Category Archives: Roku

On-demand is the next TiVo

TiVo revolutionized the way we watch television, allowing us to record, pause and rewind live TV broadcasts and even skip commercial content. TiVo is second nature to us now; in fact, it’s even become a verb.

To the networks and advertisers, it posed a slight challenge to not only prime-time TV — by allowing users to watch content on their schedule — but also commercials. If users could record a program and watch it whenever they chose, what would happen to prime-time TV and advertising?

But in every way TiVo has changed our lives, and commercials, On-Demand TV is set to overshadow it completely. And one day, become the main source of TV entertainment.

On-Demand refers to content that’s available in a digitally recorded format like videos on Netflix, Hulu Plus or other streaming services; pay cable services like Time Warner On-Demand or Comcast On-Demand; or premium cable like HBO GO and Showtime On-Demand. Right now, the On-Demand offerings from cable companies are a bonus offered with a pay-TV subscription. Others feature On-Demand movies that cost as much as $6 per rental.

What I’m suggesting is that, in the near future, our television content will be built around On-Demand offerings. There will still be live TV, however it will be delivered through the Internet. A delivery method referred to as IPTV or Internet Protocol TV. Comcast is already testing IPTV at MIT.

On-Demand puts the entire TV experience — Movies, News, Sports, TV shows — on the user’s schedule, not the networks. For the majority of you still enjoying pay-TV, on the network’s schedule, think about how TiVo has changed our lives. Can you imagine TV without TiVO? Ten years from now On-Demand will have the same effect, only greater.

To me — now more than one year into my cable-cutting lifestyle — On-Demand TV is second-nature. When I want to watch a particular show, I watch the show, whether it’s 7pm, 7:20pm or 2am. The Colbert Report; Saturday Night Live; Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares; Lie to Me; 30 Rock; Comedy Central; Weeds; MasterChef; Mad Men; The Office; SportsCenter; even NBC News, CBS, ABC, or older shows like Arrested Development, a new obsession of mine even though the show concluded in 2006. On-Demand increases the shelf-life of television, therefore increasing the benefit to advertisers.

With On-Demand, users don’t have to wait for it to be on. It’s always on. And waiting.

I’m so accustomed to On-Demand that when I travel, I bring my Roku with me. The last two weeks I’ve been out of town. I’m staying at a Residence Inn by Marriott, equipped with everything I’d need for my three-week stay: refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave, flat-screen HDTV including HBO, ESPN and more. Everything, that is, but my On-Demand TV content.

I hooked up my Roku and rarely flipped on pay-TV, even with premium cable like HBO included. Below is a photo of my Roku XD, which I bought at Best Buy for $79.99. Roku is completely subscription free and offers Internet apps including Netflix; Hulu Plus; Amazon Instant Video; Pandora; CNet; Blip.tv; Break.com; Crackle; Facebook Photos; FlickrNASA; Revision3; NBA Game Time; MLB.tv; NHL Game Center; and Roku Newscaster, a Channel featuring news from all the major news outlets and more: Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC. For Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video a subscription to each is required. For more on Roku, read my in-depth review here.

Prime Time? What Prime Time? There’s no more Prime Time TV with On-Demand. Prime Time is up to the viewer.

What that also means for both viewers and networks — in addition to advertisers — is that a viewer can join the show at any time and catch up immediately via previous seasons On-Demand.

Viewership, and TV ratings, become more like a magazine, with a longer shelf-life. Not only for the television content but advertising as well. As I mentioned, I’m watching Arrested Development, which first aired in 2003 and ended in 2006. I was able to start with Season 1, episode 1.

With Hulu Plus — a great model for On-Demand TV — advertising is incorporated into each program — usually two ads per commercial break totaling about 60 seconds. They’re unable to be skipped; but actually, I wouldn’t anyway. The break is actually nice. On-Demand has changed the way I view TV and commercials. And will soon change TV all together.

