Comcast Will Let You Use Roku as a Cable Box, With a Catch

If you're hoping to replace your cable box in favor of a Roku device on Comcast's Xfinity cable service, you're more than welcome to do so. Just don't expect it to be free.

Comcast published an FAQ on using Roku devices in place of its cable boxes this week, in which the cable provider said it won't levy an equipment charge if you're using a Roku device with its Xfinity TV app during the current beta testing period. Better yet, during the beta, Comcast is waiving additional outlet charges for services from outlets connected to your Roku device. But once the beta is over, expect to spend some cash.

"On conclusion of the trial, you will be informed of the charges that will apply for connecting this device with your Xfinity TV service and will have the opportunity to opt in," the FAQ says, as initially reported by Variety.

Comcast announced this week that Roku owners could now use those set-top boxes instead of the traditional cable boxes to access Comcast content. To do that, you need only to download the Xfinity TV app beta to your Roku device, connect your account, and you'll be good to go. It's part of a broader initiative by the U.S. government to get cable companies to break away from locked-in cable boxes for customers and give you the option of which device to use.

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Comcast currently charges customers $10 a month to rent cable boxes. Letting cable customers use third-party products instead of a rented cable box has raised hopes that consumers would be able to save some cash and get a better set-top box experience. (You might draw a comparison to cable modems: instead of renting one from your internet provider, you can buy your own and save money over the long haul.)

Given Comcast's FAQ, though, it appears the cost-savings might not be what they seem. Comcast outlet charges come in at $7.45 per month. You're essentially paying a massive premium to the company just for having another connection to its cable running in your home. Cable companies argue the outlet charges cover their costs and the maintenance required to keep outlets working.

But the $7.45 per month for your Roku box might not be the only charge you could face. In another FAQ answer, Comcast says you'll only be able to use its Roku app if you have "Xfinity Internet service [and] have at least one Comcast-provided TV box." In other words, Roku owners will still need to have a box, which costs $10 per month to use Roku. Add that to the outlet charges, and costs could come close to, or even exceed, $20 a month.

So far, Comcast hasn't announced whether it would allow you to ditch its boxes entirely and just pay a fee outside of the box charge to run on Roku. If nothing else, it appears the Roku option might not be as nice as it seems.

Don Reisinger is CEO and founder of D2 Tech Agency. A communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter, Don has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes, Computerworld, Digital Trends, TechCrunch and Slashgear. He has also written for Tom's Guide for many years, contributing hundreds of articles on everything from phones to games to streaming and smart home.