Performance Breakdown and Final Words

As with most media streamers, there isn't much to say about the performance. The main questions are whether it streams seamlessly, and can it do HD content? In this case, the answer is yes on both counts. The Roku XD delivers a Netflix and Amazon VOD interface I found easy to navigate and responsive, although the remote seemed to delay inputs for me on occasion. I'm not sure if that is because of the positioning of the box, but I experienced issues even when I had a clear line of sight.

The Roku XD lists full 1080p support; most streaming sites limit their offerings to 720p or 1080i so it's tough to see 1080p support as much of an advantage over the $20 cheaper HD model that only supports the lower HD formats. Oddly enough, even the OS menus are at 720p according to my TV. Anyway, while 1080p support is there on the XD, I'm not sure the content is unless you want to venture into the YouTube realm. 1080p streaming support could be coming to Netflix in 2011, so if that's important it may be worth your while to buy the XD to extend the lifespan of the box. Even then, only 1080p24 and 1080p30 are supported by the XD and XD/S; 1080p60 is not supported.

As far as practical testing, I connected wirelessly to my 2.4 GHz band 802.11n network and tried some HD content through Netflix. I was impressed that my quality was set to HD over the wireless connection and connective via Ethernet wasn't necessary; sure, local WiFi ought to run faster than any streaming service but you never know. If your wireless connection speed drops for whatever reason during playback, the Roku Netflix channel will briefly exit the movie and rebuffer. (We confirmed this by starting several other downloads on our PC while the Roku was busy playing a move.) Our experience is that the Roku adjusts your stream quality to a lower setting to ensure stoppage free playback from that point on.  However, should the bandwidth increase again the Roku continued to play the lower quality stream unless playback was manually stopped and restarted, so it's not a dynamic adjustment.  The image quality was easily a match for what I typically enjoy through windows media center; it lacks some of the features that are typically present with a PC using a decent video card, but the image quality was excellent on my LCD TV. The UI may not be as elegant as some of the other offerings out there, but the box will stream web content in acceptable HD quality over wireless or wired.

While the Roku XD doesn't have some of the great styling of its competition from Logitech and Apple and Boxee, it does have excellent advantages that I think make this box a winner. First and foremost, it has a solid channel selection with an active development community that is bringing more and more content to the box—a must for any device of this type. If there isn't an active development community to bring new media to your box, it won't be long before it is obsolete.

The other thing the Roku brings you is a competitive price. At $80 for the basic Roku XD version we tested, you get a media streaming box with excellent streaming channel support, especially once Hulu is live, with 1080p HD support over HDMI. This puts it slightly below the list price of the Apple TV that lacks 1080p support, and it's in a completely different league from the Revue ($299), Boxee ($199) and Xbox ($199, $299). Those others offer keyboards and elegant UIs but not much additional streaming content over the Roku. At 5.9W of power consumption while streaming video, it also uses quite a bit less power than some of the larger devices, even if it's slightly above the numbers posted by the Apple TV.

Beyond the price, what may give this Box a chance for use in more homes is the inclusion of composite video. There are quite a few consumers who don't have the latest gaming consoles, and many homes don't even have an HDTV. HD content from your cable or satellite provider can likewise be expensive, not to mention adding a Blu-ray player and a receiver that is capable of decoding HD audio codecs. For the home theater enthusiast with all of those items, sure, there are other options for a media streamer. But what about a box that brings you Netflix and Hulu and other streaming options that will connect to your old tube TV?

The Roku is the type of device that can bring the streaming experience to a whole new audience—those without expensive HD equipment who may not have a game console, HTPC, or another device filling that role. Money will still need to be doled out for a broadband internet connection, but if you hook the thing up to an SDTV, you're not going to need a super fast connection either. All in all the Roku is an excellent product for those who want to cut the cable TV cord and the associated costs but don't want to invest heavily in new home theater equipment. For that type of user, I would definitely recommend the Roku as a way to join the streaming TV revolution and start watching what you want when you want, and the $60 price for the HD version is tough to beat.

For users with HD setups, the recommendation is less emphatic. If you're looking for something to provide streaming services on your HDTV with good image quality and a low price, the Roku HD will fit the bill. If you're looking to stream 1080p content as that becomes available, you may want to upgrade to the $80 or $100 model for the better wireless chip inside; the $100 version supports dual-band as well for added throughput. But if you'd like additional bells and whistles, such as excellent support for local media streaming, a futuristic UI, keyboard, ability to play games, etc. you may want to look at some of the more expensive options, or perhaps put together a basic HTPC. But if all you want to do is add streaming media services to any TV in your home, you can't really go wrong with the Roku.

Setup, UI and Content
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  • SilthDraeth - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    I wasn't aware that Logitech specialized in routers and switches. Reply
  • taltamir - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    me neither... :P
    I wonder if they meant to write linksys instead of logitech. But linksys isn't involved in any of that AFAIK, and logitech is involved with google tv.
    Reply
  • sviola - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    "and it's in a completely different league from the Revue ($299), Boxee ($199) and Xbox ($199, $299). Those others offer keyboards and elegant UIs but not much additional streaming content over the Roku."

    Sort of unfair to compare the Xbox this way. Maybe it doesn't provide much additional contet streaming, but it is a far more complete solution as it can play dvds and games (and if you add the PS3 in the equation, blu-ray), as well as run espn.
    Reply
  • sviola - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    damn fast typing and no edit option....where contet is read, the correct is content Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    Of course, also worth note is that it's not fair to compare these media streamers with the Xbox. The Roku sucks down all of 6W under load and idles at 3W; an Xbox 360 (the latest generation) still idles at 70W! And if you've got an original Xbox 360 (and it never died from the RROD!), you'd be at twice that... about as much as a good old Pentium D system.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3774/welcome-to-valh...
    Reply
  • nafhan - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    Don't forget the Xbox Live requirement. A year of Xbox Live at full price costs almost as much as the bottom of the line Roku. Reply
  • nafhan - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    Before someone calls me a hater... I've got an Xbox and Live, and I'm pretty happy with it. However if I wasn't in to gaming, I'd definitely pick up a Roku. Reply
  • Thermogenic - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    I bought a Roku XD for this very reason - just slightly more than an XBox Live account, and streams Netflix just as well. Reply
  • OneArmedScissorB - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    Thank you for checking the power use and bringing that up. There are so many devices people have plugged into their TVs blowing large amounts of electricity 24/7, and it's nice to know that it really shouldn't work that way. Reply
  • ajlueke - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    That is up for debate I suppose. The Xbox is similar in price to the Boxee box and Revue, but plays games and DVDs and functions as a media center extender as opposed to hosting less streaming content. Which then is more "complete" is defined by the user. But it is a streamign solution provided by microsoft, so i thought it fair to included it. Reply

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