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Does Roku Really Work?

If there’s something that is present in almost any household, it’s a television set. The way people enjoy TV viewing has vastly improved throughout the years due to the continuous advancements in entertainment technology. A gadget known as Roku, for example, is said to stream up to 3000 channels using WiFi connectivity. This product, which looks like a small box, is connected to any television set in order to access various TV shows, news programs and sports channels. It also promises to allow streaming of movies. Roku features both free and subscription-based viewing. Roku’s default channels are free of charge while services such as Netflix and Hulu can be accessed through monthly subscriptions. Roku claims to be compatible with any type of television set and can be easily installed.

Roku Reviews

Yes - Easy to Set Up and Great Quality Video, but You Need a Good Source of Content
4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars4 stars

Editor’s Review

What is Roku? A Roku box lets you stream video from the Internet to your TV set. The product promises to open the world of online video to your television set, to be enjoyed from the comfort of your couch or favorite recliner. So, does Roku really work?

Which Roku Model Is Right for You?

There are several models of the Roku box currently available: Roku LT, Roku HD, Roku 2 XD, and Roku 2 XS. Which Roku model should you get? Only the Roku 2 boxes (XD and XS) support the highest quality of video (1080p) the other models support only as high as (780p). Even if you don’t currently have an HDTV, I strongly recommend you “future-proof” yourself by investing in one of the Roku 2 models if you can at all afford it.

The differences between the Roku XD and the Roku XS are that the XS has an Ethernet port for connection to a wired computer network, a motion sensitive remote control that lets you play games (including Angry Birds, which is included free), and a USB port that plays video, audio, and images files stored on a USB drive.

I got the Roku XS, but I think most people would be better off saving the money and getting the XD. If, however, you have a wired Ethernet network with a port near your TV (or are planning on setting up one in the near future), you should buy the XS. If you don’t already have Angry Birds installed on a smartphone or tablet and your kids keep bugging you about it, you should consider the XS. If you expect family and friends to often bring over pictures on a USB drive, then the XS might be useful. (Currently, Roku is offering the XS at the same price as the XD, so check the official Roku website to find out if this deal is still available.)

Easy Step-by-Step Set Up

Roku includes a booklet that gives you the steps to setting up the box. I set up my Roku 2 XS and connected it to my WiFi wireless network without any problems.

You need to connect the Roku to your TV using either the included composite yellow/red/white video cables or an HDMI cable (not included). If you have an HDMI port on your TV, I strongly recommend you invest in an HDMI cable so that you can enjoy the highest quality video.

Once you have connected the Roku to the TV, plugged the power cord in, and inserted batteries in the remote control, an onscreen guide will help you select your wireless network and enter the network password. (Be sure to know the name of your Wifi network and password!) You will also get a code that will be used to set up your Roku account from your computer and connect your Roku box to that account.

Compact Size

The Roku 2 is 3.25 inches by 3.25 inches and 1 inch tall. If you are connecting to the Internet through a wireless network, you must make sure to place the box somewhere that it can access the network. Fortunately, the compact size makes it more likely that you will find space for it near your TV.

Good Quality Streaming

For the most part the quality of the streaming video is good and there are very few hiccups. Most of what I have watched has started playing in just a few seconds, although some movies took nearly 30 seconds to begin. I did watch a movie that stopped playing after 18 minutes but I think that was a problem with channel (Crackle) than with the Roku box.

The Roku remote control has buttons for pausing, fast forwarding, and rewinding, but I have found the forwarding and rewinding to be very crude and imprecise. If you want to get quickly to a specific part of the video you will be frustrated.

Roku Channels – You Get What You Pay For!

Roku works by having “channels” installed. Some of these are preinstalled on your Roku box. Others you can get from the “Channel Store.” Some of the channels are free, some are paid, and some work only with a monthly subscription. (There are also a number of “private channels” for Roku not listed in the Channel Store that available online.)

If you are interested in paid and subscription channels such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu or PlayOn, then you will be able to enjoy all their content with your Roku.

But if you think you can just buy a Roku and then never have to pay for content after that, you will most likely be disappointed. The free channels available are mostly junk. Even major TV networks with Roku channels put very little content on there (usually just clips). A large percentage of the channels are sub-public access quality–local church services, foreign language programming, old public domain films, political commentary, special interest hobbyist shows. The free Crackle channel has some decent movies but the selection is fairly limited. Roku has no “web browser” and no YouTube channel.

One channel I highly recommend to get out of this content ghetto is PlayOn, which lets you access YouTube, media files on your computer, and has a good selection of content from dozens of leading TV networks, including many full episodes of popular shows. The full version of PlayOn isn’t free but the price is quite reasonable.

USB Port is Disappointing

The Roku 2 XS has a USB port which can be used to play video, audio, and image files stored on a USB drive. (You have to install the free USB Media Player channel for it to work.) I thought this might be a good way to display home movies and photos from family, because they would only have to bring over their USB drive with the files stored on them. The file formats supported are MP4 and MKV for video, AAC and MP3 for audio, and JPG and PNG for images. Most photos taken by cameras are JPG so this would be good to display those, but a lot of popular video formats, such as MOV, MPG, and WMV will not play, making it almost useless for playing video from a USB drive. I found info online that said MOV and WMV files using the H.264 codec were supported, but all I can tell you is that every MOV and WMV file I tried wouldn’t play, including video I just recorded with my iPod Touch 4.

Roku is Highly Recommended!

Despite some of its limitations, I strongly recommend Roku to stream online video, as long as you plan to use it with a quality service such as Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. If you are looking to get access to some good content at a reasonable price, I suggest getting the PlayOn channel as a perfect accompaniment to your Roku.

Paul Lucas
December 31st, 2012
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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Don’t let it’s tiny size fool you, this little gizmo can have a bigger impact on your family’s entertainment than even the latest huge big screen TV!

It allows you to go back to using your PC or laptop as a computer, while your whole family can watch downloaded or streaming video on a full-size screen comfortably spread out in the family room.

Research Rokus […] and all the good things you read will be TRUE. It’s saved us SO much $$ compared to Cable TV.

Whether you use a model that allows for a direct Cat-5 cable connection or the more common Wi-Fi internet access, you will be amazed at the ease of watching virtually anything you could find on the web. (Check out Plex Media Server!)

We couldn’t be happier!

Michelle Bryson
December 25th, 2012
Mesa, AZ.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
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