LAS VEGAS--The Roku box will soon be able to double as a cable box for Time Warner Cable customers.
By April, the free TWC TV app will be added to Roku's increasingly robust app store. The app -- which is already available on iOS, Android, and PCs and Macs -- allows current Time Warner Cable subscribers to receive up to 300 live TV channels at no extra charge. That means subscribers could add a de facto cable box to any TV within range of a Wi-Fi signal, rather than having to having to make an appointment with the cable guy. Also gone: the additional monthly rental fee that usually comes with additional cable boxes. And there's also no need for running coaxial cable to another room of the house.
If the Roku app offers the same channels and the same high degree of polish that the iPad app does, Time Warner subscribers could be in for a treat. On the other hand, navigating with the tiny Roku remote might be a bit more challenging than the easy touch and swipe controls on an iPad.
This won't be the first "cable service as app" service available on streaming boxes. The Xbox 360, for instance, has Comcast and Fios apps available for respective subscribers of those cable services. But they generally have far fewer channels available than the 300 that you'll find on TWC TV. And Xbox owners need to pay the $60 per year Xbox Live Gold fee to get the TV apps as well -- more than the cost of a Roku LT.
Purists may lament the fact that this is just one more way to lock you into an expensive cable subscription. That's certainly true, since cord cutters and non-TWC subscribers need not apply. On the other hand, I think the idea of app-based cable services is an enticing one. You can imagine a future where smart TVs and boxes have all the major providers, and you merely need an account name and password -- just like Netflix -- to get your TV service. Add an upgraded on-demand roster, and you could envision power-hungry cable boxes and DVRs finally going the way of the dodo.
Not too shabby. Let's hope it works out that way.