Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roku Review

As promised (on Twitter) - the full Roku review.

Sorry for the little delay but I prefer to use things for at least a few days and give them a good going over before I do a writeup.  Done and done.  I've had the box for a little more than a week now and in short.  I love it.  I love it about as much as I love my Squeezebox in fact.  These kind of streaming devices are definitely the future.

Purchase experience:
I previously mentioned via Twitter ( @ninjahippie ) that I had an amazingly satisfying experience with the support and purchase experience on the Roku site.  I'll elaborate a little here to explain.

I have an older HD tv.  It's one of those rear projection monsters.  In fact it's about the size of a small car.  It's got an amazing picture however and the screen is about 65" so I rather like it.  The downside is that being older - the only HD inputs on the beast are component.  There is no HDMI on the old gal at all.

This being the case I knew that the older Roku XDS model had a component option but I could find no mention of it regarding the new Roku 2 models.  So I clicked the "live chat" option on the Roku website and was put into a queue - the first thing I liked was that the chat app kept me informed about my place in line and gave an estimated wait time.  After about 3 minutes I was greeted by a rep who answered my question immediately without any extraneous jabber or more importantly - no sales pressure.

I then went to their online store and - since the new generation does not support component connections - put an older XDS model and component cable in my cart and proceeded to check out.  I notice immediately that they take PayPal.  I prefer this online for so many reasons.  The two biggest are convenience related.  First, I just need to know my password.  No digging about for a credit card and pecking in numbers and such.  Second, PayPal sends a "ship to" address so I don't have to type it all in.

Most sites hose up this last one.  They make you type in everything and then send you to PayPal.  Not Roku.  PayPal first.  At the end they asked me if they should use the address provided by my account or if I wanted to enter a different shipping address.  Dead solid perfect.

Shipping was free and immediate.  I had the box in 3 days thanks to the USPS priority mail service.

Setup and use:

In the box:  A remote, batteries, composite cable, getting started guide and the unit itself.  (Note: composite and component are very different animals)  An HDMI is not included.  Also if you need the component cable - don't forget to grab a TOSLINK cable for digital audio output.

The Roku is like a toaster.  If you have HDMI - one cable to the TV and one power cord.  In my case, three cables.

Put the TV on the appropriate input and you are greeted with a simple step by step process to get connected to your network.  In doing the initial setup you will want to be close to your computer as you will need to create an account on the Roku site and link the box to it and then do the same with any of the Paid streaming services you may use.  Linking is simple.  The Roku will display a short code and the URL to visit on the appropriate site.  Once you enter the code - your Roku is linked to your account.

I hooked the box up to both my old TV via the component cable, and my newer set via HDMI.  Both worked flawlessly.  The only niggle that I found was that if you set a resolution that your set cannot support you're stuck.  You must either hook the box to a TV that does support that resolution or do a factory reset and begin from scratch.  The one thing I would recommend to Roku is to add a "do you want to keep this resolution" question after you change it.  Similar to the way windows and Linux handle these changes.  If the question goes unanswered it reverts to the previous setting...

Watching stuff:

Besides Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc there are TONS of other "channels" in the store.  It's a bit overwhelming in fact. Beyond that there are "private" channels that can be added from your account on the web site and dozens of apps that do things like let you stream from your home media server / PC.  Games, screen savers etc.

In a week of watching Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and shows from Revision3 and live streams from the only video glitchs (re-buffering) I've had were with the live stream from  And that was just twice in an hour long show.

Overall impressions:

Physically the box is tiny.  Smaller even than an AppleTV.  It's simple to setup.  The user interface is mostly simple (some of the channels - like Hulu - are a little odd). The content is simply amazing.  Roku knocks it out of the park and gets my highest recommendation.

If you have a newer TV with HDMI connections or older sets with composite or s-video connections just get one of the latest boxes.  However, if you are in my boat and have an older HD set and need the XDS you can purchase it directly from Roku like I did.  You must do it from the "accessories" page as they aren't shown on the main site any more.  You can also get them from Amazon and other vendors.  You will also need the component adapter cable - available only from Roku (also on the accessories page) as far as I know.

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