The CES expo in Las Vegas does not technically open until Tuesday morning, but perhaps the biggest news of the conference dropped in the wee hours this morning. In a watershed, first-of-its-kind development, cable TV provider Time Warner Cable has struck a deal with the streaming TV player Roku to provide the full cable television viewing experience over a Roku set-top box. This marks the first occasion that a top U.S. cable provider has agreed to stream their channels on an over-the-top TV box.
Before we go declaring this the Holy Grail for you cord-cutters out there, be aware of one important thing -- you would still need an active cable television subscription to use this service. Time Warner Cable for Roku cannot be "unbundled" from a cable subscription, and a fully paid-up Time Warner cable account will still be necessary to watch Time Warner cable on a Roku set-top box.
Nonetheless, it is still significant news that a Roku app on Time Warner Cable will allow viewers to watch cable television without using those outdated and clunky cable boxes. The standard Roku box or stick would full-on replace one's cable box. The news was first reported by tech blog The Verge, who say we can expect the app sometime "this quarter" -- in other words, by the end of March 2013.
Time Warner Cable will make 300 channels available on this Time Warner Cable-Roku app. This will bring the total number of Roku-watchable TV stations available to more than 700 channels, according to TechCrunch.
Yes, there is already a Time Warner Cable app for Android and iOS. That app allows subscribers to watch cable TV on a smartphone or tablet device. This new Roku app is the first that will let you stream cable channels on your actual television. The deal is significant, because the cable industry and the streaming TV industry have historically hated one another's guts.
In addition to the prerequisite necessity for a cable TV subscription, there is other fine print galore for users of this upcoming new Time Warner-Roku app. You will not be able to save Time Warner streamed content to a USB flash drive. You cannot just take your Roku Streaming Stick anywhere and stream this cable content -- you will only be able to access the Time Warner Cable content from your own home network. And you don't get to pick which 300 channels you get -- Time Warner will choose them for you.
Still, streaming TV viewers are sure to be excited by this development. Also excited by this development are young boys hoping that Time Warner will once again accidentally stream the Playboy Channel on a children's programming channel as they did briefly in 2010.