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Roku XD|S Media Player Review

on February 24, 2011 11:09 am

In my never ending quest to divorce myself from Comcast and their overpriced cable service, I have been searching for alternate methods for the family to watch our shows. The Mvix Ultio media device was an effort in frustration, that fell well short of my needs and expectations. Fortunately, there are many other options in the media streaming world these days. The Roku XD|S is one of the most popular media streaming device around the Net. The XD|S is Roku’s latest, flagship device. It has been receiving rave commentary across the Net as a cost-effective, well done, easy to use streaming media device/player. The Roku XD|S is very capable; can stream up to full 1080p, built-in ethernet and wireless N dual-band connectivity, plays content from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video On Demand (VOD), Pandora, and a multitude of other services that only continues to grow.

Package Contents:

  • Roku XD|S streaming media player
  • Remote control
  • Two AAA batteries
  • Composite (red/white/yellow) A/V cable
  • Power adapter
  • Getting Started guide
  • One year warranty

My only negative with the package contents is that Roku did not include a HDMI cable with their flagship player. Anymore, you can find decent HDMI cables for well under $10 (much less, if bought in bulk). A minor detail.

The Roku XD|S is a small, light and very simple to use (everything the Mvix Ultio was not) streaming media player. Basically, its a tiny black plastic box with many output connections/ports/pathways that brings you content from a large multitude of internet sources.

The purple Roku tab on the left hand side is very similar to a tag you would find on a garment, bag, etc. There is a matching purple tab on the remote as well.

One of the features the XD|S has the Roku HD and XD players do not is the USB 2.0 port that, as of the writing of this review (early Jan 2011), was not yet enabled. On the Roku website, they promise that it will be ‘enabled via free software upgrade expected Dec 2010′….for what that is worth. From the little bit of research I have done, there are free hacks out there to enable this function now. When enabled, it should support the following file formats: Video support: MP4, M4V (H.264), audio support: MP3, AAC, M4A, image support: JPG, PNG.

The Roku XD|S has nearly every video output option possible; enabling you to connect the device to any TV or media receiver. Video outputs include: composite video (480i), component video (720p/480p), requires Roku XDS component cable (sold separately), and HDMI (1080p/720p/480p). Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through is available via HDMI and optical cables. Analog stereo is available via left/right RCA.

Technical Specifications:

Networking

  • 802.11n Wi-Fi (b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA and WPA2 support
  • Dual-band 802.11n (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz)
  • 10/100 Base-T Ethernet

Video Outputs

  • Composite video (480i)
  • Component video (720p/480p). Requires Roku XDS component cable (sold separately)
  • HDMI (1080p/720p/480p)

Video Modes

  • 1080p High Definition (HD)
  • 720p High Definition (HD)
  • 16:9 anamorphic / 4:3 standard

Audio Output

  • Analog stereo (left/right RCA)
  • Optical digital audio (5.1 surround sound pass-through and stereo)
  • Digital over HDMI (5.1 surround sound pass-through)

Remote Control

  • Roku enhanced remote (with Instant Replay, Back and Options buttons)
  • Compatible with various universal remotes

Power Input

  • External AC adapter (5V, 2.5A)

Other Ports

  • USB 2.0 port (enabled via free software upgrade expected Dec 2010).
  • Video support: MP4, M4V (H.264).
  • Audio support: MP3, AAC, M4A.
  • Image support: JPG, PNG

Power Consumption

  • 6 watts peak, 4 watts in standby

Size

  • 4.9 x 4.9 x 1.2 inches (125 x 125 x 30 mm)

Weight

  • 7.2 oz (203 grams)

Plugging in the power, Ethernet, and HDMI cables was quick and easy….mere seconds.

After start up, the device welcomes you and lets you know that connecting should take just a few minutes.

Since I have our media room wired with Ethernet and a cable laying right there to plug into the back, I chose the wired option. For those of you who do not have this option, the XD|S has built-in wireless N dual-band connection for zippy wireless connectivity. The less expensive HD and XD players have G and N wireless connection protocols, respectively.

Connecting to the internet was painless….quick and easy.

First thing the Roku does is update its software and then resets itself.

Next it asks you to set the time and time zone.

The XD|S’ screen resolution initially comes set at 4:3 standard definition. Once I set it’s output to HDTV (1080p), the video went from fair to stellar, as you would expect.

The Roku interface is simple and easy to use. It comes preloaded with their ‘Channel Store’, NetFlix, Amazon VOD, and Hulu Plus.

The Channel Store enables you to install other video and music channels to your main Roku interface.

Setting up NetFlix, HuluPlus, and Amazon VOD was quick and easy as well…..literally minutes.

Viewing Experience:

Even though the Roku devices can play 1080p videos, most content providers only stream @ 720p. That may change as throughput and technologies improve. Either way, the video playback is excellent. All three of the major content providers, NetFlix, Amazon, and Hulu+, look great and provide a very pleasant viewing experience. There were little to no bumps or hiccups in the playback.

Wanted Features:

  • USB and codec support (hopefully very soon ;) )
  • Home network streaming from NAS or other computers
  • Additional network channels (abc/nbc/cbs/bbc)

Without a doubt, I like the Roku XD|S. I find the Roku a pleasure to use and with just a few improvements it could be THE streaming media device to beat. The device excels at pushing Web-based content to your TV without hassle or issues. Its codec support for local media is a bit limited, but since most of my video is h.264 it does not bother me at all. The Roku XD|S retails for $99 but was (occasionally) on sale, here and there on the Net, this holiday season for $80. Considering the competition, the XD|S is a great bang for the buck. When you consider the relatively small capital investment and $16/month for NetFlix and Hulu Plus, the Roku XD|S is a strong contender in my vigilant quest in eliminating cable TV from our monthly Comcast bill.