The biggest fear of cable and TV networks today is the broadcast to on-demand delay. Cable companies and networks are attempting to increase the time it takes from broadcast until it becomes available on-demand for Netflix, Hulu or any other IPTV service. Fox announced last week that it was limiting the next-day streaming of content on Fox.com and Hulu.com in an attempt to curb the adoption of On-Demand streaming.

The networks can fight all they want. Their efforts are only delaying the inevitable.


Xbox 360: Microsoft’s entertainment powerhouse

Now six years old, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is a veteran entertainment powerhouse, combining high-def gaming, hands-free control with Kinect, Internet video from Netflix and Hulu Plus and live streaming video from ESPN.

What more can you ask for from an aging console? Well, how about Live TV integration and Skype?

“This is only the beginning,” said head of Xbox Live Mark Whitten at E3 2011.

LIVE TV COMING TO XBOX this FALL:

Microsoft announced on June 6, 2011 that Live TV is coming to Xbox 360 this fall via Xbox Live. Head of Xbox Live Mark Whitten failed to give concrete details on Live TV but in an interview with The Seattle Times, Microsoft’s vice president of global marketing Mike Delman shed a little more light on the service.

“It will be tied to either a satellite broadcast company or a cable company. So in international markets, you’ll just have one provider. In the U.S., it will be bifurcated by region, by market. You’ll be a Comcast guy [in Seattle], for example,” Delman told The Seattle Times.

Other soon-to-appear features were unveiled at E3. In addition to Live TV, Xbox is getting YouTube, Bing and complete voice control through Kinect.

Xbox Kinect was introduced in Q4 2010. Since its inception, Kinect has helped push Xbox 360 sales and offer a new way to game, to control and to experience living-room entertainment.

According to Reuters, Kinect has sold 10 million units since its launch last fall, becoming the fastest-selling consumer electronics device. The motion device allows users to control Kinect-compatible games and applications via gesture and voice commands, completely controller-free.

“You no longer have to navigate through the menus to find content,” Whitten said of Kinect at E3.

According to CNET’s Erica Ogg, when Bing is introduced, users will be able to use its search function to find more content to watch by searching the web, YouTube, Live TV and all the services on Xbox Live including existing services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. The Kinect’s voice control will also allow users to search for content with voice commands.

Microsoft Acquires Skype 

Skype is coming to Xbox 360’s console via Xbox Live after Micrsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype in May. The pairing of Kinect and Skype makes perfect sense, and moves Microsoft’s Xbox to another area of our lives: business and communication.

“Skype is a phenomenal service that is loved by millions of people around the world,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “Together we will create the future of real-time communications so people can easily stay connected to family, friends, clients and colleagues anywhere in the world.”

Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype must still reportedly receive regulatory antitrust approvals before the deal is finalized.

Xbox Live is the center of it all

Behind every announcement, every acquisition and every new feature is Xbox Live. Microsoft clearly has big plans for its Xbox Live service.

According to WinRumors.com, Xbox Live will be built into Windows 8, Microsoft’s next operating system. The service was recently introduced on Microsoft’s Windows phone.

“Live has been successful on the Windows Phone. Live will be built into the PC,” Microsoft’s vice president of global marketing Mike Delman told The Seattle Times. “It will be the service where you get your entertainment.”

A subscription is required to access Xbox Live and its growing list of services. Namely, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Live and On-demand video content from ESPN and some of the best streaming news content available anywhere with NBC News.

NBC News on Xbox Live

With the NBC News channel on Xbox Live, users have on-demand access to today’s news in a variety of categories, most of which contain 15 clips from the most-recent episodes or topics.

NBC News Content:

  • Top News
  • Most Viewed
  • NBC Nightly News
  • Today Show (25 of the latest clips)
  • Entertainment
  • US News
  • World News
  • Politics
  • Space/Science
  • Meet the Press
  • Dateline NBC (Preview of next TV episode)
  • MSNBC TV
  • Weird News

NBC News on Xbox Live offers on-demand, up-to-date news content, allowing users to pause, fast-forward and rewind commercial-free news content. It’s by far some of the best streaming news around, second only to Roku’s Newscaster.

