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Adventures in Roku

rokuLet me just state at the start of this post…that when it comes to home entertainment, I’m a physical media disciple. 
 
dvdI like to own movies. I like to own TV shows.  From the time I bought my first VHS player in 1986 with a bonus I received from my then place of employment (despite my father’s objections, who thought such appliances were a “luxury”) I have home recorded movies/TV programs to keep for my own enjoyment…and bought even more along the way.  Getting a DVD player in 1999 only compounded this obsession; I jokingly refer from time to time about “the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives” but these archives are filled with enough classic movies and TV shows that I could step away from the blog right now to start watching and still not finish by the time the Grim Reaper strolls in and remarks: “Oooh! Gunsmoke!  (That might be why I must pare down the archives with eBay purges when the occasion presents itself.  Or whenever I get “The Look” from a certain matriarch.) 
 
So...when it comes to streaming media…I’m not against the concept, though I can certainly understand the point of view of those people who question why you’d ever want to watch a movie on your iPhone.  I’ve availed myself of the occasional free Netflix subscription in the past, and like any other normal, red-blooded human being have succumbed to the siren song of YouTube, stumbling across some novelty from my television-obsessed past.  (For example: somebody put up some episodes of one my DVD Holy Grails, the short-lived 1981-82 sitcom Open All Night.  Thanks, Vinnie.)  But money is always in critical supply here at Rancho Yesteryear, and as such, investing in a monthly Netflix subscription or any other service wouldn’t be the best bucks I’ve ever spent (I refer you back to the second paragraph under “dusty TDOY archives”).  I need that bread for blank DVDs most of the time. 
 
And then…the Roku arrived. 
 
trackdownI’m getting ahead of my story, of course.  You see, my Facebook compadre Richard Claiborne messaged me one day, asking if by any chance did I (or someone I know) have a copy of the Trackdown episode “The Farrand Story.”  He was putting together a complete run of the 1957-59 Western series and his copy of “Farrand” had an embarrassing video glitch (his backup copy wasn’t much better).  As luck would have it, it was one of the episodes that I previously snagged from Heroes & Icons (I think I had managed to transfer the first 20 shows to DVD-R before something else needed my immediate attention) and with a nice free software program that allowed me to rip “Farrand” and slip it into his Dropbox account (to avoid any lengthy USPS delays), we were off to the races.  Richard then offered to send me all of the Trackdown episodes (including the Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre pilot, “Badge of Honor”) on disc, saving me the arduous task of transferring all the remaining installments I still had on the DVR and...well, allowing me to delete them to free up DVR space in general. 
 
“Do you have a streaming player like a Roku?” he then asked me.  I told him that my Blu-ray player had some WiFi options like Netflix and YouTube and the like, but no, I didn’t have a Roku.  Richard explained that he had two older models of the digital media player that still worked perfectly fine…so he slipped one in with the discs he mailed me.  Richard sent this by media mail from Arizona on a Friday and it arrived at Castle Yesteryear that following Monday, breaking all land speed records by the USPS.  (He later had to send me a second package with an IDMI cord [I couldn’t locate one in the house] and two replacement Trackdown discs [small snafu in the recording], and from then on it was done, sold, Bob’s your uncle.)  Setting up the Roku was surprisingly easy (there’s a reason why I’ve never made the cover of Techie Monthly) once I overcame the setback that the card on which my WiFi password was scrawled on has disappeared into some alternate dimension here in the House of Yesteryear.  I called the Windstream people for some assistance and after jumping through the customary hoops to speak to an actual human being, they told me without the slightest trace of concealed mirth: “It’s on the back of the modem, dumbass.” 
 
(Note: The customer service representative did not actually say this, in case someone from Windstream is reading this. I put it in because it sounded funny.) 
 
pluto-tvThe Roku is now installed on the living room TV, and I’m not gonna lie to you: you can have a lot of fun playing around with this device.  Much of the content available will require some sort of cash or equivalent (strings and beads, animal pelts, etc.) but you’d be amazed at a lot of the free stuff you can access—the only drawback is, of course, you have to sit through the commercials.  (In other words: not unlike regular television.)  Richard had some suggestions on channels that might be of interest, notably Pluto TV—a service where you can access channels offering news, sports, TV shows/movies, etc.; they have channels, for example, that air nothing but episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax, and their news channels selection will allow me to watch RT America, which we forfeited when we restructured our DISH program packaging some time back. 
 
