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What Is Roku? Review of All Their Streaming Devices [Box, Stick, TV]

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Roku Players, Stick and TV

9.5

Over All Rating

9.5/10

Pros

  • User Friendlyness
  • Price
  • Streaming Service Support
  • Look and Feel
  • Forward Thinking

Cons

  • OTA Integration

Roku Explained: Supports Netflix, DirecTV Now, Hulu, Sling TV and More

What is Roku

If you’ve been thinking about cutting the cord or just want to be able to stream Netflix and other apps on your TV, you may have heard about a product called Roku. You also may be wondering “What is a Roku?”

Most of us know Roku as a small black box that allows you to instantly stream your favorite TV shows and movies to your TV, but most are unaware of how much content is really available, and that there is now a Roku TV, Roku Stick and new Roku boxes available.

Not only can you stream tens of thousands of movies and TV shows from services like Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, & Amazon Video On Demand (VOD), but you can also stream sports without cable and music from Pandora, iTunes, and MOG.

Roku offers seven types of streaming devices and is widely used by people looking for cost-effective alternatives to Cable Television. Their product suite includes a line of streaming players, a streaming stick, and TVs with built-in Roku streaming technology.

Roku Channels

Netflix Instant Streaming on the Roku offers an impressive library of new, classic and obscure movies and television shows. You can also purchase content from Amazon for more current television shows. To learn more read Amazon Video on Demand. And what recently made the Roku the streaming box to beat, was the inclusion of Hulu Plus and its practically bottomless archive of movies and TV shows.

Sports fans were also taken into consideration with the integration of services like MLB.tv, where you can watch out-of-market games live or on demand, and local games shortly after they have ended. The Roku also offers a UFC channel with live and archived fights. Plus there is the Roku Newscaster, which combines into one offering – several different channels like CNN, NBC, ESPN, Fox, NPR and the BBC.

roku-streaming-channels

*** To search for a specific channel, try browsing their massive selection of streaming channels.

Roku TV Technical Requirements

With Wi-Fi and the High Definition playback, the Roku Player is probably the easiest way to stream movies and TV shows directly to your TV. To get the most out of your Roku, all you need is a high-speed Internet connection, a TV and most importantly, the Roku Player.

Your Internet connection must at least be 1.5Mbps, but if you’re a big fan of live sports events or high definition movies, it should be at least 3 or 5Mbps. To test the speed of your connection click here (Visualware). Standard AV cables come with the package but if you have an HDTV, it’s highly recommended that you buy an extra HDMI cable.

Roku Setup: To make sure you are connecting your Roku properly I suggest taking a read through their setup guide as well. They also have some great support on their website should you ever need it.

There used to be only 4 versions of Roku on the market; Roku 1, Roku 2, Roku 3, and the Roku 3500R Streaming Stick (HDMI)Roku Streaming Stick. But all that has changed, and now they boast a wide line of streaming players and TVs to suit any budget and need.

Let’s take a look at the different Roku models and see what each one has to offer:

Current Roku Product Line

As for which one to purchase, my personal opinion is to buy ahead of the technology, not behind it. What I mean is, yes you can get an older Roku player with fewer features for fairly cheap (more on these later), but it won’t keep up as technology advances and things like 4k streaming become more prevalent.

With that in mind, here are the current Roku products that boast the latest features.

Express Line

The Roku Express and Express+ devices are entry-level devices that offer an affordable way to add Internet video streaming capability to your TV. The Roku Express and Express+ are both super tiny and super simple to use. They both come preloaded with streaming apps like Netflix and YouTube, meaning you’ll be up and running in no time. Did we mention that the Roku Express and Express+ are some of the cheapest Internet streaming devices on the market, commanding only $29.99 and $35, respectively?

In terms of performance, the Roku Express and Express+ are exactly the same. The biggest difference between the two is how you hook them up to your TV.

  • Roku Express: The Roku Express is an incredibly small streaming device that resembles a pack of gum. All you need to do is connect the device to your TV via an HDMI cable and you’re good to go. Connect the device to your Wi-Fi network and you’ll be streaming episodes of Game of Thrones in no time. Be aware that as a budget device it does suffer from slowdown from time to time due to the weaker components, but it is excellent value for money.
  • Roku Express+: As we mentioned earlier, the Express+ is exactly the same as the Express in terms of performance. The only difference is that the Express+ can be hooked up to your TV using component cables, making it one of the only streaming devices on the market to do so. If you have an older TV that doesn’t support HDMI, then the Express+ is the way to go.

