Roku XDS Streaming Media Player Page 2
One nice thing about the XDS is its USB port. If you have 1080p content stored on a flash drive, the Roku will play this along with any music or photos on the drive. You need to get a code from Roku’s Website to activate the port. When you do, a USB icon will appear in your main menu. Click it to access the drive. Playback from my USB flash drives wasn’t without a few glitches, but it worked fine for the most part. The XDS automatically recognizes the types of files it supports and plays (MPEG-4, MP3, JPG, PNG). It’s worth noting that the Roku will only display your own content through a USB-connected device. Unlike some of its competitors, the XDS can’t access media stored on the computers connected to your home network.
The Roku Interface
The first thing that struck me about the Roku’s UI (user interface) was that the design was uniform throughout. Whether I was searching through Netflix movies, checking the latest releases on Amazon VOD, or browsing through the Channel Store, the look and structure were all the same. I wouldn’t call the graphic design sophisticated. In fact, it’s rather blocky and almost infantile, but the interface is intuitive and easy to navigate. After my experience with the clumsy and cumbersome UI on the Google TV products I recently reviewed (HT, February 2011), I appreciated this unified design and easy operation.
The three main streaming services—Netflix, Amazon VOD, and Hulu—all require accounts. You can’t set up your accounts through the Roku device; you must do it online. The Roku generates a code for fast setup with these services, but you’ll still need to use a conventional Web browser to access the site. Then you’ll need to establish the account or authorize the XDS for that account. Once the Roku recognizes you as a registered subscriber, you’re always good to go.
Unlike the original Roku player, you can now browse, view, and manage your Netflix content directly from the XDS. You can choose multiple movies and TV shows for your Watch Instantly queue. In this case, that means you’re pre-selecting content to stream later.
When you watch a movie from these services, you can pause the stream. A bar that shows the program time line appears near the bottom of your screen. From here, you can easily go backward or forward. Moreover, there are thumbnail images that make it super easy to find a specific point in the film or program.
The Channel Store
If you read my recent story on Google TV, you know my favorite feature was the widgets that immediately connect you to various Web content. The XDS has something similar called the Channel Store. It has some of the same content as Google TV, plus a lot of different content. All of the channels are optimized for playback on the Roku; they aren’t just gateways to Websites. That means they’re integrated within the uniform UI structure, so you can use the Roku’s remote to quickly move through the content on these channels.
There are more than 75 channels, and it could take a fair amount of time to check them all out. When you find a channel you want to try, you add it to the Roku’s main menu. Once the channel is on the main menu, you can access it anytime. When I started adding channels, I ended up with one long row of icons. I had to click through them one by one to get to the channel I was looking for. Even the icon to activate my USB drive was thrown into this mix. The Roku always placed the last channel I’d chosen at the end of the list, and there was no way to change the order. Just before press time, Roku issued a firmware update that allows you to change the order of the channels. It works on all of Roku’s products, as long as you have the remote that comes with the XD and XDS.
Many channels require an account. As I described above, that means taking a side trip online to get your account (new or existing) properly set up for use on the Roku. It’s not difficult, but it’s an annoyance if you just want to check out the channel to see whether or not you like it.
There’s something in the Channel Store for everyone. Like baseball? Then you’ll probably enjoy the MLB.TV channel. A Pandora subscriber? Add the channel, and stream your music through the Roku. Have videos uploaded to Vimeo? Show them to your friends on your HDTV rather than the computer using the Roku widget.
The Roku XDS’ performance depends on the speed of your broadband connection. With my connection, full-length movies took about 30 seconds to a minute to buffer before they began to stream.