A couple of years ago, Time Warner Cable – now Spectrum – required customers getting cable feeds on TVs not supported by a DVR or cable box to get digital converters to continue receiving cable channels. (Previously those “extra” TVs just had a cable going directly into the back of the set, and you got “basic” channels going up to around channel 72.)
At first, the boxes were free, but after an introductory period, they started charging $4 a month for them. It may not sound like much until you start doing some math: that’s $48 a year, nearly a hundred dollars after two years. You keep that thing several years and you’ve spent a small fortune. And to make it worse, the boxes are terrible. There’s no on-screen channel guide, and changing channels is painfully slow. I asked Time Warner at the time if there was a better converter I could buy myself and they said nope, only their converter would work. Now Spectrum doesn’t even offer those adapters – you have to get an additional cable box at a charge of $11.75 per month.
I’ve been trying to come up with a better option that wouldn’t require me paying for an additional cable box for my upstairs bedroom TV. Since I wanted my cable channels, an HD antenna wouldn’t be enough. If you only want local channels, an HD antenna would be fine.
Then a colleague gave me a great tip last week: Roku.
Stream your Spectrum channels
I already have a Roku on my main TV downstairs for watching Netflix and Amazon Prime and other streaming services, but I didn’t realize the Spectrum channel on Roku would essentially stream my entire cable lineup live, including premium and local broadcast channels.
Before moving my old Roku to the upstairs TV, I tested it. It worked pretty well. There was a very small amount of pixelation that occurred one time, but it wasn’t bad and I honestly think that’s because my Roku is old (the newer Roku I bought later doesn’t do this).
But there are a few (mostly minor) drawbacks.
▪ First, and most disappointingly, Spectrum only lets you do this if you have Spectrum cable (obviously) plus internet. So for my mother, for instance, who has Spectrum cable but AT&T internet, it won’t work (even though this page says you just need “an internet connection,” trust me – it won’t work. We tried.). That’s really too bad.
▪ Another drawback is that you’ll need to use two remotes, since the Roku remote doesn’t control volume (except on some higher-end models) and it doesn’t turn the TV off and on. I can live with that.
▪ My biggest personal drawback is that I didn’t realize how spotty and unreliable my Spectrum internet was until I started using the Roku. My internet apparently drops constantly. Sometimes it comes back on its own after a few minutes, but sometimes it requires resetting the modem and router. A Spectrum technician came out and worked on it – on a Sunday morning, roughly one hour after I made the complaint via chat on the Spectrum site – but it’s still spotty at times. It’s something I’ll have to stay on them about, because the Roku option is pretty miserable when the internet service is unreliable.
Here’s how to do it
If you have the cable/internet bundle and your internet is pretty solid, here’s how you do it.
First, get a Roku. They start at $29 and go up in price, but the least expensive model should be fine for this. (I ended up getting a new one: the Streaming Stick for $39, because that one doesn’t require the remote to be aimed directly at the Roku to operate. It’s terrific and works so much better than my older model). According to the Spectrum website, you can also get the channel via an Xbox One, Apple devices using iOS 8.0+, Android OS 4.0+ devices, Kindle Fire or a Samsung Smart TV. It does not list Amazon Fire Stick or Google Chromecast, but if you know for sure it works on those, let me know. Also note that if you’re just using the Spectrum app on a phone or tablet, you don’t need to have Spectrum internet, it’ll work with any internet service.
Since I have a Roku, these instructions will be for that setup. I’m sure it’s similar for other streaming devices.
▪ Disconnect the digital adapter. You’ll need to return that to Spectrum to stop the charges to your account.
▪ The Roku will either plug directly into the HDMI outlet on the back of your TV or connect with an HDMI cable, which is included.
▪ Your TV will recognize the Roku. (You may need to use your TV remote to select HDMI, but if you’re disconnecting a digital adapter, it should already be set for that input.) In the main Roku screen, search for the the Spectrum TV channel and add it. It will take a few seconds to add to your channel lineup.
▪ Then select the option to play that channel. It will ask you to sign in with your cable account username and password. You most likely have a username and password already if you’ve been paying your bills online or streaming any other cable apps (like ESPN or PBS) on your Roku or on your computer. But if not, go online and register your account. Around here, use timewarnercable.com (which directs you to the Time Warner-Spectrum site: spectrum.com/?v=ORG&cmp=TWC).
▪ Roku will give you an activation code that you’ll be asked to enter on their website at my.roku.com/link.
▪ UPDATED: A reader brought it to my attention that Roku now asks you to sign up for an account and that they ask you for a credit card. The credit card is there in case you want to purchase programs or pay channels from within the Roku service. You won’t be charged for anything unless you opt to purchase something. But if you don’t want to do that – and I don’t blame you – I found a link that lets you sign up without a credit card, so just switch over to this link when they ask you to sign up: my.roku.com/signup/nocc. I think that should work, but if it doesn’t, check out this site and they have more tips: streamgadgets.com/create-a-roku-account-without-a-credit-card.
▪ After you sign in, the app will open on your TV screen. The < arrow on the Roku remote brings up a channel guide on the left side of the screen. Scroll up and down to select the channel you’d like to view. You can also set favorites or view the lineup by categories, such as Local, Movies and Sports. The full arrow ( <--- ) at the top of your Roku remote shows you an option that says “Guide,” and if you click on that, you can see a full TV grid similar to the one you get with a full service cable box.
You can’t punch in channel numbers and skip around that way, it’s all scrolling. But at least you get to clearly see the channels and names of the shows playing, unlike the info you get on the digital converter box. (I personally don’t think Spectrum will support those TWC boxes for too much longer, so you better start thinking about a Plan B.)
And there you go. Shell out $30 bucks once and you have a much better option for watching TV on your extra set. Plus now you have Netflix and HBO Go and Hulu or whatever services you pay for on that TV as well.
If you have another streaming device and have tips for ditching the Spectrum converter, email me and I’ll add them to the story.