Premiere Line

Roku has unveiled two new devices for 2018, the Premiere and Premiere+. If you have a vague sense of déjà vu right now, you’re not alone. Roku previously used the “Premiere” label for two devices back in 2016 which were the first Roku players to support 4K Ultra High Definition. The new line of “Premiere” devices also support 4K video streaming, however they also support High Dynamic Range or HDR. This means that they are capable of producing more vibrant colors and contrast.

Furthermore, the new line of “Premiere” devices are significantly cheaper than their predecessors, with the Roku Premiere coming in at $39.99 and the Premiere Plus at $49.99. As if that wasn’t enough, the Premiere and Premiere+ are much smaller, making them unobtrusive and less of an eyesore compared to some of their bulkier competitors.

Under the hood, both the Roku Premiere and the Premiere+ use the same Quad-core processor and rely on the 802.11n Wi-Fi protocol for connectivity. Both the Premiere and Premiere+ support 4K and HDR, meaning you’ll be able to stream high-resolution content from providers like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and more. So what’s with the ten dollar price difference? Let’s take a closer look at each device and find out.

  •  Roku PremiereWhile the components of the Premiere and Premiere+ are identical, there are some significant differences. The cheaper $39.99 Roku Premiere comes bundles with an infrared remote. This is problematic due to the fact that infrared can be susceptible to interference. Furthermore, the remote only offers basic functionality. It does not have integrated volume or power buttons, which means you’ll need to keep your TV remote handy to issue basic TV commands. Despite the lackluster remote, there is a lot to like about the Roku Premiere. At $40 it is one of the cheapest ways take full advantage of your 4K HDR TV’s capabilities.
  • Roku Premiere +: At $49.99, the Roku Premiere+ is slightly more expensive than the Premiere, but it’s ten dollars well spent. The Premiere+ has a far superior remote control compared to the Premiere. It uses a RF signal to communicate with the Roku box that doesn’t require line-of-sight to operate. This means you can tuck the Roku box somewhere out of sight and still have seamless, uninterrupted control of the Premiere+. In addition, the Premiere+ has voice search capability, which enables you to search for titles, actors and genres much quicker than navigating through the Roku interface by thumbing the directional pad. There is one slight caveat. The Roku Premiere+ is a Wal-Mart exclusive, meaning you’ll only be able to get your hands on one through the big box retailer.

Streaming Stick Line

It’s easy to mix up the Roku Streaming Stick and Streaming Stick+ with the Roku Express and Express+ as they look very similar. Despite their looks, there are some significant differences. First off, the Streaming Stick and Streaming Stick+ are powered by a quad-core processor. This means that they don’t suffer from the same playback issues as the Express and Express+. In addition, the Roku Streaming Stick and Streaming Stick+ both feature a more streamlined form factor. Instead of connecting to your TV via an HDMI cable, the devices feature an integrated HDMI so you can plug them straight into your TV.

  • Roku Streaming Stick: The Roku Streaming Stick currently retails for $49.99. In addition to the upgraded hardware, the Streaming Stick is marketed as a portable streaming device, due to the aforementioned integrated HDMI. This eliminates the need for extra cables, meaning you can easily move the device from place to place, so long as you don’t forget the remote! The Roku Streaming Stick also features an upgraded remote with voice search capability as well as power and volume control buttons. Furthermore, it offers 802.11ac wireless connectivity, provided you have an AC router.
  • Roku Streaming Stick+The Roku Streaming Stick+ can be had for $59.99 and is pretty much identical to the Streaming Stick with one major exception, it has 4K Ultra High Definition and High Dynamic Range support. If you absolutely must have the best image quality possible, then you’re going to want to pony up the extra ten bucks for this one.

Roku Ultra

The Roku Ultra is the most powerful device in the Roku lineup. Of course, with great power comes a heftier price tag. At $99.99 it’s the most expensive Roku device available. As expected, the Roku Ultra supports 4K HDR video streaming, but it also offers a whole slew of bells and whistles not found on cheaper Roku devices.

