Review: A few days with the Netflix Player by Roku

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The “Netflix Player by Roku” is awkwardly named, but there’s a reason: while the first streaming media service offered by this little box is from Netflix, more services will likely be added to it in the future. (I’m leading with the most interesting bit to me, although obviously both Roku and Netflix would prefer you focus on what’s on deck from the $100 streamer box today.)

There’s not much to the lightweight little box: an IR port on the front that, with the included remote, is its only control interface; connections on the back for your TV, including component, composite, HDMI and optical audio out; and an Ethernet jack, should you not find its included 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connection sufficient.

If you’ve been using Netflix’ “Watch Instantly” streaming service from Netflix.com, available free with most of the Netflix DVD rental plans — and I have, prompting me to start thinking set-top boxes aren’t as good as web-based service — then you’re familiar with the quality and speed of the movies available through the Roku box. It’s all the same library. In short, they’re good enough. Not quite DVD quality, but watchable even at full-screen on a large display.

That’s if you get the full 2.2 megabit bitstream. (The box will tell you if it even needs to rebuffer a stream what bit rate you’re getting. Faster, larger, near-HD streams may be coming out from Netflix in the future.) If all goes to plan, movies start playing in about 10 to 15 seconds, just like on the website.

Since fast-forwarding a streaming video is troublesome, the service also sends down keyframes spaced every ten seconds through the film or television show. Hit select at any point and the Roku box will bring up a slideshow, making skipping ahead fairly simple. Fast-forwarding through a whole set of keyframes can still take a while, however.

The box is intimately tied into Netflix.com in ways both handy and annoying. You can’t browse through Netflix.com’s streaming library from the Roku box; instead you’ll select movies from Netflix.com (on your computer’s web browser) and add them to your “Instant Queue.” The Roku box will slurp those titles — up to 500 — within a few seconds of their addition. It’s fairly elegant, but also means you’ll have to sit down with a computer to add new movies. (You can remove them from the Roku box list, however.) Since the main reason to buy the Roku box is to watch Netflix Instant movies away from your computer, it’s a tiny bit annoying, although amusing similar to the delayed gratification that is the normal Netflix DVD rental system.

One great feature: the Roku box talks to Netflix.com about how much of a movie you’ve watched. I started watching Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead on the Roku, paused it, then fired it up on Netflix.com the next day exactly where I’d left off.

Should you get it? Well, it’s only a hundred bucks. On the other hand, it only does Netflix movies. A Windows PC connected to your television — even one of relatively modest power — could stream not only Netflix.com movies, but Youtube or Hulu (or whatever) services as well.

On the other hand, the interface is dead simple to navigate; it passes the “I’d let Brownlee use this” test.

If and when the Roku box serves up other streaming services it’ll be a nice little node to stick on your TV to slurp up some free(ish) web media. Until then, it’s probably for Netflix.com die-hards only.

Press release after the jump.NETFLIX TEAMS WITH STREAMING MEDIA INNOVATOR ROKU ON PLAYER THAT INSTANTLY STREAMS

MOVIES FROM NETFLIX DIRECTLY TO THE TV

Priced at Just $99.99 and Available Starting Today,

The Netflix Player by Roku™ is Compact,

Easy to Set Up and Intuitive to Use

LOS GATOS and SARATOGA, Calif., May 20, 2008 – Netflix, Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), the world’s largest online movie rental service, and Roku, Inc., an innovator in digital media streaming technology, today announced the introduction of The Netflix Player by Roku™, a device that enables Netflix subscribers to instantly stream a growing library of movies and TV episodes from Netflix directly to the TV. Priced at just $99.99, the player is available for purchase starting today at www.roku.com/netflixplayer.

The player is simple to install, easy to use and gives Netflix members instant access to more than 10,000 movies and TV episodes.

“We’re excited to bring the first Netflix ready device to the market, ” said Anthony Wood, CEO and founder of Roku. “The seamless integration of the Netflix service into our player has resulted in true ease of use for the consumer. Now, streaming video isn’t limited to people sitting in front of the PC; it’s ready for the TV in the living room.”

“The key breakthroughs of The Netflix Player by Roku are simplicity and cost,” said Reed Hastings, chairman and CEO of Netflix. “First, it allows consumers to use the full power of the Netflix Web site to choose movies for their instant Queue, and then automatically displays only those choices on the TV screen. That’s a major improvement versus the clutter of trying to choose from 10,000 films on the TV. Second, there are no extra charges and no viewing restrictions. For a one-time purchase of $99, Netflix members can watch as much as they want and as often as they want without paying more or impacting the number of DVDs they receive.”

