Roku 3 box cover
Cover of the Roku 3 box

May lead to great disappointments

| It all began last year when I got hooked on Downton Abbey, then in its 4th season on PBS.

Apart from being terribly confused by who all these people were, I was constantly lost at clear allusions to seasons 1–3. "Just go to Netflix and watch them," said Jim helpfully. Except that Netflix didn't have the show, since PBS sells the DVDs on their own website. That disappointment reinforced my opinion that Netflix is pretty much useless to me: very few movies; even fewer new movies of quality; and a surfeit of TV series, almost none of which were of interest.

Fast forward to this March. I ordered something from Amazon and was offered a one-month free trial of Amazon Prime that includes not only free shipping but access to Amazon's Instant Video services, much of which is free if you have Prime.

And glory hallelujah, there on Amazon were Downton Abbey, seasons 1–4! I could watch them on my Kindle Fire. Which I did for several eye-glazing hours. But wait, if there's an app for my Kindle, maybe there's an app for my TV or my Blu-ray. After all, both have lots of internet capability built right in.

Only problem was, the Amazon app only works on selected "smart" TVs, and while mine has apps for dozens of other streaming services, at four-years old, they are ancient in tech years and the Amazon app is "not supported." Darn.

But wait, there must be a way! Of course I could have replaced the TV and Blu-ray with newer models, but that would be a big cost for little benefit, really.

Then I learned about Amazon Fire TV, a little streaming gadget that you could attach to your TV and use it to get not only Amazon Instant Video but other sources as well. I jumped on the web and ordered one.

Then I learned about Roku 3, which does much the same thing as Fire TV except better, according to many reviews that I read. (A big criticism of the other streaming devices is that they don't give the user control over what shows on their home screen and always push their own content, even if you never watch it. Roku 3 lets you control which apps appear on the home screen and doesn't prioritize their own content.) I jumped on the web and ordered one. I would try them both and return the one I liked less.

The Roku 3 arrived yesterday, and this morning I set it up. Three wires: power, ethernet (also works with Wi-Fi), and HDMI out to the TV.

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Set up of Roku 3 streaming device and remote control

It also has ear buds that plug into the remote, which has a lanyard attached so you can hang it around your neck! Useless for me, but imagine if you wanted to watch something without disturbing someone else.

When I turned on the TV it was already at the main Roku 3 setup window. All I had to do was choose wired or wireless internet and register the specific unit on the roku website. Piece o' cake!

Signing in for Amazon Instant Video
Signing in for Amazon Instant Video

After choosing the Amazon Instant Video app, I had to sign in with my Amazon username and password, and Voilà! Beautiful, full-screen, smooth (not herky-jerky) video of Downton Abbey, season 1.

I was so happy I immediately went down to the UPS store to drop off my return of the Fire TV. I didn't even try the Fire TV, based on the reviews that I read.

And a good word about Amazon's return policy. When I submitted my request online to return the Fire TV, I was provided with a pre-paid UPS return label and an authorization to put in the box. Of course, they will deduct the cost of UPS shipping from my refund, but $7 is less than I would have paid myself. Shortly after I got back home, I received an email saying they had processed the refund; they must coordinate with UPS so they know I've dropped off the device.

The Roku 3 has a very simple, elegant design. The device itself is less than 3½ inches square and the user interface is uncluttered and intuitive. Content is organized in "channels" and within a channel, each streaming source is represented by a tile.

Home screen
The Roku 3 home screen

When I have more time I will have to explore what you actually get with things like HBO Go, SHO Anytime, TWC TV and so forth. At the very least I'm sure you have to "register" and get some sort of ID. I'd be very surprised, however, if you have access to their entire catalog of goodies.

Last updated on Apr 29, 2016

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