I was happy watching television shows and movies on my computer -- until I realized what I was missing. Streaming video devices such as Roku, Apple TV and Google's Chromecast project video from Netflix, YouTube and other services onto the big-screen TV. Suddenly,
the computer seems inadequate. Internet television will never be the same.
Internet-connected TVs, TiVo digital video recorders and various game consoles also come with apps for video services. But frequent users of these services will likely want a device that focuses on doing that one thing well.
People must still subscribe individually to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Major League Baseball and other services, though that can often be done right from the TV screen. Some services require a subscription with certain cable or satellite TV providers. With HBO Go, for instance, Comcast and DirecTV subscribers can use Apple TVs but not Rokus, while it's the other way around with Charter.
Roku 3 ($100):
Roku started as a project within Netflix, which was looking for a cheap way for
subscribers to get Internet movies and TV shows onto regular TVs. Roku was spun out into a separate company, and the device now works all major video services except Apple's iTunes.
It also plays games such as "Angry Birds," offers language lessons, supports music services such as Pandora and Spotify and lets you browse photos on Smugmug, Flickr and other services. All told, there are more than 1,000 apps available from Roku's store, many of them free.
Apps often replicate the experience on the services' Web sites. With Hulu, for instance, you can browse video by genre or play items in your queue. With Netflix, you get profiles for up to five individuals, with separate recommendations and watch lists.
With each service designing its own app, it feels as though I have 1,000 devices in one. Each app has its own on-screen keyboard when searching for video. The remote's up button gets me options such as closed captioning on Hulu, but it exits the video on Amazon and Netflix.
Roku's remote control has an unconventional headphone jack. Plug a pair in, and sound on the TV will automatically turn off. That's great if others in your household are trying to read or sleep.
Like Apple TV and Chromecast, the Roku 3 requires a high-definition TV with an HDMI port. Roku has cheaper models that work on older TVs, but they have slower processors and require Wi-Fi. The Roku 3 and Apple TV let you plug in an Internet cable if your wireless connection is fussy. (continued...)
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