Monday, March 28, 2011

Product Review - Roku XDS Media Player

OK, I'm a geek.  This isn't a gun review, or even a tactical equipment review.  This is a review of a little black electronic box that measures about 2" by 4 " by 4".

For about a year now, we've been using our Nintendo Wii to watch Netflix streaming video, and that has led me to discover a lot of the other streaming services that unfortunately don't mate with the Wii.  So I've been looking for something to either supplement or replace the Wii as a media player. My requirements were:

  • Play Netflix, and Amazon Prime video streams
  • Have the ability to add video streams as I discover them
  • Play videos from my movie collection, either by streaming from one of our computers or by connecting media to it directly
  • Interface with my 2004-purchased non-HD TV without degrading the video signal.  I'm not replacing my TV so I can watch old re-runs of Hawaii 5-0.

I looked at the new AppleTV when I bought the Macbook in December, but the salesman was very clear that it would interface only with an HD TV.  I also looked at some of the network enabled BlueRay players, but had the same issue.   I'm a cheap bastard, and I'm not going to spend money on a new TV until one of my sets dies.

A friend of mine suggested the Roku, and the price was right.  There three models of Roku box, priced from $59 to $99.  I bought the $99 model, since it came out of the box with the non-HD connectors for my "old" TV, had a USB connection to attach removable media and play movies, and had an "enhanced" remote.  I figured for $100, I could try it out, and if I didn't like it, I could put it up on eBay or Craig's List and re-sell it for most of what I paid for it.

Once it arrived, connection and set up took about 30 minutes.  The only wrinkle was getting it to talk to my wireless network, and the issue was more on the router end than on the player.  After that it was just a matter of configuring my Netflix and Amazon accounts to play over it, and then exploring the menus to find content streams that interested me.

In addition to the movies and TV shows on Netflix and Amazon, there are around 100 other channels that provide video and audio for a lot of different tastes.  I've configured a news stream, a children's programming stream, the NASA channel, and the "channel" that allows for playback from removable media.  This feature seems to be early in development, but plays movies from a USB drive pretty easily.  Basically, there is content available for a lot of different interests.  I will eventually add more to my default menu as I have time to explore.  A friend of mine suggests Hulu Plus, which plays a lot more current TV shows than Netflix or Amazon, so I may check that out.  My goal is to eventually cut down on the cable TV packages we have and watch content on the Roku.  That will save me money in the long run, even if I have to pay a few dollars a month to get to some content.  I just have to prove to Irish Woman that the technology works and we will indeed still get to the programming that she enjoys.

Overall, I'm very happy with the Roku.  I've reached the point in life that 99.99% of programming on cable is crap to me, even on former favorite channels like "Discovery" and "History Channel".  By having easy access to on-demand content streams, I can take the hour or so of TV that I watch a day and make sure it's something I want to watch.  And there is enough family and kids content that when I want to let the kids watch a cartoon or a movie, they aren't watching the same three episodes of Barney the Purple Dinosaur over and over.  And I'm making sure that there is content for Irish Woman.  I live by the credo "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy".

FCC Disclaimer - No money or other material gain on my part here.  Go bug someone else.

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