Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Roku XD digital video player (Part 2)

Well, I'm finally going to write up part 2 of my review. This will focus on connecting the Roku and going through the initial setup procedure.

Just a reminder of what came in the box: Roku XD player, remote, A/V cable, and power supply.

Connection: Connecting the Roku to the TV took a lot less time than it took me to take photos of my new device. It took me about 4 minutes, but that involved getting a flashlight to see what connections were available on the back of the TV. I had to disconnect the VCR, but we haven't used that in a while anyway. It's a very straight forward connection in all.

Remote: I would like to say something about the remote that is included. The XD model that I got, and the XD|S have a slightly nicer remote than what ships with the HD model. It's not that much of a difference, but it does offer an instant replay button that will back up the video approximately 7 seconds.

What I really like about the remote, as little a thing as it might be, is the battery compartment. We have several remotes in our house and all of them have a small little door on the back that either slides off or has to be unhooked. At least a couple of these are broken. The Roku remote is quite different in that the bottom section fo the remotes slides off completely, revealing the batter compartment. There is no door to get knocked off, or to become broken and useless. I wish all remotes were like this.

System setup: Upon plugging in the Roku it immediately powered on. After a short time I was presented with a setup screen. I was asked to choose wireless or wired connection. Of course I chose wireless. I then was presented with the available networks, mine being the one with the strongest signal and prominently selected. I chose my network and then had to enter in the password to connect to it.

It was at this point that things didn't go quite as I had planned. I got a message saying that it was unable to connect to my network. I double checked that I had the password right and that other devices [my computer] were able to connect and access the internet fine. I tried again and it still wouldn't connect.

I had put the Roku in a stereo cabinet that holds the VCR and DVD player, and that the TV sets on top of. The included quick start guide mentioned NOT putting the device in a cabinet so that the wireless signal wouldn't be blocked. So, I took it out of the cabinet to see if that would sold the problem. It didn't. I acted exactly the same outside the cabinet as it did inside.

Remember that Ethernet port on the back of the Roku that I didn't expect to ever use? Well I had a cable long enough to reach from the router to the Roku, so I plugged it in. I then chose a wired connection. It connected immediately and proceeded to install an update.

Part of the initial setup is to "link" the player with an account at I had already setup an account before the player arrived to save some time. Many of the channels require you to link your player with your account. This is the case with Netflix and Amazon Video to name just a couple. This is simple process and involves entered a code generated by the Roku on the website for the channel you are attempting to link.

After this I went into the options on the player and changed my network connection back to wireless. I entered in my network password and this time it connected. I'm not sure if it needed that update that it did when it first connected or if there was some other issue that was preventing it from actually connecting. I did put the player back in the cabinet and have not had any problems with it in there.

The Roku started up with the "big" channels already added. There are, of course, Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu Plus. From there I was able to access the channel store and browse the available channels, added the ones I wanted as I went. It was a very simple process.

In actual usage the Roku has been nearly problem free. Occasionally when I want to play a video it will begin to load and then it will just stop and go back to the previous screen. It's not a big deal, and I'm guessing just has to do with my network connection. I just hit play again and it usually loads fine on the second try.

The only other problem I had, and I don't think it is with the Roku itself, had to do with it locking up after exiting the screensaver. I added a Picasa screensave, which gives me the option of using the photos from my own Picasa account, or just a random collection, as a screensaver. When I came back and tried to do something else after the screensaver had been playing a while, it completely froze up and I was unable to do anything. I unplugged the Roku and plugged it back in (there is no power switch) to restart it. I changed to the basic clock option for the screensave and have not had an issue with it since. I may try the Picasa one later to see if it does the same thing again, but for now it's fine the way it is.

Conclusion: The Roku XD is a great little player for streaming video. It's easy to setup and connect, although it should have been easier than it was for me. This is a well designed and conceived product, which I would gladly recommend to anyone. Operation is quite simple as well, and it's easy to browse through the available content.

If you have a Netflix account and/or enjoy the ability to rent (or purchase) movies from Amazon Video, then you may very well enjoy having one of these too. In addition there is a wealth of available content including old TV shows and movies, news, YouTube, etc.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, you can get the best available pricing direct from Roku. By following my link I will get a free month of Netflix service if you make a purchase. Obviously I wouldn't mind that, so please bear that in mind if you decide to make the purchase.

Also, right now if you buy a Roku and link it to your Amazon Video account by the end of the month, you will get a $5 credit with them. I have mine linked, so it's just a matter of finding a good deal on a rental or two.

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