Roku 3 Review, As Promised Early Last Week

Image lifted directly from Roku.com, but it's take an awful lot of chutzpah for them to complain about it.

Image lifted directly from Roku.com, but it’d take an awful lot of arrogance for them to dare complain about it.

 

Both CYC Headquarters (unincorporated Clark County, NV) and CYC Winter Headquarters (Napili-Honokowai, HI) have what’s best styled as an acceptable level of technology. No video game system (thanks, but we’re adults), no 3D TV, no wireless subwoofers (alas, ours are wired.) The general rule is that any technological advancements should ease our lives, not further complicate them. An integrated car stereo that lets you play music and take phone calls at the touch of a button or through voice activation? Sure, if the price is right. An inflatable movie screen? Come on. There’s a reason why The Sharper Image went out of business.

The corollary to the general rule is that good technology should reduce if not eliminate clutter. Many years ago, the fat, disgusting, tobacco-addicted and genitally odoriferous ex-spouse of a CYC principal bought a living room wall’s worth of VHS movies, most of which never even made it out of the shrinkwrap. A decade ago, a musicophile had to lug one’s entire CD collection into the vehicle in order to satisfy eclectic tastes. (There’s nothing more adorable than seeing a modern-day car with the CD sleeve behind the sun visor. The driver can choose among 8 of her favorites!)

Having been availed of Apple TV, Google Chromecast etc., we decided to enter the world of digital video players. We checked out Roku’s latest iteration, the Roku 3; bought one, and have yet to regret our decision.

The device itself is an unassuming flat black cuboid, a Piet Mondrian hockey puck. This particular model, $89 on Amazon, is Roku’s only one designed specifically for HDTVs. Out of the gate we should mention that $89 is the cost in its entirety: there are no monthly fees, usage charges, shakedowns or anything like that. As for the unit itself, among other capabilities it lets your TV access streaming services (Pandora, Hulu, Netflix, and hundreds upon hundreds more.) From our experience, Pandora on an iPhone is swell, Pandora on a laptop can be unwieldy, but Pandora on a living room big screen is fantastic.

The Roku availed us of similar services that we didn’t know existed. M-Go? Sounds reasonable. HBO Go? Sure, why not? Flixster, Pop Flix, ADC, Viewster, Pub-D-Hub, and at this point we think they’re just screwing with us. At least half of these names have got to be dummy services – a Potemkin village of entertainment choices for the modern palate.

And that’s just for viewing. The listening services include dozens more choices that outpace the human ear’s capacity. There are even choices so arcane that just knowing they exist is entertainment enough: like CHN Network, ”dedicated to covering news within Canada and the Caribbean community.”

But here’s the trippy part- the Roku feature that we use most often isn’t even listed among its major selling points. Roku can play your music collection and/or your photo collection directly from your iPhone (or Android phone, presumably.) The “and/or” designation is critical, too. You can play your music through your TV’s speakers while the screen features a slideshow (or still shot) of your choice. Or you can just play the photos. Or you can just play the music. (If you do, the visual accompaniment is the artist/album/song information and associated artwork, bouncing around in screensaver fashion.)

Better still, Roku makes Google Play and iPhone apps that turn your phone into a remote. From personal experience, it works perfectly. Even better than that, this does not render superfluous the remote that comes with the Roku box itself. That remote has a headphone jack. Which means that if one person wants to watch or listen to something grating and cacophonous, with a pair of headphones the remainder of the household can be spared.

Built-in wireless. Ethernet if that’s your thing. Motion control for games, and something about Angry Birds (sorry, we started wandering off when talk turned to video games.) The Roku 3 includes a microSD card slot and a USB port, too. That’s in addition to the HDMI cable port you need to get the thing working. Once you’re up and running you can search for movies, TV shows etc. via Roku’s comprehensive on-screen menu. You will never again go back to the cumbersome method of selecting various services on your computer and looking at them individually.

The only downside is that Roku can’t play DRM-protected content from, say, the iTunes store. And if you heeded our advice and bought music from a Russian knock-off digital media store that offers a wider selection than iTunes does and sells everything at 90% off Apple’s prices, that’d be a non-issue.

When we think of how as recently as 2008 we hired a crooked audio/video installer to spend weeks wiring our home with superfluous services such as multiple iPhone ports throughout the house (we needed only one, and now that Apple made the iPhone 1/3″ higher and incorporated the 8-pin Lightning dock connector, even that one port is useless), it makes us want to cry. Being able to play music from an iPhone mounted on the wall used to be the height of luxury. Now it’s outmoded, superseded by our newfound ability to play music, movies, and probably even porn directly through our TV. Thank you, Jesus, and thank you, Roku.

This was not a compensated post. The folks at Roku didn’t give us so much as a single shiny farthing. But this is a personal finance site, and we figured it was worth your while to know that you can buy what once would have been hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of entertainment features and capabilities for a mere $89 (slightly more if ordered directly from the company.)

