It is no secret that the internet is jam-packed full of audio and video content that can provide hours of entertainment. Several tech-savvy companies have now put together some devices that allow you to watch all that content on your TV, instead of just your PC or smart phone. This year for Black Friday, the company I work for has purchased the three hottest internet streaming boxes for me to review, and then we’re giving them away (info here). Lucky me… lucky you. :) The first box in the lineup is the Roku XD; the smallest and least expensive device I tested, but it doesn’t fail to pack a big punch.
What’s in the box?
The Roku XD is a no-frills solution to getting internet content to your TV. There isn’t a lot of glitz, but it does just what it says it does. So what’s in the box? To be honest, the first thing I noticed was what wasn’t in the box… an HDMI cable. Of the three units I tested it is the only one that didn’t come with all the necessary cables… unless of course you’re fine with the standard definition RCA cables provided; which would be odd because the selling point of the XD is that it does full 1080p HD output. At any rate, as I mentioned it does come with standard def RCA cables and power cable, the Roku XD itself, a remote, and a couple of manuals.
The unit itself is just a hair under 5 inches across and right at an inch tall… yes, it could easily get lost in your A/V rack. The back of the XD has hook ups for the power, standard def RCA, HDMI, and ethernet, although the until will also do wireless networking if you’d prefer.
Just like the device itself, the included remote is the smallest and simplest of the remote controls and could easily be mistaken for a VCR (what’s that?) or DVD player remote. I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive about the remote when I saw it, but after getting acquainted with how you interact and setup the device, it makes sense.
Setup and Use
After getting the Roku hooked up to my TV (and subsequently finding out that one of the HDMI cables I’ve got running through my wall is bad) and plugged into my home network, the first thing the device wants you to do is register it… Did I mention you’re going to need a computer near by to get this thing going? The device generates a nifty code and then you’ll need to browse over to roku.com/link from your PC or web enabled device (I actually registered this one with my Android powered phone). Once you’ve created an account and registered, you can begin browsing.
Roku comes initially populated with premium type (read: pay for) channels like Netflix, Amazon video, and HuluPlus. If you use one of those services it is easy enough to get your device connected up and ready to stream your media. By the way, let me pause here and say, if all you’re wanting one of these devices for is for one of these premium services… say you’re in love with Netflix and you just really want to get involved with their streaming services as well as their DVD-by-mail service; I’d look long and hard at this device. It delivers these services well, and the no-frills setup keeps it simple to use. In addition to these premium channels, there are also tons of other channels available through the Channel Store.
The Channel Store I like. They’ve styled it after the app stores on all the popular phones today and it is extremely easy to use… on tip though, the apps scroll left and right as well as up and down; took me a second to catch that. From the freebies, check out MediaFly, Revision3 Internet Television, and Vimeo… I found some pretty good content there.
Speaking of channels, one of the nice things about the Roku is that other people can create / provide channels as well. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in the Channel Store, like the obviously missing YouTube channel, just hit up your internet browser and do some searching around for Roku “Private Channels”; or save yourself a little time and start with this resource I found which has a HUGE listing of channels. Once you’ve found a private channel you’re interested in, jump back on your account in the Roku website and click the link for Add Private Channel and punch in the code. The next time you refresh your home screen you’ll see the newly added channel (you can speed this up by opening the Channel Store and then going back to the home screen). I personally found the Pod TV channel to be full of goodies, including some awesome nature stuff… just browse around and I’m sure you’ll find some things that interest you as well.
Initial conversations about having to use an internet enabled device to set the channels were always a bit negative. None of the other devices require this, and admittedly it does create a bit of extra work. There is a plus side though, if you need to do a factory reset on the device or if you get an additional Roku device; once you add it to your account and let it sync, all your channels are right back where you left them.
After playing around with the Roku for a little bit, I have to say I really like it. It might not be as flashy as the other devices out there, but it does what it needs to very well and doesn’t at all have a cumbersome user experience.
— Dan Thompson