Roku video

January 10, 2010

A few years ago I bought a Roku SoundBridge, a network audio player. At the time, the choice was between the SoundBridge and Slim Device’s SqueezeBox. The SqueezeBox had a couple of more features but I didn’t think they were worth the higher price it commanded. And I liked the Roku’s styling.

It’s a nice little widget to have and we use it all the time. I have a library of ~8,000 MP3 tracks. We hook the SoundBridge up to our Bose Wave Radio and the pair makes a fairly portable, decent-sounding way to play the library. Usually it sits in the kitchen but it’s easy to move to the patio when we have people over. After I had set it up and installed the Firefly audio server on one of my boxes, my sons got into the act and brought up servers on their machines, so now we have several libraries to chose from.

So I was looking to buy another SoundBridge when I visited Roku.com about a month ago. But what I discovered there was a different type of media appliance: Roku network video players.

That was a pleasant surprise. Where we live, we don’t get cable service – and that’s OK because we don’t really want to make monthly payments for TV we’d rarely watch. For the same reason, we don’t use satellite service (though that is available). We mostly watch movies and occasionally watch off-air TV for weather and important news events.

The Roku video players seemed like just the thing for our type of use, so I bought a Roku HD. Most of the major DVD services (Netflix, Blockbuster, and Amazon) are now providing video-on-demand over the Internet so we can get movies without a trip to the video store and without waiting for discs to arrive in the mail. Even better, we don’t have to worry about making sure discs get returned.

The Roku HD was a snap to set up. You hook up the player to your network (we use wireless), you hook it up to your A/V gear, you set up an account with the video service, and you tell the player which service you want to use. The whole process took maybe 10 minutes to get Netflix set up and playing.

The Roku will deliver streaming high-definition video to your system. I use the component video connections because that’s what my older Yamaha receiver supports but the HD also provides HDMI output (as well as composite output). Assuming you have the bandwith — on your LAN and from your ISP — you’re all set for high def movie watching.

I’ve been very happy with the Roku HD and I’d recommend it. I see they’ve lowered the price since I bought mine and you can pick it up directly from Roku for $99.00, shipping included.

The two big improvements I’d like to see to the Roku video players are (1) play DVDs and (2) support audio media as the SoundBridge does.

Not long after I bought the Roku HD, we bought a Samsung Blu-Ray DVD player. When we were shopping for it, I noticed that it also supported video-over-the-network from the same providers the Roku supported.Basically, I got the features of the Roku HD plus a Blu-Ray player for about twice the cost of the Roku.

So one alternative to the Roku player is get a Blu-Ray player with the video-over-the-net feature. Many companies sell them now. Other alternatives are to use a PlayStation, an XBox or a TIVO box since some of those support this feature too.

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