Updated: March 15, 2013
Roku Digital Player (2008 Ver.)
Wireless Home Entertainment Systems Reviews
Are you seriously thinking of a way to cut that $100 Cable or Satellite TV monthly bill? If so, the Roku digital media player can be your way forward.
It is one of the latest inexpensive 'instant' media players that can stream Netflix and Amazon movies and TV shows from the internet without the need of a PC. Not exactly a replacement to your TV subscription but its Netflix/Amazon bundle provides a lot more for your dollar than most TV subscriptions from network providers.
Editor's Update March 15, 2013: For information on the latest Roku players, please refer to both our Wireless Media Players Roundup page, and our review of the Roku 3 — the latest Roku iteration for 2013.
Definitely the best wireless streaming player presently available on the market...
It serves more than 750 channels; that's more content than anyone else. Performance is super-fast, and there is also a superb user interface. Other features include dual-band Wi-Fi operation, and an innovative remote control that includes a headphone jack for private listening!
More information in our Roku review here.
Roku Digital Player
...an inexpensive solution way to enjoy your favorite movies and TV shows
The Roku digital video player is a simple digital wireless media player that allows you to play movies and TV shows direct from the internet via Netflix Watch Now and Amazon Video-On-Demand services via your TV screen without being tied to a PC. For this purpose, it also falls within that category of digital players often referred to as ’instant’ media players.
It has also been rated as the No. 1 wireless digital video player by Netflix members - thus explaining why the Roku digital player is also referred to as the Netflix player. It is not the type of wireless digital media player with which you can stream media files from your networked PCs, as is the case with the NETGEAR EVA9150. But the fact that the Roku digital player combines Netflix flat-rate unlimited viewing of movies and TV shows (including offerings from Starz/Disney and CBS), with Amazon extensive library of video-on-demand movies, leads to an extensive range of viewing options for Roku users. And at around $99, the Roku digital player provides a convenient, simple, and extremely affordable alternative to your $100 per month TV subscription bill!
Some may argue that video quality of some of the non-HD Netflix titles is nowhere close to DVD quality. In addition, the quality of Netflix HD content is closer to DVD quality rather than what one expects from high definition TV media. Still, this Netflix/Amazon bundle provides an appealing simple solution to your wireless home entertainment.
Roku Digital Player (2008 Version)
Measuring just slightly smaller than a typical cable TV modem, the Roku digital video player comes complete with all sort of audio and video connections. These include HDMI, component video, S-Video and composite video ports, digital optical audio, and standard analog stereo outputs.
Currently the Roku digital player does not support 5.1 surround sound output, but this can be easily added via a future firmware upgrade through the HDMI and digital optical outputs. However, unlike the Apple TV, the presence of standard video outputs make the Roku wireless digital video player compatible both with the latest HDTVs but also with older TV sets.
The Roku digital player is basically a plug and play wireless digital media player that comes accompanied by a simple yet functional remote. Once plugged in and startup is complete, all you have to do is just navigate your way through the easy-to-follow wizard-driven setup menu. You can connect to your home network via either an 802.11g wireless connection, or wired Ethernet. Supported wireless security includes WEP, WPA, and WPA2.
Content and Performance:
We said that the Roku digital player makes it possible for users to stream Netflix content and Amazon video-on-demand without being tied to a PC.
Yet Roku users cannot manage their Netflix selection online direct via the HDTV screen; for that, one needs to use a PC. On the other hand, with Amazon video-on-demand, users can rent and purchase movies via the Roku on-screen TV interface.
Streaming of video content is accompanied by a slight delay of close to a minute due to the way Roku is enabling fast-forwarding (and rewinding) on video content; there are no chapter breaks, and you navigate the video through a series of hundreds of snapshots of frames in the film. Interesting is that should you stop a film halfway, you can resume from where you left. Similarly, you can start watching a film on a computer or a Roku digital player and then resume on another Roku digital video player in a second room.
A main issue with the Roku digital player is the rather small onboard storage capacity for buffering of video content – which would not cover more than a few seconds of video. This may or may not be an issue depending on the speed of your internet connection. However, if your broadband connection cannot maintain a speed of around 2Mbps, then the Roku is not for you. Instead, you will be better off with one of the many competitors like the Xbox 360 Console or the Apple TV featured in this series of wireless digital media player reviews.
Quality of standard definition streamed video content is not up to what videophiles would expect it to be – especially as one moves towards the bigger screen sizes. High definition content - though not exactly high-def, looks pretty good and image quality is acceptable even on 50-inch plus HDTVs. This however holds true as long as your internet connection sustains maximum streaming bit rate; this is rated on your screen as one to four dots when starting a viewing – with four dots implying maximum bit-rate.
If all you want is a simple and inexpensive wireless digital media player to stream movies and TV shows, than the Roku digital player is surely one of the cheapest digital media player solutions around. At under $100, you get direct access to Netflix and Amazon video-on-demand without being tied to a PC.
The Roku will not pull digital content from your networked devices or PC, and it is not the only product that plays streaming videos from Netflix or Amazon. Netflix is currently available on devices like Xbox 360 Console and the latest network Blu-ray players from LG and Samsung, as well as most of the latest HDTVs.
But this Netflix/Amazon combination offered by the Roku wireless digital media player brings up a winning digital content partner bundle, one that is surely among the best one can find – offering users top pay-per-view options from Amazon and an unlimited selection of decent videos and TV episodes from Netflix.