Review: Roku LT + Plex Media Server
While the wife’s away, the husband will play. In this case, he has played to great practical effect and at very low cost. It’s an all-natural a combination, Roku LT + Plex Media Server, that delivers all of our iTunes movies, shows and music into the living room plus a whole lot more.
What’s more? The Roku LT + Plex also put Amazon Prime Instant Video (free with Prime), Apple Movie Trailers, Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Earth Touch, FFFFound!, Funny or Die, Hulu, Live Music Archive, NickJr, NPR, PBS, Pitchfork, Revision3, SoundCloud, TED, TWiT and Vimeo.
Add in the dozen or so digital broadcast channels we get over the air and, wow, there’s a lot to watch in the living room — should’ve done this years ago!
Roku LT: The Revolution Will Be Streamed
Of course, you will need a Roku (Roku’s coupons/deals page) and a broadband internet connection shared around your home or office via wifi. You can also buy a Roku via Amazon and there are deals to be found there.
I went with the Roku LT ($49.99, free shipping) because it offers composite connectors that work with our 34-inch CRT TV, which is serviceable if not fashionable. Should we decide to get an LCD or plasma somewhere down the road, the LT includes an HDMI port.
The package includes the 720p Roku LT box, remote (old style, no headphone jack), sidebar style wall wort and composite cable. I purchased direct from Roku (sales tax applied, free shipping) and it arrived in three days.
Whereas it took the kids and I a good half hour to sort out the cabling (i.e. legacy devices), actually plugging in and setting up the Roku took only about 10 minutes. The basic set up included the Roku logging onto our home (Airport Extreme Base Station 802.11n) wi-fi network, phoning home, downloading and installing a software update.
When that was done, the Roku presented a code that I input on the company’s website, a total of four steps that included setting up an account, providing a credit card number (Grrr!) and selecting at least one station.
Of course, you only get charged if you buy a service (i.e. NetFlix, Hulus Plus, etc.). However, giving them a credit card number also provides a lot of other information that Roku et al (direct marketers?) will make use of.
Adding an existing streaming service account to the Roku (i.e. Amazon, Hulu, etc.) is easy, but similarly requires the input of a Roku generated code on that service’s site. Thereafter, it just works.
The Roku remote is a tad small for this man’s hands, but it’s still very useable and the paucity of buttons makes it easy to use.
These small annoyances aside, Roku makes setup easy and fast. Further, the user interface is obvious and easy to navigate — the company has clearly put effort into making this product easy to use.
Plex: Settings and Then Some
Plex Media Server is available for Mac, as well as Linux and Windows. To run it, you will need an Intel Core Duo or faster Mac with 1GB RAM (2GB recommended) running OS OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or higher — very modest requirements.
TIP:Plex channels and sync are available via Plex for iPad ($4.99) and Plex for iPhone + iPod touch ($4.99) without running the Plex Media Server. For my family, however, getting iTunes movies, shows and music into the living room was elemental.
Whereas the Roku LT is a breeze, setting up Plex takes time. Though not difficult per se, there are more than a couple tabs and many settings to consider. For example, each and every channel has to be added manually. Additionally, there are many settings and preferences that need looking over if not tweaking.
Further, Plex is a mixed app that resides on your Mac which is configured via your default browser or the Plex app on the Roku. And, how to get the next thing done sometimes isn’t obvious.
For example, after the server and channel setup processes were “completed,” it would have been quite helpful if Plex had asked what devices (i.e. Roku) I wanted to set up. Lacking that, a Google search delivered the need information — How do I connect the Plex Channel on Roku to Plex Media Server running on my computer — and the job got done.
There are also plugins — scores of them — that add shows, cable channels, broadcast channels, music and tons of other stuff on your Roku, as well.
Because Plex is an app/channel on the Roku, using Plex is as easy as using the Roku. That said, the graphical menu based user interface is only as efficient as the Roku itself (i.e. easy, functional and yet sometimes tedious).
Again, Plex setup isn’t difficult per se, but could easily take you an hour, but it’s worth it because Plex does cool stuff in addition to all of the channels, shows, etc. and putting your iTunes content onto Roku.
Plex organizes shows in your iTunes Library by season, adds abstracts and artwork. It works similar magic on music — album art, artist bios and more. Again, for movies, there is magic, too.
It’s more than a pity that iTunes doesn’t do as much.
Roku LT + Plex: Conclusions
And, here’s the bottom line — we get broadband via Time Warner (15Mbps, $53) and a dozen broadcast HD channels in the living room. With the Roku + Plex, we also get scores of streamed channels, shows, podcasts, radio, TV, movies and, well, tons of stuff. The additional cost? Aside from the $50 price tag of the Roku, absolutely no additional charges are due now or in the future — done.
Yes, we do pay for Amazon Prime, but that was a calculation made long before the Roku — Prime Instant Video is a very nice fringe benefit!
Yes, lots of you will choose to subscribe to Hulu Plus, Netflix, etc. That, however, is your choice and not a cable company edict — get what you want.
We “cut the cable” years ago. With the Roku LT + Plex, I can’t imagine paying for television ever again…
What’s your take?