Sunday, November 22, 2009

Roku Announces New Channel Store: Adds 10 New Channels

Roku threw an indirect punch at the cable networks today by giving all of their Roku Players access to 10 new channels. (The firmware updates should hit your player today and tomorrow.) The Roku Player is a very tiny set-top box (check out my review here) that lets you stream content (wired or wirelessly) straight to your TV. It started off with Netflix and it later grew to include Amazon Video On Demand and MLB.TV. Now there's a Roku "Channel Store" (with 10 new channels) that you can add to your player. (It's up to you which channels you want to add — all of the new channels are free.) Here's the line up along with a description of each channel and my quick opinion:

1)Netflix: Stream movies from your Netflix Instant Queue, subscription required.
Verdict: It started off with a mediocre selection of mostly 80s movies, but Netflix's Instant library keeps growing and now includes popular TV shows like Dexter and a much better movie selection. Personally, I've found lots of hidden gems using this channel (particularly in the indie/foreign movie dept.) This channel alone is worth the price of admission.

2)Amazon Video On Demand: Buy or rent TV shows and movies on an a la carte basis.
Verdict: For more current/popular movies and shows, Amazon does not disappoint. I don't use it often, but it's a nice complement to Netflix.

3)MLB.TV Premium: Watch all out-of-market MLB games live and On-Demand, subscription required.
Verdict: This channel's major flaw is that you can't watch local teams. I'm not a baseball fan, but I feel like you're better off catching the games for free on network TV.

4)Facebook Photos: View slideshows of you and your friends' Facebook photos.
Verdict: Cool concept, but bad execution. Navigating is clumsy and you can only view one photo at a time. Not to mention you can't even leave comments. Plus, many people use their smartphones to upload pics onto their Facebook profiles and, you guessed it, smartphone pics on a 42" HDTV look like crap. Didn't like this channel. Left me feeling like a creepy stalker.

5)Free FrameChannel Service: View content from 1,000+ channels on your TV.
Verdict: It's kind of like an RSS reader. It feeds your TV headlines/info from a variety of sources. However, it only shows you headlines, which I found kind of worthless. Imagine reading one headline and one sentence on your TV and seeing a "visit for the full story" on the bottom of your screen. It works if you're looking at weather or stocks, but stinks for everything else.

6)Mediafly: Watch podcasts and new media on your TV. Includes topics like technology, travel, kids, sports, and news. Sample shows include Sesame Street shorts, CNET Loaded, CBS Evening News, MSNBC Nightly News, CNN Daily, etc.
Verdict: This is perhaps my favorite of the new channels. It has the most potential. Only thing is their content selection feels random and you don't have access to all of the shows. (It appears you just get that week's content, no access to older archives.)

7)Pandora: Stream Internet radio on your TV.
Verdict: Cool, but I'm not a fan of Pandora and I'd rather dock my iPod touch to my stereo to listen to Slacker. Besides, my stereo sounds better than my TV.

8) Stream content from various channels on topics like food and news.
Verdict: Most of these "channels" were empty, so there's not much I can say. Will update later.

9)Revision3: Internet television with shows like Tekzilla, Diggnation, iFanboy, etc.
Verdict: I know a lot of the Revision3 shows, but I personally don't watch any. Might check out a few now that it's a little easier, but unless they're absolutely amazing, I don't see myself watching this channel a lot.

10)Flickr: Access your Flickr photos from your TV.
Verdict: Pretty cool, although again, you can't leave any comments on photos.

11)Motionbox: Online Community Organizer.
Verdict: I couldn't access this channel. Will write an update when I can.

12)TWiT.TV: Watch and listen to video and audio podcasts from the TWiT network.
Verdict: Nice addition, but "watching" a podcast on my TV is boring. I can't even take the TV off and leave it as background noise 'cause it's using my TV's speakers. Maybe it's just me, but I think podcasts are better when you listen to them on an MP3 player, not your TV. Otherwise, I'll be checking out the video podcasts in the future.

13)MobileTribe: Gives you access to social media sites like MySpace, Facebook, Orkut, Google, Yahoo.
Verdict: Cool concept, painfully horrible execution. I tried to access Facebook and it was horrific. The interface was beyond awkward. Something that would normally take one click (like reading all of my friends' status updates on one page) took multiple steps.

Final Verdict
Overall, I like the direction Roku is going. Access to more channels increases the Roku Player's value. However, I was a little disappointed in a lot of the new channels. I mean, if I don't care to watch a show like Diggnation on my laptop, why would I want to watch it on my TV? Another flaw is the way the channels work. You have to sign up/authenticate each channel via your laptop before it syncs to your Roku box. Major pain in the arse because I had to create multiple new "accounts" for each channel. More log-ins and passwords are not what I needed. (If you already have an account — like I did with Flickr — then you can log in via your current account.) Fortunately, once you're authenticated with each channel, you never have to do it again. The Roku Player will remember your sign-in once it's configured.

So a step in the right direction. I just wish the content (channels) were better. Vudu, CinemaNow, Hulu, etc. Those are the channels I wanted. We'll see how many of these new channels I end up keeping.

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