Cable television is expensive. Too expensive for most thrifty types. There was a time when I had a cable subscription–$110 a month that didn’t even include premium channels. So I switched to free broadcast television. After the nationwide switchover to digital TV in 2009, watching television was a hassle even with the digital converter box. I was pondering a return to cable when a friend suggested I try a Roku streaming device. The devices are $100 or less, plug directly into any TV and allow viewers to instantly watch programs from sites like Hulu, Netflix and Crackle.

What is the Roku Streaming Device?

Roku is the brand name of data streaming devices from Netflix. The Roku plugs into your TV and streams Internet content from sites like Netflix, CNBC, Fox News, Hulu and Amazon. The device also receives audio channels like Pandora. An Internet connection is required to use it. Wi-Fi is probably best. The device is compatible with any TV, including HD.

What models are available?

There are currently four Roku models, and each is priced differently. The Roku LT is the most affordable model at about $50. The Roku 2 HD costs around $60, the Roku 2 XD about $80, and the Roku 2 XS about $100. Features increase with the dollar amount. For example, the  XD/XS Roku models support 1080p as well as 720p video, while the lower-end models only support 720p. The more expensive models also offer a microSD storage card and a Bluetooth game remote control. Check out the models here.

What can you watch with the Roku?

With Roku you get 500+ video/audio channels, movies and TV shows. Many channels are unique to Roku and include Pub-D-Hub (classic movies and TV shows station), Uinterview (celebrity interviews), America's Wars (war documentaries) and Healthy Food (healthy cooking). Any content available on your computer is also available through the Roku. I tend to watch Netflix-based movies because I subscribe to the service. For a bit of variety, go to Roku's Channel store on the TV screen and peruse available categories.  Most channels are available at no charge but some do cost $1-$3 to watch or purchase. The Roku Guide offers helpful channel reviews.

Other subscription services will also work on Roku, like Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime. These services provide access to premium cable content like HBO, Comedy Central or Showtime.

How Much Savings from Cable TV?

When I used to pay for cable, it added up to a whopping $1,320 a year. In the last year I spent $100 on the Roku device and another $8 a month for a streaming Netflix subscription. That adds up $196 (I don’t factor in an Internet connection). I figure I’ve saved more than $1,200 a year on home entertainment!

 This has been a guest post by Halina from Madison, WI.
Find out more about the KCL Contributor Network!