When I moved into my condo in September I made a conscious decision to not subscribe to cable TV. The decision had nothing to do with reducing the number of hours I spend watching TV, it was simply a question of money… I had been unemployed for eight months, and although I was earning a salary again, television was a very low priority for me. Instead I did exactly what I did when I was in Japan… I downloaded the shows I wanted to watch.
On the advice of a friend of mine in Australia, I decided to go out and buy a little computer that runs XBMC; on an impulse I walked into Canada Computers with my son, and we walked out with a XIOS DS Media Play NUC (Next Unit Computer). The price tag was $99.99, but I got an open-box special for about $65. Of course, the open-box special meant that the sale was final.
This is the first Android device that I ever owned. That was five months ago, and I have to admit that it was not a positive experience.
Having watched a few reviews and read a few tutorials on-line, I know that I could extend the functionality of this device; however I spend the vast majority of my life working with computers, and when it comes to watching television I just want it to work. So while I am sure it is a decent solution for some people, I never got to like it. Even so, I spent five months with it… crappy remote, beta software and all. Had I not made a quick stop in at the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale last week, I would still be using it.
That is not entirely true… I posted recently that I was waiting for tech support at the Apple Store in Bellevue, Washington. I decided to check out the Apple TV. It is sleek, exciting, and does just about everything you could ask for… as long as you are an Apple person. Unfortunately the sales guy told me that I could not use it to stream videos from my Windows-based PC. While I am sure there is a way to jailbreak it to change that, I was not interested.
I did not go to the Microsoft Store to buy anything; I had a meeting, and I was waiting for it when I noticed a little device called a Roku Streaming Stick. I asked one of the sales associates and he told me that it did everything I wanted – play music (both from the Internet and from my PC-based collection), watch videos (same), and even a few things I hadn’t tried with the Xios, such as Netflix (there is an app on Android, but like I said, I didn’t want to spend my time off figuring that all out) and YouTube. There are even some live channels that stream to the device, such as news and sports. Price tag? $49.99. For reasons I won’t go into I had a gift card in my wallet for slightly more than that, so I bought it… knowing full well that if I didn’t like it i could return it without a hassle the next week.
It took five minutes to realize I was going to like this device better than the Xios.
Let me be clear: it is not that the Xios was a bad device, it is that I did not spend the time learning it… and patching it, and figuring out how to download the apps that i wanted. Because I never did any of that, I did not like the experience of the device… that, and the flimsy remote control was not very comfortable… or functional. For a lot of the things I needed to do (often… such as shutting down XBMC and restarting it because it arbitrarily lost network connectivity to my computer) I needed to use an external mouse, and was relieved that I had an extra one lying around.
I plugged the Roku into the HDMI port of my TV, and then into the USB port for power. Immediately the screen lit up with the purple splash screen. Things were happening.
To this day, if you turn on the Xios it flashes you warnings about it running beta software. The Roku informed me (once I connected it to my wifi network, which was only long because I needed to navigate the on-screen keyboard to enter my password) that it was downloading the latest patches, and would reboot itself once that process was done.
I should mention here that I did shortly thereafter have to check for more updates, which was easy as pie. There was an error installing almost any of the built-in apps, but a quick check on-line reassured me that this was related to my Canadian IP address, and had already been resolved with an extra patch.
The remote control felt a lot less flimsy, and because this is not a computer that is also a media center, I didn’t need a keyboard and mouse to get the full experience. That’s a good thing too… because there is nowhere to plug them in!
The on-screen experience is a breeze… it is much more user friendly than XBMC, and when you add to that there is nothing else (a truly KISS experience) I was hooked.
Yes, I am using apps… I connected the Netflix app and YouTube apps to my account, and watched a few minutes of Sky News on that channel. From top to bottom it has been a positive and enjoyable experience; the only scare was that when I connected it to my TVersity Server (which runs in my Surface Pro 3, and which shares videos from external hard drives) every video I tried to watch appeared to be lost or corrupted. Then I realized that my Surface was not docked as usual, but was sitting with me on the couch. Of course it couldn’t find the files… the external hard drive was disconnected!
The Microsoft Store also sells the next model up – the Ruku 3. I am sure the device is better in all sorts of ways… but from what I can tell, for the things that I want to do, the Roku Streaming Stick does them all, and probably does them as well. So I am not going to be returning it for exchange this week… even though I told the sales associate that if the cheaper one didn’t do it for me I would.
The website claims an added benefit – I can take it with me when I travel; the device needs precisely two things to work – an HDMI port and a USB port (or I can plug the micro-USB charger into the wall). However knowing me, I will leave it plugged into the TV at the first hotel I use it at. thanks, I think I’ll pass.
Now that I am making a little more money I haven’t decided if I will subscribe to a cable package or not… It is not an immediate expense I want to take on, but maybe eventually. The Roku however has made my cutting the cable experience a lot better than it was!