Q. I read that Roku, the Internet TV set-top, has thousands of channels. But are they free? is there a monthly fee like TiVo has? — Katherine, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
For those not familiar with Roku, it’s a set-top box (or streaming stick) that can send video and audio channels over the Internet to your TV. You connect the Roku set-top to your TV using an HDMI cable and then capture the signals either using your wireless home network or a direct wired connection. (The Roku streaming stick is connected directly into the HDMI port.)
(If you are interested in buying a Roku set-top or stick, please check out this option from Amazon.com or this one. )
Katherine, you’ll be happy to know that Roku does not require a monthly fee like TiVo.
The difference in the two is that TiVo is a DVR which allows you to record programming from traditional TV channels for future viewing. (Some TiVos offer other features as well, including streaming from services such as Netflix.) Roku is a set-top box that allows you to watch and listen to channels that are available on the Internet; the company does not charge you a fee for this.
So, what’s the catch? Do you have to pay anything?
Well…yes. For starters, Roku products start at around $30.
Second, Roku offers a mix of free and subscription-only or PPV channels. The latter category includes Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Sling TV, DIRECTV Now, Showtime, Hulu, Vudu, MLB.TV, HBO Now and the NFL Sunday Ticket, among many, many others. They either require a paid subscription or, in the case of Vudu, a Pay-Per-View fee for each movie you watch.
But Roku has quite a few free channels, too, such as the CW, YouTube, Pandora, CBS News, PBS, PBS Kids, Crackle, Pluto, WeatherNation, Sky News, TechCrunch, CNET, Popular Science, NASA, Vevo, IHeartRadio, TuneIn, Smithsonian Channel and Twitch.
Roku also has its own free channel, called The Roku Channel, which offers movies for no extra charge.
You can also watch a number of on-demand versions of cable channels for no extra charge if you subscribe to them through your cable, satellite or telco TV service. This category includes HBO Go.
You can get more information on Roku’s channel lineup here.
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— Phillip Swann