Stream PBS content to your Roku player

Credit: Source: Roku

I used to talk about my Roku streaming player a lot; I'm a big fan of the device. I'm currently using the latest Roku 3 after my old Roku somehow disappeared during a cross-country move.

Funny thing about the gadgets we use; after a while we take them for granted and stop talking about them. That's the case with the Roku; it just works and I stopped talking about it. After I heard about a new channel coming to the device I decided it was time to rectify that omission on my part.

I'm currently a Time Warner Cable customer and recently TWC started offering a Roku channel. It allowed me to send back one of our TWC provided set-top boxes that we were using (rarely) upstairs, which saves us roughly $10/month. The $100 Roku 3 will pay for itself within a year thanks to that. The Roku channel isn't a complete replacement for an actual set-top box. You can't get all the channels or all the video-on-demand stuff. But our upstairs TV is in our office and mostly it gets used when something is happening on the news, like the recent Boston Marathon bombings. We were streaming network news via the TWC channel on the Roku all day.

Yesterday Roku got another big addition to its channel lineup: A PBS Channel. Well technically two PBS channels. PBS and PBS Kids. I decided to check out the former.

When you first add the channel you're asked to identify your local PBS station. I played dumb since my local PBS station, UNC-TV, isn't great. I picked the "My channel isn't shown" option, after which I was asked to enter my zip code. I lied through my teeth and entered a Cambridge, MA zip code and was offered the choice of several stations, including WGBH which is what I was hoping for.

Once the channel is installed you have a few lists of content: Featured Programs, Originals, Staff Picks and Expiring Soon. I drilled right into Featured Programs and then Masterpiece, but was sad to see they only had two episodes listed: episodes 5 & 6 of Mr. Selfridge. Unfortunately this new channel isn't a portal into the back catalog of PBS titles, but it's one way to catch up if you miss a week or two.

I had better luck with Nova, which has 14 full length episodes available, and American Experience which had 13. Nature had 5 and Secrets of the Dead had 2. Basically it's a little bit hit and miss.

Originals is mostly short programs 3-15 minutes long from PBS Digital Studios, titles I wasn't familiar with (Futurestates,It's Okay to be Smart, Secret Life of Scientists). Staff Picks was exactly what it sounds like (a few hand-picked titles) as was Expiring Soon.

Once I was sure I had access to WGBH, I switched it back to UNC-TV. That got me a Local section that WGBH didn't have, so choice of station matters, but you can switch back and forth pretty easily from the Options menu.

All in all, I'd give the PBS channel a solid 'B' grade. It'd be nice to be able to catch up on an entire season of a series and would be even better if the entire catalog was available, but at least this gives cord-cutters (and second TVers) a way to stay up to date on what's happening in the world of public television.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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