I’ve told you before that if I had to pick one streaming box it’d be Roku. I still feel that way. But if I had to pick one gaming system, it would be Xbox 360. Apparently I’m not alone.

Xbox 360 sales on the rise

In the console’s sixth year on the market, Xbox 360 sales continue to increase at an unprecedented rate.

xbox 360 sales
Source: DigitalTrends.com

We may one day look back on 2011 as the year that video game systems became more than a simple toy. Microsoft has successfully launched and maintained a true home-entertainment hub. Games. Video. Kinect. Search. Live Streaming Video. And now Skype. 

Xbox 360 has far surpassed the normal shelf-life of video-game systems. And with sales still on the rise, Microsoft seems to have the game figured out: Innovation. With Kinect and streaming video from Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN and NBC News, Microsoft is not only following the movement; it’s leading it.

Source: CNet, Reuters, Xbox, WinRumors, The Seattle Times, Gamespy.com, All Things Digital, Digital Trends, Mashable, Fast Company

Internet TV gains support from Comcast, testing IPTV

The dividing lines between Netflix and its cable competitors were blurred even further when Comcast, the largest cable operator, announced it will begin testing an IPTV service, a method of delivering content through the Internet.

Comcast announced on May 25 that it will start testing IPTV, an acronym for Internet Protocol Television, at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in the coming months.

IPTV can be used for Live Video, On-Demand Video (VOD) and delayed programming like a DVR. The technology is already in use today. Netflix, Hulu PlusRoku, live-streaming services like U-Stream and Live Stream, as well as AT&T‘s U-Verse TV, are all using the Internet to deliver video content straight to our television sets.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association held its 60th annual Cable Show last week in Chicago’s McCormick Place. The Cable Show is a three-day event that displays the latest technology and innovations in cable. From delivery methods, to content, to advertising and promotions.

Comcast displayed its Xcalibur guide — which uses the cloud and features a comprehensive search engine and social media components — through an IPTV connection.

Comcast also recently announced a partnership with Internet-video-conferencing service Skype, again utilizing IPTV. More on that in a future post, but here’s a quick video from NCTA, showing Skype on Xfinity TV:

If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: the future of television is through the Internet. And Comcast is proving it won’t sit back and let other Internet services push it aside.

Comcast is fighting back with the introduction of its own IPTV delivery and partnership with Skype in an attempt to fend off rivals like Netflix and maintain its position as one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.

“We want to deliver video everywhere people want to watch it,” Comcast’s president of converged products Sam Schwartz  was quoted in The Wall Street Journal. “We have to do a better job getting people to realize what they are paying us for.”

Predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable

A Netflix-red-hot topic on this blog and certainly in the tech world is the rise of Internet TV and the belief that it will some day replace cable TV as our chief source of home entertainment.

In previous posts, I’ve covered My Cord-Cutting Experience; Netflix; Hulu Plus; Roku; and even my comprehensive Internet TV Guide. Now I’d like to offer a few predictions on the current status of these services and the future of Internet TV and pay TV based on my first-hand experience and research over the past 13 months.

First let’s take a look at the playing field. Right now we’ve got powerhouse Netflix. Then Hulu Plus. And Amazon Instant Video. And other services like Crackle, PlayOn, and Internet Apps from a variety of providers including Roku, Sony, Apple, Google, Samsung, Vizio, Boxee and more.

Note the very distinct difference between unlimited streaming like Netflix and video-on-demand (VOD) services like Vudu. An example: Warner Bros. recently announced  a deal to rent movies through social-networking behemoth Facebook. Many news outlets suggested this deal, through Facebook, would challenge Netflix. That’s dead-wrong. The deal, as it stands now, is video-on-demand. A charge per Warner Bros. movie –a version of yesterday’s pay-per-view — not unlimited streaming.

There’s a feeling you get when you graduate high school and head off to college. It’s a special kind of freedom that’s hard to describe. You can make your own decisions. Stay out late and do pretty much whatever you want.

