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Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Amazon Instant Video & My Favorite Roku Channels

Copyright © 2012 Richard Beaty

Continuing our series on Internet TV, this month I want to introduce you to Amazon Instant Video, and I’m going to review my favorite channels from the Roku Channel Store.

Amazon Instant Video

Amazon has grown from exclusively an online book seller to become the “Wal-Mart of online retailers.” At, you can buy everything from computers to light bulbs; from macaroni and cheese to lug nuts.

Not interested in lug nuts … How about the “Amazon Instant Video” service?

For a year or two now, Amazon has offered this service on a pay-per-program basis. You could either rent a program, where it would be available for streaming to you for a few days, or buy the program, in which case it would be permanently available to you online.

Then, last year Amazon threw down the gauntlet to Netflix by announcing that members of their “Amazon Prime” program could stream unlimited “Prime Instant Videos” for free. Prior to that time, Amazon Prime was simply a premium shipping option, where your $79 simply got you fast shipping on Amazon products. Now for the same $79 a year, you get unlimited streaming of all movies and TV episodes in the Prime Instant Video program.

Netflix vs. Amazon Prime

Currently, Amazon Instant Video offers almost as many programs as Netflix, and their content library is growing rapidly.  At $79 a year for Prime Instant Video, their subscription price is less than the almost $100 Netflix annual “Watch Instantly” price. I subscribe to both Netflix streaming service and Amazon Prime Instant Videos. For me, Amazon Prime Instant Video is a “gimmee,” because I was an Amazon Prime member before the videos were included.

The Netflix on-screen menu and queue system used to be a lot better than that of Amazon. But the Amazon system has improved, and I would now put it on a par with Netflix. Netflix is still my default choice, just out of habit. That could change, depending on what happens to Netflix content options after February 28 when Netflix loses their Starz Play programming (discussed last month).

My Favorite Roku Channels

Of all the Internet TV hardware options discussed in my January article, my favorite by far is Roku. Why? Because, Roku has the biggest selection of streaming channels. When I bought my first Roku box, it offered only Netflix. Now it has mushroomed to include 328 channels of video entertainment, and that number is growing. When I say “channels,” realize that I’m not talking about the equivalent of a channel on live TV, showing just one program at a time. No, a channel on Roku is a provider of streaming video that may offer on-demand access to anywhere from a few choices to tens of thousands of instant view programs. Netflix, for instance (with approximately 12,000 program choices at any one time) counts as a single channel.

The 328 Roku channels include a wide range of entertainment options, varying in:

Paid vs. Free — some are paid subscription services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime); some are entirely free; and some offer both free and paid options.

Commercials — some are commercial-free; others have short commercials; some have frequent repeating short commercials, which I find very irritating. Where commercials are present, they are usually 30-60 seconds long.

Video Quality — some stream HD quality video; some are barely acceptable and everything in between.

Programming — some feature top movies and TV programs; others specialize in old classics; still others are dedicated to independent films, weather, news and commentary, documentaries and short subjects, or product review and how-to programs.

Following is my current list of Roku channels that I have set up for viewing. I’ll summarize what each delivers in the way of programming and other variables.

The Big Three

The vast majority of my Internet TV viewing is spent on these three channels.

Channel Rating* Cost Commercials Content/Comments
Netflix 4.5 $7.99/mo No Movies & TV shows
Hulu Plus 4.0 $7.99/mo Yes – short
30-60 sec. not objectionable
TV shows & movies;
specializing in first run TV programming
Amazon Instant Video 4.0 $79/yr Prime subscrip; OR rent @ up to $3.99 ea; buy @ up to $14.99 ea. No Movies & TV shows 
Other Movie & TV
Channel Rating* Cost Commercials Content / Comments
Crackle 4.0 Free Yes – short but frequent and repetitive – very annoying Movies & TV shows
Popcornflix 3.5 Free Yes – short & repetitive Movies & TV shows
The X Factor 4.0 Free Yes – short Live performances from hit TV series
Pub-D-Hub 4.5 Free No Classic films, TV shows, old commercials, cartoons & radio from 1930s-1970s.
Drive-In Classics 4.0 Free Yes – short Classic Sci-Fi & Horror.
Video quality not great but worth watching because of content. Great for the wee hours.
Moonlight Movies 3.5 Free Yes – short Classic old TV & cinema.
Video quality not great but worth watching because of content. Great for the wee hours. 
Documentaries & Independent Films
Channel Rating* Cost Commercials Content / Comments
Lost Worlds Films Lite 4.0 Free No 3 awesome nature documentaries from IMAX. Additional programs available for a fee.
Koldcast 4.0 Free No Short original programs. Surprisingly good video quality; program quality not always so good
Openfilm 3.5 Free No Independent films
Dream TV 3.5 Free Yes – very short Unusual films, TV, documentaries, travel, food
News & Weather
Channel Rating* Cost Commercials Content/Comments
Fox News 4.0 Free Yes – short Live 9am-3pm ET plus on-demand content
Roku Newscaster 4.0 Free No News & commentary from CBS (CBS News, 60 Minutes, Face the Nation), ABC (World News, Nightline), CNN, PBS, NPR, more. Mostly audio only.
NBC News 2.5 Free No News & journalism from Nightly News, Today Show, Meet the Press
Wall Street Journal Live 3.5 Free No Live & on-demand news from U.S. & the world
Weather4us 5.0 Free No U.S. weather & forecasts
Weather Underground 4.5 Free No Local conditions & forecasts; get info for any location.
Channel Rating* Cost Commercials Content/Comments
CDN Two 4.5 Free No University lectures on variety of subjects. Go to college for free.
TED 4.5 Free No On-stage presentations on intriguing topics
Informational, Product Reviews, How-to Programs

This is where I get some of my information.

Channel Rating* Cost Commercials Content/Comments
Revision 3 4.5 Free No Discussion of technical topics, gadgets, movies, news.
C/Net 4.0 Free No Technical topics, how-to, product reviews
Twit 5.0 Free No Technical discussions & reviews
Butterscotch 4.0 Free No Library of video tutorials, tips & tricks
Podnutz 4.0 Free No Podcasts on technical topics
Tested 5.0 Free No Product reviews & how-to’s
Music Programs & Internet Radio
Channel Rating* Cost Commercials Content/Comments
Classical TV 4.5 Free & paid Yes – short at beginning. Does not interrupt program. Music performances of classical and pops programs, recorded live. Wonderful channel to relax to!
Pandora 4.5 Free No Customizable Internet radio
Radio Paradise 4.5 Free No Internet radio, many genres.
Channel Rating* Cost Commercials Content/Comments
The Gymbox 4.0 Free No Workout videos
Flikr 4.0 Free No View public photos & your own
Shutterfly 4.5 Free No Upload and view your own photos

* Ratings are an average of Roku viewer responses.

The above list consists of only 10% of the selections available from Roku’s Channel Store. Periodically I return to the Channel Store to see what’s new. There are a lot of paid options there that I’ve never investigated, some of which sound really interesting. But with just my current channel list, I probably could spend the rest of my life in front of my TV and never run out of things to watch. But then, I do have a life.

Next Time on Tools, Toys & Technology

I’m developing a second Website that will give you access to over 100 totally free streaming TV selections. I don’t quite have that ready for “prime time” yet, so I’ll have to delay introducing it until next month. In my next article, I will not only open up that Website for point-and-click program selection, but I’ll also give you hook-up diagrams for connecting your computer to your TV, which will allow you to view these programs on your big screen.