Cable TV has been around for decades, and the sad fact is that the cable companies seem to have gotten complacent. There are only two or three big ones left, and they tend to have monopolies. As a result, they are not responsive to their customers: they have lousy customer service, they pile on fee after fee, and they provide lousy choices.
No wonder so many people either don’t bother with cable at all or they cut the cord. I did the latter: I got tired of paying $150 a month to have access to 200 channels when I never watched 175 of them. I called AT&T, told them goodbye, and went out and bought a couple of antennas to get over-the-air broadcasts, a Google Chromecast stick, and a Roku 2 Streaming Player.
The Roku 2 is one of four streaming players sold by the California-based company: Roku 1, 2, 3 and streaming stick. Like the Roku 1, the 2 can be connected to a conventional television with component plugs or to any TV equipped with an HDMI port. The 3 and the streaming stick have HDMI only. The 2’s chief difference from the 1 is that it has a headphone port. When a pair of phones (3.5-mm jack) are plugged in, sound is muted on the television or sound bar; coming only through the headphones.
The player is a little guy, about 4” on a side and maybe 1-1/2” thick. It has a power port on the back along with the output jacks. There’s one white light on the front, which glows when powered up. If it blinks, there’s a problem. No diagnostics are available.
Setup is pretty simple: plug it in and walk through the on-screen setup screens. You’ll need to know your wireless router’s name and password. Once that’s done, you register the player with Roku using a code that appears on the screen.
The remote pairs to the player, though it occasionally gets lost – when that happens, it can usually be re-paired by removing the two AA batteries from the remote. The remote is pretty bare-bones, with about six buttons. Most people seem to operate their Rokus from an app on a tablet or smartphone (both Android and iOS versions are available). As for the connection, I find that the player is sensitive to the quality of the HDMI cable: in my experience, you shouldn't expect a cheap-o version to behave.
The streaming device is just the start: once you get registered, you have access to thousands of channels – familiar names like Netflix or Hulu, along with gazillions of specialty channels for almost everything – tech, religion, conservative politics, ultra-conservative politics, right-wing politics… Many channels are free and worth exactly what you pay for them – the weather and news channels are especially lame. Then there are the pay channels like Hulu and Netflix, which are a couple of button-pushes away. There are four handy direct buttons on the remote for Netflix, Amazon Prime, MGo and Blockbuster. You can also reach Pandora and other music channels, plus play your own content from a computer with apps like Plex.
The positives about the Roku player are that it’s relatively inexpensive, you don't need a computer to stream and, for about $25 a month, you can get two or three pay services that will keep you happy. The chief negative I know is that the remote is pretty clumsy – especially the rewind. Of course, you can’t get live sports unless you are a cable subscriber, and much of the really “good” stuff isn’t free. If you’re a low-end user like me, someone who doesn’t plan his or her whole life about watching television and seeing the latest “films,” a Roku 2 Streaming Player is just what the doctor ordered.