That’s how Netflix is living. No cable-backed parent over its shoulder. Big Red’s got nothing holding it back. Though CEO Reed Hastings recently said he’s not competing with premium cable like HBO, I don’t believe him.  [Hastings has made similar comments in the past only to contradict himself later. Take his stance on original programming. Hastings said the company wasn’t in the business of original programming until Netflix gained exclusive rights to original series House of Cards in March of this year.]

Hulu, on the other hand, is still living at home. And its parents watch cable. Hulu is jointly owned by Comcast’s NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and global private equity investment first Providence Equity Partners. In the sale of NBC Universal to Comcast in late January, GE had to relinquish its decision-making power and 32% stake of Hulu. (See my media ownership post here.) The deal gave Comcast 51% control of NBC Universal, now labeled NBCUniversal (no space and no peacock). Previously, GE owned 80 percent. Prior to the sale, GE purchased the remaining 20 percent stake from Vivendi Universal. GE’s stake in NBCUniversal is now 49 percent, though according to USA Today the company plans to completely remove its shares over the next eight years.

With Comcast holding stake in Hulu, I don’t see how Hulu Plus will fully commit to Internet TV in fear of making cable obsolete. That is, if Comcast has anything to do with it.

Studios and cable companies still seem hesitant to enter the streaming game full-steam. In part because it threatens pay TV and also because nobody knows where it’s headed. Fear of the unknown. But the conversion is happening, albeit slowly. It will likely continue at that pace until we reach an Internet-TV tipping point.

Watch for studios to start their own services on a smaller scale. I predicted just last week that premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime would roll-out their own subscription-based offerings.

One week after my prediction, Time Warner announced the acquisition of movie-discovery service Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes, as well as plans to develop an expanded video service. Though no plans of including any HBO content, per the report. [HBO recently introduced HBO GO, an extension of its premium cable channel. It is free with a paid subscription to HBO and is not a stand-alone or even subscription-based offering.]

From the Business Wire release: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group will utilize the powerful Flixster brand and technical expertise to launch a number of initiatives designed to grow digital content ownership, including the recently announced consumer application “Digital Everywhere.” This studio-agnostic application will be the ultimate destination for consumers to organize and access their entire digital library from anywhere on the device of their choice, as well as to share recommendations and discover new content. The Flixster acquisition and “Digital Everywhere,” combined with the Studio’s support of the UltraViolet format are all part of an overall strategy to give consumers even more freedom, utility and value for their digital purchases.

I’d watch for more studios and content owners to explore options for skipping the middle man and becoming the means of distribution for their content.

Studios like Disney, CBS, Viacom, and premium cable like Starz and Encore (both owned by Liberty Media Corp.) will all look in this direction. At first, simply to supplement their current revenue model.

Recent rumors had big firms like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Hulu and Dish Network teaming up to potentially launch a Netflix competitor.

Netflix is gaining a huge lead — the company just surpassed Comcast’s pay TV subscribers as the largest video-streaming service in North America –but in time there will be a number of subscription-streaming services. With overlap in content. For example, Netflix and Hulu offer some of the same programming or channels, while other programming is exclusive to the provider. Much like the DirecTV-Dish battle of today. (Or Netflix vs. Hulu Plus.) Only I see more competitors in the ring.

Right now, in 2011, we’re witnessing the easy part. There’s a clear distinction between pay TV and Netflix. Wait five years and we’ll see the transition taking place: cable companies — like Comcast, Time Warner, Viacom, and even satellite TV providers Dish and DirecTV — developing stand-alone Internet-TV subscriptions, separate from their pay TV plan.

So, at that end-point, what will be the difference between pay TV and TV over Internet, other than the means of distribution? First, the customization. Consumers will choose what content they want and when they want it. Whether it’s subscription services like Netflix or specific channels like, say, HBO’s Internet Channel. Second, the cost. The cost will be more in the Internet service and the streaming box, instead of paying to receive 300 predetermined channels. Subscriptions to our content will have to decline, as we see with Netflix subscription rates compared to that of a typical cable plan.

