How to Netflix for my parents
June 4, 2016 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Which device is the best for setting up Netflix for my parents? Their computers are PCs, and their TV does not support streaming on its own, so I'm looking for an external dedicated device. (I don't even own a TV myself so I really have no clue what's out there.)

A little birdie told me my (newly retired) parents would be interested in the gift of Netflix. My plan is to get them a device (Roku?) and a Netflix gift card for a few months subscription.

I'd like the easiest option for them to set up; their television does not have any streaming itself but I believe it accepts HDMI and other modern inputs.

I am considering the Roku stick (with a Netflix gift certificate for a few months), but I would get the (more expensive) Roku 4 if it would be significantly easier for them to use. Or another device if the hivemind thinks of a better one. Apple TV is probably out because their only Mac experience is iPhones, so I don't think the interface would be easy for them. Their (cable) internet speed seems fine for streaming YouTube and Skype and such when I visit.

I don't have any streaming service myself, so I'd like something they'll be able to install and run without my help (also I am on a different continent so it's hard to provide tech support). They're smart people and reasonably tech-confident but since I can't really help, I'd like the smoothest possible system.
posted by nat to Technology (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are they used to using Netflix in a browser at all? I set my parents up with a Chromecast - it plugs into a USB port on your TV and connects to your home wireless network. You bring up something in Chrome on a computer, hit the Chromecast button (which you have installed as a plugin), and poof, it streams to the TV. If they don't want all the ancillary capability of the Roku, this might work.
posted by olinerd at 1:53 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Roku Stick is very easy to set up and use.
posted by scruss at 1:55 PM on June 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

If they have smartphones - Android, iPhone, whatever - a ChromeCast is great. It's really easy to setup and you control everything from your phone and it's the best and it's also really, really inexpensive.

I have, in the past, also used a Roku. It was fine. It had an easy to use controller and was fairly intuitive.

I don't know that you could go wrong either way. I love my ChromeCast(s) - as I now have them littered throughout my home.
posted by kbanas at 1:55 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are they used to using Netflix in a browser at all? I set my parents up with a Chromecast - it plugs into a USB port on your TV and connects to your home wireless network.

This is not accurate. At least, not for any of the ChromeCasts that I've ever purchased or used - and I've bought both the first generation and the new one - it plugs into a HDMI port, just like a Roku Stick, not a USB port. Just FYI.

And, yes, you can use the ChromeCrast button in your Chrome browser on your PC, but if you have a smartphone you can also just click the little ChromeCast button in the Netflix app to directly beam it, and cut out any PCs.
posted by kbanas at 1:57 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

If there is any reasonable chance they will want to use other services (Amazon etc), Roku has the best search interface as it provides results from multiple providers.
posted by Candleman at 2:02 PM on June 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

Also, I don't know why I keep calling it the ChromeCrast or the ChromeCast - it's the Chromecast, as olinerd said. I'm having a day.
posted by kbanas at 2:04 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Amazon Fire Stick and the Roku Stick are both super easy.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:11 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got my sixty-mmph year old mom a Chromecast 2 years ago and she never got the hang of controlling it with her iPhone. It never clicked for her and went used. Undaunted, I got her a Roku box (I think it was the Roku 2) that came with a remote and she adores it. The remote literally has a button on it that says "Netflix" and now she is happily plowing through Season 2 of Grace and Frankie, rewatching Frasier and is signing up for the WWE network come summer(slam).
posted by kimberussell at 2:14 PM on June 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

My parents struggled with using their TV's awful, slow built-in streaming, so I got them a Roku box a year or so ago and they love it. I have it on good authority that my mom has rewatched most of X-Files via the Netflix button.
posted by MadamM at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are we assuming that they have wifi, and good wifi reception in the room where the TV is?
posted by sheldman at 2:48 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

If they have a blue ray player, it may already support streaming.
posted by Kalmya at 3:04 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

They don't have a blu-ray player, to my knowledge. (One never knows what may have been purchased recently).
They do have good wifi in the room where the TV is.

Is there a big benefit to Stick vs non-Stick for the Roku?
(Thanks for all the suggestions so far!)
posted by nat at 3:33 PM on June 4, 2016

Non-Stick Rokus are faster. That's the main difference. For basic watching-type stuff, you're not missing anything really by going with the Stick one over a regular Roku. (Plus, like the other stick-type devices, it's essentially hidden from view, which is nice.)

One minus against the Chromecast: controlling it with your phone is neat but it's also kind of a pain if you don't have your phone on you. There's no way to control it otherwise. (Also, I've seen that the newer Rokus tend to appear as Chromecasts in the apps that support that, so you maybe could still do the tap-the-icon streaming from the phone too.)
posted by mrg at 3:51 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've got a Roku, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV Stick. The device we (and more importantly, my non-techy wife) use most often is the Fire.
posted by Runes at 4:08 PM on June 4, 2016

For people who are not techy at all, the Roku is your best bet. It's so intuitive that pretty much everyone who's ever come to my house has figured it out within 30 seconds, including my techphobic mother and grandma. My mom liked mine so much, she demanded I buy her one, since she'd been watching Netflix on her ancient computer. The stick or box are great, but keep in mind that for the stick they must have wifi. If they only have a cable network and no wifi, they'll either have to have their ISP set up a wireless network for them or get the roku box which comes with an ethernet port. Roku has a page comparing all the different models so you can easily see the features on each model. If they do have wifi, I'd go with the stick, because it's cheaper, less wires (as far as I know it only has to be plugged into your tv, whereas the box models also have to be plugged into an outlet).

