Roku XDS Streaming Media Player Mini-Review

Click to buy one!

I’ve purchased four Roku devices so far: an XDS and XD for personal use, and several XDs as gifts. Given the relative affordability of Netflix and Hulu Plus services–as opposed to a cable or satellite television subscription–the XDS provides the missing link in the web-based television ecosystem, streaming solid commericial content across your existing broadband internet connection to your existing HDTV.

Roku XDS (and similar XD) are impressively tiny, low power, inexpensive devices that ship with a simple yet functional remote. To make best use of a unit, you must have all the following:

  1. Broadband internet connection.
  2. HDTV w/HDMI. (Not required as both XD and XDS also provides RCA connectors, but the quality would be seriously old school.)
  3. Netflix and/or Hulu Premium subscription. (If you have neither, I’d recommend starting with a minimal Netflix plan.)

I’ve tried the HTPC approach using PlayOn/Connect360 + XBox 360, AppleTV, PS3, laptop connection, Elgato EyeTV, MythTV, and gobs of other options, but Roku is currently my most frequently used set-top content solution. All the other streaming options are either constantly plagued by quirks (such as PlayOn’s fast-forward/rewind/resume bugs), or too vendor biased (such as the lack of streaming content sources on AppleTV and XBox 360).

Roku Pros:
  • Inexpensive.
  • Just works.
  • Netflix, Hulu Plus (free accounts won’t work), Amazon VOD, Pandora, and lots of other channels. (Some are free, other not.)
  • Remote works well.
  • Fast-forward/Rewind, pause, resume etc. all work fine.
Roku Cons:
  • Wireless goodness of the XDS is worthless if you’re using a wired ethernet connection.
  • Hulu Plus still has stupid ads. 🙁
  • Doesn’t connect to Media Center etc.
  • Very limited decoder options for media read off the USB disk.

Roku’s biggest current drawback is the lack of real-world support for your own media: either files manually attached via USB drive, or even better, streamed your my home media server. Hopefully this will be added in the future with either a new channel option or firmware update. Regardless, purchase either an XDS or XD immediately if you’re currently plugging a laptop into a TV for Netflix/Hulu Plus support. Ditch the jankyness and go for a Roku.

(If you’re going to buy one, please use this link to purchase the Roku XDS.)