A few final talking points if pay TV as we know it today will move online and stream to our living rooms. 1) Live Newscasts; 2) Live Sporting Events; 3) Local News; 4) Advertising and 5) Local Advertising.

Live News is already happening on Roku, on the free Newscaster app. Al Jazeera streams live all day. In fact, I’m watching the live Al Jazeera stream as I write this section. So the capability is there. And Roku has a DVR-like function that lets you pause, rewind and resume the live feed. How about Sporting Events?

Xbox 360’s got that covered with its ESPN 3 app featuring live broadcasts and up-to-date sportscasts on a variety of sports. Roku’s got live coverage too including MLB TV, NBA Game Time, NHL and UFC. Local News is now streaming as well. Roku announced via Twitter on April 16 that it had added the first local news broadcast, Channel3000, a CBS News affiliate from Madison, Wisconsin. Roku pulls video from Channel3000′s website and makes it playable for free on the Roku player.

National News is better than ever on-demand with Xbox 360’s NBC News channel. Update: Roku introduced an NBC News channel in December of 2011, as well as CNBC Real-Time and Wall Street Journal Live.

Now Advertising. Hulu Plus has done the best job of incorporating video advertising into its content, using the pay TV model, ads within programming. A few of Roku’s internet apps have video ads as well as banner ads. How about Local Advertising, targeted just like Internet banner ads, based on location determined by the user’s IP address? But probably the greatest potential for the future of TV advertising is the connectivity. Imagine a television ad with a purchase, more info or social media one remote-click away.

It’s like cable, only customized and connected to the Internet. And on the consumer’s schedule. Almost as if every show on TV was Tivo’d for us. The consumer decides not only what content is displayed on his or her dashboard, but when it’s on.

Within the next 10 years, I see the Internet as our means of distribution for all television content. As broadband access becomes ubiquitous, like mobile phones and smartphones after it, the future of pay TV will be clear. Combine Netflix’s vast library of TV and Movies, Roku’s app-interface with the ad-model of Hulu Plus  and mix in ESPN3’s live sports on Xbox 360 and you’ve got the future of pay TV.

We have the capability of all of these services today. It’ll just take someone to put it all together.

The future of TV is one box, connected to all of our subscriptions and video content including Movies, TV, News, Sports, Weather, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Local News channels, Live News and Live Sports. All at our fingertips. A media hub, allowing consumers to pick and choose the content they’d like displayed on their dashboards. A La Carte television. Complete consumer control.

Roku, a glimpse into the future of TV

After a few weeks of oogling the Roku Streaming Player at Best Buy like a teenage boy in the adult magazine aisle I finally made the purchase.

It’s everything I envisioned and then some. Much like that boy, I imagine.

In fact, Roku‘s interface and connectivity is how I envision not only the future of Internet TV  but television as a whole. One box, connected to all of our subscriptions and video content including Movies, TV, News, Sports, Weather, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Facebook, NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live, CNBC and more. Including Local News and Live Streaming video. Live video feeds that you can, get this, pause like a DVR.

Disclaimer: I was not paid by Roku or Best Buy for this feature. However, if someone from Roku or Best Buy would like to send my a check, I’m willing to accept payment and/or bribery for future posts.

For someone interested in trying online video and streaming content to a TV, Roku is the fastest, easiest and least expensive way to break into Internet TV. In fact, it might even be the best thing out there. Put simply, Roku kicks some serious ass.

No PC needed here. Roku is as simple as it gets. Roku connects wirelessly to your home network. And Roku HD starts at just $59.99. I went with the Roku XD for $79.99 which features 1080p HD quality streaming. Roku also offers one of the finer collections of Internet apps including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, Roku Newscaster, CNet, Blip.tv, Break.com, Crackle, Facebook Photos, Flickr, Last.fm, NASA, Picasa, Revision3, NBA, MLB, NHL and, actually, a ton of other applications.

My Roku XD, at $79.99, offering 1080p high-definition streaming of Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, CNet, Roku Newscaster, Pandora and a ton more.