About The Netflix Player by Roku

The Netflix Player by Roku is surprisingly compact – roughly the size of a paperback book – and can integrate easily into any home entertainment system. All it takes is connecting the player to a TV and to the Internet. For homes with wireless Internet connectivity, the player is Wi-Fi enabled and offers the ultimate in placement flexibility.

From the Netflix Web site, members simply add movies and TV episodes to their individual instant Queues, and those choices are then displayed on the TV and available to watch instantly. With the player’s accompanying remote control, members can browse and make selections right on the TV screen and also have the ability to read synopses and rate movies. In addition, they have the option of fast-forwarding and rewinding the video stream via the remote. In all, the Queue-based user interface creates a highly personalized experience that puts members in control.

Additional features of the product include optimization of the Netflix video streaming technology, which eliminates the need for a hard disk drive associated with video downloads, and built-in connectivity for automatic software upgrades, which will keep the device current with service enhancements.

Technical Details

In the Box

· The Netflix Player by Roku set-top box (approximately 5”W x 5”D x 2”H)

· Remote control (including 2 AAA batteries)

· A/V Cable (Yellow/Red/White RCA)

· Power Adapter

· Getting Started Guide

Video and Audio Connections

· HDMI

· Component Video

· S-Video

· Composite Video

· Digital Optical Audio

· Analog Stereo Audio

Network Connections

· Wired Ethernet

· Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)

About Netflix, Inc.
Netflix, Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) is the world’s largest online movie rental service, with more than eight million subscribers. For one low monthly price, Netflix members can get DVDs delivered to their homes and can instantly watch movies and TV episodes streamed to their TVs and PCs, all in unlimited amounts. Members can choose from over 100,000 DVD titles and a growing library of more than 10,000 choices that can be watched instantly. There are never any due dates or late fees. DVDs are delivered free to members by first class mail, with a postage-paid return envelope, from over 100 U.S. shipping points. More than 95 percent of Netflix members live in areas that generally receive shipments in one business day. Netflix is also partnering with leading consumer electronics companies to offer a range of devices that can instantly stream movies and TV episodes to members’ TVs from Netflix. For more information, visit http://www.netflix.com/.

About Roku, Inc.
Roku is a market leader in innovative applications for digital media. Through its work in both software and hardware, the company develops and sells consumer products and business solutions to bring rich media to the end user. Its products include: The Netflix Player, SoundBridge and SoundBridge Radio digital music players, and BrightSign digital signage controllers. Roku is privately held and based in Saratoga, Calif. For more information on the company and its products, visit: http://www.roku.com.

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6 Responses to Review: A few days with the Netflix Player by Roku

  1. Anonymous says:

    why do i need another box in my house?? i have a pc and a ps3 for downloads already. the real issue is who the studios and networks will sign deals with.

    looks like dvd and bluray days are numbered.

    http://www.1080pbluray.com/

  2. Hunty says:

    hopefully someone will make one with a large buffer for those of us who refuse to upgrade our 256kbps connections. :)

  3. mappo says:

    Doesn’t everyone already have a PC connected to their TV at this point? Well, yeah, OK… but doesn’t everyone in the BBG demographic already have a PC connected to their TV already?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Seriously, Roku is a good company that produces products that do exactly what they claim.

    The pros: I have a Roku Soundbridge that I use to stream my music library (126 GB) to my workshop. It is awesome and does everything promised with easy setup and pretty intuitive controls. The remote is fine, although with a TV model like this I would want, at least at some point down the line, integration with a universal-control standard. For my workshop this is great and it NEVER breaks down.

    The cons: The remote could be better and, like I said before, needs to better integrated for universal remote use. Also, while the Soundbridge looks kinda cool (like a pipe-bomb, really http://images.google.com/images?q=roku%20soundbridge&ie=UTF-8&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&sa=N&tab=wi)
    this TV version needs a little help with design. They have functionality down, but they need to look to Apple (or somebody) to fine-tune their looks.

    Overal: ***** (*****)

    Richard

  5. Enochrewt says:

    Interesting little gadget. I’ve never had a Netflix account, but I’d consider it if this thing works ok. I would just hook my computer up to my TV, but it’s an older Sharp Aquos that pretty much refuses to cooperate with that setup.

    The inclusion of wireless baffles me a little, since wireless b/g cannot stream anything over 480p smoothly, so this a wired connection required the second they start streaming HD content. I’d bet that streaming 5.1 surround in addition to video via the digital optical cable might already put a wireless g connection at it’s capacity, maybe.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Has anyone bought one of these in the U.S., and tried to use it elsewhere? I have a U.S. address and credit card, but spend a lot of time outside the country. It looks like a nice gadget to pack.

    I know that they say it’s not for use outside the U.S., but I’m curious if they actually enforce it.

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