The Roku Player – What’s it Good for Anyways?

The Roku brings Streaming Video Directly to your Living Room

On a whim, I recently picked up a Roku XD player from The Roku allows you to tap into a lot of the video going around on the “interwebs” and watch it on your HDTV of choice. The Roku is one of the devices that so-called “cord-cutters” use to keep themselves entertained. After a few weeks with it (coupled with subscriptions to Amazon Prime and Netflix Instant Video) I’ve got a few thoughts on it.

Streaming Video and the Roku – Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

When playing around with my Roku player, I used Amazon VOD, Cracklin, Netflix Instant and played around with a few others. None of the interfaces were great – they didn’t really allow for good search/discovery, but I’d have to say the Netflix app offered the best UX. Cracklin’ is a video offering that tortures you with endless commercials, but rewards you with free movies and TV. However, I stuck to Amazon VOD and Netflix myself. Roku does a really good job bringing video to your HDTV (especially the HD streams). I have a large (73″) TV, but all of the HD streams looked crisp and clear. The Facebook App only allows you to look at videos and pictures – but I imagine it that will change in the future.

There are various sports, news, music (think Pandora), kids and games applications that can all be added to your Roku. Roku’s own news applications allows you to plug into live feeds and check out all sorts of episodic news shows. The Roku offers a variety of sports channels with subscription services that are great for the out of market viewer.

Pros of Roku:

  • Great Price (should be able to find one for $50ish)
  • Very configurable – choose your homescreen “channels”
  • Easy to understand
  • Great streaming for top 3 content providers (Amazon/Hulu+/Netflix)
  • Integrates well with other A/V devices
Cons of Roku:
  • Most don’t have USB
  • Does not have support for every codec
  • Difficult (but possible) network streaming
  • UX is mostly horizontal, leaves a lot of empty space
Overall Thoughts:
The Roku is a great little device for any home theater. It is easy enough for the technophobic, yet customizable (and hackable) enough for the expert. However, without one of the subscription services I wouldn’t consider using it. As more users cut cords, devices like the Roku will proliferate and become the norm. Also, I imagine more subscription channels will pop up (with far lower total cost than cable/satellite service). We are moving to a more connected society – but one that will offer users choice of what they ingest (and adjust pricing to match).

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Chris Poirier

You pretty much nailed it: If you aren’t already paying for the services it offers, it doesn’t provide you with any “magic bullet” to free streaming content. (Sure it has some, but not enough really.) But, as a small device that let’s me put netflix just about any where and for fairly cheap: it’s a winner! (Of course..I already repurposed my Nintendo Wii for netflix streaming as well, but the Roku is HD..nuff said)