5 Secret Black Friday Deals Retailers Don’t Want You To Know About

 

Use coupons! Get there early! Make a list!

Use coupons! Get there early! Make a list!

 

We don’t do that list nonsense here. That’s just a disconnected headline crafted in an unscrupulous attempt to get more eyeballs viewing our site than normal. Same deal with the picture.

Instead we’re going to tell you the mobile phone equivalent of why you should never trade in your vehicle at the dealer, and how you can effortlessly save $180-200 or so in the process. 

But why would you want to read about that when The Simple Dollar is holding an earnest discussion on the wisdom of saving $8 a year by not flushing your toilets? Yeah, go read that instead. 520 words that Trent Hamm spent a minute excreting out and then let fester in the bowl for some reason. And more people read his blog than this one. That makes sense.

Electronics go obsolete, that’s what they do. If you’re Naomi Klein or some other similarly joyless harpy, you consider obsolescence to be the result of corporatist overlords dictating your purchasing habits. If you’re a normal intelligent person, you understand that progress is dynamic and that things improve. Miss Klein would have you driving a 1975 Pinto with no air conditioning, no anti-lock brakes, no satellite radio, no airbags and no foldable 3rd row seat. But enough about her and her carbon-sustainable lifestyle.

The Apple iPhone 5S, 64GB, retails for $849. (Yes, we linked to Apple.com. Because they need our uncompensated help to sell iPhones.) Its predecessor, the iPhone 5, is defunct. Its predecessor, which we’re guessing more people upgraded to the 5S from than from the iPhone 5, is the 4S, and here our journey begins.

A CYC author’s 2-year-old 4S was starting to act a little groggily. Also it was 2 years old, which as anyone with a mobile contract knows means that now’s the time to upgrade without having to pay a fee. Of course, it also means you’re locked in for a couple more years with said provider, but there are only 3 others to choose among and the price differences are minimal. Either that or use a pay-as-you-go service like Boost Mobile, but those are for poor people and drug dealers.

Buy My Tronics is a slick and effective resale market for folks looking to upgrade their phones, laptops et al. We’d used it in the past, not knowing any better. There was no bidding involved, no fear of dealing with someone unscrupulous on the other end, so it was our natural first choice for resale this time around. And then, as fate would have it, two days before the brand-new 5S was supposed to arrive from China, this happened:

$T2eC16Z,!)oFIeLoOq2OBSVvpHZV0g~~60_57

 

…to an otherwise well-maintained phone that had endured only the most superficial of scratches over the previous 2 years. After countless drops it never lost resiliency nor effectiveness, and then one morning it looked like that. Placed it on the bed, on a soft fluffy mattress, and it came up looking like that. No idea why.

On Buy My Tronics, that unmistakable but purely cosmetic rupture cost $94, reducing their offer from $147 to $53. At that point, taking the trouble to go to the post office and mail it to Buy My Tronics’ processing facility was debatable. Could we get $53 worth of remaining fun out of the iPhone 4S by taking it out into the desert and shooting it instead? (Yes, that’s our answer for everything.)

Now what? A Craigslist ad costs nothing, but there’s also no quality control among buyers. Particularly for an easily stealable item that retails for hundreds of dollars and that fits in one’s hand. An eBay ad costs 10% of the sale price, but you have to go to the trouble of creating an account in order to bid. And, of course, there’s also the feedback ratings.

Long story short, we got $265 for the phone. From a guy in Russia, but he used PayPal and we’re confident we won’t get hosed.

Here’s a truth that’s easy to ignore,  given that it’s so self-evident: multiple bidders means happy times for a seller. Especially when the bidders know what each other are bidding. The point of this post isn’t “Stop the presses, the CYC people figured out how eBay works.” It’s reminding people that the incremental effort involved in spending a few minutes writing an eBay ad makes a hell of a lot more sense than shipping your still-valuable goods to an institutional buyer who a) offers only a single, take-it-or-leave-it price and b) is going to lowball you because they’re going to sell the phone to someone else.

One more time: Always look at each transaction from the other party’s perspective. The Russian guy just wants a phone, or so we think. At the very least, he’s willing to pay something approaching retail price for our 2nd-hand, slightly damaged remnants. Buy My Tronics wants to pay wholesale prices, seeing as they’re essentially a wholesaler. There’s no reason to do business with the latter and not the former.

Do we even need to mention that we didn’t bother looking at selling it back to our wireless provider? Its $147 offer – and that was pre-crack – served only as a starting point. Free information for us, giving us an opportunity to gauge our phone’s worth on eBay and set a reserve price. Again, the fewer bidders, the worse the deal you’ll get. If you can’t increase the number of bidders, at least figure out what the other party’s looking for.

Throwing Away The Packaging

 

Make us an offer. We’re not using it.

 

(This post contains repeated references to video games, a subject we know nothing about. Forgive us in advance if our descriptions are stilted, ignorant, or both.)

