After straining to watch Groundhog Day on Netflix on demand on my small laptop screen with super quiet speakers and a tenuously ethical internet connection, we decided we needed a bit of an update to our entertainment options. We tried to find a cord to go from my laptop to the TV, but we failed to find anything that goes from VGA to s-video or component video. We considered some sort of VGA to DVI to HDMI to something kind of conversion but this was kind of getting out of hand. We did manage to find a 3.5mm headphone jack to component audio, but watching on the laptop while hooked to the tv for audio was not our favorite viewing experience.
I started looking into some other options for getting Netflix on demand on our TV. There are various ways to do this, including but not limited to, HTPCs, Xbox 360, PS3, Apple TV, Google TV, and Roku. Given budget constaints, spousal constraints (meaning no videogames), and local availability at 8:45pm on a Friday night, we narrowed our choices down to the Roku XD at Radioshack in Spanish Fork.
From a hardware standpoint, setup could not have been easier. It comes with an RCA cable that you hook to the back of the device and to your TV, and a power plug goes into the wall. That's it. There is also an output for an HDMI cable though the cable is not included.
The Roku will then power up and it will display a code for you to enter on their website. You must make an account on roku.com and then enter the code from your television screen to activate your device. A similar process is done for each channel you would like to add. Select the channel (such as Netflix, Hulu, etc) and a code will come up that you will have to enter on the respective website of that service while you are logged onto their website.
The remote is small and simple and works great.
I was surprised by the quantity of channels available for Roku. Here are a few of my favorites.
I have blogged about my love for Pandora in the past and the love just keep growing as I gain access to it on more and more devices. After linking your account online, you can browse through and listen to your previously created channels as well as create new ones.
|Ratatat album art screensaver!|
Also while using the Pandora channel, your screensaver switches from the default Roku one, to whatever the album art is from the song you are listening to, which I think is pretty cool.
This is the service we bought Roku for in the first place and we were not disappointed. Netflix watch instantly service has a decent selection of movies and tv shows and the quality is great. They give you a month free as a free trial, which we have been enjoying for a few weeks now. The UI for their Roku channel isn't quite as snappy as some of the other channels, but it works for what it needs to do.
twit.tv is one of my favorite podcast providers. Leo Laporte, formerly of techtv, has put together a huge lineup of tech shows on various topics, from android to iPad. The twit.tv channel gives you access to all the video podcasts, as well as the live tv stream. There is a special section that shows the newest content so you can keep up to date on the latest tech news.
Amazon Video on Demand -
As always, amazon delivers a great product with their video on demand service. When you link your amazon.com account with your Roku box, you are automatically awarded a $5 credit to be used for on demand video. Amazon offers both digital rentals and downloads of a huge selection of movies and TV shows. If we have thought of anything that we wanted to watch that wasn't on netflix, we have found it on amazon. We used our credit as well as another one we got from buying textbooks, on The Social Network, Freakonomics, and Juno, and each was a pleasant viewing experience. TV show rentals start at $.99 per episode, and movie rentals start at $1.99. I say this is a pretty good alternative to redbox.
I was pleasantly surprised by the performance picture quality. Even with our spotty borrowed wifi connection, 90% of the time videos play without a sputter, and the image quality is great. I was expecting a youtube type low resolution experience but i was pleasantly surprised with even on our slow connection, the picture looked smooth and crystal clear. I was impressed by the strength of the wireless antenna of the Roku XD, because of poor performance by both of our laptops on the neighbors wifi network. We have never had a connectivity issue with our Roku. Of course, our television is no high definition, so I cannot speak for performance with high definition video, but for our needs the video quality couldn't be better.
Pricing and Conclusions:
There are three varieties of Roku available. The Roku HD ($59.99), Roku XD ($79.99), and the Roku XDS ($99.99). The HD gives you 720p video, the XD adds 1080p video and an upgraded wireless-n antenna, and the XDS comes with dual band wireless, component video, and the ability to play video from a USB drive.
If you are looking for a cheap and easy way to get your favorite internet content onto your TV, I wholeheartedly recommend the Roku XD. The quality is great, the UI is snappy, and it does just what we need it to do.