Hands on with new Roku Channel Store; is cable TV still worth the cost?

I've been testing out the Roku HD-XR and just this last weekend was sent some beta bits for their newly announced Roku Channel Store. The Roku Channel Store is available via a software update on all three Roku players, the Roku SD, Roku HD (original), and Roku HD-XR. After the update and Roku account activation you will find 10 new FREE channels that you can select from and also the ability to remove channels from your home screen. The 10 new channels provide content from blip.tv, Facebook Photos, Flickr, FrameChannel, Mediafly, MobileTribe, Motionbox, Pandora, Revision3 and TWiT. I loaded up and tried most of them on my Roku player and find that they may the Roku a much more useful and functional device, not that it already wasn't just with streaming Netflix support.

I've been testing out the Roku HD-XR and just this last weekend was sent some beta bits for their newly announced Roku Channel Store. The Roku Channel Store is available via a software update on all three Roku players, the Roku SD, Roku HD (original), and Roku HD-XR. After the update and Roku account activation you will find 10 new FREE channels that you can select from and also the ability to remove channels from your home screen. The 10 new channels provide content from blip.tv, Facebook Photos, Flickr, FrameChannel, Mediafly, MobileTribe, Motionbox, Pandora, Revision3 and TWiT. I loaded up and tried most of them on my Roku player and find that they may the Roku a much more useful and functional device, not that it already wasn't just with streaming Netflix support.

To be able to access these new channels, and future content that will be coming, you need to setup a Roku account. This is quick and easy and only takes a few seconds. As you add channels you will find that there are special websites you need to visit to sign up for content or activate your Roku player. These steps are also quick and easy to perform and explanations and confirmations are presented right on your TV. Channels can be easily managed on your Roku so you can try them out and remove and add them as often as you like. I am not a subscriber to the MLB content so was pleased to see I can now remove this channel from my lineup and not have to browse past its icon on the Roku home screen.

Anthony Wood, founder and CEO of Roku, Inc stated:

The Roku Channel Store turns the Roku player into the world’s first open platform designed specifically for the TV. Now content producers and distributors – from single person shops to billion dollar corporations – can deliver their content directly to consumers without having to go exclusively through cable operators, satellite networks or TV affiliates.

With some of these channels you actually need to setup your specific account access (Facebook, Google, Flickr) right in the channel on your Roku. A keyboard appears on your TV and you need to scroll right, left, up, and down to enter all the letters to setup your account. This is not the easiest process, but you only have to setup the account once. I would have preferred to have entered all these specific account settings on my computer and have them pushed down to the Roku through the Channel accounts.

Here is my take on five of the channels now available on the Roku players:

  • Pandora: You setup your Pandora account with this channel and can stream music from Pandora directly to your TV/home theater setup. I may now have to expand my current setup so I can enjoy an even better music experience through this service.
  • FrameChannel: This Roku Channel may actually be one that I use over other more specialized channels since it gives you access to photos, social networks (Twitter and Facebook included), weather, news, and many other channels in one. I was pleased to find a ZDNet channel and then saw that the content I create on my ZDNet blogs shows up in the channel. You can use this channel, through the FrameChannel website, to upload photos from your computer to view in the channel directly. You can also add RSS feeds to this channel and setup is all handled through the website so you don't have to use the long keyboard entry method on your TV and Roku.
  • Revision3: I have viewed some of this content before on my devices, but it is MUCH more enjoyable on my 37 inch LCD TV from the comfort of my couch. You will find several categories/channels within the Revision3 Roku Channel, including Techzilla, HD Nation & AppJudgment, Film Riot, Scam School, the Totally Rad Show and more. It was cool to watch Sascha Segan from PC Magazine talking about the latest smartphones on the channel just a few days after hanging out with Sascha at the Mobius event.
  • Flickr: I used to upload most of my photos to Flickr, but then rarely did anything with them after a few friends and family checked them out. With the new Flickr channel I can easily turn it on and the entire family can enjoy photos from our library and those from friends.
  • MobileTribe: MobileTribe is a service you sign up for to have Facebook, Myspace, Gmail, Orkut, Flickr and Picasa content appear on your Roku from one central location. They will also continue to add content partners so you will see expansion of your Roku from both Roku and Channel partners.

With the Roku player (Netflix and Amazon video support) and all of these new Roku Channels, I am finding less and less value in cable television.

Here are the other new channel descriptions, as provided by Roku:

  • Blip.tv, Blip.tv hosts and distributes the best independent web shows, syndicates content to the Roku player, iTunes, YouTube, Vimeo, NBC Local Media NY, AOL Video, Verizon FiOS, TiVO, Sony Bravia, and Facebook. Blip.tv attracts 81 million video views a month and splits ad revenues with show creators 50/50. For more info, visit http://blip.tv/.
  • Facebook Photos: With Facebook Photos all the photos you love to browse on Facebook.com are now available for viewing on the TV. Included in the channel is the ability to view slideshows of recent photos posted in your news feed as well as your personal photo albums or tagged photos. You can also browse your friend’s photo albums, all from the comfort of your couch.
  • Mediafly: Mediafly’s digital platform brings your favorite Internet content conveniently to devices you use in your digital lifestyle™. Over 6MM episodes, on virtually any topic…plus your own personal videos are readily available. Just set up once with Mediafly and you can enjoy the same content on TVs, mobile devices, computers, desktop devices, and PMPs.
  • Motionbox: Relive your best memories from the comfort of your living room. The Motionbox Channel lets you browse and watch your own home movies, in vivid HD, on your TV. Visit http://motionbox.com/go/roku to create a free account and start uploading videos!
  • TWiT.TV: Leo Laporte is Chief TWiT of the TWiT netcast network, host of "This Week in Tech" (the world's most popular technology podcast) and the nationally-syndicated "Tech Guy" radio show. Laporte is the former host of "Call For Help" and "The Screensavers" on TechTV. Laporte and other hosts on his network create more than 40 hours of live technology programming each week, streamed live at http://live.twit.tv. Laporte himself usually broadcasts without interruption from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific, five days a week. Leo Laporte, Chief TWiT of the TWiT netcast network and host of "This Week in Tech" (the world's most popular technology podcast) and the nationally-syndicated "Tech Guy" radio show, is bringing his network to the Roku.

What other content would you like to see added to the Roku player in the future? I would like to see support for YouTube videos, Hulu or other network TV streaming video content, and Zune streaming music. I wonder if cable TV providers will fight to keep network shows off the Roku network, but in the future people may find all of this kind of original content more enjoyable than network TV anyway.