dabbler in this… Roku thing.

Most of you are probably long time adopters of Roku, but for those of you who aren’t, Roku is both a company and a product. Roku is an American based company that produces a device, not much larger than a pack of cards, that allows you to stream channels, internet based stations, offering streaming TV shows, movies, documentaries, virtually everything you can find on cable, and much you cannot, in an on demand model to make traditional cable green with envy.

In a sentence, Roku is a wi-fi device that allows you to bring internet based channels and programming, content optimized for your computer, easily to your TV.

Internet access to your favorite TV/cable show is nothing new, however the Roku’s ease in consolidating all that content in one location and bringing it all to your TV, without the need of a cable bill is nothing short of amazing.

Of course utilizing your internet bandwidth there are obvious drawbacks, such as that as a whole the quality and speed is reliant on your broadband connection, and does not match the quality of cable.

But that given, Roku picture and sound quality is surprisingly good, and far better than the embarrassment and rip-off that is free digital TV in the United States. The garbage the FCC left us with when they stole the analog waves from the American people and gave it to big business and the military.

The 2nd problem is the Roku device upon first use/registration looks to collect your credit card and personal info by default in order to activate/use the Roku device.

That is a major problem. Especially if you only intend to use the free channels it is a huge potential and unnecessary privacy and security issue, particularly in this day of rampant hacking and identity theft.

Thankfully you can bypass the requirement to give your credit card number by calling customer service direct, but it is a hassle.

But those major problems acknowledged and bypassed, for between $60 and $100 depending on model (I recommend the Roku 2 XS, I’ll give a detailed breakdown of why next column), this wireless consolidator of online digital channels that streams easily to your tv, and easily lets you add and remove channels yourself, is (as long as the free channels last) nothing short of a marvel.

So yeah, until such time as the Roku concept stops being as awesome as it currently is, I’m going to enjoy having 1000s of hours of movies and television and music at my fingertips, for $0 a month.(Just like conventional cable you can add pay premium channels if you choose, but there is so much impressive free content out there that you definitely do not have to)

So if you are currently paying over $100 for cable or direct TV and locked into a contract, as most people are, and are looking not to do that anymore, I highly recommend taking the Roku for a spin. All you need is high-speed broadband internet to make use of it.

Well hope this article helps some of you who may have been seeking more info on Roku and alternatives to conventional cable. Come back next TECH TIPS as I provide you my favorite Roku channels as well as a weekly recommendation list for this week on Roku!

See you then, and feel free to leave comments if you are already a Roku convert. I’d love to hear a list of some of your favorite things about the Roku.

Okay, That’s all for now!

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On FCC vs Comcast vs AT&T vs TimeWarner vs NetFlix vs Hulu vs DVD vs Bluray!

I’m someone who is not enamored of the godawful mess the FCC has made of the airwaves.

By this I refer to the FCC basically giving away the Analog spectrum, previously allocated to the people, to big business and government interests, and saddling the American people with a shoddy and crippled digital delivery method, that necessitates paying a cable provider if you want anything approaching viewable service.

And even then you are still not guaranteed against occasional picture dropouts or pixelation, as the provider continually adjusts bandwidth to maximize profit.

Yes, most people had cable prior to the forced digital switch-over (land-grab), but not all. Some of us were content with our rabbit ears.

Now, post the forced digital march to our new digital reservations, try and look at TV without a cable provider and just using your digital converter. Go ahead… try. I’ll wait.

Hum,,,, hummmm.

See? Atrocious isn’t it? It is a national embarrassment.

If I stop in, anywhere where they have TV without cable (homes, auto shops, waiting rooms, you name it) and you look at what has become of ‘free’ tv, in the wake of this governmental stickup… it makes me… angry.

Really, really not happy.

As I said, I didn’t have cable before the FCC sold America’s airwaves to the highest bidder, and I don’t have cable now. And no I don’t do Hulu, or online viewing of mainstream shows, because that’s poised to be as big a rip-off as the cable companies.