The Roku Ultra features both a microSD and USB port, allowing for storage expansion and the ability to play files from an external drive. Additionally, the Roku Ultra remote has voice search capability as well as remote finder, which makes the remote easier to find when misplaced. Furthermore, the remote also has a headphone jack that allows users to watch their favorite content without disturbing others. By the way, Roku also chucks in a pair of good quality JBL earbuds in case you don’t already have a pair laying around.

All these extras are great, but the best feature of the Roku Ultra is the Ethernet port. This enables you to hard wire your Roku Ultra to your router. As great as wireless internet is, you can experience frustrating slowdown, like buffering or choppy playback, especially when streaming data heavy 4K video. A wired Internet connection will consistently outperform wireless, so it’s something you definitely want to consider.

Roku TV

Roku TV

Last but definitely not least… far from it actually. The Roku TV is a smart TV that brings the Roku experience to your television with no cable bill required.

You get all your favorite Roku features from the other models as well as a slick new design that allows you to seamlessly switch between your streaming applications, gaming console, and a DVD player. The best part is that it’s a lot cheaper than most televisions on the market. You can get a 50’ 4k Roku TV for only $400 (Amazon Link); which is a ridiculously good deal.

If you’re of the mind to ditch the box altogether and go for a completely integrated experience, then you’ll want to snap up the Roku TV.

Older Roku Product Line

You can still find these used, and they work okay for light streamers in many situations (e.g. you just want to watch Netflix or you want a cheap streaming player for a bedroom TV).

For the penny-pinching cold cutter, these are excellent options to consider.

Roku 1

What is Roku 1

The smallest and most affordable of the Roku streaming boxes, this little guy will set you back $50. Roku 1 offers the full Roku experience without all of the bells and whistles. There’s no headphone jack for your remote, no USB, Ethernet, or microSD slot. It also lacks dual-band wireless, so your signal may suffer a little if you have a slow connection. Roku 1 sports an IR-based remote control; so if you lose your remote you can easily replace it with a universal remote; and the remote comes with shortcuts to Netflix and Amazon Prime.

One of the biggest advantages to Roku 1 is the fact that it can still hook up to older televisions. While most of the older models could hook up to an analog television; some of the newer models are only compatible with “modern” televisions. You will notice that Roku 1 also uses some of the older version of your favorite apps like Netflix. Although it may seem like a disadvantage, it actually runs faster than some of the newer apps.

All in all Roku 1 is great for people that have an old TV, are on a tight budget, or just don’t simply care about all the extra features.

Roku 2

What is Roku 2

At $70 Roku 2 is more expensive than Roku 1; but it has some extra features. Roku 2 comes with dual-band wireless as well as a headphone jack. Sadly, other than that there really isn’t too much of a difference between Roku 1 and 2. They both play 1080p high definition, they both have analog jacks for older TVs, and they both lack the USB, Ethernet, and microSD slots that Roku 3 has.

Aside from the dual-band wireless and headphone jack, the only other difference is that Roku 2 actually runs slower than Roku 1. The controls are just sluggish and not as responsive as you would like; which is perplexing considering that it runs older versions of video apps like Roku 1.

If you don’t want to fork out the extra cash for Roku 3, and you really want a headphone jack, then Roku 2 will suit you fine. If you have simple streaming needs, you might want to look at a different Roku model.

Roku 3

What is Roku 3

Roku 3 is the most expensive of the Roku models, costing around $100. While twice as expensive as Roku 1, it has a lot of cool features that make up for it. You have all the features of Roku 2 but it is way faster and it uses the most recent versions of your favorite apps.

It also has an Ethernet port if your wireless isn’t fast enough, it has a microSD port for extra memory, and it has a USB port that can send pictures, music, and videos to your TV from a connected device like a smartphone. There are also motion controls built into the remote for playing games, but it’s not fleshed out enough to be a real selling point. Roku 3 takes a play out of Google Chromecast’s playbook and lets your cast video directly from your apps to the TV.

Roku 3 is great for the serious cord-cutter interested in using the best cable TV alternatives, and the only real disadvantage is its price. If you’re not into all the bells and whistles, you might not want it;  but for everyone else, it’s the best option out there.

