A Rare Impulse Buy: I Ordered A Roku!

I recently wrote about how we’re looking into whether we can potentially cut cable TV this year.  In addition to doing research on what we can access and how we can access it in the event we ‘cut the cord’, one of the things I want to understand is the technology.

Well, you can only do so much reading about the devices, so it’s time to get hands on!  I have a few different updates, first tied into our ‘soon to arrive’ Roku.

Part I: Roku

Last week, there was a Woot Off, and I happened to log in when they were offering a Roku 3 for $65.  This is the current premium device, and it was selling for $65, a 35% discount from the $100 suggested price.

With Woot Offs, you only have a limited amount of time to buy one before they end and they move to the next item.  It’s dependent on inventory.  So, I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, and I limited my research to seeing what people were saying in the item comment section. The view was that this was a great device, much better than with older Roku’s in terms of technology and content, and that the $65 was a great price.

So I jumped.

I ended up getting one about a minute before they ran out, and it should hopefully arrive soon.

I’m excited because I’ve heard that Roku has access to many channels of streaming content, everything from the weather to news to kids programming, and it’s all available as soon as you get it plugged in and connected to the Internet.  In addition, you can access subscription content from things like Netflix or Hulu Plus.

We don’t subscribe to either of these…yet.

I’m thinking that at the very least I will sign up for Netflix.  I know you get a month free for activating (or re-activating in our case, though it’s been a few years since we’ve subscribed), and I definitely want to check it out.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about Netflix.  I’ve heard that their movie content is so-so, that their current TV content is pretty bad (though everybody says Hulu Plus is where you go for this), but that TV content over a season old is where you can hit the jackpot.  I’m fine with seeing what’s available.

When I last subscribed to Netflix, they were just getting streaming content off the ground.  In fact, it was still part of the regular subscription price as they had so few people using it.  My, how things have changed.

Part II: Chromecast

The Roku isn’t the only device that we have to use for streaming content.  I also have a Chromecast which I received as a Christmas gift.  This is branded as a more affordable streaming content device that’s easier to use.  In terms of ease, I couldn’t agree more.  I had that unboxed and hooked up within 5 minutes, and was streaming content from YouTube via my tablet to the TV.

It was pretty cool.  There aren’t a lot of providers that are yet able to work with it.  Initially it was pretty much YouTube and Netflix.  Now, I know they’ve added content from at least half a dozen other providers, and I’ve heard they plan on releasing the API so that third party providers can write their own apps, which should really open things up.

Part III: Availability and Stability

mb-201401tvLast week, I caved in and bought something that my wife has been bugging me about for a long time, a wireless repeater.  The way our cable and wireless is situated, it’s located on one side of the house, on the main level.  The coverage is fine for the entire first floor and about 75% of the second floor, but there’s about 25% of the second floor that gets very spotty service.  That spot is, of course, our master bedroom.  So, since one of these devices will be used on the TV in our room, not to mention that we use our tablets and smartphones throughout the house, this will provide some much needed coverage.  I could have done some re-wiring and such, but the price of the repeater is $30, and I think it will provide a much more reliable solution in the long run.

I’m still waiting on that.  It’s Amazon’s number one seller in the category, and they usually run out regularly, so hopefully that will be here soon.  It sounds pretty easy to configure.  You plug it in, browse to it on the network, confirm the wireless network you want to repeat, provide the security codes, and it takes it from there.

Part IV: More Research

I know that some of the apps for the Roku and Chromecast have the capability to stream content from media servers and such.  Honestly, I have no idea how to do any of this.  I know my dad has something set up in his house, as he streams music from a PC that runs media services.  Some off-the-cuff conversations have led me to believe that you could use something like this to act as a DVR, if you could add a tuner device which could grab TV signals from the air, and save it.  I have no idea if any of this would work and what it would involve, but I definitely want to see.

