on December 4, 2010
We were a longtime Dish Network customer paying $80 a month for video service. While we had no complaints about Dish, we decided this past summer to take the plunge into internet video to see if we could save some dollars. My family was shocked the day I unplugged all of the Dish receivers and sent them back to Dish Network. "What are we going to watch?" "What about my favorite shows?"
As a 3 HDTV family and not knowing the best hardware option to use, we decided to try a selection of devices. For our main living room TV, we purchased a Roku device. For the den, we used our Wii and for the master bedroom a Sony Blu Ray Internet DVD player.
For content, we have moved our NetFlix usage from DVDs in the mail to internet streaming. We also installed playon.tv on our PC for access to Hulu (primarily), CBS (Survivor and Amazing Race) and Comedy Channel. Both NetFlix and Playon streaming to all of the devices we use work fine. This includes the Roku via playon, despite reports that Roku pulled the plug on playon (continues to work fine to this day).
We also purchased Comcast Basic (Limited) Cable ($14) for local news and sports. This is the plan that just uses the cable, no digital cable boxes required, allowing us to wire cable to all of our TV's. What Comcast will not tell you is with HDTV's we get full HD channels for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, CBS, etc. without having to purchase a digital plan or rent their digital boxes.
Comparing the Roku, Wii and Sony Internet DVD devices, we like the Roku the best of the three. In fact, we just installed a second Roku, moving the Wii back to a game system. The reason was primarily ease of use. Some of the reasons include the following:
- Roku Remote is the simplest to use than the Wii and Sony remotes with fewer and easier to understand buttons
- Roku provides access to NetFlix suggested titles and search. This is also available for the Wii but not the Sony Internet DVD player
- The Roku seems to do a better job at buffering the streaming content resulting in less video interuptions
In conclusion, we have a better video experience today than when we were paying $80 for Dish. Netflix gives us access to movies and past seasons of TV shows. Playon with Hulu gives us DVR access to all of the latest TV shows, we love the Hulu favorites Queue and the emails letting us know the latest episodes are in the queue.
Outside of our internet connection (need 2MBPS or more) which we already had in place, our total internet video monthly fees are $12.95 for NetFlix and $14 for Basic (Limited) Comcast Cable. A great savings with a better video experience.
I recently bought the new Apple TV, but was curious how the Roku XD compared. After all, while I like the Apple TV, it's tied to the Apple ecosystem, for better or worse. Meanwhile the Roku offered a broader feature set, but not as much of an established brand as Apple.
Luckily, I was able to satisfy my curiosity by getting a Roku XD, and I thought my experiences and opinions might be useful for those shopping for such internet-streaming set top boxes.
My first and biggest question was, "How does the quality compare?". 1080p capability is one of Roku's biggest selling points against Apple, because the Apple TV "only" streams 720p. What I found was that it was a mixed bag. Roku has the capability to stream 1080p, but something surprising is that a huge portion of available content isn't HD to start with and doesn't take full advantage of Roku's hardware. Some content you can stream from Amazon and Netflix looks little better than VHS quality, while some looked somewhere between DVD and HD broadcast quality.
The vast majority of Netflix, for example, is SD content including most bigger-name movies that make their way to the library. Thus, the HD capability of Roku is MOST noticeable in Amazon Video On-Demand's vast library of HD TV shows and movies.
Amazon Video On-Demand offers everything you could find through Apple TV's store and then some, but it has a superior pricing model. You can PURCHASE TV shows for .99c vs. .99c rentals on Apple TV, and you may save a buck or two renting older movies, especially if they're SD.
A drawback (maybe an advantage to some) to the Amazon's On-Demand store is its availability of soft-core porn, so parents be ready to tweak parental controls a little more than you'd have to with Apple TV, which limits its offerings to R-rated major studio movies.
