With the surging popularity of streaming content online, media players are popping up all the place from a countless number of vendors. Roku isn’t a bandwagon jumper, though, as it’s been designing robust media solutions for some time. With all of the competition we’ve tested, we’re taking a look at one of its current products, the XD.
When we first unboxed the Roku, we were on the network and browsing the different channels available within 10 minutes of first powering the device on. The home screen has a similar interface as the new Xbox 360 dashboard. The user can scroll horizontally through panes of different channels and settings. The Roku’s dashboard is ad supported on the bottom and while we aren’t overly excited about this, it’s not obstructive and can be easily ignored.
Once in the settings area of the interface, the first screen we come to is the network status page. From here you can connect to your preferred wireless network and check its signal strength.
Depending on the television you are connecting your Roku to, you can choose the display option that best suits your display. As stated before, the XD and XD|S support 1080p and all models can do 720p and standard-definition signals. In our case, the Samsung 42 inch LCD can handle 1080p so that is what we have set the Roku to. The screen notes that it will not upscale 720p content but rather display at 720p when 1080p content is not available.
The audio settings are straight-forward on the XD. You can either choose between stereo and 5.1 surround sound. You can also control the volume of the interface’s sound effects. We found that high was a little too much and after a few minutes of browsing through the interface, we lowered things down to medium.
For those of you concerned with potential screen burn in, there is a built in screen saver. You can download different screen savers if you choose but the ones baked into the device include a digital and analog clock. If neither of those options float your boat, you can set it to a generic Roku logo that bounces around your screen during times of inactivity.
There is also a time settings screen where you can set your time zone and display type.
Your Netflix account settings are stored on the Roku, allowing you to stay logged into your account each time you load the application.
Finally we have the player info screen. Here we can check for a firmware update (often pushed directly from Roku), as well as view your network status. We also have the ability to do a full factory reset on the device. This is helpful if you decide that you no longer need your Roku and want to sell it.
A huge addition to the Roku stable of supported channels is Hulu Plus. Recently introduced to the Roku channel store in a firmware update, Hulu Plus brings a lot to the table for the minuscule streamer. Offering television shows from many of the most popular networks, Hulu Plus makes you feel like you are getting your money’s worth. I personally watch a lot of “The Office” and “House” so offering past episodes of both those shows are personal wins for me in my battle against my cable bill.
The channel store offers a fair amount of extra avenues of entertainment but most are extremely underwhelming. Big names like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Vimeo and Revision 3 are present along with lesser known online networks that interest me little. I gave a few a go round but could not get into many of the other channels, even after a generous amount of time giving them a chance. Users can rate each channel, giving you a decent idea of what others think highly, or little of any particular channel.
There are also other apps that can be downloaded. You can follow your Facebook friends, catch up on your Flickr and Picasa accounts and watch uploaded videos on Vimeo. In our testing, we actually used Vimeo quite a bit to test out the streaming capability of 1080p content over our wireless n network. If you care to play a few quick games, there are a variety of games and screen savers available for download as well. I spent about an hour playing the poker game and while it was enjoyable, it’s not going to sell any additional units. I still love the fact that they are available as it shows that development of alternative apps for the devices is possible.
As we just stated, wireless streaming over a 2.4 GHz n connection was smooth and we didn’t encounter any issues in our testing. We found a pair of quality 1080p videos in Vimeo and then played around on Hulu Plus for a while.
Watching the latest episode of House in high-definition was enjoyable and with Hulu, the need for the expensive DVR leased to me by my cable company becomes virtually non-existent.