Fits in your pocket (though I wouldn’t sit down)

Roku might be small in stature, but it packs a big punch. “There’s a ton of entertainment in this little box” is slapped on the Roku packaging. Roku offers a number of Internet apps that stream content to your TV through the Roku player subscription free.

The device is 5′ x 5′, which is about the size of a compact disc, and only one-inch high.

  

Roku offers three models: Roku HD, Roku XD and Roku XDS. Pricing starts at $59.99 for the Roku HD, $79.99 for XD and $99.99 for XDS. Note: Since this post, Roku has introduced a new line of Roku players. For the current line of Roku products, click here.

The Roku HD model offers a max of 720p high-definition. The XDS offers 1080p as well with bonus features like extended-range wireless and a USB port for playing pictures, music or videos. For a full breakdown of each model, head over to Rokuhere.

About Roku

Roku was founded in 2003 by ReplayTV* founder Anthony Wood. ReplayTV is credited with being the first-ever digital video recorder (DVR). Wood is also VP of Internet TV at Netflix, a position he’s held since April 16, 2007, after founding Roku but before Netflix moved from computer to living room.

In 2008, Roku introduced the first player to stream Netflix to a traditional TV. Some reports list Roku as a “spin-off” of Netflix, Inc. Netflix was an early supporter of Roku, with a $6 million investment. Per Bloomberg.com, Netflix has since sold its stake of Roku to Menlo Ventures. I called Netflix, Inc at its offices in Los Gatos, California, to confirm these findings but no one was available for comment. An email to Roku was not returned by post time.

Though Netflix was the beginning for Roku, it only grew from there. Roku features an open platform that allows any content provider to create software for the Roku Player. It’s a strategy that seems to have paid off.

“We’re opening up the platform to anyone who wants to put their video service on this box,” Wood was quoted in 2008 by Wired. “We’re going to release the software developer kit, so anyone can publish any channel, and users can access web content on their TVs.”

*ReplayTV is now a subsidiary of DirecTV, as it was acquired in 2007. Roku is a privately held consumer electronics company headquartered in Saratoga, California. Anthony Wood is listed as ReplayTV, Inc President of Products and Director.

Roku features and ease-of-use

Roku works with nearly any television set. From new to old, which makes it the perfect my-first-streaming box.

I tested mine on a 10-year-old Sanyo set with no HDMI inputs. Roku can also connect to newer sets with HDMI, offering 1080p HD video quality. And because of its easy set-up, I can move it around from TV-to-TV with little trouble, whether it’s from an old set to a new one or vice versa.

I said it’s easy. In fact, the Roku doesn’t even have a power button. Zero buttons on this unit, though it comes with a 12-button remote. It’s not your typical streaming device. It acts more like a wireless router than a media player. A hub for streaming content.

All it takes is a power cable and audio/video hookup, whether it’s the supplied AV cables or an HDMI cable (sold separately). By the way, any HDMI cable will do; don’t be misled by advertised ‘high-quality’ HDMI cables. I’d suggest paying no more than $35 for them.

Note: Since this post, Roku has introduced a new line of Roku players. For the current line of Roku products, click here.

How it works

Roku features a Netflix-like interface. You start at the Home screen and have access to all of your Channels. Enter a Channel by clicking it, then you’ll have access to all content within that Channel. 

Inside a Channel: Roku Newscaster

Roku Newscaster is a Channel featuring news from all the major news outlets and more: Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC.

Clicking a news source within the Newscaster will display up-to-date news content that you can watch instantly on your TV. Let’s take NBC for example. The NBC app within Roku Newscaster gives you access to the following: Hardball with Chris Mathews, The Rachel Maddow Show, Meet the Press, NBC Nightly News, Today, Morning Joe, Mad Money with Jim Cramer, The Suze Orman Show and Your Business.

Most of he content is from the day of the broadcast. On Friday, April 22, content is from that day’s show. Though some series, like Tech Report from CBS, displayed content from the day-of and the past week.

The Roku Newscaster, and all shows within it, is completely subscription free.