The biggest selling point of the Roku in my opinion is the flexibility already established with its "channels" store, which is basically like an app store for your Roku. The big-three apps are "Amazon Video On-Demand", "Netflix" and "Hulu+ (coming soon)", but you can also choose channels from "Pandora" (if you like listening to music on your TV), or "UFC" (though the UFC channel is a bit of disappointment since they want to charge you $45 a pop to view past UFC events!).
Apple TV doesn't currently have an app store, though one is probably coming, and it will soon pick up the ability to stream a variety of content from an iOS device via something called "AirPlay", but Roku is clearly a bit more flexible at this point.
That said, a big feature I like about Apple TV that isn't available in Roku is the ability to view iTunes content. I like being able to watch movies on my TV then take them with me on my iPhone for my kids to watch on car trips or plane rides, and Apple has a better, more integrated ecosystem to support such capability.
I also like watching YouTube, which I can do on my Apple TV, but not straightforwardly on the Roku as far as I can tell (EDIT: apparently there's a secret beta YouTube channel if you Google for it, but it's not highlighted in the channel store).
I think the biggest disadvantage of Roku vs. Apple TV is in its user experience. The Roku is slightly more complicated to set up (for instance, you need to find the TV settings menu then designate that you have a 1080p TV before you can watch HD content), and the user interfaces for many features, while good, just don't match the smooth feel and responsiveness of the Apple TV. With Roku, you tend to get longish, frequent load animations when navigating between channels. Plus Roku's content suggestion features don't work quite as well as Apple TV, and with Roku you don't have an "Apple Remote"-quality iPhone app to let you control the device.
While Roku markets its device as higher quality than devices like the Apple TV because of "1080p", limited content and bitrate minimize any noticeable advantage. The fact is that if you REALLY care about quality, you get a Blu Ray player, not a media streamer from any manufacturer. Nevertheless, the Roku is at least as good, if not better than competing streaming devices if you're viewing the right content.
It lacks a few of the iTunes-specific features of Apple TV, and the user experience isn't quite as good, but if you don't care about those things, the Roku is more flexible, cheaper both in purchase price and content prices, and offers more content than the Apple TV.
Overall, the Roku XD is an EXCELLENT device that's priced to move! For $80, why not try it?
on October 6, 2010
One can make a good case that with Roku you really don't need cable or satellite TV. With a $10 monthly subscription to Netflix you can get more movies than you have time for over the internet at the time that you want to see them. I doubt that one movie that TCM shows is not available this way.
You can listen to almost any radio station in the country free, meeting your needs if you like any particular kind of music or listen to talk radio, sports, etc.
You can watch Youtube clips on your big TV as well and can send the sound to your stereo system, home theater nowadays.
There are lots of other specialized sites, both free and by subscription, that are available. I like Pub-D-Hub which has movies in the public domain for free, many are poor but others can be quite good, I had never seen a picture with legendary Lillian Gish before.
Roku is a winner.
on October 9, 2010
I've owned my Roku for 10 months. I'm sorry that that one person had a bad experience. I, myself, have had great experience with their customer service. Wow, last month, when my wifi went out on my old player, the guy trouble shooted it (even though I had told him that I had already done every trouble shoot 19 times), and then he gave me the needed number to write down on the return label and mailed me a box to send it back to them for free. I didn't have to collect a bunch of paperwork and (receipts and stuff) like most other companies require for a full refund. Just the player and the remote! My brand new Roku arrived within the week.
I have never regretted buying this player. Now it's even $40.00 less than I originally paid for it. It's a fricken steal if you ask me. Not only do you get your movies mailed to you from Netflix, but you get to watch, from the comfort of any room you decide to put the thing in, all the tv shows and kids shows and movies and free music and OMG the list goes on and on. Ren and Stimpy, 30 Rock, Lie to Me, Spongebob, on and on and on. The kids love it. When I'm bored at night, I get a huge list of choices to entertain me and I really couldn't live without this cute little tiny machine. I HIGHLY recommend!!
on December 1, 2010
I'm a spartan tightwad, so for me to say that something is worth the money is high praise indeed. Roku isn't perfect, but it's a great idea and well executed.
