Sunday, August 23, 2015

Everyone's doing it?

A few months ago, I made a post regarding the use of Google's Chromecast and how lousy it is.

To refresh the mind, I'll make some points about it:

  • HDMI fob that plugs right in to a flat screen TV (providing you have an updated screen).
  • Must have Google Chrome as an internet browser if you intend on "mirroring" what you see on your tablet, smartphone or computer and watching something from Youtube on a bigger monitor.
  • If you do not have Chrome, you can download the Chromecast app, but it's buggy. You also have to download every other app in the world when you want to watch a movie or stream a TV show (Enter the likes of HBOGO, Netflix and Hulu [plus] here).. regardless of how you're using it.
  • Where it becomes buggy:
    1. On "older" computer models (we're talking 2 year old computers here), by using the Chrome browser as your stream, it buffers every few minutes.
    2. Using the Cast app on a smart device, you have to jump through some hoops to validate any other app you intend on using (ie you have to sign in with your Internet Service Provider if you want to watch something on HBO - these "premium" station apps need a valid cable subscription).  3. Although everything shows they are talking to each other (computer to Chromecast fob or smart device to Chromecast fob), it doesn't mean you can start playing things on it. Using a smart device to play a free episode on Hulu for example, one minute we heard the audio but had a blank screen. Trying to mirror what we saw on the device to magically hump to the TV, we ended up seeing video but heard nothing. 
  • A total of two hours were spent in frustration trying to get everything to play right. Chromecast ended up being returned. It was as if it wasn't meant to be; nothing worked. Sure, a brand new TV was bought just for this, but no matter what we did, it didn't want to work. 
Fast forward four months later, and I've picked up a Roku 3 Streaming Media Player for my own use on Friday. 

It's a neat "little" device. It's about 4 inches square, 3 inches high. It's slightly bigger than those (not so free anymore) boxes Comcast gives out with a cable package.

Roku has the same premise as Chromecast; it's a plug and play device, but you must have an HDMI cable for it to work (versus plugging Chromecast straight into the HDMI port of the TV). Amazon is selling a bundle where they are discounting the device if you purchase one of their branded cords. Not too bad, if you don't have an extra on hand. Otherwise, you'll be stuck with a device you can't use. 

As long as you have internet access, Roku is maintainable. You've got two options with this player for connecting it online. One is to plug an Ethernet cable into the back of the device (if you don't have wireless internet) or use it as a wireless device. What's the difference, or why does that matter? You can plug the Ethernet cable from your modem into the Roku and as long as you are using it in the same room as the TV, you're good. The problem with this, is as great as it sounds, you can't have the device sitting next to your modem in your office and have the ability to watch something in the living room. But if you have wireless internet, you can certainly use the device anywhere. 

One of the first major cons with this is the simple fact you can't turn off the device. There's no power button so Roku is always on. Sure, you can unplug it from the wall or the actual unit, but if you're using it in your bedroom at night, do you really want to get out of a comfortable bed to take the adapter out of the wall? No, not preferably. So your choice is to leave it on. I haven't come across anything that states this thing drains electricity or makes a bill go skyrocket. 

The other con with the device is that every few minutes it flickers out. It's weird; it takes a good hour for it to warm up, it seems, to make the flicker stop. I did some checking on it online, and other people have had this issue, so it's not my device that's funky. It's an internal thing, that seems to rely on the conversion of 1080p to 720 and vice versa. Without getting too technical (because I can't even understand it enough to explain), it's something to live with. Once it warms up, it still flickers and goes weird, but it's infrequent. 

So... what does it do?

Whenever you turn it on, it's got a nifty little splash screen (the letters even dance).

You can see the device on the top of the TV. It looks bigger than it is. That package next to it is a pair of headphones that comes with everything - you can plug them into the remote for "private listening". Meaning, you're watching a show or movie and there are other people around that don't really want to watch what you've got on. You can plug the headphones in and listen all by your lonesome. Good deal.

Setting it up and getting acquainted with the splash screen and apps can be both a good thing and a pain in the ass, You first have to register the device... have a computer up and running on the Internet if you can. Follow the prompts and make sure you've got access to your ISP email, as a lot of the basic cable apps need to confirm you have cable TV. Bit of a pain that way, because it's a bit presumptuous that you have cable. People often get these devices to bypass paying outrageous fees. 

But once you start entering the activation codes, you're set to watch whatever app you just added to the device. The main problem with this setup is the fact you can't proceed with registration until you supply a credit card. It's so the device can charge you when you decide to rent or buy something on the server.  It's fair; I suppose. Considering there are "2,000+" channels, most are free, with the option to pay for a show or whatever you want to watch. Thus far, I've been selective in what I'm adding. "May have additional fees" is something I don't want to chance. I guess when and if the time comes, I'll make a purchase, but I'm still testing this thing out.

A nifty thing about the remote and apps is it comes with games. Good games. Old school games. Like Tetris. And Tetris is free. I've yet to put it on my device, truth be told. Like I said, I'm still testing this device out. 

As a whole, for the apps I've found and am using, I'm liking Roku a hell of a lot better than Chromecast. It's just one of those things where yes, a better chance should have been given to the Google plugger, but it wasn't as convenient as promised. Nothing meshed. Roku's screen flickering is okay; I can live with it. With all the freebie apps (local radio from around the world.. woohoo! Feel like I'm back in Boston), I think I'll stick with this machine for a while. Who knows; maybe I'll upgrade one day and try out Apple TV (because some of my relatives are fanboys and they say it works amazingly well with all their Apple products) or Amazon Fire Stick TV. Time will tell.