Aaron Sumner


Roku: Initial impressions

After a little bit of thinking about media centers last week following the death of my Apple TV, I wound up buying a Roku HD Player. It can do the three things I was most interested in (stream Netflix, stream MLB.TV, stream music)–and is 100 bucks, compared to the 300 I was looking at spending on a Playstation 3 or 700-ish a Mac mini would have set me back. So far, I’ve been pretty pleased with the purchase. Here are a few first takes.

Setup

Setup really is as easy as they say. It helped, I’m sure, that I was able to use the same cabling that my Apple TV used, minus the power cable, to hook the Roku into my system–I’m using HDMI for video, digital optical for audio, and ethernet for networking. It connected to my network right away, ran a system update, and rebooted without a hitch.

The Channel Store is easy to skim (there are only a handful of channels), and for the most part channels are easy to install. I like the account linking mechanism used by apps like Netflix, Pandora, and Mediafly to hook a Roku box to a given account–major typing is done on a computer as opposed to a clunky on-screen keyboard. Flickr was the exception and required way too much typing on both sides.

I’m using a Logitech Harmony 550 universal remote with my Roku HD. Setup for this is a little weird. The key is to set up your Roku as a PVR.

Netflix

Netflix streaming is probably Roku’s strongest suit. It works as advertised–browse your instant queue, select a movie, and begin watching it within 10 seconds. I’m on a theoretical 50Mb connection and have yet to have any problems with buffering (which was sometimes a problem with streaming on my Mac) or pixelation. I haven’t tried any high-def movies, but standard definition videos look at least as good as upsampled DVDs on my system.

I found enough movies available for streaming on Netflix that I’ll probably drop my plan to one DVD at a time. As convenient as Netflix’s mailing service is, their streaming service is even more so. The streaming library isn’t as gigantic as the physical DVD one is, of course, but I’m taking the opportunity to add some movies I would have overlooked given a larger selection (classics, mainly).

Pandora

Pandora streaming works fine. Stations are easy to create and navigate. You can like and not like songs just as you’d suspect. No complaints here.

MLB.TV

To be determined. I’ve bought my subscription for the year and downloaded the app, but it doesn’t kick in until opening day. I’m really hoping this one works out–MLB.TV was a big hit in my house last year, and I’m looking forward to seeing games on a regular TV screen instead of a laptop.

Everything else

Honestly, though, I’ve been a little underwhelmed by the remaining channels. I’ve yet to have any luck with Mediafly. The Blip.tv and Flickr channels come off as half-realized. I don’t know enough about the Roku API to guess what might be up or to try to create my own channel but podcast consumption is one area where the Apple TV beats out Roku.

Wish list

My only request is probably a common one: I want to stream media from local servers. I’d love to have access to my iTunes Library or videos on a shared drive on my local network. That might be too much to expect from a $100 box. Other than that, I’d like to see more content providers creating Roku channels.

Summary

I’m very happy with the Roku HD. It’s probably not the geek chic device to get, but I like the simplicity and the fact that it just works. That’s not to say it’s going to be my end-all, be-all–as Boxee makes its way toward being a finalized product, I may wind up with a more full-featured home media center sitting under my television yet. In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of Netflix titles to catch up on in my intant queue, and baseball season starts in like a month.

. Questions or comments? Let me know what you think. Page may contain affiliate links.