Roku Netflix box rocks


Got netflix? Live in the US? have a spare $99?

Get the roku netflix box. this is a little box that attaches to your network and to your TV and lets you watch any one of netflix's 'watch instantly' titles (currently 10,000 are available)

Previously this feature of netflix was not terribly interesting because

  1. It was PC only (you had to run IE)
  2. Watching movies on a Computer in general sucks
With the addition of this little Roku box you can watch movies on your nice flat panel. You just add the movies you want to watch to your 'instant' que and they show up on your box.

I hesitated ordering it since I've heard the netflix streaming service is poor quality and I already own a apple TV but at $99 (with a 30 day return policy) I figure it was worth a risk. I'm so glad I took that risk as it's really exceeded my expectations.

First the setup: The box attaches to your TV over HDMI or composite or regular RCA and attaches to your network wirelessly or wired. In my case I used HDMI & wireless. After booting up it asks you to enter you wireless password and then downloads an updated firmware, installs the firmware and then reboots -- This entire process took perhaps 3-4 minutes.

After rebooting it tells you to go to netflix.com/activate and enter a code (while logged into your netflix account) -- This takes perhaps a minute and now boom! You can watch movies.

The movies you add to your que show up in a coverflow'ish layout that you scroll across, as you add more movies they sort of 'magically' appear (I wonder how often they check for updates? It seems to pick them up pretty fast) When you click on a movie you get the option to watch it, rate it, delete it (from you que) or (for series) you can change which in the series to watch.

Once you hit 'watch' it starts streaming. On my network over a cable modem it takes maybe 20-30 seconds to start up --- you get a little quality indicator as it's buffering and then the movies starts.

Once concern I heard about was the lack of hard drive and fact that it was pure streaming meant you can't FF/Rewind. This is (strictly speaking) true but it's not really an issue. When you hit FF/Rewind thumbnails pop up of the different scenes -- you can scroll backwards and forwards to find the scene you want, hit play and resume watching. It's not quite as nice as a DVD or apple TV but honestly it works fine.

The big concern I had, however, was the quality -- I had this horrible vision of poor quality really making it unusable. I'm happy to report that the quality is really quite good. They claim 'near DVD' and I tend to believe them. To my eye it's better than standard definition TV but not quite as good as HD -- however the main point is it's totally watchable. We qued up a few shows last night and with moments of starting you forget you are streaming this over the internet -- it's that good.

The nice thing is the box is HD equipped so when netflix slips the switch it'll start output HD quality (right now it outputs in standard def) -- I've not seen publicly them commit to delivering HD movies but the hardware is capable of it (they even mention in the roku faq that it's ready for HD -- I'm looking forward to that switch happening but even if they never do it I'm still pretty happy with it.

Finally the selection. Netflix claims 10,000 movies and they do have a lot -- it's a bit of mismash, tons of older movies and TV shows but a sprinkling of newer things. They probably won't (ever) have hot new releases (like the Apple TV) has but even with the current lineup most people should be able to find something worth watching -- Assuming they continue to gain the rights to add shows this should not be a huge problem (for the record last night we watched snippets from "The Music Man", "My Girl","Heroes Season 1" and (for the kids) "Scooby Doo Hawaiian adventure")

I'd love to see the Apple TV get this kind of functionality -- While I enjoy watching video podcasts on it and I've enjoyed a number of movies (gotta love the ability to zip new DVD releases) there is something so freeing about being able to pick from a huge library in an all you can eat plan like netflix gives you. Given that the netflix subscription for the DVD rentals includes the instant access for free it's a winner.

Highly recommended.
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