 

Product Information

Price:$99.99
Manufacturer:Roku
Pros:
  • - Easy setup
  • - Intuitive interface
  • - Excellent video experience
  • - Large selection of streaming channels
  • - Many output options
Cons:
  • - USB not yet enabled
  • - No network streaming
  • - Greater codec support

Comments

  1. 1
    Fred says:

    Awesome review, Dave. I’ve been considering making the switch from cable, but I didn’t know where to start. One of the concerns that I still have is finding the programs that my kids like. Can you get episodes of Sponge Bob and other Disney and Nick show on a device like this? If so, I’ll probably go for it.

    Thanks!

  2. 2
    Frederick says:

    We’ve owned the original Roku box since it first came out and are planning to upgrade to this new XD|S box soon. Absolutely love it. By the way, the USB port is now enabled as a channel.

    As for streaming content from your home PC, I’ve reviewed each of the available private channels which allow this. They are pretty much all terrible, unstable, difficult to set up and very slow. Except for Chaneru which costs a one-time fee of $10 and works flawlessly and fast. Now I can stream all my music, iTunes library, photos and videos in high-def from my home desktop library to my Roku. Google chaneru and you’ll find it.

  3. 3
    Bob Y says:

    One thing I’m curious about – how does the Roku interact (if at all) with the cable box? I’m looking for a media streamer, but most reviews of other streamers have caveats about the cable box. Does the Roku function with the cable or are the two completely separate from each other? Thanks in advance…..

  4. 4
    Frederick says:

    @Bob,

    As far as I know, the cable and Roku boxes are totally independent of each other. We currently have DirecTV and our Roku and both are hooked up separately. The quality of our DirecTV has been flawless especially with the HD offerings, but we simply can’t justify the $130/month expense when we don’t watch ‘reality’ television or the other mass market offerings that much.

    You may be interested to learn that there are number of companies preparing to launch a local live streaming channel on Roku which will provide high-def local channels. I currently receive live streaming of Al Jazeera English Edition news broadcasts, CNN World News, and BBC World News from London. Quality is flawless, even on my rather weak 4 Mb/s home wireless network.

  5. 5
    thsu says:

    I once owned the original Roku device, and probably used it for a good 9 months. What made me give it up was that Netflix came out for game consoles.

    Thus, I am currently using my Playstation 3 for Netflix and gave away my Roku to my sister-in-law. The benefit of the PS3 is that it plays blu-rays and DVDs too.

    My brother went a different route – he got a internet capable, blu-ray player that runs Netflix.

    Convergence of devices really helps in simplifying your entertainment center.

    Oh yeah, and I got rid of cable TV a year ago. Netflix basically covers everything I used to watch on cable TV, except that I’m a season behind.

  6. 6
    Mark says:

    Can one stream from any website that offers programming? For example, ABC, NBC, etc instead of paying for Hulu?

  7. 7
    Frederick says:

    @Mark -

    That is not currently possible with Roku – but some companies are working on this option right now. The technical challenge is relatively small compared to the legal challenges involved.

    Keep an eye on a company called OneFi. They are trying to do what you describe: http://bit.ly/fKEtp0

  8. 8
    James says:

    I have been researching internet TV for quite sometime, and finally made the change. I considered the Roku, but I couldn’t be happier with my Logitech Revue with Google TV! It works seamless with my DISH Network employee account to allow live TV, internet results, and a full browser!

  9. 9
    Bill says:

    I really want to leave Comcast’s $80/mo basic cable. Comcast’s internet service is solid and really me only decent choice for high speed internet.

    Sounds like Roku will cover most of what my family watches. I’ll miss ESPN and NESN. Is there any way to get them via Roku -or the hope of it in the near future?

  10. 10
    Frederick says:

    @Bill -

    Solution like Roku (set top streaming boxes) do offer a number of special channels for sports fans, but they are all premium solutions rather than free. Roku has high definition live streaming of NFL, MLB, NHL, and other sports. I do not know the price.

    We’ve been live streaming news channels CNN and BBC as well as Al Jazeera English Edition for a few months now for free. I was reluctant to pay out $7 per month for Hulu Plus subscription but after the free trial I was so happy with it that we kept it.

    Another recent spectacular addition to Roku has been the ‘Chaneru’ channel which lets you stream all of your home media such as iTunes music, videos, and photos from your PC wirelessly directly to your Roku box. It is not as slick and smooth as Windows Media Server, but is reliable and fast and relatively easy to set up for a one-time payment of $10.

  11. 11
    Eric says:

    Has anyone attempted to stream over wireless network from a media PC? I am looking at building a media PC and looking for something to stream files off the PC. Any input would be appreciated.

  12. 12
    golgi says:

    I would not buy a roku. Purchased a wireless HD unit, worked for 2 months. I then tried to resolve the issue with tech support, 5 months later I still do not have my roku back. I have given up and have closed my account. Tech support is a nightmare.

  13. 13
    Kirby says:

    Love the idea of Ruku want to make sure I’ll be able to receive my favorite programs w/o the assistance of cable: HGTV, Food Network, Nate Berkus (CBS), Good Morning America + Rachael Ray + View +Modern Family + The Middle (ABC), Today Show (NBC), Glee (FOX), Own, Nick at Nite, Lifetime, LMN, TCM, Comedy, Disney, Animal Planet, TV Land, History, WE, E!, A+E, DISC, AMC, BRAVO, USA,TBS, KPBS(Public TV)……thanks for much for your guidance, much appreciated!!

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