We have been cable/satellite free for over five years (before we bought our house, our apartment included free cable). I have never paid for premium TV, I just can't imagine doing it. When our tube TV died a few years ago, we tried to get it fixed, but they no longer make the part. So we started watching shows online. After the digital conversion last year, our remaining tiny tube TV became just a DVD watching monitor.
Well, the holiday season of 2010 offered such spectacular deals on TVs that it turned even me, and we bought a 42" plasma for $350 because it's only 720p/60hz. As I planned on hooking up a home theatre PC (much of streaming is still standard def), I'll accept the slightly out of date technology for that great of a price.
I looked at the Boxee Box, a Dell Zino, and laughed hysterically at the price of Google TV and internet enabled televisions and Blu Ray players. But the Roku, starting at $60... that price held my attention.
I bought the mid level Roku for the price of the low end one, $60+ shipping, on their Black Friday sale. Shipping was fast- it was here on Monday.
Set up is pretty simple, but you do need a computer or at least a smartphone to input the codes. Choosing the channels and inputting the codes takes ten times as long as actual hardware setup, but you can do this over time, you don't have to do it right away unless you are like me and very Type A.
The Bad: there is still lots of content out there, for free, that Roku can't access. You'll either have to pony up the dough on Amazon's video on demand, wait for the DVD from Netflix, or plug your laptop into your computer with an HDMI cable. This is true even if you have Hulu+. For example, "Medium" moved to CBS. CBS, because they are a network run by and for old people, doesn't participate in Hulu. I can't watch Medium on my TV unless I pay for it from AVOD. Bummer, when I could watch for free on CBS.com. Same thing with Disney- if you have Disney Magic Codes, you can watch movies (as much as you want, whenever you want) online. But not on a TV, at least not through the Roku. Mr. HDMI cable has to come out, or Disney is confined to the computer screen.
I don't need or want Roku to have a full browser, but if it did this problem would be solved. The business model behind Hulu+ would also collapse, though, so I'm not sure what the solution is.
We are not a family of sports fans, so we don't subscribe to MLB or NHL pay channels, but we do have Netflix and Hulu+ for a grand total of $16/mo. There are tons of good, free Roku channels, especially if you bother to look for the "Private" channels, which include YouTube and HGTV.
What is very, very good about the Roku is the price and ease of use. I would have spent an absolute minimum of $250 on a little nettop to use as an HTPC, plus more for a wireless keyboard, and it would have been a PITA to use. You'd have to open a browser and search. If I lived alone, this would not be a big deal, but we have three kids, and if I lived alone, I probably would get along with just a laptop. The primary reason we got a TV was to cuddle on the couch and watch movies. My littles would make mincemeat out of a a keyboard-as-remote. On the other hand, while you can search pretty easily with Roku remote, you don't HAVE to. You can browse. The remote and interface is so dead simple my four year old learned how to use it in about 15 minutes, despite the fact that we've never used a TV remote in this house until about a week ago. My dad could use this, hell, my husband's grandma could use it. It's that straightforward.
Also, Kidlet is AMAZING. It's a kids' TV network that contains three channels and tons of cartoons. There are no commercials whatsoever, which are my main objection to childrens' TV. (Yeah, we get PBS OTA, too.) We discovered "Redwall" through Kidlet on Roku, something that Netflix doesn't even have, and is fantastic- we have the books on hold now at the library.
This is the way TVs and movies are meant to be watched- when you want, no discs to scratch, no mindless channel surfing, no/few commercials, no schedule to keep, with a picture that far outstrips everything but DVD. Roku is the future.
on January 21, 2011
During the setup procedure Roku informs you that to establish your free account, you must provide them with a credit card number (or paypal). If you don't comply, you can't use the Roku. This information had to be intentionally omitted from every detailed description I read on Amazon and elsewhere. I wondered how I had missed this in the user reviews. I scanned them again and was surprised to find only a couple of other reviewers who were displeased with this requirement. I am returning the Roku and ordering a Panasonic bluray player with internet capability built in. Funny how that dvd player can stream Netflix to you without a Panasonic account.
on October 16, 2010
... but Roku is the greatest thing EVER in the history of the universe.
