It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Apple and their products. I went through a time where I was a huge fanboy, even refusing to swayed by competing products in the same category. To be honest, I still look to Apple first for a lot of the technology that I use in my day-to-day life, and I have come to the realization that all of these things are tools to get a particular job done. It just means that I prefer a particular brand of drill. You might really love that DeWalt, and it’s a great drill. I like my Porter-Cable. Both drill holes and turn screws.
At the end of November I had to have shoulder surgery and had a lot of time on my hands where I didn’t really feel like doing much except watching TV. Currently, I don’t pay for TV. I’m not stealing it from my neighbors or anything, I just get the four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) over the air, and use three streaming services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Video) to watch the majority of my TV. I like this setup despite the fact that it means that there are a lot of TV shows that I don’t see “live” and that means that I’m constantly behind. Truth be told, I currently work at an elementary school and am one of only three men on staff, so the majority of the discussion about TV between co-workers usually pertains to Downton Abbey, which I haven’t see enough of to be all that invested.
During the week after my surgery I started watching shows like Justified and Suites that I had never seen before, and started working my way through some great shows that I had seen before, like *Chuck*. This was when I started to not be so enamored with my Apple TV. The problem was this: I had started watching Chuck on Netflix, so my viewing history was there and I could easily see what I had watched so that I didn’t miss any episodes or watch anything out of order. (This was a real concern because I wanted to see it all, and I was on some industrial strength pain medication at the time.) I love *Chuck*, but there are only so many episodes you can watch in a row before you want to watch something else. Problem was that the other shows I wanted to watch were on Amazon Instant Video, and the Apple TV does not support that. The solution was turning on my PS3 and streaming the shows through that.
Now, I can hear you saying, “Justin, are you really so lazy that you are unwilling to flip between HDMI inputs on your TV in order to watch your favorite shows?”, and the answer is no, I am not too lazy to do this. But I don’t feel like I should have to. I don’t mind watching TV shows on my consoles, but let’s face it: consoles are computers. They are, they have a CPU, a GPU, RAM, fans, an operating system. They are computers that are built for a very specific job. My thing is that I don’t want to log any more hours on my consoles that necessary because they all have a life span. My first PS3 was a used model I picked up from GameStop and it was great. Ran like a champ. Right up until it gave me a flashing red light died. I hadn’t backed up my game saves, and when I ran to GameStop and bought a brand new slim PS3 and put the hard drive of the old PS3 in the new one, it wouldn’t work because of a mismatch between the versions of the hardware and software.
Admittedly this was my fault, but it got me thinking about the lifespan of a console, and so I don’t like to leave my systems on unless they’re actively being used, and the startup time on the PS3 kept me from wanting to shut down between viewings.
After Christmas, my wife and I decided to get a TV for our bedroom, and that meant we also needed to get another streaming device for said TV. I have chosen to not buy “smart” TV’s for a number of reasons we can get into another time. I thought about getting a second Apple TV, but my recovery time in November got me thinking about other alternatives.
As you start looking for a streaming box, it quickly becomes clear that the two big names are Apple and Roku. I had used a Roku device in the past, but it had been a few years, and I had only used if for few seconds. So I started looking at the features of the Roku, specifically the Roku 3, and was immediately excited by what I found. First, and maybe foremost, the Roku has an app for streaming Amazon Instant Video. This is a big deal to me because I’ve been watching a lot more TV on this service in the past few months. Some other features that I really liked on the Roku 3 were actually centered around the remote. Usually remotes don’t really get me all that excited, but this remote is special for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s RF (radio frequency) not infrared. That means that you don’t even have to point the thing at the box to make it work. The Apple TV’s remote is infrared and requires line of sight to make it work. With the Roku’s RF remote you could hide the box if you so (or your spouse) so chose. I haven’t, but you could.
Another feature of the Roku 3’s remote is a built-in headphone jack. This is the single greatest thing I’ve had access to in a long time. I can sit in my bed and watch TV with any pair of headphones/earbuds I own, or with the purple ones that Roku includes in the box, and my wife and kid can stay in the living room and watch Thomas the Tank Engine for the umpteen millionth time. There’s even a dedicated volume rocker on the side of the remote for the headphones.
Yet another feature that I really like is support for Plex. I’m not a ninja at this yet, but Plex allows something similar to iTunes Home Sharing feature, but on steroids. The in-home streaming is free, but you have the option to pay for a subscription that allows you to stream things to your chosen mobile device, and even the ability to share your library with friends and/or family.
To conclude, let me just say that the Apple TV is a great device, especially if you’re heavily invested in Apple’s ecosystem. I have an iPhone and an iPad, and I can push things up to the TV from either of them, or even mirror my device’s screen to the Apple TV. I can’t do that on the Roku. The “screen saver” on my Apple TV is set to my iCloud Photo Stream. This may sound like something you wouldn’t want or care about, but I’ve systematically gone through my Photo Stream and removed all pictures that aren’t of my son. If you’ve got kids and an iPhone, it’s pretty cool to have an automatic slideshow of your children as your screen saver. It’s also cool if you have a lot of friends or family who also have iPhones, because they can share photos and videos they’ve shot with you when they come to visit.
However, if those features don’t do anything for you, the Roku 3 is kick ass. If I were to be in the market for another such device, I would immediately grab another Roku 3. For the majority of my day-to-day use of a device like this, Roku is my go-to. The streaming quality is just as good as the Apple TV, they both cost the same amount ($99), and at the end of the day the Roku has the features that I actually use on a regular basis.