Explain Roku/streaming TV to me

I’m probably going to be dumping Dish network soon. My internet access through Verizon has been spotty recently and Comcast is coming to my area. My thought was to bundle TV and Internet with the Evil Empire. But if I could ditch the TV service and just download my TV, that would even be better! But it can’t be that easy, can it? If it was, no one would have cable.

Help me understand this new-fangled tech. I live in the country and get no TV reception if I don’t have satellite. Cable has just come out there.


You connect your router directly to your streaming device, be it Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or whatever. This can be a physical ethernet connection, or Wifi.

The devices themselves work not entirely unlike smartphone apps. Each channel has an app, and you access their content via the app. Some are free, and others require either a separate subscription, e.g. Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Now, or you must also receive their channel via a cable subscription, e.g. History Channel, FX, A&E. The latter, obviously, is useless if your goal is to cut the cable. The former is actually not terrible deal. Hulu Plus and Netflix (streaming only) will both run you about $8 a month, but combined they offer quite a lot of content. With the exception of live sports, Hulu Plus offers a wide range of current and older TV shows and some movie content, and I’d imagine you are familiar with Netflix. Between the two of them, I haven’t yet run out of stuff to watch, and with the exception of live sports I don’t even watch live TV anymore.

Any reason in particular?

A Roku facilitates streaming internet content to your TV. That’s the long and the short of it.

If you have internet and reasonable speed, it will work for you. Think of the Roku box as a teeny tiny computer with no keyboard that connects the internet to your TV. You can connect with Wi-Fi, but I read that connecting with a cable is better, and since the Roku box sits next to the router, that’s what I do. You use the Roku’s remote to navigate through the stuff that shows up on your TV screen. The Roku has channels. Some channels are free; some require subscription. It’s insanely easy to set up.

The Roku page at Amazon.com is really informative, much more so than the Roku site. I ditched DirectTV ages ago and haven’t missed it. I also don’t miss the $192 / mo I was paying for channels I never watched. Hope that helps.

With a good streaming box, you can get everything you get from cable except live sports. You have to wait a day for most cable TV shows. News is also a little thin, but you obviously own a computer so “TV news” is not something you can’t live without.

This for somewhere between zero (pretty thin pickings, but not none), $16 (Netflix and HuluPlus), and add about $25 per season per premium show you want to watch. It comes out a hell of a lot cheaper than the all-you-can-watch-(but-won’t) cable/sat model.

Also, no cable/sat box eating up 100+ watts 24/7/365; no TiVo or DVR to pay monthly rentals on and run out of space on. Everything is instant on demand.

Netflix is far and away the best thing to have.

Hulu plus is nice, but can’t hold a candle to netflix.

Netflix, hulu plus and antenna have worked well for me.

Netflix and Amazon Prime (which I already had for the free two day shipping).

Dish offers a cable-like streaming channel called Sling TV. It offers about 20 channels for $20/mo. I think some of the channels you can select what to watch, but others are just streams of the live cable channel and you can’t record them. You can get sports from the ESPN channel there. Sling is available as a Roku channel.

Consider getting an antenna and DVR like Tivo or HomeRun to record the networks. Streaming the networks shows can be spotty as the networks are not consistent in what they stream or how they make the shows available. Some have Roku channels, others only allow you to watch from a computer, some make you subscribe, some don’t have all their shows available, etc. Even if you don’t get a DVR, still get an antenna so you can watch what is freely available.

The big advantage of cable is it’s simplicity. Just browse the guide and click the channel you want. Watching streaming channels is more complicated since you have to know which service to select, browse their menu system, deal with any technical glitches etc. If you have kids or older people in your house, streaming might not be for you.

Many cable channels are not available via Roku - or they are, but at an extra cost.

What that means is that as a cost savings, it may not be a simple tradeoff. If you only watch one or two cable channels, you might save money.

Depending on your ISP, if you stream a lot it’s conceivable you might run into some bandwidth limitations (or perhaps extra fees?).

Hey, who you calling “older people”?

And that should be “ITS simplicity.”

The OP can get a Roku, try it out while he still has cable, and see how he likes it.

Thank you, everyone, for your help.