Setup was ridiculously easy. Plug the box into an AC outlet, connect the AV cables to your TV, and switch your TV to the appropriate channel. If using a wireless router, enter the encryption key or passcode. (For WEP security, this will be 13 pairs of alphanumeric symbols.) Then follow the on-screen instructions to sync your Roku account to your Netflix account and/or your Amazon Video On Demand account, using a simple activation code.
Within 15 minutes or less, I was searching Netflix on my TV screen and choosing things to watch. I settled on "Aliens." Picture quality was better than cable, comparable to DVD. There was no pixellation, buffering, signal breakup, or any other glitch. After a while I forgot I was watching a streaming video. Colors were bright, outlines were sharp. My Roku is hooked up to a non-state-of-the-art, non-widescreen, non-digital TV that only accepts 480i input. The image quality would undoubtedly be even better on a newer set with 1080i capabilities.
Later that night I intended to watch syndicated reruns of "King of the Hill." But because of a dispute with Cablevision, Newscorp pulled the local Fox channel off the air. No KOTH! What to do? Luckily, there was no need to panic. Netflix has at least 9 seasons of KOTH available for streaming. I watched two episodes and found the picture quality significantly better than the local broadcast. Plus, no commercials! I may never watch KOTH on the Fox affiliate again. That's one less viewer for Fox. Well played, Newscorp!
I haven't really looked into the various other channels that are available for Roku, which seem to vary widely in quality. New channels are being added all the time. I understand Hulu is coming soon.
Truthfully, I could imagine ditching cable TV altogether once the selection of streaming videos becomes even better. This is the future of TV. And did I mention it's the greatest thing EVER?
Technical caveat: I have a cable Internet connection that downloads at 12-13 Mbps. Connections slower than 5 Mbps may be less satisfactory.
Bottom line: Buy this thing. It works as advertised, and it's just cool.
on October 31, 2010
I bought this to use with my Linksys Wireless-G router and my Netflix subscription. After a wasted evening of trying to watch a movie, it's being sent back.
1) My first problem was it wouldn't connect to my wireless router. After reading similar problems on the Roku forums, I finally learned I had to make my router broadcast the SSID. I don't know why, but it did solve the problem (for awhile). But if you do broadcast your SSID, make sure you secure your router from unauthorized access.
2) The next problem I had was that the Roku would fail trying to connect to my local area network. I rebooted the Roku and all seemed fine as it connected and downloaded a software update. After the update, it restarted itself and once again, no connection to the wireless router even though the router had 5 bars of signal strength. Powering everything down and hitting the reset button on the bottom of the Roku box multiple times eventually seemed to do the trick as I once again was connected (for awhile).
3) Everything finally seemed fine. I was able to register the Roku and activate my Netflix account. My instant queue showed up. All seemed well until I realized I couldn't select any of the movies in my queue. I saw other posts in the support forums for this problem but there were no solutions. Another couple of reboots and that problem seemed to go away. But then when I started my movie, I got about 30 seconds into it and it got stuck in an infinite loop where it kept playing the same 4 seconds over and over again. I followed all sorts of suggestions including turning off my firewall on my router. But nothing solved the problem.
4) Then finally on one of the many reboots I did trying to get around the looping problem, I once again lost the ability to establish a valid connection. It would sometimes fail on connecting to the wireless router even though it had 5 bars of signal strength. If it got past that, it would fail on connecting to the local area network, and on the few occasions I'd get past that, it failed on connecting to the internet. Meanwhile, I tried connecting with a netbook from the same location and had no problems. Not only was the signal strength strong, but the bandwidth (as measured by [...] was over 7Mbps. (On my desktop computer it's over 17Mbps) Based on the Roku forums, this should be more than enough bandwidth to stream a Netflix movie. Some posts mentioned having half the bandwidth as me and the movies were still watchable. But for some reason, the Roku just didn't want to work properly for me.
