I decided back in January, after the smoke from the holidays cleared that I wanted to get a little something for myself. Well two things… sort of. One I decided that I did not in the future want my home to look like a video store. As it is out holiday movie collection gets shuffled in and out of our main cabinet because we have no more room in there for all the DVDs we have purchased over the past 10 years or so.
And second, I wanted to be able to watch streaming video. Video from Netflix could be streamed through our Wii (the PS3 and the XBox also have this ability), but the Wii only provides stand definition. Also, I wanted to be able to to watch Amazon Video On Demand movies as well as some Video Podcasts. So, I decided to give the Roku HD-XR a try.
The HD-XR is the latest and most expensive version of the Roku line at present coming in at $129.99 on Amazon.com. There is also a SD (Standard Definition) version and a “plain” HD (High Definition) version that are priced at $79.99 and $99.99. As I already stated, I didn’t want to go with Standard Definition, and for the extra $30 I opted to go with the HD-XR which provides “additional ports for future expansion,” as well as support for Wireless “N” (the other models only support up to 802.11G)
The Roku box strives to be a consumer friendly and easy to use home device and not a “geek toy,” and for the most part it succeeds in doing so. It took me only about 10 minutes from box to getting it connected, plugged in and at the configuration screens. It probably could have taken me 5, but I had to find an HDMI cable (not included… an annoyance).
The menus are clean, easy to read, and simple. The “hardest” part of the installation process is having to know your Routers Wireless Security Key (assuming you have your router secured… You DO have your wireless router secured, don’t you?!?). I did run into a glitch with the Wireless, but I will go into that below under the Cons. Essentially though, if you can connect a laptop or any other wireless device, you can connect the Roku.
There is an additional step that you have to go through to register your Roku box with things like flickr, but it is a one time deal with each of these sites, and your are then good to go.
The Roku box actually started off life as the “Netflix Box by Roku” but has since grown from only playing Netflix movies to adding Amazon Video On Demand (both purchased and rented movies), as well as any podcast that is available through Media Fly not to mention twit.tv, Revision 3, and others. Pandora Radio, access to Flickr to show a slideshow on your televison, You also have access to some premium “channels” from Roku including MLB.TV content, but I do not subscribe and have not tried things like the MLB through my Roku.
Once it was connected (again long story I will get to in a minute), I have had no problem with the streaming content (my home network includes 802.11G via a Verizon Fios Router), from any soure and have always had s strong signal. I love having these libraries at my fingertips. I don’t need to go find, load, or unload anything. I simply browse through the collection on the screen, select what I want to watch and watch it.
The remote is drop dead simple. Nothing fancy or confusing to mess it up. Response is reasonable, but it will miss a button press from time to time if your view between the remote and the box itself is not straight and clear.
The “Channel Store” is expanding all the time for the Roku player, and a fairly simple SDK means there will (most likely) be more content as time goes by.
The Not as Good
With many (if not all) sites that are supported, you will need a computer at some point for registration or some other interaction with content. For example, you can’t add movies to your Netflix queue from Roku, you have to log in on your PC to do that. Other just require a one time registration, but each channel you add requires a separate registration, and that can be a bit boring or tedious if you want to register for more than a couple of items at the get go.
As I have mentioned, the aim of the Roku is to be simple. It meets that goal, but there is a cost. The menus can get overwhelming to go through if you have a lot of items to go through (for example a large album of Facebook or Flickr pictures or even if you really load up your Netflix Instant Streaming queue). Since the Roku has no local storage for a cache… yet (remember that comment about “future features” I mentioned earlier?), going through large queues can be a bit slow and time consuming to get through.
Fast Forward and Rewinding on movie is not as quick as it would be on physical media like a DVD or Blu-Ray disc, however that is because you are traversing a stream. Do I think this is a big deal? No, not really. But it is worth mentioning.
Sadly, there are a few things that may give some people pause and question whether or not a Roku box is for them. The worst (in my opinion… but that could just be because it is an issue I personally ran into) is that as quick and easy at the setup is, I ran into a problem. It has problems connecting with my wireless router. No real rhyme or reason to it, it just would fail to connect. I had to repeat the process a number of times before it finally (and mysteriously) connected and worked. Once connected though it was fine. But for those less patient, this is a real killer. I found plenty of people on Roku’s forums with a similar problem, but no real solution given from either the forums or from Roku.
Roku themselves have managed to build up a fairly poor reputation with some people. Stories about failed returns, and rampant inability to get support (never needed it myself outside of the forums) plagued the company. If you are going to purchase a Roku box, I would suggest you get it from Amazon.com or some other retailer that will handle returns in case you have a bum box, or need to return it for any reason.
So far I have to say I am very happy with my Roku Box. I am looking forward to having a bigger streaming library from Netflix coming online, not to mention, since there are many more choices now available in the way of Roku channels even just since I bought the box.
It is NOT, a perfectly made consumer experience yet, and there are certain parts of it that still would require a bit of geek cred. So if you are thinking about giving this to your 99 year old relative, you are wasting your time, energy and money. But if you are comfortable behind a computer, then Roku is definitely worth a look. If anything, with so many choices available through it, Roku could just as well replace some of those premium channels you subscribe to through your television provider.