Talking Telly: Roku provides a new way to watch lots of British TV

I’ve been looking for new ways to both downgrade my cable subscription (sorry, but BBC America is not offering enough real Brit programming to justify extended digital service anymore) and to be somewhat lazy and order what I want, when I want as far as TV and movies from the comfort of either couch and my HDTV or from my bedroom TV.

After much research, I invested in a Roku XD-S, which provides instant access to Netflix streaming, Amazon On Demand, Hulu Plus, and a host of other services (a full lineup of their offering is here. And it’s completely simple to set up – hook the box (about the size of an adult hand) up with a component cable or an HDMI cable to your TV, plug it in, make sure it’s getting a wifi connection (very important your wifi signal is strong), set up your services and your accounts (Netflix is $7.99 a month and Hulu Plus is about the same) and hook them up to thing like your Amazon account and your Pandora account. Then you’re set to go to town. No monthly fee on the Roku itself, BTW.

The British highlights on the main services:

Netflix: Unfortunately, the BBC’s agreement with Netflix for streaming media has just ended, so the selection is probably not as good as it was before. In particular, the last series of Doctor Who is not available streaming, but the last four were. However, there are some real gems in the classics department. At this moment, I’m watching A Bit Of Fry & Laurie – all the series are available. So is Black Adder, Red Dwarf, The IT Crowd (not the latest series, but hopefully soon), Hyperdrive, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Office (UK), Saxondale, Little Britain, and (surprisingly to me) one series of The Mitchell and Webb Look. Plus more. Oh, and Merlin, Jekyll, Torchwood (all series), Robin Hood, Survivors, Doc Martin, etc.

Hulu Plus: This is the one with the most potential of the growth of individual, non-BBC-owned shows. Peep Show Series 1-6 is now available on there (c’mon, Series 7!) There’s also some wonderful cult comedies like Black Books, Green Wing, and Spaced, as well as the wonderful country lawyer dramedy of Kingdom. The Office is also available here, as well as Coupling. This would be a terrific place for some panel shows to pop up in the future, since Hulu seems to sign up a lot with individual production houses instead of relying upon a network.

Amazon On Demand: This is a wonderful place to rent a lot of British TV and movies, but unfortunately it is not subscription-based so you could rack up some nasty charges if you decided, for instance, to do a Sherlock marathon ($4.99 for a rental apiece.) But you can find some nice things on sale – for instance, I got a 24-hour rental of Love Actually last night for 99-cents. For now this may be the fastest way to be able to download first-run programs that are made available, like the latest Doctor Who ep if you don’t have BBC America or download elsewhere. For some reason, they don’t offer a way to order subscriptions to full seasons on their streaming service as far as I can see.

A few other things: One of the channels available is Willow TV, which offers cricket matches (too bad I got this a week late for the Ashes.) Tune-In Radio is powered off of RadioTime.com, which has all of the BBC Radio stations available online but for some reason doesn’t make them available on Tune-In Radio (they also have the BBC TV nets available if you are in the right region.) But they do have local radio stations like XFM, Absolute Radio, Heart and others that work fine.

There’s a channel called Roku Newscaster that offers news updates and podcasts from various news sources, including the BBC. The BBC World Service has a large number of titles on offer.

So far I’m pleased with my Roku investment, because it seems like it’s going to be a way of pulling in sources of British TV that are good quality and perfectly legal quickly into my TV in high quality. I hope that the sources just continue to expand their foreign offerings, and that British networks look at how relatively easy it might be to offer a subscription service for a box like this for their current programming.

I’d also love to see YouTube availability on here (since that is, frankly, the best place to find current British TV episodes) but I’m not sure that will be happening. However, there is Vimeo, so maybe some of the British uploaders could switch platforms? Just an idea.

Comments

  1. avatar says

    Thanks for the rundown. Glad to see there’s lot of great content on the Roku. We have Comcast – and pay a fortune for it. We’re starting to really consider whether or not it’s worth paying for. There’s never anything on!

    We use a similar device – the WDTV – first gen, doesn’t have Netflix but it plays any media files we throw at it and that’s how we watch out Brit TV on our TV. There’s a new version out now that has Netflix built in and I’m eying that.

    • avatar says

      I almost got an Apple TV just because I wanted to be able to stream media files from my MacBook, but held off because there were few other media sources other than iTunes. My Roku has a USB port where you can plug in flash drives (and presumably other hard drives) with some types of files like MP3’s, but unfortunately not AVI right now. I hope that changes. Even if it doesn’t have anything like a built-in hard drive, the trade-off is that it’s so portable. Literally about 2 minutes to move it between TV’s.

      • avatarHeshgood Clarke-Ejuren says

        Please! Please! could you tell me as a British owner of a Roku box, are u able to receive GBTV here in the UK? I plan on getting the Roku XD, as long as i can receive gbtv here in the uk. so it would be wonderful and very helpful if i could get a reply from you, thank you so much.

  2. avatarGKElliott says

    You can get YouTube on Roku now. Roku provides developer tools for third parties to develop “private channels”. You have to access your Roku account from a computer and enter the cde for the channel you want. The YouTube channel works great.

    A list of these is at :
    http://www.roku-channels.com/home

    • avatar says

      Thanks so much! I’ve also heard there’s a way to set up a Slingbox connection on there too. I’ll have to do more digging.

