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When I mention that I’m getting a new Roku to non-techie friends, the reaction is usually bewilderment. Like much tech today, the name gives you no clue what it is. Roku may sound like some new Japanese way to fall on your sword, but it’s actually a way to stream video to your TV from sites like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and numerous others.
And what is streaming video you may ask? Streaming allows you to watch a movie on your TV instantly without going to the video store (are there still any?) or waiting for the little Netflix envelope to arrive in the mail. Instead, the movie streams over the Internet directly to your TV, just like when you watch a YouTube video.
You’ve probably streamed YouTube to your computer or tablet, or even your phone, and you can do the same with movies – without a Roku. But why would you want to do that? Remember how great it was when TVs got big enough to see from across the room. It beats me why some kids today actually prefer watching movies on a 10-inch screen.
Roku is not the only streaming device, it’s just the best one IMHO (translation: in my humble opinion). Other options are the ridiculously cheap Chromecast and the not-so-cheap Apple TV. I could compare and contrast these, but your eyes would glaze over, so I’ll stick to just explaining the Roku, which is my favorite because it’s the most senior friendly.
Both the Roku 2 and 3 have a terrific little feature, a headset jack on the remote so you can listen to your favorite shows and movies without bothering anyone. For a hearing aid wearer like me this is a godsend. The Roku also supports closed captioning, another huge benefit for the hearing impaired and anyone who can’t understand current slang.
How to set up Roku
If you have a flat screen TV, you can plug it right into the Roku with an HDMI cable, which isn’t included (don’t even bother figuring out what HDMI stands for, just buy one). If you don’t have a flat screen TV – which displays high definition video – go out and buy one immediately. (I’ll cover the wonders of HDTV in another column.) Seniors should have a TV that doesn’t require Moishe’s Movers to bring into another room and that won’t break your foot if you drop it.
I know I promised you last week that I’d install my Roku myself but I wimped out and offered my techie friend Lynn dinner if she’d come over just in case I needed her to troubleshoot. Even though she yelled at me when I grabbed the batteries from the package and tried to put them into the Roku, I wasn’t discouraged.
“Erica, there’s a reason you have trouble installing things. You don’t RTFM,” she said, with a typical techie’s supercilious sneer.
“Read the f***ing manual.”
I hate reading manuals. There’s always one instruction that’s incomprehensible and makes me want to throw it across the room. I’d rather just root around in the shipping materials and plug things in until I get totally lost and have to put in a hysterical call to customer service. In this case, the manual that I didn’t read clearly stated that the batteries go in the remote. Note to self: RTFM
The worst part about Roku installation is the laborious onscreen menus. It’s almost impossible to get it right on the first try. Roku also intrusively asks for your credit card, but you can avoid giving it to them by hitting “skip” on that screen.
No Lynn? Where to get help
Roku has decent 24-hour customer service, albeit with a Bombay accent. 1-888-600-7658 (ROKU). They will walk you through the setup if you get stuck. First, they will ask for the serial number which you will find on the box, not the Roku itself.
If installing hardware gives you an anxiety attack and you don’t have a Lynn, my all-purpose solution is to call the cable guy. There will probably be a small charge for a special visit, but not as much as if you called Best Buy’s Geek Squad, a service that many seniors rely on. Or, you could wait until your TV or Internet goes on the fritz (not a long wait in my area) and when the cable guy arrives to fix it ask sweetly, “As long as you’re here would you mind helping me install this thingie I just got?”
Remember to ask him how to perform a crucial step – changing the input on the TV from cable to DTV, which involves yet another remote. Remotes seem to give birth to each other every time you get a new gadget. Tip: write down which is which on masking tape and stick it on the remote backs.
Once you have your Roku set up, just hit the “home” icon on the Roku remote and you’ll see all the channels you can access. Make sure to set up your Netflix account online, and put a bunch of movies and TV shows on your streaming queue. I’m binge watching Breaking Bad at the moment. Then put in your Netflix password on the Roku (if you remember it) and sit back and enjoy. Do the same for Amazon, where you can stream movies for $2.99 each. There’s a lot more a Roku can do, but I’ll save that for another column. You’ve learned enough for today.
Click here for more detail and a comparison of the different streaming options.
Also check out www.roku.com.
Roku 2 and 3 go for around $70 and $90 respectively, but you might find one for under $50 refurbished.
What aspects of technology mystify you and what do you want to learn more about. Erica will explain in future columns.