CinnamonBabka - The only reason I’m thinking of ditching Dish is because if I’m going to Comcast for internet, I might as well switch TV, too. Unless I don’t need TV.

ThelmaLou - You can have Roku at the same time as Dish?

I watch mostly broadcast TV, and really not much of it. I watch things like TopChef on Bravo and old movies on Turner Classic Network. I’ve gotten into Walking Dead, and I know that Amazon sells them for $2/ep. Is there a way to subscribe to AMC?


In general, you cannot get any cable channel on streaming UNLESS you already have it on cable, and then your cable provider can give you a code to enable it on the Roku or whatever. (Exactly what use that is to anyone is beyond me - maybe to enable things like bedroom TVs without running a cable up there - but whoop-te-ding, ya know?)

You can get almost anything except HBO programs in one-day-delay for about that $2 an ep, slight discount for paying for the season.

HuluPlus has a LOT of mid-tier stuff under the basic $8 subscription; we watch all the CW comic-book shows on one-day delay there. We don’t watch most TV/cable fare so I can’t say whether your shows are available, but you can go look.

Most cable-cutters are people who realize that they’re paying a phenomenal amount of money for a river of content they only sip from. It’s now possible to buy those sips a la carte, as it were, or dissociated from the costly stuff, but you do give up live sports coverage and same-time viewing of broadcast (including cable channel) programs.

We’re so selective that getting rid of cable was a no-brainer, even with the handicap of having no local OTA channels to fill in for news, local sports, some programs, etc. (We’re in a ‘yellow’ coverage area even with a 50-foot mast.)

Oh - the other good thing about buying your programs directly is no commercials. At all. Hulu is variable; they clearly skip some commercial slots and tend to run two or three over and over in the others. Breaks are much shorter and there’s an ad counter to keep you informed. In general, cutting the cable cord reduces your advertising exposure about 95%. No bad thing.

Roku is just for internet streaming. So it really has no overlap with Dish.

An over-the-air antenna is great for this. If you want to DVR any broadcast TV, investing a TIVO that has OTA capabilities is the best bet.

The aforementioned Sling TV is the way I get AMC.

What does Sling do that these other options don’t? I recall it as being only a way to ‘sling’ your existing channels over a private streaming thread to, say, your media phone.

They stupidly used the Sling name for the TV service, causing this type of confusion. You’re already familiar with the Sling device which works like you describe to stream your own media to remote devices. Sling TV is totally different. It is a set of streaming cable channels you can subscribe to and has nothing to do with the Sling device.

Think of Sling TV as something offered by a cable provider to stream a subset of their cable channels. It has nothing to do with your own media.

Unfortunately, an over-the-air antenna doesn’t work for me because I live in a rural area, about 50 miles from Nashville and it’s big towers. I can live without local programming - I can get the news online. I guess I wouldn’t be able to see Jeopardy!, but I rarely get home for that, anyway. I don’t watch sports, shopping channels or religious channels.


Yes. The Roku connects directly with internet. A cable goes from the Roku to your router. I have a friend who has both and AFAIK she didn’t have to get any code/permission from her cable provider.

When you use the Roku, you direct the TV to it the way you do when you’re watching a DVD, i.e., you direct the TV to the DVD player. It doesn’t have anything to do with Dish or DirecTV.

I don’t know if this applies when you’re getting your internet and cable from the same provider.

We cut the cable last Fall and use Hulu and Netflix almost exclusively. We realized that we were not watching anything live but using the DVR for everything, so it was not much of a transition for us.

Ah, got it. It’s brand new, which threw me (thinking of Slingbox, as you correctly divined). I knew these “cable repackagers” were coming but didn’t realize this was one of them.

Even HBO has broken ranks and is offering its channels to the a la carte providers. That’s the keystone; the last foundation pieces are the various sports channels, which are horribly tangled in sport-favoring contracts and can’t simply jump ship.

In the past, I would recommend getting the Plex App, but I’m not sure it’s so good anymore. They’ve let most of the network stuff fall to the wayside. They seem to rely on volunteers, and no one seems to want to fix them. Before, it was great for pulling the shows off of the website and putting it on your TV.