Customer Review

651 of 686 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Apple TV vs. Roku XD. Fight!, October 29, 2010
This review is from: Roku XD 2050, 720p Streaming Player (Electronics)
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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.

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Quality/Content
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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.

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Flexibility
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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).

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User Experience/Interface
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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.

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Conclusion
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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?
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Comments

Tracked by 9 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 48 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 27, 2010 4:25:55 PM PST
JLG says:
Thanks. The main reason I haven't bitten of this is the uncertainty of how much real HD stuff I can get via Netflix. I don't see the point of connecting this to a 1080p TV if most of what I'll be watching (I won't be paying for anything from Amazon when I already have a Netflix subscription) is only in SD. Streaming or not, once you go HD you never want to watch SD again.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 27, 2010 4:56:32 PM PST
No prob.

I discovered there's a list of streaming HD content available here: http://www.netflix.com/WiHD

Posted on Dec 5, 2010 8:47:50 AM PST
Dave Bartell says:
Very thorough review thanks. I suppose that I could buy a $70 Roku to compare side by side to my gen 1 and 2 AppleTV, but the content streaming/syncing/management through iTunes and the exceptional user experience (including management by iPhone) makes the vertically integrated Apple stack a better choice in my house.

Great analysis of the HD streaming content online. Everyone gets twisted over what the devices can/can't play when the quantity of HD content is still growing. And, remember, that sound is huge. I've seen friends beautiful HD displays surrounded by sound that was weak.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 5, 2010 11:59:07 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 5, 2010 11:59:31 PM PST
Thanks, Drake.

I concur with many of your points, though I can certainly see why Roku has a strong fan base.

I think it's impressive that the XD recently overcame Apple TV to become the #1 selling media streamer on Amazon! I viewed Roku as an underdog vs. Apple, but Roku seems to be selling relatively well.

Posted on Dec 7, 2010 7:19:59 AM PST
Nhgeek says:
Thanks for the helpful review. One thing worth noting here is that as HD content grows, bandwidth must grow, too. Many providers are now capping bandwidth so that is a consideration. Presently Comcast caps at 250GB (up + down) per calendar month. I don't think it is an issue right now but it could get tight in a household with multiple computers, televisions and people.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2010 9:33:20 AM PST
I worry about that at times too. I do stream a lot of Netflix and rent a few movies a month from home, however, and even though I'm streaming pretty much daily, I've yet to run into my Comcast cap. I just checked my usage for October and it was only about 127 GB.

We'll see how things play out once internet streaming becomes more popular.

Posted on Dec 11, 2010 2:28:44 PM PST
Joshrocker says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Dec 28, 2010 2:17:44 PM PST
Hi, I'm new at this, so please forgive me, but I was hoping you could answer a couple questions I have.

1. Would I only be able to stream HD videos from Netflix? (I have an HD TV.) Is the HD selection on Netflix poor?
2. What's the actual performance difference between the Roku HD and the XD? Does the speed of my internet service matter (i.e. should I check to make sure the Roku will work with my internet?)
3. The Roku website lists an instant replay as part of the XD but not the HD--is instant replay different from pausing? Surely you can still pause the movie with the HD?

I appreciate any help you can give me!
Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2010 3:13:54 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2010 3:14:27 PM PST
1. It's not the greatest (and it's not near Blu Ray quality anyway). You can see the available HD movies at: http://www.netflix.com/WiHD
2a. The Roku HD has 720p output while the XD has 1080p.
2b. Roku suggests you have a minimum of 1.5 Mbps for SD content 3 Mbps for HD, though Netflix should adjust its quality to your internet speed so it should at least play, even if it's at lower quality. You can test your speed at www.speakeasy.net/speedtest.
3. I'd be VERY surprised if the HD couldn't pause the stream. I think the XD/XDS simply have a designated button on the remote that does an instant replay.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2010 5:47:42 PM PST
Thanks, Colin, we just checked our speed - more than enough - and are now looking at the HD movies available on NetFlix. We may also check out VuDu for availability. I appreciate your input and advice.
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