How To Stream The Daily Show To A Roku Box

I have satisfied my dream and found a way to get the Daily Show through my Roku box onto my TV. It’s a round-about way, but it will cover me until Hulu and Comedy Central come to some kind of deal. It relies on the Comedy Central website, my laptop, PlayOn, and my Roku box.

What is PlayOn?

PlayOn is a media server that can run on a computer in the house. What PlayOn does is transcode videos from websites like Comedy Central, Hulu, CBS, PBS and so on. It then sends the video on to the Roku box in a format that Roku likes.

This setup has a few downsides two it. First, there needs to be a computer up and working to use PlayOn. I happen to have a laptop that doesn’t get much use while vegging out to John Stewart. Second, the computer is downloading video from the web and transmitting it to the Roku box, which requires a beefy home network. It appears that 802.11n or better is the minimum to pull it off. The full requirements can be found on the PlayOn website. Here’s my abbreviated list:

The following are the minimum requirements for the PlayOn PC software.

  • Microsoft Windows XP (Service Pack 2 or later), Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows Server 2003/Windows Home Server (Service Pack 1 or later). 64-bit versions of Windows are also supported.
  • Pentium 4 3.2+ GHz, Pentium M 2.0+ GHz, or any multi-core x86 processor
  • 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended)
  • 100 MB of available disk space for installation, plus recommended 4-5 GB extra space on the same drive where Windows is installed; click here for details on using a different drive
  • Internet broadband connection of at least 1.5 Mbps, and home network with wired, powerline, or 802.11n connections (for wireless home networks with 802.11g, it is highly recommended that either the PC or device be on a wired connection)

Installing PlayOn

PlayOn installed onto my PC about like I would expect. I downloaded the software and double-clicked to install it on my Windows 7 laptop. PlayOn asked for an e-mail address, and we were up and running. One thing that was slightly unnerving was that there’s no icon in the taskbar for it – it’s all in the background.

The application that “runs” is an interface to the background server. It provides a method to connect in to multiple services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and so on.

After installing the PlayOn software, I needed the PlayOn Roku plugin. PlayOn provides instructions that amount to “click on this link:“. The link logs you into your Roku account (you remember that don’t you?) and tells your Roku box to download the channel. Roku advises you to go into and out of your “Channel Store” to force a refresh on the channels.

Giving Roku And PlayOn A Try

When I return to my Roku channel line-up, there it is

On entering the plug-in, it goes in search of my computer, find its, and we’re off. I did notice that I had to select my computer once, hit the back arrow button after it starts thinking, then enter it again to get the channel line-up. This shows that the channel is rough around the edges. Not a good sign. This roughness continues as I navigate down to the Daily Show using lots of clicks. Finally though, there’s John Stewart’s smiling mug looking back at me.

Mission Accomplished!

PlayOn & Roku: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good: I’ll hand it to them. They did what they said they’d do. I managed to get the Daily Show on my TV using the Roku box.

The Bad: The integration with various content channels is a bit rough, and some channels (like Comedy Central) have ads. Everything about this feels like a band-aid. The intro price is a monthly $4.99. They have a yearly price ($39.99 or $3.33 / month) or a buy-it price of $79.99. All are required after the 14 day trial period.

The Ugly: The Roku plug-in is rough. Very rough. The navigation is bare-bones at best and the larger channels (like Hulu) are painful to navigate. It’s obvious that the Roku box is one of their red-headed step-children. I don’t blame the PlayOn folks. After all, there are more than 75 million iPhones, 50 million PS3s, 25 million XBoxes, and 1 millon Roku boxes out there. Which one would you develop for?

PlayOn feels like a last-ditch effort to get something to work, and I suspect I’ll drop it once any more robust service licenses the Daily Show for set-top boxes. Is watching the Daily Show with my honey on our comfortable couch worth it? That’s a good question.