Monday, January 06, 2014

Roku services far superior to TV Manufacturers' Built-in Apps



A technology resource article by  © 2014

This morning I read an article in the New York Times proclaiming that TV manufacturers are counting on smart TVs to boost lackluster sales.  I doubt seriously that adding internet connectivity directly to each TV is the silver bullet they're all looking for with all of the current "smart" options consumers already have.

I was one of the early adopters of Roku's video streaming device back in 2008.  I used it successfully with only a standard DSL internet connection on a Mitsubishi projection TV that was over ten years old.  Then four years ago, my husband and I purchased a 3-D Samsung Smart TV after being intrigued by James Cameron's "Avatar" the year before and deciding it was finally time to make the next leap to HD TV.  It came bundled with a 3D Smart Blu-Ray player as well.  I had also purchased a "less" smart Samsung HDTV for my office that could download files from my remote PC but could not talk to the internet (a Black Friday special at the time).So, I moved my Roku player to my office to make the TV there internet "smart" and used the applications on the smart Blu-Ray player in the living room to watch Netflix there.

But, my husband, who has become progressively more and more hard of hearing, became frustrated with watching Netflix streaming movies without the ability to turn on subtitles to serve as closed captioning like he does with the Netflix DVDs that we get by mail.  I thought Netflix just didn't provide subtitles with their streaming services.  Then one day I was reading an article that pointed out the Roku device's ability to provide subtitles with its streaming content.  I had not realized the absence of subtitles was a factor of the application you were using, not Netflix itself. Furthermore, I had purchased some DVDs from Amazon and was offered the ability to watch a digital copy until my DVD arrived using Amazon's Instant Video service but neither my "smart" TV or my "smart" Blu-Ray player offered an application for Amazon Instant Video.

During the holidays in 2012, Roku offered their latest HD streaming device on sale so I purchased one. I registered my new Roku device with Netflix and read up on how to set subtitles up on the Roku.  Then I connected to Netflix and selected a movie to try it out.  Voila!  Subtitles appeared just like they do when you select subtitles for a DVD!  I also now had access to Amazon Instant Video and a wealth of other channels including the History Channel's new online offerings.

I surmised from this experience that TV manufacturers view apps as secondary and don't have the interest or resources dedicated to improving and/or updating their "homegrown" applications.  But the streaming experience is the sole reason Roku exists, so the folks at Roku are constantly working on adding new features and more content.

The NYT article did mention an alliance between Roku and several TV manufacturers that will enable TVs to come equipped with a Roku embedded application.  As long as Roku is managing the features and content, this could work well but it is hardly a reason for anyone to buy a new HD TV if they already have one as long as Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV and other internet enabled devices are available for less than $100 (or, in many cases, less than $50).

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