A few days ago, Boston Red Sox owner and investor/former commodities broker John Henry bought the Boston Globe for $70 million. The paper sold for $1.1 billion 20 years ago, meaning it’s lost 95% of its value. Why would a rational, profit-maximizing businessman buy into a dying industry, even at what seems to be a low price? Not a rhetorical question, especially since newspapers are notorious for being operated by people not known for their aptitude with a dollar.

Henry didn’t buy a newspaper. He bought some sweet real estate, with a disposable information delivery system thrown in. (We don’t mean that the newspapers themselves can be discarded. We mean the very apparatus that creates and distributes the papers is ancillary to the deal.) The building that houses the Globe could sell, today, for at least $5 million more than Henry paid. (Granted, that number comes from the Globe‘s crosstown rival. But, as we said in high school debating class, still.)

The additional $1.03 billion in value that the Globe (oh, enough with this pretentious italicizing of newspaper names, like they’re somehow deserving of a higher status than other commercial enterprises aren’t) commanded in 1993 was illusory. Today the paper and what’s printed on it, and even its website, have negligible worth. All that matters in this transaction is the commodity that, as Will Rogers pointed out, “they ain’t making any more of.” But “Local Tycoon Buys 135 Morrissey Boulevard” isn’t much of a headline. (On a side note, Henry insisted that the previous owners – The New York Times Corporation – hold on to $100 million in pension liabilities. Which they did. If business deals had referees, this one would have called a TKO several rounds ago.)

So the paper was the marquee acquisition, but as such trades go, strictly a throw-in. The Mike Krushelnyski of the deal. Right now you’re saying to yourself, or possibly aloud, “Why are these idiots wasting my time with a story about a billionaire’s latest endeavor? This has no bearing nor application to my life.”

Pish. Also, posh. Earlier today, the CYC principals spent $100 and became proud owners of their first-ever video game: Madden NFL 25. Specifically, Madden NFL 25 Anniversary Edition. For Xbox. We weren’t daunted in the least by the reality that we don’t own an Xbox. Nor would we know what to do with one if we did. We do, however, enjoy watching our de facto national pastime. And here’s what prompted us to buy a product we have no utility for: said edition of Madden comes with a code good for a season of NFL Sunday Ticket Max. We bought a retinue of NFL games and got a superfluous video game for good measure.

(If you know what NFL Sunday Ticket is, skip this paragraph.) If you’re European, a fan of Broadway, or both, we can explain that NFL Sunday Ticket is a TV subscription package that lets people watch football games they’d normally be unable to. The National Football League plays 80% of its schedule on Sunday afternoons (and mornings, in the time zones that CYC headquarters shuttles between.) There are 32 teams in the league, which means that often 4 and sometimes as many as 10 games are going on simultaneously on Sundays. With the NFL knowing the value of scarcity, and the human head having 18 eyes too few to take in all the games anyway, viewers who rely on basic over-the-air broadcast TV have only 1 or 2 games available in their particular region at any given time. (Said Sunday games are broadcast on CBS and Fox, which are available to 99% of American homes, without charge.) If you live in Phoenix, you’re probably not going to get to see the Miami Dolphins play. If you live in Jamestown, North Dakota, the Houston Texans are often going to be nothing more than a rumor. But Sunday Ticket changed all that, making theoretically any game available to anyone willing to pay to watch it.

Sunday Ticket Max, as distinguished from Sunday Ticket, also includes the glorious Red Zone Channel. It features live cuts to the most crucial moments of each game, non-stop, with no commercials. Which is so amazing that it warrants both italicizing and boldfacing. The catch is that Sunday Ticket is only available via DirecTV, a company we happen to patronize already. And as long as we’re listing catches, this deal is only available via Amazon. And EA Sports is making only 100,000 copies of the Anniversary Edition.

Sunday Ticket Max normally costs $300 a season. And unlike its unMaxed counterpart, allows you to watch games on iPads and stuff.

As best we can tell, the video game without the DirecTV code – the non-Anniversary Edition – will sell for somewhere around $55 on eBay. So for $45, we’ll be getting $300 worth of beautiful, bellicose, brain-deadening NFL action. Barely a dollar a game. (Also, CYC’s Winter Headquarters are in a condo complex, one whose cable package bafflingly excludes The NFL Network. Which meant that watching Thursday night games, shown exclusively on The NFL Network, required us to visit the local bar and inhale smoke. No more, given that Sunday Ticket allows us to watch Thursday night games too.)

Today’s lesson? When you reach into your wallet, remember that ultimately you’re not buying a “product” – a good or a service. You’re buying a benefit. The old advertising axiom fits perfectly here: “People don’t want soap. They want clean hands.” The soap is secondary. In our case, the video game was secondary. Even better, we can sell it, let someone else enjoy its benefit, and extricate said benefit from the only one we care about – the ability to watch football at our leisure.