Roku 4

What is Roku 4

Last but not least is the Roku 4. This little rhomboid of a device is touted by the company as their best Roku player ever, and there is a lot to back it up. In addition to all of the features you’ve come to expect from the Roku 3, the Roku 4 can now deliver the highest HD resolution available: 4k.

One of my favorite new features is the remote finder. If you lose your remote, you can press a button on top of the Roku 4 and your missing remote will alert you to where it is. You also now have the ability to search across top channels by using keywords like an actor’s name or movie genre. There’s also a feed option where you can follow certain shows and be updated when new episodes are added.

It’s small things like that that makes the Roku 4 an integrated and enjoyable experience. The one complaint I have heard is that the fan of the player is too loud. This is kind of a bummer, and expect Roku to make adjustments soon, so this no longer an issue.  The Roku 4 costs $140.


Roku Secret Menu

Before we begin, you need to know that this is for advanced Roku Users only and that these codes can factory reset your Roku player.

Roku Secret Menu 1
Roku Secret Menu 3

What only a few know, is that Roku has a secret menu that was specifically built for developers, but that is accessible to anyone with the code list:

What is Roku?

If you don’t mind a little wait, love small things, and are on a tight budget the Roku Streaming Stick is for you.

If you are trying to choose between Roku’s Streaming Stick and Google’s Chromecast read “Roku Streaming Stick vs Google Chromecast“.

“15-20 % of Roku owners are canceling their cable or satellite services agreement and are relying solely on a broadband connection to get their television programming,” said company VP Jim Funk in this exclusive interview with Beet.TV.

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51 replies on “What Is Roku? Review of All Their Streaming Devices [Box, Stick, TV]

Great question. If you scroll to the top right side of this page you will see a section called “sports”. Then use the drop down to select the type of sport you are most interested in. Please check back in and let me know if this helped you, and / or if you have any additional questions.

Do you need a separate roku player for each TV in the house (I have 3)?
I assume that I can keep cable for the local stations (reception is extremely poor with over air atennaes) and add roku for all the other stations, is that correct?
2 other questions:
1- what about sports channels? NFL & NHL?
2- a wii and/or xbox will also be able to to be used as well as a lap top as the driver for the roku?

Hi Lisa,

Yes you do need a separate Roku for each TV unfortunately. But there is also the Roku Stick – keep in mind. Which may help with your need.

Before you give up on Antennas – have you tried an outdoor one? I have installed antennas at houses where an indoor one just did not cut it, but an outdoor one like the SKY, worked perfectly. Just wanted to throw that out there.

As for additional channels, each OTT service will provide a different set of Video and TV content. Not channels exactly, but shows and movies. I suggest making a list of shows you cant live without and checking which services offer those shows. Learn more here: https://www.killthecablebill.com/ott-cable-tv-alternatives/

Sports Channels – I have also written a number of articles on this topic – as it is very dear to my heart. In short – yes you can keep your sports too. Learn how here: https://www.killthecablebill.com/tag/sports/

And check back soon as I will be adding soccer, golf and baseball to the list.

Finally a gaming station works great as well. Does not have all the bells and whistles as a Roku – but still offers a great experience. I used a PS3 for years without any issue. https://www.killthecablebill.com/ps3-media-server-streaming-video-files-from-your-pc/

Hope that helps! And thanks for reaching out!

Great question. The Roku Streaming Stick (Roku Ready Version) is Wi-Fi only. If you are working with a hard-lined internet connection only – you want to consider the set top boxes instead of the stick.

Hi Amanda – No monthly cost for the Roku Box, however services like Hulu and Netflix do have monthly costs.

No dumb questions here…. Yes two TV's typically mean you need two streaming devices unless you want to watch the same programming on both screens.

Probably a dumb question but do two tv's mean you need two roku's [or two of any device]?

I believe you probably only have a coaxial input on that TV. And if that is the case you will need a digital converter box, or something similar. Additionally – i hate to say it, but you may want to look into just getting a newer (used) TV. After you buy the equipment it will cost to get your old one working – you will be half way towards buying a used TV on craigslist with an HDMI input. HDMI makes life a lot easier… Just a thought. Hope that helps!

Great article Dave. For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix, Hulu and similar media stations on your Roku by using UnoTelly or similar tools.

