A couple of weeks ago, in a rare moment of budgetary clarity, I emailed my wife and suggested we cancel our AT&T U-Verse cable service and buy an AppleTV device. For the $99 price of the magic little box, we would save ourselves $86 per month in subscription and equipment rental fees. Being that we’re in the process of cutting expenses and reducing debt (thanks, Dave Ramsey) it was a no-brainer. We’ve been AT&T customers for almost 3 years, having signed up as soon as their U-Verse service was available in our neighborhood. Before that, we had Time Warner.
For us, the decision was not about AppleTV’s capability of streaming on-demand TV shows and movies (for a rental fee). Who never actually paid to watch something downloaded from iTunes. We were using it as a digital middle-man, if you will. Paired with our iPad2, via AirtPlay Mirroring, we streamed TV shows, either from their network website, or from the network’s own apps, available in the App Store. Even for networks whose videos are Adobe Flash format (Fox), there’s an app for that! Download the Skyfire Web Brower for iPad (3.99).
Fast-forward several days, and I was becoming annoyed with having to go through the motions of just getting the TV set up to watch a non-rented show on Apple TV. It took several minutes to get everything on the right TV and stereo inputs, and to choose a show and then get it to display with sound properly on the TV. For some reason, we frequently had to re-start either the Apple TV, the iPad or back out of AirPlay mirroring just to get the sound to play with the show. And because the show was streamed over wi-fi, we were at the mercy of the network speed gods – which sometimes left the show displayed in very poor quality, or frozen on the screen for a second or two. I began looking for other options.
I ended up going with a Roku 2 XS. Its $99.99 sticker price matches the Apple TV but the Roku box held advantages I preferred over the Apple TV after comparing them.
- The Roku system displays shows in full 1080 HD. Using AirPlay mirroring, the shows streamed through AppleTV only came across at 720P at best, leaving much of our 46″ screen unused.
- The Roku system has a native Hulu Plus app. It still requires a $7.99/month subscription, but it freed up my iPad, which I’d rather use for other functions. I was also concerned about those times when I needed to take my iPad on a business trip or when the battery might go dead, leaving us without a TV option. Using Hulu Plus, I would still have that to watch shows if and when I do take the iPad on road trips.
- The Roku system has an Ethernet port (on the XS model), so your data stream is more reliable than when depending on a Wi-Fi signal as with AirPlay mirroring. You can also choose to use Wi-Fi if you like.
- Though it wasn’t a decision-making factor, Roku’s XS model also comes with a motion-sensing remote control, and “Angry Birds” pre-installed. I’ve already been playing it for years in my iPhone, but it’s a good feature for those without smartphones, or are shy about letting the kiddos handle their fragile phones.
I’m returning the Apple TV today. The only thing I’ll really miss about it is being able to stream music from my iPhone and/or Mac desktop computer to it. But if I want to play music from my phone on my home stereo, all I really need is a $6 audio cable from Radio Shack. Put one end in your iPhone’s headphone jack, and the other end in your stereo’s audio input.
In short, canceling our cable service and buying the Roku XS 2 as a replacement is saving us almost $1,000 a year! Sure, I’ll miss ESPN, Discovery Channel and a few others, but are they worth $1,000 a year? We could all use more time spent exercising, reading, or playing with our kids anyway.