Regular television sets are a thing of the past. These days, if you set out to get a new TV, it’ll likely be a smart TV. That TV will be ‘smart’ the same way your smartphone is – it’s connected and it’s extendable. Just like your smartphone, a lot of new televisions tune in to a sizable application ecosystem, adding the imaginings of third-party developers to your television’s standard feature set.
If you purchased a brand new television during one of the previous TV revolutions – high definition or 3D TVs – don’t run off to the store just yet. Using set-up boxes you can extend your TV’s functionality without needing to upgrade the whole shebang. Similar to the app-craze in the television department, there’s a wave of ‘smart’ set-up boxes; Apple TV, Boxee Box and Roku foremost among them.
If you followed Matt’s advice to buy a Roku last year, or grabbed a Roku 3 when it launched earlier this year, you probably have already hit it off with Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. These streaming services are part of what makes Roku great. However, Roku is just as good in playing your own media, whether it’s over the network or from a USB stick.
We tested and gathered the best Roku channels to get your own video library to play on the Roku 3.
Streaming media is great, and it’s what I’ll do 90 percent of the time. However, most streaming relies on a previously configured system: indexed folders and the like. Often when you decide to play something on the big screen, it’s much faster and easier to just throw the files on a USB stick. If you keep your movies on an external hard drive, there’s even more reason to simply go over USB.
Roku doesn’t do this by default, but there’s an official channel to take care of your plug-and-play needs. Just plug in your USB drive, open the USB Media Player channel and browse through your movies, music and pictures.
The USB Media Player channel (like most Roku channels), are limited by the Roku’s playback support. Mainly, this means you can play MP4, M4V and MKV files. For more information on USB Media Player file support, check out the support article.
2. Plex (Windows, Mac & Linux)
Perhaps the easiest way to play your media on your Roku, is to connect it to a Plex media server. Plex is one of the more popular media center solutions for Windows, Mac and Linux computers. It’s a powerful media center solution that automatically processes the files in your media folders and creates a media library that’s both beautiful and very easy to use. A great starting point is MakeUseOf’s extensive guide to Plex.
One interesting aspect of Plex is that the media center is essentially decoupled in server and client applications. Once you’ve set up the media server on your computer, you can start streaming your media over your local network to the Plex channel on your Roku. If your media is supported by Roku, it’ll stream the files as-is. However, even if your files are not supported (AVI videos come to mind), Plex will transcode your media on the fly.
That, in essence, is the best part about using Plex: you don’t have to worry about your files and compatibility problems. Plex will take care of the details.
3. PlayTo ($4.99) (Android)
If you’re the proud owner of an Android tablet, PlayTo is an opportunity you shouldn’t pass by. PlayTo is almost like AirPlay for Android and Roku. To get started you’ll need to install both the Roku PlayTo channel and the Android companion app. Using the app on your Android device, you can browse various channels.
These cover articles and videos from WIRED, but also from NBC, ESPN and other region-specific content if you’re living in the US.
Whenever you find a video, you can press the Play To button in the lower right corner of your screen. This will start playing the video on your Roku.
But PlayTo is not limited to pushing Internet media around. Any home UPnP/DLNA media servers are also spotted (including Plex, which was discussed above). Using PlayTo, you can very easily push content from a home media server to your Roku. Again, you’re limited by Roku’s supported filetypes, unless you have media center software that’s able to transcode the video, like Plex.
How do you prefer to show your videos on your Roku? USB or streaming? Let us know in the comments section below the article!