To me, the chromecast seems simple enough to those of us who've grown up in the world of tech, but to older people it can be quite daunting, especially having to use a smart phone to control it and everything. The Roku stick comes with a dedicated remote that's easy to operate (as others have commented, it literally has a Netflix button right on it).
posted by katyggls at 4:31 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also if you do decide on one of the box models, I doubt you need the Roku 4. A Roku 2 or 3 would probably be just fine for your parents' needs. Pretty much the only reason anyone needs the Roku 4 at this point is if they have a 4k TV, which I doubt is the case here. It's not worth the extra money otherwise.
posted by katyggls at 4:39 PM on June 4, 2016

Another vote for the Roku. If they have iPhones then they should download the free app, which lets them use the phone as a remote and allows them to type with a real keyboard instead of navigating each letter separately.

My mom is sixty something and can barely use email but she's fine with the Roku.
posted by AFABulous at 5:15 PM on June 4, 2016

I'll nth the Roku. My ninety year old grandmother is very happy with hers. We got it for her primarily because she wanted to be able to watch Netflix on the TV, but it's got a lot of other options too. Someone else had to set it up for her, but it was relatively easy for her to get the hang of it. (I've listened to my mother try to explain to her how to cut and paste on the computer, just to give you an idea of her lack of technological skill.)

We got her the Roku 3. The number one reason we chose that instead of the Roku 2 or stick is that it has a headphone jack in the remote, which seemed useful since she's getting pretty hard of hearing. It's also a nice feature if one person wants to listen to TV without disturbing anyone else. If this doesn't seem like an appealing feature, I think you should be fine with either the Roku 2 or the stick, depending on your price point.
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:36 PM on June 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

We have a Fire Stick, and my parents (in their 70s) immediately bought one after visiting us and using ours. We have a chromecast as well, but the Fire Stick gets a lot more use, due to built in apps and remote.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 5:49 PM on June 4, 2016

(Sorry, to clarify for anyone using this thread for info, my bad - the Chromecast does plug in to an HDMI port but it can use a USB port for power. I was misremembering what I set up for my parents)
posted by olinerd at 5:51 PM on June 4, 2016

Please don't get a chromecast. They're confusing, and inconsistent when the phone app/Netflix site in the browser randomly decides to sync up, or forgets you're playing something, or...

Roku is honestly the simplest and most reliable device(s) I've tried or used. Having a remote makes it SO MUCH SIMPLER.

I've gifted chromecasts before and invariably the person gets confused when they work inconsistently. And having to wait for your phone to connect, etc, can be confusing and annoying("why isn't it working?" "Is wifi on on your phone?" Etc).

They're literally simple to a fault.
posted by emptythought at 6:20 PM on June 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a Roku 3 and Chomecast. I use the Roku all the time. It's got a great UI and remote. I recommend it.
posted by zippy at 7:37 PM on June 4, 2016

I love my Roku! The 3 is cheapish and reasonably fast (same CPU as the 4k-capable 4) so I presume it's somewhat future-proof as well.
posted by destructive cactus at 7:45 PM on June 4, 2016

I'll also nth the Roku. My dear sweet aunt is truly terrible with technology, and has had countless issues with both Mac and Windows computers, but she has Rokus hooked up to each television in her house and loves them. She has remarkably little trouble using them to watch Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and even a few other Roku channels on her tvs.
posted by Pryde at 10:02 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recommend the Roku 2. It was recently upgraded with a more powerful processor so unless you want terrible games, a remote that allows you to plug in headphones, or 4K, the 3 and 4 are not worth the extra money.
posted by dozo at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

My husband, brother, and I have introduced our parents and my younger sister to a lot of various streaming tech over the years, including a PlayStation 3, Roku 2, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire Stick.

Of those, the Roku was easily the most intuitive, worked right out of the box, but was also the most limited in terms of capability. My mom loved being able to watch DVDs and BluRays with the PS3, but she later surprised us by switching her allegiance to the relatively complicated Fire Stick and accompanying dubious plug-ins my brother kept pushing on her.

Personally, we mostly love our Chromecast, but it has definitely been a little more fiddly than it ought to be and has proven too techy for the majority of our family members.

Also, how old is their TV? I only ask because we got a new one ourselves last year, and I was pleasantly surprised by how cheap it was for a very decent model, how much of an upgrade it was picture wise, and also how frequently I find myself using the built in Netflix on the remote because it's so damn convenient, despite owning three other arguably superior Netflix-ready devices.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:29 AM on June 5, 2016

The newest Apple TV is very fast and easy to use, and if you have network drives setup, they can watch whatever you download through the VLC app. It's pretty amazing to use the remote to ask Siri to play some jazz, and then have your tv immediately start playing some Mingus.

There are no drawbacks. and there's HBO.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:43 PM on June 5, 2016

I recommend the Roku 2. It was recently upgraded with a more powerful processor so unless you want terrible games, a remote that allows you to plug in headphones, or 4K, the 3 and 4 are not worth the extra money.

I came in to say exactly this. The Roku 2 is easy, fast, versatile, and reasonably priced. I thought about a 3 but I don't want to play games and I didn't really need to plug headphones into the remote. I really love the Roku 2. I also have AppleTV, but I really just use it for watching things I've bought on iTunes or streaming video from my iPhone. Most of the time, I use the Roku 2.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:33 PM on June 5, 2016

Both the Roku and the Apple TV will be great. Both have cross-service searching.

The biggest differences is that Roku had Amazon Prime video and Apple TV has iTunes music & videos.

Both have Netflix and tons of other channels. All the big ones are on both boxes.

In practical use, both will be very easy to use.

Setup of both is not significantly different.

I'd recommend the Roku 2 due to its low price. If you get an Apple TV only get the AppleTV 4, not the older generation.
posted by reddot at 8:49 AM on June 8, 2016

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