roku replacing cable?

A friend asked me to help her set up Roku to replace Time Warner Cable.  I’m not a fan of Time Warner (I had to get a DVR on no notice and the DVR periodically doesn’t record.) so no worries about helping them have one less customer.


We started by listing what shows she watches to make sure the Roku met her needs.  The must haves were all on network tv with the exception of Fox News and HGTV.  HGTV doesn’t stream live anywhere although some shows are on their website.  Knowing this, she decided it wasn’t worth cable for just that one channel.

Setting up the Roku

They made this part really easy.  The instructions were simple and easy to follow.  The only wrinkle was that the Roku comes with a RCA component cable.  There is an option to use a HDMI cable, but you have to buy it separately.  My friend’s TV requires an adapter to use a RCA cable.  Lucky her cable box uses a HDMI cable so we borrowed that.

Activation was online.  Roku gives you a URL to type in.  It then polls to see if you’ve activated because the Roku knew it was activated as soon as we entered the registration info on the computer.

What went well

The Roku is easy to use.  It is easy to search for channels on it.  In fact, it does everything it promises.  The problems were almost all caused by external parties.

Problem #1 – six month Hulu Plus gift card

Roku is running a promotion that you get 6 months of Hulu Plus for free if you buy the $79 version.  They said you get it even if you buy the hardware in a physical store.  Needless to say, Best Buy knows nothing about this.  Calling Roku tech support, they insisted that Best Buy has the 6 month gift card and knows about it.

Problem #1.5 – CBS on Hulu

This isn’t really a problem; this is me not looking in advance.  I figured we would test the Roku with a show that we both like – Big Bang Theory – and tried to find it on Hulu Plus.  This show is available live free on over the air tv.  And later on  (We then tested watching Modern Family and the quality was good.)

Problem #2 – Fox news

The Fox News Channel listing shows an option to watch “Live Video.”  Including a link to the image because this is so key.  

See how it clearly says you can watch live video?  Well, you can’t.  Going to that channel on the Roku only shows three options – live audio, shows and topics.   Roku support says it is available “certain times depending on your area.”  I don’t buy that.  Searching online said this feature was always intermittently available.   The website takes you to FOX Business channel.

I did find an explanation of what is going on that is better than Roku Support’s answer.  Per Roku channel has been relaunched as Fox News Channel. Gone is live weekday streaming of the Web-based Fox News Live program. In its place you now get live 24/7 streaming of Fox News Radio and clips from several popular Fox News television shows.

So far, Roku provides a convenient way of getting shows from different websites.  Which can be done for no additional fee.  Convenience doesn’t generally save money.


Over the air tv + watching internet streams on the tv seem like a better bet.  Still doesn’t show Fox News, but why should my friend pay $80 to have the same abilities she can get for free.

chromebook and external monitor continued


Hook up my mother’s old tv to the Chromebook as an external monitor and use the new tv for tv.

Prep work

Back in NY, I tried to setup the Chromebook to use an external monitor and failed because I needed a display port to VGA adapter.  So I ordered one.

Why this still wasn’t trivial

When the adapter got delivered, I encountered some other problems.  Fir st a surprise. I paid $2 extra to Amazon for fast delivery.  It came via the Postal Service in 3 days.  It was fast, just odd because it said the package was coming via Fed Ex.

Anyway, I tried testing the Chromebook and new adapter with the new TV to make sure the adapter was good and the Chromebook could handle an external monitor.  It could of course.

Challenge 1 – DCI vs VGA

The old TV I wanted to connect it to had a DCI-I port and not VGA.  It didn’t even occur to me this might be a problem.  Radio Shack doesn’t sell a converter.  Suprisingly Staples does.  Which I found out when Radio Shack suggested I look at Staples.

Challenge 2 – The missing remote

This particular TV had a lost remote.  And a remote is needed to change from TV mode to DCI or PC mode.  We found a universal remote and the instructions for it.  Then we switched the mode.

Challenge 3 – The TV isn’t long enough

The VGA wire plus adapter is longer than the horizontal space in that part of the tv.  In particular the stand blocks it.  Hmm.  What to do about this.  I tried shoving it in to no avail.  I then tried unplugging the adapter from the VGA cable.  I inserted just the DCI adapter into the tv and screwed it in tightly.  I then inserted the VGA cable into the adapter at an angle and screwed it in as tight as I could.  Amazingly this worked!


It was a lot harder to do this than it should have been.  But the result was an external monitor and a new tv.  Interestingly, setting up an external monitor for my mac was trivial.  I already had a mini display port to vga adapter from when I used to plug the mac into my real tv.  From then on, it was plug and play.

chromebook recovery disk and external monitor

I bought a Chromebook and have been using it/testing it out before actually giving it to my mother.  This weekend, I tried to create a recovery disk and hook it up to an external monitor.  Here’s how it went.

Recovery disk

The Chromebook help page covers how to create a USB drive with a bootable ChomeOS recovery disk.  It took me a few tries though:

  1. Inserted 8GB USB flash drive into Chromebook and went to chrome://imageburner.  A third of the way through the 300-400 MB download it would fail with an unclear error message.
  2. Tried Chrome OS Image Creator on Mac.  However it asks for a model number like “Sams Alex2 Gamma0-US 1234.”.  I emailed the “Chrome Ninja Team” (google support) as I would like to know the answer to this.  I then guessed one and tried to download onto USB.  Same error.  I’ve used this USB drive for other things but maybe it is the drive.
  3. Tried a 4GB USB flash drive and created recovery disk successfully.
How to find your chromebook model # 
Per the Ninja team, if your machine still works, you can enter:
 chrome://system   (which shows a lot of interesting other info too; at least interesting if you are a geek)
How to find your chromebook model #   – approach 2
Per the Ninja team (parens are mine)
  1. Follow the steps 1 – 4 via this link  (I didn’t feel the switch move but it clearly did.  I hadn’t shut down fully (or knocked into the power button while doing this and had to do this twice.)
  2. Step 5) Press the space bar and then you will be able to see your model number.  (This worked.)
  3. (Flip switch back and restart – I got prompted for my internet connection again and given the welcome message so I think it did a partial reset.  But all settings are in the cloud so this isn’t a big deal.)

External monitor

My goal was to hook up the tiny 12.1 inch Chromebook screen to an external monitor.  I already have a VGA cable.  The Chromebook does not have a VGA or HDMI port.  Check what your model has.  Mine has a Display Port.   I learned it isn’t easy to buy a Display Port to VGA adapter.  Here’s what happened:

  • Radio Shack: Sells mini display port adapter because Mac’s use it.  (I already have one of these)
  • PC Richard: “That doesn’t exist; tvs use wifi now.” (Not true and useless advice)
  • Best Buy: Sells same things as Radio Shack.  Recommends buying it online
  • B and H: I suspect B and H does have this adapter in stock.  The trains aren’t fully running yet so I don’t feel the need to go into Manhattan to find out.  And they were closed today anyway for the holiday.
  • Amazon: I bought this on Amazon.  Will find out how it works in a few days.