I’m going to put this first entry of 2020 out there for the guys at Cord Cutters’ News because blind people looking to cut the cord should know the truth about a few things, and I want to start with a review of an affordable smart TV solution.
Meet my 32 inch TCL smart TV powered by the Roku smart operating system. It’s a little tyke, and compared to its older sister, the Fire TV edition, the Toshiba we bought for $359 plus at Best Buy, this one’s only $129. I was able to pay for this bad boy with a gift card, and two antennae later, I’d just about spent my whole $150 allotment on this stuff. So, now that you know the price I paid for this, let’s get to the meat and potatoes.
First, for blind people outside the United States, Roku is the bane of their existence. This will appear in the feedback list I’ll provide below. But let me talk about Audio Guide.
Yes, the guide works, and it is somewhat discernible. Roku made this accessible by use of the Flight speech synthesizer, which the female version of this voice is more of a problem for some ears, but I had to strain to listen to certain letters, and in some instances the keyboards had to do military alphabet call words associated with those letters. The hardest letters to hear are the ones like e, g, v, b, and p. A and J are fine, but those other letters are harder to hear with the crappy voice driver they’re using. Not complaining, however, because there’s a lot of personality to this affordable new system.
AS a blind person, the first thing you ought to know is I love entertainment modes. Netflix and Hulu work okay with Audio guide to set up at first. Hulu was harder to do because the code for activating the darn thing took many many tries to fix, and my fiance who’s also blind had to do it in the end because of the … well, should I say ultracrappy synthesizer lettering in the codes? We tried to get a discernible code, and it was a bear to set up. However, when we did get the darn thing to work, Hulu still had options for audio description that worked on the Roku and Fire TV alike.
While I’d like to say Roku is amazingly awesome and such, I don’t know for sure if the picture is right, and I’m totally blind. One thing I’d like to see the company do is focus its efforts on making the Roku free stuff described for blind audiences, especially those with total blindness from birth who’ve never seen, but when descriptions come alive on screen, we have our visual cortexes activated. This is scientifically proven, and Braille does the same thing. Roku should especially work harder to provide cord cutters who are totally blind and visually impaired with more options, other than antenna TV, where description is present. I’m serious. Now, for the ultimate feedback.
Because blind and visually impaired people exist all over the world, Roku must make an effort to deliver audio guide to other countries and other language groups, i.e. Spanish or French or Portuguese and Dutch. The blind in Europe and Canada don’t have audio guide as an option on Roku, and therefore are stuck with Fire OS or Samsung, both high end and Sony, another high end option. However, I’m going to be blunt. Only offering audio guide in the U.S. will be bad for the overall Roku user experience for those who are blind living outside it. Therefore, points off in the rating.
Another bit of feedback I already mentioned above. Making sure the apps work with audio guide will be challenging, but worth a good fight if you’re ready to yell at a few weirdos, tell someone else they’re a jerk, or go above the heads of Netflix Customer Service, and that’s a stretch. Points off.
Another bit of feedback, Roku televisions are highly affordable, but should blind and visually impaired people be stuck with a crappy synthesizer driver that they can’t understand? I mentioned the Hulu setup stuff, but there’s more. What if I tried to set up Prime Video? Netflix? Apple TV is highly usable with audio guide, but audio guide’s greatest weakness is, according to many Roku adopters, its altogether crappy synthesizer choice. Points off.
I love the sounds the TV emits, and the speaker is not bad. Thankfully, I can instantly turn on audio description on my Comcast xfinity streaming app channel thingy I added to the home screen. The trick is to navigate with the directional pad. The remote is simple, and you can reprogram some of the bottom four buttons. They are from top to bottom as follows, this being a Walmart TV: Netflix, Hulu, Roku Channel, and Voodoo, Walmart’s own entertainment service like Hulu and Netflix. Actually, I mixed two of the bottom buttons up, but you get the picture. There is a star button, which is great for doing options and menus I need to access the stuff I look for. The direction pad is a plus, almost looks like one of them Xbox game console controller things. They also have a back and home buttons above those plus buttons. The power button is easily distinguishable, a round thingy on the top that you can easily flip on and off the Roku. What would I rate my overall experience with this darn TV? Well, I’ll give it that the skills can’t access Netflix content yet, or ever if I know what’s up. However, I connected the Roku to both Google and Alexa in my apartment home. It works like a charm, but still needs essential work to be done in the discernible voice and accessing descriptive content category. I’m going to say, for all intent and purpose, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, this thing gets a 5. So it’s a fifty percent grade for Roku, and I’ll say it will do better, so this thing also needs improvement. To the guy who does Cord Cutting Today, you should read this blog entry because maybe you should consider my review of Roku very carefully. I’ll do a review of my Fire OS TV tomorrow or another day.