Beware the Roku Trojan horse.
For years, a full-fledged PC provided my gateway to TV internet streaming. After upgrading to a 4K graphics card, which also processes the sound, the audio started to flicker, and thus far, I’ve been unable to diagnose the problem.
So I did what I recommended in this column and bought a Roku, choosing its top-of-the-line Ultra, since that is the only model that accepts an Ethernet cable rather than relying on Wi-Fi. With my TV in the basement and router two floors up, the Wi-Fi signal was marginal.
Roku impresses with its packaging and industrial design. The Ultra, which was on sale on Amazon for $70, even included an HDMI cable. Somehow, I assumed I’d plug in the power supply into the wall, connect the Ethernet and HDMI cables and be streaming video. Instead, Roku requires an elaborate registration procedure.
My finger slipped, accidentally hitting German for language choice. Although I studied German in college, I’m a bit rusty. Recovery from that error wasted half an hour, since there is no going back on language without a total reset. Finding the reset button required a jaunt around Roku’s internet support site, since it’s not mentioned in the brief setup guide. Setup requires time-consuming data entry via an on-screen keyboard and the remote control.
I grew suspicious when it asked for my birthday and gender. What do that personal data have to do with streaming entertainment? Then it required credit-card information that it could keep on file. That’s when I knew how Roku is able to sell its streaming devices at such reasonable prices. It creates and sells a profile tracking everything you view, and if you want to subscribe to a new program source or rent a movie, it takes a commission from your purchase.
I complained to Roku customer service and asked Amazon for a refund. It was on its way back to Amazon by the time Roku said it would waive the credit-card requirement. I already have too many companies keeping my credit card on file. What if you lack a credit card? Imagine buying a TV and discovering you can’t watch it unless you provide the manufacturer with a credit card.
An Nvidia Shield TV replaced the Roku. It costs almost twice as much, about $130 on sale. Reviews claim it provides the best video quality of any streaming device. It’s a small cylinder a bit shorter than a paper-towel tube. The Shield plugs directly into the wall without an external power supply and also accepts a direct Ethernet connection.
The Shield TV uses the Android operating system, which means if you own an Android phone, it already knows nearly everything about you, since it requires registration with Google. Once again, you have to go through a tedious on-screen keyboard set up, although much of it can be accomplished from an Android phone.
It does not request a credit card, but if you don’t already have a Gmail address, it asks for your gender and birthday. Whatever happened to privacy?
Once you make it past registration, the Shield TV functions splendidly. Thanks to the Google Play Store, you can add nearly any video source/app and some of the apps intended for Android phones. To make life easier, keep a smartphone or laptop computer handy for registering existing accounts, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, with the Shield.
The Shield delivers the utmost picture and sound quality with any source, from full 4K HDR/Dolby Vision on down to any TV, from the most basic HD to the most extravagant 4K models. There is a Shield TV Pro for $70 more, but it’s mainly for gamers.
Is Shield TV worth five times the cost of an Amazon Fire Stick 4K? That depends on your quest for ultimate online video.