How should we watch TV in 2013?
November 8, 2012 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Please help a luddite watch TV. I know the state of the art in TV options has come a long way since my family decided that cable + TiVo was the right solution for us a decade ago. Now we have a new place and I want to set it up right but I get overwhelmed when I go to research the options. Can you help me make sense of it and stop wasting a ton of money on cable?

Currently we have Comcast and a TiVo. I like the TiVo interface because it is fast and simple. While we don't watch a lot of TV, when we do want to watch it, I want it to be fast and simple to access.

Our needs:

1. Up to 3 TVs could theoretically be watched in different rooms at the same time.

2. Shows we like to have available for watching:
a. children's programs including Wonder Pets and Curious George
b. some basic cable - stuff like cooking shows, late night talk
c. seasonal premium content from HBO, i.e. we only watch one or two shows, but we like those a lot and want to see them as they air, rather than wait to rent a season after it's done.

3. We already have Netflix, but don't use it as much as we should. We use it for streamed kids' movies and mailed DVDs. I understand it has more content I haven't explored.

4. We almost never (except for 2(c) above) care when a show airs. We want to have the content recorded automatically and be there waiting for us when we get around to it.

5. Wireless would be aesthetically pleasant but is not necessary.

6. We prefer to get our content legitimately, i.e. not torrent

7. We are busy as hell and TV is something we do when we're too tired to do anything else, so the interface needs to be intuitive and fast. (In our last house we had a Comcast DVR on the secondary TV and its interface was unacceptably slow and terrible.)

I've heard good things about Roku. Would a Roku (or three?) serve the above needs? Would I need to program each one separately?

If not Roku, is there something else cheaper than Comcast + TiVo that I should get that will serve?

Thank you SO much for your help here! You guys have helped me with everything from friends to composting to vacation planning in the past, so I'm hopeful you can point me in the right direction.
posted by fingersandtoes to Technology (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We have U-verse, but Comcast is good too.

Consider getting multiple DVRs. You pay by the month, but you get SO much good stuff.

First, there's a library of shows and movies. You can download pay movies, free movies, movies off of your premium channels. There are tons of kids shows available.

The DVRs get better and more sophisticated with each release.

What you pay to Tivo is about the same as what you pay to Comcast and they upgrade or replace the equipment when it's needed.

Now, if you bundle (GAH! Bundle!) you can save a ton.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:31 AM on November 8, 2012

From what I understand, you can't get HBO unless you have a cable subscription. Roku does have a HBO GO channel, but you'd need a cable subscription to get an account. Unless you have a friend/family member who'd be willing to share their account, only cable will accomplish 2c of your list.
posted by tinymegalo at 10:38 AM on November 8, 2012

I have a Roku.

I've had the Roku for about a year or two (I don't remember how long actually) and while it's been great to bridge the gap when I couldn't afford cable, if I could afford cable I might be tempted to sign up for it again.

With Roku there is no programming, you just navigate around what's available. There's a lot of current TV that's available and a lot that isn't. You should check if your favorite shows are available on Hulu and Amazon before you sign up.

The interface is pretty simple and easy to put something on, but I find myself doing a lot of flipping around to find something I want to watch. More flipping around than actual watching, sometimes, but that may be "just me".

I think to be able to watch shows in 3 different rooms you'd have to shell out for the maximum available bandwidth on your Internet plan.

Seconding that you can't get HBO without cable. On the Roku you can get their old shows pay-per-episode via Amazon but I don't think you can get what HBO is currently airing.
posted by bleep at 10:58 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would a Roku (or three?) serve the above needs?
Yes EXCEPT (as mentioned) getting HBO legally as it airs. Although this might change, no one can say when.

Would I need to program each one separately?
Nope, If you sign in with the same Roku account on all three, any change (adding or deleting a "channel") you make to one Roku will automatically be reflected on the other Rokus.
posted by 2ghouls at 11:16 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

We've had a Roku for about two years, too, and really love it. Personally I wouldn't go back to cable. Given your constraints, I think it would suit you for everything but HBO.

One of the nice things about the Roku is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be - there are lots of channels available from Roku's site, as well as other private channels if you look around (including a Yule Log one at Xmastime!), but I think 99.5% of the time we just stick with using it to stream Netflix. The interface is reasonably fast and responsive, there are apps you can download to use your phone as a remote if you're prone (as we are) to losing the actual remote, and Instant Watcher is a handy supplement to Netflix's interface if you feel like browsing a lot at a time.

Plus, it's not that expensive, especially if you already have a Netflix subscription. I would definitely at least try it out and see if it's for you; again, based on your description above, I think you'd be happy with a Roku.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2012

If you don't mind me threadjacking a bit--these answers are really helpful for me because I'm planning on buying my family a flatscreen TV and a Roku for Christmas, and I'm a complete newbie. My possibly stupid question is, can you do stuff on your computer(s) while you're streaming on the Roku? As it is, my husband complains about me streaming Netflix/Hulu on our desktop computer while he's playing World of Warcraft on our laptop, because he says it slows the game down. Will the Roku just add to the misery?
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:33 AM on November 8, 2012

> my husband complains about me streaming Netflix/Hulu on our desktop computer while he's playing World of Warcraft on our laptop, because he says it slows the game down.

That depends on how much bandwidth your connection has, which generally depends on how much money you pay. Each Roku stream (i.e. each TV you are using simultaneously) takes up 1.5-3 Mb/s. So if you have a 5Mb connection, you are good for 1-2 TVs at a time.

WoW doesn't require much bandwidth, but — like most FPS and MMO games — it's very latency-sensitive. Tuning your connection for gaming performance is a question in itself, and I suspect you'll find a lot of information if you do some searching on the subject. Probably the best thing to do is get a router with "Quality of Service" options and prioritize the traffic going to that computer (assuming that it's used mostly/always for gaming, and not for big downloads and especially not for bittorrent).
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:47 AM on November 8, 2012

dlugoczaj, I do sometimes notice that my internet acts different when I am streaming a video. Basically you will have a similar experience streaming to the Roku as you will streaming to the laptop. But as Kadin2048 says, there are some solutions to that problem.

And yeah, OP, if you want HBO shows day-of-airing, you need cable. Right now premium channels and local sports coverage are basically impossible to replace legally.
posted by mskyle at 2:13 PM on November 8, 2012

Nthing the Roku. Lots of anecdotes forthcoming:

I use it a ton, but then again I love watching old '70s and '80s tv shows on Amazon Prime, which I can't recommend enough. I had Netflix for a year or so, but I found that I'd watched most of their content, and they seemed slow and uninterested in getting more so I dropped it. Streaming via Amazon Prime is easy to configure and use, and they are constantly getting "new" content. They have some great free options (they just put Cheers up in HD and rewatching it has become something of a regular party at my place.) and its way too easy to justify spending a couple of bucks if you want to watch something they charge for. We watched Battle Royale in HD a couple of weeks ago and it was a massive hit. And from what I hear, they have an absolute ton of kids programming.

Amazon asskissing aside, the only things I find myself missing are HBO shows on the date of air, no live Comedy Central, and no Spartacus on Starz. (Even though I hear it's coming to an end.) And I've heard rumors of HBO offering an internet only service sometime in the future, but who knows about that?

I don't know if you're a sports fan, but I can find a large amount of local sports via a $25-30 Over The Air (OTA) antenna I ran into a simple A-B switch box and my television tuner does the rest.

I dropped my $120/month Comcast cable TV bill, kept their internet, and pay something like $80 a year for Prime which I use for work all the time so I feel like I got a real bargain.
posted by Sphinx at 3:03 PM on November 8, 2012

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