    • avatarDana says

      There are several options that have been mentioned on the site, including VPN. That’s a great one if you’re watching live broadcasts and have robust broadband for the streams.

      There are a few reasons why I seek out options like Roku and encourage networks like the BBC to offer more options here. The main reason is that I want anyone, even the least tech-savvy consumers, to be able to find a program in a way that’s as simple as browsing through a cable box menu. I believe that’s the only way that a British TV alternative to a cable network will catch on enough for profitability and major popularity. I also like having an easy option to see shows in HD without figuring out what adapters will hook up to what ports on a computer.

      The second is that I sincerely want to pay to watch shows just like I pay for my US cable and my iTunes. If we as Americans pay for the shows we watch, we are doing our part to pay for the production and the actors’ hard work and aren’t dismissed as assumed copyright thieves. And with the BBC having enough financial problems as it is, I would love to do my share in saving quality programming that may yet be affected by the licence fee. We’re the biggest TV market in the world and largely untapped.

      Finally, as someone who loves to write about British TV but for a largely US audience, I want to know that there will be American readers who would read my reviews and be able to watch them completely legally and easily. You can watch them now in a way that’s legal, but I’m realistic in knowing that most Americans won’t because it’s not as easy as the alternative.

      This turned into a bit of a rant, but in a way it’s my answer to the “You can see it anyway, so why do you care about BBC America picking up the X-Files?” thing that popped up today, which is a whole ‘nother matter.

      • avatar says

        Very good points, all of them. I enjoyed reading your post and your self-named “rant”.

        I watch more Brit (and Canadian) shows than the 7+ few US shows I like (ex: Bones, House, The Good Wife, etc.). I ! like Dr. Who and for that I buy Amazon.

        The thing is that BBC does get a bit pricey in their thinking, probably coming from a half-empty thought process. Hence the heavy dollar they ask on DVD collections, for example, Dr. Who again. I expect if they finally see the truth in your statement about America being the largest TV market, mostly untapped as yet…. I hope they keep the prices to our normal way of thinking, not their current “half-empty” pricing.

        You are so right – they could really make some money tapping this market, if they do it correctly!

        Well, I cancelled my Cable a year ago, and use exclusively Roku. I could not be happier with my Netflix (I also have the DVD by mail options for the occasional use), and my HuluPlus. I have purchased on Amazon as well. I never miss anything, am fine with the minimal commercials on Hulu Plus, and will never go back to Cable unless somebody somewhere does something ruthless to us internet users.

        Would like more than the BBCA affords (not really a Top Gear enthusiast), and would really like the BBC to get on either Roku or add $ to HuluPlus to get programming.

        Will keep up with your posts. My mother turned me on to BTV 20 years ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since, watching more of it than American programming. Ah, Kingdom, and Monarch of the Glen. LOL.

        Off to Roku/Amazon for another Dr. Who Fix.

        Keep it up, Dana!
        :)

      • avatarKen Westmoreland says

        I don’t think watching TV from the UK through a VPN is theft – in the UK, you can watch the BBC iPlayer’s TV programmes without a TV licence. (And you can still use your Roku, though you’ll need help configuring your router with a VPN.) However, If you want to do the honourable thing and pay the TV licence fee, you can do it online, though you’ll need a UK address – perhaps pay for someone else! :)

    • avatar says

      Thanks for the info. I have downloaded it to my PC, and I have no idea what it is, but if I can get the BBC on it, I can always hook my PC/lap up to my TV to watch more comfortably. THANKS AGAIN for the tidbit.

      I still hope BBC gets onto Roku at some point, as I’m happy to pay reasonable fees to watch the programming I want, and only the stuff I want when I want it – on TV, like I can with my laptop and Netflix/HuluPlus and others.

      Looking forward to trying this out, David.

  3. avatarrhonda says

    Film On is a private channel broadcasting BBC 1/2/3, other British TV and an assortment of other live international programming. You can add it to your Roku on the add a channel page and enter the code: FILMON.

    I just stumbled across it a couple of days ago and had to share!

  4. avatar says

    @rhonda: I just added FilmOn private channel to my roku. I’m in USA. When I try viewing either with the iphone or ipad choices, none of the channels like BBC One, etc, will play for me. Do I have to reside in UK to view the BBC content?

    • avatarchevin says

      I also am having trouble trying to add private channels BBC1, BBC2, BBC3 and even FILMON that I have heard so much about is not recognized when I enter the code on the roku.com site. Have they removed those private channels or are they for certain regions, I am in Detroit, MI USA area.

      A sidenote about YOUTUBE. I was told that there isn’t a direct site but going thru a private channel you can view youtube videos. The channel that is best for viewing youtube videos is MyVideoBuzz. But adding this channe is different than adding a normal private channel. you don’t just punch in a code on roku.com. You have to go to MyVideoBuss.in and follow instructions on how to add. it requires enabling devloper mode on your roku and stuff. but the steps are easy to follow and quicker than it sounds. That site makes it real easy to add this channel and its free. but they do ask for donations, and in my opinion deserve a few bucks. but you decide.

      YOu definitely want to add myvideobuzz if you want a “youtube” channel. You tube is owned by google and they don’t want to give roku access to a youtube channel because google is trying to sell google.tv to compete with roku. so myvideobuzz sticks it to the man over at google.

  5. avatarDarren D says

    Roku is great – and you can now get british shows on the Acorn channel, and also you can watch youtube by downloading Plex channel