Roku XD-S Review

The first part of my effort to ween the family (and my bank account) off of cable television was to enable us to still watch the shows and movies we wanted – without paying the exorbitant fees required by Cablevision.

I did the research, starting with building a HPC (Home Media Center PC) which had internet access and ample storage to view my collection of movies… The lowest price I could get was about $250 including tax and shipping.  Not bad, but I wanted to see if I could do better.  Next up was the Roku.  I’ve heard good things from friends, and decided to check it out.  After comparing the specs, I ended up purchasing the top of the line Roku XD-S for $100.  For an additional $10, I got a 6 foot long HDMI cable (very good price considering there are still people willing to drop a days pay on a higher priced name brand cable that works exactly the same way).

The unit itself is SMALL, about the size of 2 CD cases (remember those?) stacked on top of each other.  It has HDMI, Component, RCA, and optical audio outputs, as well as dual-band wifi and ethernet connectivity.

The 5 minute setup took longer than 5 minutes, partially because I needed to add he MAC address to my wireless router, and partially due to some sort of connection error.  Getting into Netflix was easy enough, just had to activate it like I did with my Xbox.  I also subscribed to Hulu Plus which effectively negated any need for a DVR.  It would have been nice to be able to subscribe from the Roku itself instead of having to do it on the website first, but hey – I got it done.  $8 a month for Netflix, $8 a month for Hulu… $16 vs $160.  Not bad, right?

Video quality is top notch, while the XDS supports 1080p, its hooked up to my 720p Sanyo, there’s no difference visually between the Roku’s output and the HD output on my cable box.  I’ve found the interface to be a little laggy, and the system needs a bigger buffer.  Watching Netflix or Hulu on my PC usually results in a decent amount of buffer space to acomodate changes in speed, but the Roku will simply hang on a screen if the Internet connection slows down, which leads back to the laggy interface – hitting the Home button takes a few moments to get me out of the stopped screen, if it does at all.  Also, the remote only controls the Roku.  It would be nice if I could tie the functionality into a universal – its not something I’ve researched yet but I have WAY too many remotes.

Lastly, the external USB support so far isn’t bad.  I was able to hook up an external hard drive to the unit and play back an H264 encoded movie, although it did pause a few times.  Playback was more consistant off a thumbdrive.  Roku recommends not just relying on the power from the port to power the drive – which is fine unless your drive doesn’t have any other power options.  I’m currently re-encoding my movie collection as H264 so I can watch the rest of my movies over the Roku.

So far its worth the investment, I just need to eliminate the DVR, the cable box in the kids room, and move the cable box from the bedroom into the living room.  That right there is worth $25 off my cable bill, tack on eliminating the 4 on-demand channels, and I’ve cut $45 off the bill.  Next to go are the pay channels, and once hockey season is up, I should be able to get rid of the rest and simply subscribe to NHL Online next season. 🙂

PRO: Price, size, media selection, ability to watch movies / play music via the USB port.

CON: Laggy interface, insufficient data buffering, one more remote.

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