Cable : DVR :: Netflix : Roku

Wow, just wow. Cable (and satellite) is great, but anyone with a Tivo or DVR knows how the commercial that promised “it will change the way you TV” was true. I can’t remember the last commercial we had to watch, or the last time we considered what time/day something was broadcast. And now there’s Roku — another evolutionary step forward.

For those that don’t know what it is, a Roku player is small box (about a 6” square, 1” tall) that connects to a broadband connection (wirelessly or via a cable). There are video and sound outs (e.g., component, S-Video, HDMI) to connect to your home theater. It runs a hundred Semolians.

Once hooked up, it connects to your Netflix queue, granting you instant (well, fifteen seconds or so load time) access to their entire “watch it now” catalogue (about 12K titles right now, but they just signed a deal with (Starz?) to increase the number of titles).

It works exactly like they claim. Effortless wireless connection (thought I’ve since fished a cable into the den). Very easy and surprisingly helpful menu system: in series disks, it displays the season as an icon, then on that page it tells you which episodes you have seen (or how much of an episode you have already watched). Quality is about as good as standard television (not DVD or HD, but certainly good enough to watch on a 57” DLP).

The giddy part is that Roku is opening its platform to any content provider over the next few months — which means Hulu et al are on their way. Netflix also has plans for streaming higher def files, but there is no timeline yet.

The only downside so far (if you can call it that, we’ve been so damn spoiled) is that fast forwarding or rewinding means the box has to rebuffer the stream – ten to fifteen seconds to start playing again. Not really that problematic, but unlike regular DVR in which we’ve become accustom to that back-ten-seconds button, it’s not that instant.

Anyone else out there have one? Have your experiences been similarly good? Do have an anomaly and your experiences are bad? The hardware and interface seem straightforward enough — any competitors worth looking at?
Disclaimer: I don’t work for, own stock in, or benefit in any way from the player, but since several years ago there were several “Tivo rocks!” threads that helped convince me to get one, I thought to add this.
(Mods, sorry if I got the forum wrong. I thought it was more about technology then directly about TV/movies, but if Cafe is more appropriate, please move and accept my apologies.)

I use Netflix on “watch it now” in three ways. I have a 24" wide screen monitor on my main PC. I have a PC hooked up to my 37" LCD HD TV and on my laptop, especially if I am on the road. These all work great except that the buffering issue bothers me. They need to improve it. I was hoping you would post that the Roku did, and it sounds like it is better, but still not as great as DVD or DVR. The DVR especially spoils me. I find even On Demand annoying in the controls.

I also use Hulu and find their quality to be very poor at times. I tried watching an old favorite of mine, “Barney Miller” and it had sound sync issues and was blotchy. I had more luck with the “Nanny and the Professor” but overall find Hulu very hit of miss.


Yeah, the box has minimal memory in it, so the rebuffering is unavoidable. It’s an interesting interface though. Rather than try and duplicate DVD- or DVR-like scrolling (like the on demand seems to do, which leads to frustrating misses), it changes to a six-panel wide storyboard-like display, with each thumbnail about five or ten seconds apart. You can scroll through those thumbs at varying speeds, then select the one you want to start and it reloads. The RJ-45 connection seems a bit faster than wireless, but there is still the wait for it … wait for it … period. Not bad, but nothing like the spoils of DVR.

We don’t keep a computer in the den so I don’t know if switching over is any kind of a hassle (in my office I have dual outs on my video card so in theory it could always be hooked up). Plus, until Hulu et al take advantage of the API, the Roku box is still limited to Netflix (not a bad limitation, but still).

I’ve been using the watch now feature as an integrated component of my HTPC (running vista media center).

The main advantage is that it allows me to fully download the movie if I so choose. It usually takes about 15-20 minutes to download or so. Once downloaded playing, fast forwarding, rewinding, etc is instantaneous. I still want to see a larger selection of movies online from Netflix, and would love to see some high def content as well.

I got an AppleTV a few months ago and love it. I can purchase or rent a video from the iTunes store, play any music from my own iTunes library, store or stream any video that I have that I’ve placed in the AppleTV format (admitedly a pain), play podcasts and watch YouTube videos. I especially like it for the movie streaming aspect. After the 3rd DVD of Shrek I had to buy, and the 2nd of Finding Nemo, I’m happy that all my 3 year old daughter has to do is scroll down the list of movies and pick the one she wants to watch.

The drawback is that you have to have more than a bit of technical ability to really get the same advantage from it. It sounds like the Roku is a hell of a lot easier for the average home user.