Overview of the Roku:
The Roku streaming media player is one of the most versatile, affordable, and popular devices for watching Internet TV. Roku is great for households that don't favor a specific operating system, as the Roku app is both Android and iOS friendly, and is compatible with a variety of streaming video services. Best of all, the Roku starts at just $49.99, making it one of the most affordable options for getting online media to your television.
Choosing Your Roku Box:
Roku currently comes in four different versions that vary in features and price. All of the Roku boxes offer playback quality from 720p to full HD 1080p video, 600+ streaming media channels, a general search box, wireless compatibility, and a free app that's compatible for both Android and iOS mobile devices. If you don't think your current wifi set-up can handle HD streaming, it's best to go for the Roku 2 XS, the only Roku box to come equipped with an ethernet and USB port.
In addition to the different Roku boxes, the company offers the Roku Streaming Stick. This device is the size of a USB flash drive that you'd use to store files from your computer, but provides the same features as the top-of-the-line Roku box. How do all these great features fit on such a small device? The Streaming Stick uses MHL technology - the latest and greatest addition to streaming media. MHL - Mobile High-Definition Link - is a new technology that lets you stream audio and video from mobile devices such as phones and tablets. The technology is only compatible with a few televisions so far, but could prove to be a compact, simple solution for streaming media.
Setting Up Your Device:
Setting up your Roku is simple. First you'll need to decide how to connect the Roku box to your television. If your Roku is full HD compatible, you'll want to use the HDMI port on the bad of your television. If your television or Roku are 720p or below, you can use either a component video cable or composite cable. You'll need to purchase the appropriate cable separately from your Roku box.
After that, just turn on your device and connect it to the network. You'll be prompted for your wifi network and password information, and if you don't have wifi, you'll need to hook-up internet to the box using an ethernet cable.
Then, just follow the set-up instructions on the screen, and check out the hundreds of options you now have for watching video. I recommend entering the login information for your premium video subscriptions at this point, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Fandor.
Watching Streaming Video:
Roku uses an open software that allows anyone to create new channels, and has partnerships with all the major streaming media networks. This device has literally hundreds of options for watching online video. These channels include some services that aren't available with the Apple TV, such as Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, Vudu, and Pandora. Many of the services that aren't available for the Apple TV can be streamed using Apple Airplay, but the Roku offers the widest in-player selection of video channels.
The Roku App:
Roku recently released a cloud player app that lets users stream pictures, music, and movies from mobile devices to their televisions using the Roku box. This app is available for Android and iOS devices, providing a great alternative to users that favor Windows and Android devices. In addition to streaming users' data to the television, the app allows users to turn their mobile devices into remote controls. Simply use the app to find your favorite movies, shows, and music, press play, and enjoy them from your home entertainment system!
Roku is affordable, versatile, and provides you with access to hundreds of streaming media channels. If you're looking for a streaming media player but aren't sure which to choose, there may be a Roku device for you.
All prices as of December 2012.