Saturday, June 07, 2008

First evening with the Netflix Roku box

Netflix Roku box
Originally uploaded by stomptokyo

Last night Christina and I hooked up our new Netflix Roku box, which allows us to finally take advantage of the Netflix "Watch It Now" program. About 10% of the titles on Netflix are available to watch as streaming video for no additional cost on top of your regular DVD rental subscription. I'd never really used it before because it only worked with Windows PCs. Not only is my primary laptop a Mac (and I never could get it to work with my Windows XP machine), but I dislike watching video on my laptop for more than a few minutes. When I want to watch a movie or TV show, I want to take advantage of my couch and the nice TV set sitting in front of it.

Enter the Roku box, which hooks up to your TV and streams the video from your Netflix account over your wireless (or wired) home network. You have to add movies to your "instant watch" queue on your computer before they show up as selections on your Roku box, but I actually prefer it that way. Once you select a program, it takes about a minute to spin up the show and then you're watching. Since it's streaming, network interruptions could result in video stutters or straight-up stoppages. Over the 90 minutes or so that we watched a couple of different TV show episodes ("A&E Biography" and the pilot of the original "Battlestar Galactica"), however, we never noticed so much as a blip. Video quality varies depending on the speed of your network, but even though we got the medium-quality stream (2 pips out of 4 on the little quality meter that pops up), it looked more than passable. Better than Tivo's "basic" recording quality, and we watch TV at that quality all the time.

Setup was dead simple -- plug into TV, plug into wall, follow on screen instructions. I was done in about 10 minutes, including a system software update. It was the most painless install I've done of a home theater component ever.

There are a few minor down sides, but I don't think they're deal breakers by any means. First, it's yet another box to hook up to your TV. But given the plethora of hookups most TVs come with these days that's less of a problem than it once was. Adding to the clutter problem, I can also see a time when I'm going to want to run an ethernet cable over to the TV to get higher quality video -- especially if HD content (which the box can handle) becomes available.

The Roku box's biggest problem is the dearth of content, which is annoying but not insurmountable. About 10% of the titles on Netflix are available on Watch it Now, and Netflix conveniently scans your DVD queue for the titles that are available to watch instantly. (You'll have to manage the queue of things you've seen manually so that you don't end up with a DVD in your mailbox that you've already seen on the Roku box.) The biggest rebuttal to this problem so far is that there's a ton of great TV content, including recent shows like Weeds and 30 Rock and classics like The Dick Van Dyke Show and a bunch of vintage Doctor Who episodes. If you've ever watched a series all the way through on DVD, devouring episodes like candy, the Roku box is for you. The ability to take a chance on something -- and bail consequence-free if it sucks -- is liberating. What's this? Knight Rider and The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries?

For more on the Roku box, check out David Pogue's review in the New York Times.

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Blogger 1000myths said...

Thanks Chris. I couldn't really decide if netflix's was worth trying from Pogue's column. I'm going to try it out and if what you wrote is accurate (easy set-up, I'm mechanically dyslexic) it should be great.

11:13 AM  
Blogger 1000myths said...

I love your site - I just found it today (thanks to "bside"). One small point - the pop-up for "picture this" I clicked on it to check it out and then returned to your page but "picture this" is still here and I can't get rid of it!
Tha kinda sucks - know what I mean?

11:21 AM  
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6:22 AM  

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