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You might recall that I dropped Dish Network a few months back, using a Roku 3 and Apple TV instead. How’s it been going? Just fine, really. No regrets. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. We use the Roku 3 for almost everything. The Roku has a clean, intuitive, simple, responsive interface. Plus, the Roku has Amazon Prime streaming, while the Apple TV does not. We watch a good bit of Amazon Prime.
2. We don’t miss sports. Much. Okay, I miss F1 a little bit, but not much. But if you do watch a lot of sports, you’ll have to dig into your options before cutting the cord. In the US version of the Apple TV, there are sports apps for NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB that appear to have tons of content, but it’s all behind a paywall. I’m not interested, so have not investigated in any detail.
3. Got a Synology or iTunes? DVDs are cheap, rippable, and streamable. DVDs aren’t Blu-ray. I get that. But for creating a pile of DVD movies you can watch from your house and stream via the Roku or Apple TV, there are several ways to get that done. I happen to use Mac DVD Ripper Pro to rip a high quality DVD file with 5.1 audio onto my Synology, and serve them using the DS Video application. Then I use the DS Video client on the Roku 3 to stream the movie library from the Synology. The DS Video application integrates with IMDb, meaning that you get way more than just a simple list of movie titles. You get movie poster art, actors, directors, plot summary, genres, and more. I’ve been finding movies for usually $4 or less, and building local content in that way.
I hear that you can do the same thing by ripping the movies to an iTunes server, and streaming them via Apple TV. I haven’t tried this, because the Synology DS Video solution is so good.
4. Streaming HD content is sort of a pig. For example, I stream old episodes of the sci-fi show Fringe from Amazon Prime. That content is served up in HD, 16×9 format, with a 5.1 Dolby Digital sound track. Based on my bandwidth monitoring, that’s about 4Mbps. Ouch.
5. Not all apps are created equal. Interestingly, some apps on the Roku are quite different than on the Apple TV. My best example of this is the PBS app. On the Roku 3, the PBS app borders on terrible. PBS has a TON of content, and finding what you want using the Roku version of the app usually means a manual search, with letters and stuff. Ick. The PBS app on the Apple TV organizes the content better, offers favorites, and just generally makes it easier to watch what you’re looking for.
6. The Roku iOS app takes the sting out of keyboarding. There’s a free Roku app. Download it. Fire it up. It finds your Roku on the network. Now…your phone or tablet is a Roku remote. Using a touch screen as a remote is mostly annoying, as there are no tactile buttons. But there is one perfect use case for the Roku app, which is the keyboard. Anytime you need to type a search term, doing it on the app is far faster than using the awful “key-by-key while scrolling around” method you’re stuck with otherwise.
7. We haven’t blown through our bandwidth cap, but 350GB is still a bit tight. For our viewing habits (0-3 hours per day), 350GB per month has proven to be adequate…mostly. In the last month, I exceeded, but not because of viewing (I don’t think). Rather, I was downloading software images for my networking lab. That pushed things a bit over. Hey – I was a power user before I started this streaming nonsense. ;-) YMMV – you’ll need to get a handle on what your Internet utilization is before you make the switch that adds streaming to your totals. Don’t forget to think about ALL the users in your household. Your kids are watching YouTube while you’re watching old Star Trek reruns on the Roku and downloading a multi gigabyte OVA for your vSphere lab. It all adds up.
8. We haven’t needed Netflix or Hulu. Amazon Prime, for us, has been more than enough. If you subscribe to Netflix and/or Hulu, you get that much MORE content.
9. We don’t miss getting advertised to constantly. The way we consume content now, we rarely see an ad. It’s wonderful. So good, in fact, that it can’t possibly last forever.
10. The Amazon Prime web interface is the way to find content to watch. Don’t try searching through the AMZ Prime library on your Roku. It’s just not a great experience (although it works fine). What I do is search the library in a browser and add it to the queue that way. The new content shows up in the queue via the Roku instantly. You will discover good content in this way. We’ve discovered lots of content related to mountaineering, hiking, and travel for instance. You can also search the movie library by genre or actor, etc.
11. Some content disappears or changes status. In the PBS world, you can’t get all episodes of all seasons of every series. You have to pay attention to what’s available when, or you’ll miss some episodes over time. Bad if you’re a binge viewer. In the Amazon Prime world, I don’t think anything I was interested in watching has disappeared, but some has gone from free for Prime users to pay per view.
In summary? We’re all quite happy in this world thus far. We don’t miss what we used to watch. The same function — that of relaxing and taking our minds off of our busy lives for a while — is accomplished whether the content is the latest thing from some cable channel or something that’s years old.
Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
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