Hi Kimberly – I am assuming you mean that you have a Smart TV. If so, then you should look at what Apps it supports. Unlike many Smart TV's, Roku is working tirelessly to integrate as many new apps as possible. But if you are satisfied with the apps your TV offers, than NO – there is probably not a really good reason to also buy a Roku.

Hi Kimberly – I am assuming you mean that you have a Smart TV. If so, then you should look at what Apps it supports. Unlike many Smart TV's, Roku is working tirelessly to integrate as many new apps as possible. But if you are satisfied with the apps your TV offers, than NO – there is probably not a really good reason to also buy a Roku.

Miles E. Modine II I was speaking to my own personal preference in that comment. my bad, i should stick to the facts ;). If you are an existing apple user, then apple is just fine. But what i dont recommend is using a mix of apple and google or pc or amazon based products. Getting everything to work together can be very frustrating. And as for Apple specifically – i just dont like being forced into their itunes environment. A lot less flexibility.

What are the spectrum of channels the you can watch? Is there a channel lineup somewhere I can find online?

As long as you stay away from Apple you should be good to go. One question you will need to ask yourself is if you want it to connect to a cell phone signal, or just to wifi….

You came to the right place. To really understand all the different components you will need to spend some time navigating through this site. But in short you need to cancel the phone and cable tv bill and learn how to watch TV online and Over-the-Air. To find out in an Antenna will work for you – click on the "Enter your Zip Code" box at the top of this page. Then you need to take a look at your internet speed. If it can support HD video streaming – your golden. If not you will need to look into upgrading your internet speed. You already have laptops so they can act as your video streamers – and ideally you have an HDMI out connector on one of them. Finally you can use our "watch TV online" link at the top of this page to learn about all the ways you can watch tv online.

i am buying a kindle in order to download podcasts. do i need a kindle (or another brand?

i have cable, internet, 2 tvs, and 2 laptops I am looking to buy a kindle hdx. I also have 2 cell phones. keep it simple…what do i need to do to cut my cable bill? I have mediacom bundle, tv, internet, and house phone (which I only keep for 911 should I ever need it). my tvs are not flatscreen yet.

Sounds bad ass to me Alejandro. In other words, (and if i understand your question) a good laptop with hdmi out, a good internet connection, and a blue tooth laptop / tv controller is a great option. Costs more than a Roku, but there are also big advantages to having this level of flexibility.

I don't want satellite, or cable bill every month. Let's just say I used to get every channel for free, but don't want to ..well…lets say that I want to play nice and do things the right way. I need comments and info on Roku3 that I am thinking of getting. I don't want cable or dish. Any comments on this product? Just a bad ass computer with bad ass internet..and a bad ass smart tv..nothing else? comments?

The video for the Roku device embedded into YouTube has been removed because of multiple third party violations.

Thanks for the note Hoops and Horses. Do you mean that Youtube is not working on your Roku? And has the problem been fixed yet?

Should be working. Please confirm you are no longer seeing the issue

I just purchased one the other day as I ween myself off cable (gotta let the contract expire). It is excellent and have found myself watching it more than the cable.

There is a lot of junk on there, and by that I mean channels that show movies and tv shows in poorer picture quality and throw commercials in at the wrong time. I guess they want to aggravate me enough to order the PPV for a buck. That’s not going to happen.

So how are things going with the Roku? 2 years later I would love to hear from a veteran.

I have laptop brand new, and an old LG 420 that keep detecting through Bluetooth ROKU. I don’t know if they are finding it through my Smart TV or my Smart Blue Ray Player and I don’t know how to get ROKU to talk back. The TV and Blue Ray come with Netflix, Hulu, Face Book etc. How can I find out where ROKU is and who the comp and old phone are trying to connect to. I don’t have ROKU as a separate item anywhere that I am aware of

Were you able to solve the problem? Know its been a few years, so I am sure you either fixed it or threw the box out the window. Any updated info would be great.

Absolutely love my Roku 2xs. Although I am now addicted to Angry Birds. For the money Roku is the way to go. Indoor antenna will get you your local stations and there are plenty of free television streaming sites and subscription based streaming sites for new episodes of your favorite shows that will save you a lot of money each month over cable or dish. I think Roku has over 350 channels now.Best part is you don’t pay for what you don’t watch!