So the Roku is going back. I could get a replacement and try again, but after tonight's experience, I just couldn't care less anymore. It was supposed to be a quick, easy, and cheap solution to getting Netflix on-demand on my TV. It was anything but quick and easy. Besides, in a year or two, Roku will probably go the way of the dinosaur as internet capabilities get built directly into TVs. I'm willing to wait for something a little bit better than Roku.
on January 1, 2011
Do not purchase a Roku XD if you own a netgear router (other routers might be affected as well). I've had an original roku for almost 2 years and love it. I received a roku XD this year for Christmas and experienced connection issues right out of the box. After spending an hour waiting for a customer support representative and spending another hour and a half troubleshooting the connectivity issues, they sent me a replacement Roku XD unit. The replacement wouldn't connect either. Both units would sometimes find the wireless networks, sometimes connect to the wireless network, and sometimes even get to the software update but remain at 0% for hours. Other times they wouldn't even find the netowrk or bomb out at various connection intervals.The new Roku XD's were being placed in the exact same location as the older Roku (and yes, the older Roku was disconnected when I hooked the new ones up).Every other wireless device I own, playstation 3, laptops, even my original roku connects without issue. I then called customer support back and after another almost 2 hours the lady told me to unplug my modem, router, and roku for 2 hours and then try connecting again. That, of course, did absolutely nothing.
I called back again today and this time got "Kristen" on the line. I went through the same exact steps with her and after about an hour I said "we have eliminated all of the possible variables leaving only the Roku XD player - I would like a refund". At this point she asked me to wait while she checked her resources. After about 5 minutes of Silence, she hung up on me. I waited 5 minutes to see if she would call back; after all, she is on the other side of the world in India. Nothing. I called back and guess who I was lucky enough to get again? Yep, Kristen. When she answered, she went through the standard "thank you for calling roku support, my name is Kristen, is this the first time you are calling. I said "no, Kristen it's not; why did you hang up on me?" She was obviously flustered and tried telling me that she was attempting to call me back, but if that was the case, why was she available to take my call 5 minutes later? I asked her to speak to a supervisor and she refused my request. My second request wasn't as polite and after about 5 minutes on hold "Robert" took my call. I explained to "Robert" that I was no longer interested in getting the replacement player to work and asked for a refund. After another few minutes on hold, the request was authorized and I had the Second RMA in hand. I'm hoping that the refund transaction will go smoothly, but after dealing with their customer service I have my doubts.
Outsourcing your Tech Support to India where random people off the street attempt to wade through scripts shows me how little you value your customers. Your initial product offering was wonderful, but your attempt at adding "new and improved features" has failed. Please evacuate your seat on the failboat by fixing the Roku XD. Also, having employees post positive product reviews on the interwebs is shameless.
on January 7, 2011
First let me say that I LOVE these little boxes, when they work. I was getting a second tv in my house and thought I'd upgrade the big tv to the XD (1080p, Wireless N) version of the Roku. I had been using the HD box with 802.11b/g wifi router for a couple of years. I took the XD out of the box, hooked it up and it immediately connected to the new Wireless N modem and downloaded a software update. I never did get to see what kind of picture quality it had, since it was never able to connect to the wireless network after that. A check of the internet shows that this is a known issue with the XD version of the Roku boxes (one professional review website noted the exact same thing happened to them with a test model: after the update they were never able to get the wifi to work again due to spotty reception). The only way they could get it to stay connected was to remove every last bit of wireless security from the router (wow that's safe). I suppose if you have a wired connection this is not a big deal, but if you're planning on using the Roku with wifi, the consensus seems to be to stay away from this one.