This basic structure of the Roku Newscaster is how all Channels work, from News to Music and Podcasts.

The Roku Channel Store

In the Roku Channel Store, you can browse available Channels and add them to your Home Screen. View channels by a number of categories or select All Channels.

Update: Dec. 11, 2011. In the last few weeks, Roku’s been busy adding channels to its already impressive lineup. New channels include NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live and CNBC Real-Time.


Roku’s content is what sets it apart 

News, Movies, TV, Podcasts, Music, Weather, Sports, Social Networking, Photo-Sharing, it’s all here. Roku really has it all. Including popular subscription services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.

 Subscription services

If you’ve got a subscription to Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video, you can connect your subscription to your Roku player, thus connecting it your TV.

Subscription services include: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, MLB TV, NBA, NHL Vault, UFC, Movie Vault, Flickstream TV, Sirius XM and more.

How much longer will it be before premium cable services like Showtime and HBO embrace these devices and offer subscriptions without cable plans, directly to consumers? Would parent companies CBS (Showtime) and Time Warner (HBO), a cable company itself, dare to make cable unnecessary? Or could they develop their own streaming boxes/services? For my post on Media Ownership, click here.

Even without Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video, Roku has a lot of great free content.

 Free Content

In addition to the Roku Newscaster, featured above, other free apps include Break.com, TWIT.TV (This week in Tech), Crackle, CNet, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), Revision3, Blip.TV, Pandora, Last.fm, Classical TV, Weather Undergound, NASA, a slew of music apps, Weather, Photo-sharing apps, International News, Religion & Spirituality channels, and even more news content — though Roku’s own Newscaster is all you’ll likely need with access to Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC.

Update: Dec. 11, 2011. In the last few weeks, Roku’s been busy adding channels to its already impressive lineup. New channels include NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live and CNBC Real-Time.

 Live video streaming

Roku can even stream live video. Case-in-point: Al Jazeera (English) broadcasts live every day. And get this: you can pause the live feed. Sound familiar? You didn’t think Roku founder Anthony Wood, who also happened to create the first DVR in ReplayTV, would forget his roots did you? Other Live streaming video from CNN International as well as Ustream.tv.

 Local News

Roku is the first streaming player on the market to offer Local News. On April 16, Roku announced via Twitter that it had added the first local news broadcast, Channel3000, a CBS News affiliate from Madison, Wisconsin. Roku pulls video from Channel3000’s website and makes it playable for free on the Roku player. Channel3000 is currently the only local channel available, but it’s also the only local channel on any streaming player. Watch for more local stations to add their content to Roku in the coming year.

How Roku stacks up

If you’ve been waiting to jump into the Internet TV world, Roku is a perfect place to start. And a great place to finish.

From all of the Internet TV devices I’ve tested, Roku is my favorite. Its Newscaster is just what I’ve been searching for, up-to-date (and in some cases live) video news from a variety of sources.

For current Netflix or Hulu Plus subscribers, Roku is an easy way to stream content to any TV in your home. I actually prefer Netflix on Roku to anything else I’ve tested including Sony Blu-ray players, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii. Starting at only $59.99, Roku offers enough extra content to make it well worth the purchase. Roku is really a no-brainer.

Devices like Roku are bridging the gap between Internet TV and Cable, giving users access to web content, moves and TV shows with Netflix, Hulu Plus and premium sports content from the NHL, NBA, UFC and MLB and now Local News and Live Streaming. Roku is bringing Internet TV just one step closer to the complete TV experience.

One year into my cable-free life, things are beginning to feel, in some ways, a little familiar. I’ve got hundreds of channels, endless content and not enough time to watch it all.

The only difference is, with Internet TV, there’s always something on.

If you enjoyed this post, check out My Predictions for Internet TV and the Future of Cable.

Source: Roku.com, Engadget, Wired, Bloomberg.com, HackingNetflix, Tech Crunch TV Interview with Anthony Wood. Images: Cnet, HackingNetflix, Roku.com, GigaOM, businesswire.com