Would it be worth it do do away with Directv? Also, would I need to have separate add-ons for each Roku in each room?

Would it be worth it do do away with Directv? Also, would I need to have separate add-ons for each Roku in each room?

We got rid of our cable tv, but kept our cable internet and are currently watching programs through our pc. We don’t watch much tv, so paying the high cable bill just didn’t justify keeping it. I found out about Roku about a month ago & it sounds like that would work better for us. We already have internet in our office, but would need access in our living room & bedroom. Would getting it in these rooms cost extra or would they just run extra cables in these rooms under our existing account or would it be better to have wireless cable added. Just trying to figure out what all we would need to do to get Roku set up the cheapest way possible. Thanks.

I stream through my wii, xbox 360, and a Roku xs. The Roku accesses our internet through our existing wifi (although you can run an ethernet cable to it). Also, it can be moved from TV to TV ( I don’t, because I have my game systems hooked up to the other TV’s), so I would suggest buying the top model Roku and moving it to whatever set you’re viewing if you don’t watch much TV, and if you don’t have one already, buying a good quality wireless router. Also, you need the correct input/outputs to hook it to the TV, and an HDMI cable is preferable (it’s not included), but a regular AV cable will do.

I can’t give any direction regarding channel selection, as I haven’t had much of a chance to really fiddle around with it. I already had an existing Netflix account, and my husband and I are considering either Hulu Plus, or Playon accounts. I don’t like that many of the free channels in Roku’s channel store are mostly clips, but again, I haven’t had a chance to check out any private channels like Nowheremantv.com. If anyone else has any suggestions for viewing, I would appreciate it, and I hope this helps you OP.

I stream through my wii, xbox 360, and a Roku xs. The Roku accesses our internet through our existing wifi (although you can run an ethernet cable to it). Also, it can be moved from TV to TV ( I don’t, because I have my game systems hooked up to the other TV’s), so I would suggest buying the top model Roku and moving it to whatever set you’re viewing if you don’t watch much TV, and if you don’t have one already, buying a good quality wireless router. Also, you need the correct input/outputs to hook it to the TV, and an HDMI cable is preferable (it’s not included), but a regular AV cable will do.

I can’t give any direction regarding channel selection, as I haven’t had much of a chance to really fiddle around with it. I already had an existing Netflix account, and my husband and I are considering either Hulu Plus, or Playon accounts. I don’t like that many of the free channels in Roku’s channel store are mostly clips, but again, I haven’t had a chance to check out any private channels like Nowheremantv.com. If anyone else has any suggestions for viewing, I would appreciate it, and I hope this helps you OP.

just heard of this device and very intersted as R some of my family and friends. It sounds like I would just keep my internet conection and cancell my tv service. Is his true? How would I watch my local TV stations?

The article says you need at least 1.5Mbps. If this is the only speed you can get, is Roku still worth buying?

I think so, but it really depends on what type of content you are looking to watch. If you want to watch Blu-ray from time to time (for example) then the Roku would not work. Your best bet is to get a PS3 IMO. If you are looking for best video streamer out there, like Netflix, and dont need any of the other bells and whistles… then YES the Roku is the best product out there for the money. If you have not already, you should read “What You Need to Know When Shopping for a Video Streaming Device” https://www.killthecablebill.com/product-reviews/#comment-374391279

This article will give you a great overview of all the different options out there, and what will work best for your particular needs.. Good Luck. and please check back in and let us know what you decide on.

I had never heard of Roku until today so I do not know much about it, but the little bit I read would leave me to believe that since I have satellite internet (the only thing available where I live) with a download limit per day that this option is not going to work for our house as even short video’s use up our download limit and put us over our limit. Is this correct?

Hi Pat
Yes I believe you are absolutely right. The Roku (like all the other Video Streaming Devices out there) is built to stream data from a standard Internet connection; and with a download limit – it is probably not going to work very well for your situation. Have you looked into OTA (Over-the-air) broadcasting? An indoor Antenna only takes 5 minutes to plugin and you’ll gain access to local television shows and several HD Major Network TV Stations – such as NBC, CBS, ABC & FOX. To determine if this is a good solution check out my blog at: https://www.killthecablebill.com/hd-without-cable/

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