Because just as it’s nonsense, that you are getting DVD (much less HDTV) quality service with the cable companies, it is even more of a fallacy with the online providers. Because those companies are not trying to offer you the 4GB of Data that constitutes a DVD, or 10+GB of Data that constitutes the bandwidth for a Bluray disc, they particularly are not trying to offer this bandwidth per program/per customer. You are talking easily hundreds, if not thousands, of GBs of Data per month, per customer, if they were trying to offer you real disc quality (DVD/HDTV) programs.

In an age when broadcast providers are trying to limit service past 5GB a month?

Heck no.

They are cutting costs, which means cutting bandwidth, which means they have to compress whatever programs they send you well below the levels you’ll find on the physical media. Which is why even with HDTV, the quality varies wildly, not just from channel to channel, or program to program, but from moment to moment as the bitrate is adjusted on the fly, and that bandwidth steals from Peter to pay Paul.

And worse comes to worse, you even get drop outs, which is horrible on ‘free’ digital, but is inexcusable when you’re paying for the service.

So watching anything on cable… is a crapshoot at best.

And online, be it Hulu, Netflix, whatever is the same. And with the few major broadband providers all talking about capping traffic/bandwidth limits, it’s only going to get worse, particularly as the number of users increase.

So sure, watch your movie or television series via cable or online if that’s your cup of tea, and you’re not bothered by paying for spotty and sporadic quality.

It bothers me though.

DVD and HDTV/Bluray being a bastardization of film, is a compromise which I can live with. But online and cable, by the time they reach the end user, is like stated, variable and unreliable, numerous compression and toggling tricks imposed to the point it becomes something I refuse to pay for.

That and not being a TV guy to begin with, for years I’ve just done DVDs, and recently Blurays.

But that said, I’m not a fan of Blurays.

I find Blurays , which I find quality-wise to be a very minor improvement over a well mastered DVD (examples being ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and CLIMATES), to be not worth paying more for.

The only reason I pick up a Bluray over a DVD, is if they are the same price, AND the Bluray offers more features (recent examples being WATCHMEN DIRECTOR’S CUT [this is the version to go with, not the Ultimate cut], Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS dual format limited edition steelbook, and SPIRITS OF THE DEAD… all three on most reviewers 2010 Best Bluray list).

Don’t get me wrong. Bluray is an improvement, mostly in clarity over DVD, but it is a minor jump, compared to the major leap in quality from VHS to DVD.

It’s just not big enough of a difference, for me to really get excited about or pay more for. But I acknowledge it’s an improvement.

Now, what is not a Bluray improvement over DVD, and something I really hate about Blurays, is the slip-shod packing.

Even the so-called high-end SteelBook cases for Blurays, to put not to fine a point on it, are garbage; such as the aforementioned METROPOLIS Steelbook.

And regular Bluray packaging is even worse. It’s a shoddy, inconsistent form factor, with garish ugly colors (yes, I know you call yourself Bluray, but take it from me… lose the garish blue color on the packing ), and cheap, damage prone slipcovers/materials (SPIRITS OF THE DEAD anyone?), and pithy non-existent back cover description.

Package wise it lacks the aesthetic strengths, elegance and simplicity, and to an extent beauty of the 13+ year old medium of the DVD (the year 1998 generally regarded as DVDs wide-release on the world stage).

And by the time that is ready to change, we (the whole entertainment/electronic market) will be onto our next media storage format. So yeah, I generally say no to cable, and will be sticking with DVDs to catch up on tv shows people are recommending.

And as far as Blurays, as it currently stands I don’t see them making up more than 1% of my DVD purchases, anytime soon. They need to be at least the same price as a DVD, and offer more features, otherwise I’ll stick to the DVD, a tested and versatile medium, that doesn’t suffer from idiocies such as zone lockdowns, and “so-called” digital copies(nothing more than a way to erode fair use, and get you to install nothing more than a glorified rootkit virus on your computer).

Did I mention I dislike Blurays? :).

But on a serious note, make technology yours. Use it and don’t let it… own you.

Here endeth the rant. :).