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.