What is Roku and Do I Need It?


No doubt you’ve spent at least a little time watching videos on YouTube. Maybe one like this. Did you ever wonder how that video gets to your screen?

The YouTube service “streams” that video to you. “Streaming” simply means that YouTube uses special protocols like RTSP (real time streaming protocol) to send that video to you so you can watch it in real time. You don’t need to download the video or save it on your hard drive to watch it.

Other websites like Pandora.com stream music in real time. Vimeo.com, Wimp.com and others stream video as well. There’s no doubt about it: streaming is here to stay because it delivers real entertainment value.

But what is Roku and what does it do?

Roku is a small black box that connects your TV to the Internet. It lets you stream videos from the Internet and show them on your TV – whether you have a picture tube TV, a flat screen TV or the latest 1,700 pound Panasonic 12-foot, 8-inch Plasma Flat Panel monster TV.

Roku Box and remote control
A Roku box and remote control is your connection to thousands of movies and TV shows through several channels on the Internet. Photo Credit: kristykristykristy

With a Roku black box you’ll be able to watch almost countless programs and movies on your TV that come from companies like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Here are just a few of the options you’ll have:

  • Netflix gives you access to about 12,000 feature movies that you can stream through your Roku box to your TV for around $8 per month.
  • Amazon is credited with having over 5,000 movies you can stream to your TV as well as new movie releases, TV shows and popular favorites.
  • Hulu lets you watch TV shows you might have missed for free, and for about $8 per month, it lets you watch past and current season shows from ABC, FOX, NBC-Universal and others.

OK. But what is Roku good for besides watching TV shows and movies?

Great question — and a surprising answer!

Software developers around the world have built Roku channels that deliver entertainment, education and games directly to your TV screen. There are channels for kids, channels for sports, fitness, lifestyles, outdoors, spirituality music, games and much more.

For example, the Games channels bring you everything from the latest Angry Birds to the iconic dot-chomping, ghost-avoiding PacMan, Reversi and Jeopardy. In the Fitness category you can get yoga, Pilates and step aerobics instruction. Whether you’re interested in cooking, bowling, sailing or tuning into the local police and fire radio, there are Roku channels for you. And most of them are free.

What You Need to Use Roku

what is roku, roku setupLet’s take a look at two factors:

  • First, you’ll need a broadband Internet connection that delivers at least 1.5Mbps (1.5 million bits per second). Your phone company can give you that speed using DSL (although be cautious of “DSL Lite” as it is limited to just half that speed). Alternately, all the cable TV companies that offer Internet service will deliver speeds that meet or exceed the 1.5 Mbps specification.
  • Second, you’ll want to decide whether you connect Roku to the Internet via wireless wi-fi or with a “Cat 5” Ethernet cable. The good news: if you have a wireless router, Roku works just fine via wireless Wi-fi, saving you the nuisance of having to run Cat 5 cable through your house.

Once you’ve connected the Roku to your Internet signal and to your TV, you’re ready to visit the Roku Channel Store and begin choosing the channels you want to watch. We’ve all learned that that Internet is a monstrous network of education, entertainment and fun. Now, with a Roku box you can bring that right onto the TV in your living room. Sit back and enjoy!

Now you can answer your friends, when they ask, “What is Roku and should I get it?” So what’s next? Learn more about Netflix, the nation’s largest streaming movie provider, and Hulu, best known for delivering TV shows and specials from the major networks. It’s becoming a “digital world” and it’s getting easier than ever to tap into just the resources and programming you personally want to bring into your living room.

what is roku and do i need it