24-7-retroFriend of the blog and TDOY contributor Curt Ladiner recommended World Harvest Television for some classic TV content of the public domain variety…though sadly, their programming seems to have shrunk to just The Roy Rogers Show and The Lone Ranger, which are amply offered on our DISH channel Folk TV.  (Come to think of it, every “family” channel has this, along with Lassie and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.)  I had a little better luck with TCT Kids, another heavy-on-the-religion outlet that nevertheless has “family” entertainment on the menu; I caught the last of a Roy Rogers programmer, Home in Oklahoma (1946), playing last night and the first 15 minutes of a Private Secretary rerun.  On my own, I stumbled onto 24/7 Retro: they offer handfuls of classic TV and movies (again, nothing they have to pay for) and I was very entertained by a vintage You Bet Your Life outing where one of the contestants was Groucho’s daughter Melinda.  (They ran a Red Skelton Show after that, but by that time I was ready to hit the hay.) 
 
criterion-channelIf it seems as if I’ve zeroed in a little too much on the classic public domain channels it’s because 1) I groove on that sort of thing, and b) I’m a really cheap bastard.  (I was attracted to a channel that offered up OTR reruns of Gunsmoke but I wasn’t crazy about ponying up the monthly tariff.)  There are plenty of Roku options that offer the new movies a lot of people will want to see, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and if you’re willing to endure commercial breaks you can bypass any opening of your wallet with outlets like Vudu and Sony Crackle.  Here’s the deal: we shell out enough each month for the DISH system (though I’m working on finding a way around this that won’t require confusing the hell out of the ‘rents—Mom refers to my new toy as the “kudzu”) and there’s plenty of entertainment on that so I don’t have to pay for other options…although when The Criterion Channel starts up in April, I may have shifted my position on this.  Part of the fun on Roku is like what I call “prospecting”: in looking over a channel entitled 50s Television I found in the Jack Benny section a nice-looking print of Buck Benny Rides Again (1940).  (I do not know if this feature gets interrupted by commercials; I watched one of the half-hour Benny shows and it had a couple of annoying ad breaks [plus it was a video that someone recorded off the old CBN channel].)  They’ve recently added two channels that feature the complete runs of Dangerous Assignment and The Lawless Years, and there are offerings that serve up everything from Laurel & Hardy to The Three Stooges.
 
My fellow classic movie blogger and “old movie weirdo” Will McKinley opined on Twitter one night (in referencing the just-announced Apple TV): “There is literally nobody sitting around thinking, ‘Wow. I wish I had more new content to watch.’ But there are MANY of us who wish we could have access to older movies and shows that are hard to find.” Brother Will speaks wisely and well; though the Luddites will have to be dragged kicking and screaming, it appears that streaming is here to stay…and with a nifty little device like the Roku, it’s a tragedy that someone isn’t out there capitalizing on plundering whatever vaults they keep this stuff in to make sure it’s not completely covered in cobwebs by the time we gain access. 

7 thoughts on “Adventures in Roku

  1. I finally caved and got Netflix, which I had resisted for a long time, and that alone offers more material than I realized. You easily navigate all these different channels and systems. Do you ever reach a point where it all seems too much to choose from?

    I’ve written about how I think it’s possible to devalue all this pop culture stuff we love when it can be had so easily. You and I can remember when catching a certain old movie on TV was really special because it was so rare. Watching it would practically be an event.

    Now it’s more likely that same old movie can either be bought on Amazon or streamed somewhere online, and it’s not as special anymore. Does that loss ever bother you?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that because I gravitate toward older movies I’m immune to Netflix because they really don’t offer a lot of what I like to watch. Netflix has classics, but most of what’s in their library are flicks I’ve either already seen or stuff in which I don’t have a great deal of interest. Truth be told, the last time I had a free month of Netflix I mostly watched reruns of ‘ALLO ‘ALLO and FAWLTY TOWERS though I did catch a couple of recent films (THE BIG SHORT [2015] and the documentary TOWER [2016], which I enjoyed very much).

      But I do get your point about it all losing its luster because of its accessibility. I think that because you and remember when it wasn’t available to us helps us keep it all in perspective. I’m really on the fence with regards to The Criterion Channel: they’ll no doubt have some offerings that I’m not familiar with (and would very much like to see) but I’m just not sure I want to pony up for it. Maybe I’ll kick the tires and take it out for a spin.

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  2. My Roku and I have been close friends for several years now. If you have a public library card, you probably have access to free Roku-delivered digital content through Hoopla or Kanopy. I don’t know about Kanopy, but Hoopla has a smattering of classic TV (e.g., Dick Van Dyke Show, Doris Day Show) plus a bunch of nostalgic Disney (review forthcoming on Davy Crockett and the River Pirates). The only catch with Hoopla is you’re limited to X number of title per month (five for me).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the tip, Rick. I used to have a card at the old Athens library but I think it’s expired; however, I have been meaning to get one at our local library here in Winterville. I will need to check this out.

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  3. Ivan,
    If you would like some free OTR channels install the BatPlayer app and search for “old time radio”. There’s a Gunsmoke/Dragnet station named Radio181.
    Regards,
    Barry

    Liked by 1 person

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