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How to set up a Roku streaming device on any TV, even an older model

Prepare before connecting Roku
Beth McIntire

Roku Internet TV streaming devices offer an excellent option for cutting the cable or satellite cord to save $50, $100 or more on your monthly bills. You can also use Roku in tandem with your pay TV provider, either with your current subscription, using a scaled back version or even choosing a low-cost alternative with little equipment required, such as TWC TV.

For setting up a Roku on an older, non-HDMI television, you'll need a Roku 2, not a Roku 3, which only works with HDMI televisions. Even if you have HDMI, the less expensive Roku 2 may do the trick, though it doesn't include a USB or microSD slot like the Roku 3 does. You might want these features to plug in a memory card or USB drive for playing your own media, such as videos that you take or your personal DVDs that you've ripped.

Assuming you have the Roku device out of its box - Roku 2 for older TVs, Roku 3 if you have an HD TV and want a few extra bells and whistles - you'll also need to take care of the following steps before starting the setup process.

  • The device doesn't come with an HDMI cable, so you'll need one if you have an HD TV and want to watch content in HD.
  • Set up a Roku account on their Web site and have the login credentials handy for the device setup.
  • You need a credit card during the Roku setup process, for ordering pay per view movie rentals. I recommend using a temporary number for any situation like this where recurring charges could happen. If you have a Bank of America credit card, you can use their Shop Safe service. Otherwise, a Visa gift card from your bank or credit union should work.
  • You'll probably need the original remote control that came with your television, too.
  • Toward the end of Roku setup, you'll need to go to a computer and enter a Web site address and activation code from the Roku device. Therefore, you'll want to have a pen and paper handy to write down this information and take it to your computer.
  • Write down your login credentials for any streaming service you subscribe to, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as the password to your Wi-Fi network.

With all of your ducks in a row, you're ready to hook up your new Roku. First, remove it from the box and insert the included AA batteries into the remote control.

Plug in the power cable and either the included component cables or your HDMI cable - one end to the Roku and the other to your television. Most HD TVs have more than one HDMI port, but if yours doesn't, you won't be able to use both a pay TV box and your Roku with HD. You'll probably have component ports (red, yellow, white) free even if you still connect to cable or satellite TV, though.

Turn on the Roku, and use your TV remote (the original one that came with the television) to switch to the appropriate input. Make sure the remote is in TV mode. To check this, see if the volume and channel up/down buttons work. You may have to press a TV button near the top of the remote to make this happen.

On an older TV, you may need to hit TV/Video. On a newer one with HD, you may have an HDMI button that you need to press once or more to switch among the HDMI ports. Hooking up the Roku device is a breeze, but the part where you make Roku come up on the screen can take some experimentation, especially with an older TV set.

If the above suggestions don't work, you can try switching to channel 3 or 4. If it's possible for you to see the model number of your old TV, you could search online for the owner's manual, unless you can still put your hands on the one that came with your TV.

Once you get Roku up on the screen, you're home free. The setup routine walks you through the process of connecting to your Wi-Fi network, logging into the Roku with your account credentials and adding channels.

After you get past the initial setup and activation, I recommend that you login to Roku's Web site on your computer and select more Roku channels. You can certainly select channels within the Roku interface, but it's easier to browse through the list and see descriptions of the available channels on a computer screen. Some channels require setting up accounts and/or visiting an activation Web site from your computer the first time you launch them on the Roku.

In order to receive your local broadcast networks, you'll need to either maintain a minimal pay TV subscription or buy an antenna - with a converter box if you have a non-digital TV. You might also want to try a TabloTV device, which lets you record over-the-air programming and watch it on all the Roku devices in your house. It also lets you watch live TV broadcasts on any TV, using just the one antenna hooked up to the TabloTV box.

Roku recommends that you don't try to hook up the device through a VCR or DVD player. Remember that the Roku device is essentially a tiny computer. If you have problems with it at some point, such as issues with streaming or Wi-Fi disconnections, try rebooting it by unplugging the power for 30 seconds.

Prepare before connecting Roku
Prepare before connecting Roku Beth McIntire

Prepare before connecting Roku

Before connecting your Roku, you should gather the following.

  • HDMI cable, if using HD.
  • Roku.com account credentials.
  • Account credentials for streaming services you use, like Netflix or Amazon Prime.
  • Credit card.
  • Original remote control for your TV.
  • Pen and paper.

When you're ready, connect the power cable to the Roku along with either component or HD cables.

Connect to television
Connect to television Beth McIntire

Connect to television

Connect the other end of the HD or component cables to your television.

If using component cables, make sure the colors match up to the ports where you plug them in (yellow goes in the yellow port, red goes in red and white goes in white).

Most HD TVs have more than one HD port on the back. However, if yours doesn't, you won't be able to use HD for both pay TV and Roku.

Even if you still have a satellite or cable box hooked up, you'll probably still have component ports available on the TV.

If you don't have a satellite or cable subscription, you won't get broadcast channels without hooking up an antenna, and a converter box if you have an older TV set. Time Warner Cable offers a minimal subscription for about $40 a month which works with a Roku app called TWC TV.

Get Roku on the TV screen
Get Roku on the TV screen Beth McIntire

Get Roku on the TV screen

After the Roku is hooked up, use your TV remote (the original one that came with the television) to switch to the appropriate input. Make sure the remote is in TV mode. To check this, be sure the volume and channel up/down buttons work. You may have to press a TV button near the top of the remote to make this happen.

On an older TV, you may need to hit the TV/Video button. On a newer one with HD, you may have an HDMI button that you need to press once or more to switch among the HDMI ports. Hooking up the Roku device is a breeze, but the part where you make Roku come up on the screen can take some experimentation, especially with an older TV set.

If the above suggestions don't work, you can turn on or off the VCR or DVD player or switch to channel 3 or 4. If it's possible for you to see the model number of your old TV, you could search online for the owner's manual, unless you can still put your hands on the one that came with your TV.

If this article helped you or if you have further suggestions, please feel free to comment below.

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