We talk often about alternatives to the big bad cable provider almost everyone has leaching off of their bank account.  We mention Netflix… Hulu Plus… Vudu… Amazon… and many others.  You hear us talking about the Boxee… Apple TV… Xbox 360… PS3… and the Roku Box as means of getting video.  That last option (which should actually be your first option) is what I’m going to talk about today.  Do you know what Roku is exactly?  How it works?  How to hook it up?  If it will look ugly on your entertainment center?  I’ll pull the veil off of this mysterious little black box… and do it so that everyone understands.  Let’s do it now!

Roku ($See Pricing Below).  I’ve been without cable now for about a month under 2 years.  I’ll admit it, that first month was a little harder than is should have been (we are just talking about TV here people).  But around day 35 a kind of reality set in… it’s just TV.  Yes, there are a few shows out there that are educational and make me a better person, but for the most part it’s just mindless.  Granted… a little mindless time in front of the small-screen is absolutely necessary from time-to-time.  We picked up the HD-rabbit ears for local news and the big 5 networks, but without a DVR we do find it hard to watch a regular series.  Enter Roku.

We originally picked up our Roku box as a way to watch Netflix in our bedroom since we already had the Xbox 360 set up in the livingroom.  It was meant to be an inexpensive secondary option for entertainment.  However, not long after hookup, and a little playing around, we discovered how great it really was and a switch was made.  Now Roku is found front-and-center in our livingroom! 

Why Roku?  For starters… the selection.  Aside from the Netflix option (Which includes scrolling through genres, not just what is in your instant queue)… you can easily navigate through the many shows available on HuluPlus (something that is still not on Xbox).  Still not enough for you?  hahahaha… Roku is just getting started.  MLBtv, Amazon Video, NBA gametime, UFC Channel, ROKU News and Flixsters are just a few of the long list offered for video (Check it all HERE).  You want Music too?  They stream Pandora, MP3tunes and Soundcloud just to name three (Check those out HERE).  Hell, if all I want to do is stream your pictures through a Flickr account for your next Bday party… they do that too.

Now you know that the options are there… let’s talk price.  The biggest, baddest, most awesome Roku box will set you back a whopping $100 (XD|S).  Okay… when you’re done laughing about how cheap that is I’ll continue.  That’s $100 for the entire line-up I mentioned above, plus more, in 1080p HD (that’s the best kind), built-in WiFi, USB ports for playing your own music , photos, etc through your entertainment system, HDMI (& “old school” hook-ups) and a super easy little remote.  Quick sidenote… technology is ROKU’s best friend and you can use your iPhone/iPod as a remote for this box too if you choose (siiiiiick).  Want a less-expensive model?  No worries, $80 (XD) still gets you full 1080p HD with a few missing options… and $60 (HD) will get you 720p, which is more than enough for smaller sets or older sets.  Regardless, they all come with the exact same watching choices and built-in WiFi.

How it works?  After you’re initial purchase… Roku is absolutely free.  You need to buy service from Netflix or Hulu or Amazon in order to stream their video… but those are incredibly cheap (must less than cable) and there are many free video options as well.  You easily navigate through the Roku main menu like you would an on-screen channel guide.  Roku + Internet = buh-bye cable!

How easy is it to hook up?  I’m not exaggerating this… you plug it into the wall… hook in your HDMI… sync with your WiFi (or plug directly into your internet)… and play.  If you allow it to stream your Netflix or Hulu there are 2 steps which are very simple.  This is, by far, the easiest piece of equipment I’ve ever hooked-up to my TV.  Hell… it’s easier to figure out than my coffee maker!

All-in-all… cheaper than any of its competitors (Apple TV, XBox), more variety than any of the other guys that I’ve seen, easy as hell to set up and the size of 3 CD cases (remember those?).  Here’s a pic with it next to 3 CD cases, a regular sized coffee mug and an iPhone 4 to give you an idea for how small it is.

They even offer a 30 day money back guarantee for those rare few that aren’t happy.  Who else does that?!?!?!