The Goal: Simulation

My goal through the devices I have is to start looking at ways to simulate in parallel accessing the same content that I do today with our cable box.  If I find that I can get everything and it’s easy, maybe the cord really can be cut.  Of course, I’ll have to work with my wife, who I think will put up the biggest fight if I were to suggest it.  There’s also the logistics that readers have pointed out, with things as  simple as ‘How do you know what time TV shows are on?’ or ‘How do you know about new shows?’ as you won’t have commercials or promos built into the content that you receive that you would see on a TV, even if you used a DVR.

Either way, it’s a lot of fun and I feel like, as a former techie, I need to get caught back up to the current technology age a bit.

Could We Cut Cable TV This Year?

I’ve seen a few blog posts and news stories written about people who cut their cable TV, and while it seems intriguing, it’s honestly not something I’ve really thought about.  But, I’ve started giving it more and more thought, and I decided that 2014 will be the year that I’ll at least look into it to see if it’s a possibility.

Our Cable TV Equipment

mb-201401cableWe have cable through Wide Open West (aka WOW).  They’ve been my carrier for over ten years, and provide cable and internet.  By and large, I’ve been pretty satisfied with their offerings and they have had customer service that I would rate way above average.

We currently have a whole house DVR system.  There is one box, called the gateway, which has six tuners so that we can record or watch up to six shows at a time. There are three media players which connect to each TV, and communicate back to the gateway for programming.

As mentioned, the system has a DVR system, so we use the system to record shows that we can play back later.

Is This Replaceable?  I understand that there are a number of devices, from TiVo or otherwise, that can be purchased to act as DVRs.


The big thing that I would have to do significant research is to see if we could replicate the programming that we are used to having today.

My wife and I watch a number of shows, live or recorded or watched later.

  • Broadcast – I know that we could receive most of the network content via an over-the-air antenna, so anything from CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, CW, or PBS could be captured and watched as we have today.
  • Cable specific programming – My wife and I watch and record various shows on cable networks.  Looking at our DVR, this includes networks such as FX, Bravo, AMC, MTV, Lifetime, TNT, and HGTV
  • Random stuff – Shows on networks like USA or TBS sometimes provide entertaining content
  • Sports – I watch some sports.  Much of it is on the broadcast networks (football and such), but there’s enough that’s on ESPN or our local Fox Sports affiliate, that I’d have to see what would be available or if there are other means.
  • Kids programming – The kids enjoy watching Disney Jr or Sprout sometimes.
  • Premium content – We’ve always gotten Starz and Encore as part of our package for being a digital content subscriber.  WOW notified us that they’ll be removing that, and we would have to pay $12 extra per month.  While we didn’t use this all that much, it was just enough to prompt this post.  It simply points to the ongoing trend that prices will go up and access to content will go down.  So, this isn’t a big deal.
  • Anything else – I need to look through our recording history and talk to my wife to find out if there’s anything else we use regularly.

Now, I’d have to think that a good chunk of the non-broadcast stuff could be made up via items like Netflix or Hulu, both of which can provide some of the content above, as well as a great deal of other content.  I know that devices such as Chromecast or Roku can provide access to some of the functionality above, as well as other content.


Right now we’re paying $105 per month for our internet and TV.  If I stayed with the same provider, I could get internet only for half or less than that price.  That would be around $600 per year.  Some of that would be offset by subscriptions to any of the sources above, maybe more than one.  There would also be equipment costs for any devices that would allow us to access that content.

Our price noted above is locked in for this year, after which it will probably go up at least $20 per month.

Ease of Use

Right now, all content is pretty much right where we want it.  If you are getting content from multiple sources, is this simply a learning curve or would it add a bunch of extra steps, to the point where the frustration might not be worth it?  Or even there are a few extra steps, it seems like we might be getting access to more content with some of the Internet streaming services, and after all, we have a four year old and two year old who will soon be able to teach us how to use it all 🙂


I like the service we have, I just don’t like the price we’re paying.  I know I’ve seen people that have successfully cut the cord, but I would have to look at all of the factors above to see if it’s something we could consider.  If you’ve ‘cut the cord’ or know others who have done so, I’d love to hear success stories as well as any things to watch out for.