Review: Roku Box

I’ve had the Roku Box for a few months now.  It costs $99 and I bought it for one simple reason:  my wife and I object to having to use Windows and Internet Explorer to watch Netflix’s Instant Programs.  As a secondary reason, we’re not in college anymore and we object to having to watch on our computers.  We want to be able to watch these on the TV just as if we had rented little silver discs.  The Roku box is tiny.  Here’s a shot of the front:

Front of Roku Box

In the rear photo, where I show the connections you can get a true feel for the size by comparing it to my hand.

Rear of Roku Box

First of all, you can see that the engineers at Roku have made some pretty good engineering decisions.  This little device will basically work with any television made in the last 10-15 years.  It has every type of connection you could imaging – Component, Composite, S-Video, HDMI and analog and digital audio.  So you know that if you buy this little guy you can use him on all your TVs from now until…well, Netflix will probably go out of business or stop offering Instant View because your TVs can’t connect with the Roku box.  You can also see that it has an ethernet connection, but I use it wirelessly.  That way I can easily move it around the house to watch programs in the bedroom or living room.

So, how well does it perform?  First of all, at this point in time I only have SD TVs so I don’t know how good the HD quality is.  However, I have to say that it works very, very good for me.  It is important for me to mention that I am on Comcast Cable Internet.  I think it’s about 6 Mbps download rate, but I’m not sure.  I’m on the lowerest tier they have in Anne Arundel County.  My router is a couple of years old, so it’s a 100 Mbps router with 802.11 b/g.  I have it setup with WPA.  My TVs are 27+ inches.  Ok, so how well does it perform?  If I had a continuum where on on end we have internet-quality videos and at the other end we have red ray, standard DVD quality, the Roku is a 7.5 on average.  You notice it most in black/dark areas.  I’d have to say that 99% of the time, the quality of the footage according to the Roku box is 4/4 so this is as good as it gets in standard def.  I almost never have any problems with buffering despite watching wirelessly.  In fact, I think maybe ONCE there was a buffering issue.

So is it a good buy?  If you have a Netflix Unlimited Plan there is only one reason not to buy the Roku box.  You have some other device that will play Netflix content.  Examples include Xbox 360 with a Gold Plan and some Blu Ray players.  This has really increased the amount of Netflix content I can watch by nearly an order of magnitude.  So while my discs are in the post, I can watch other content.  There’s also a LOT of Starz and Showtime Original content on there.  Really, the thing that keeps the Roku box from being the best thing since the Internet is the fact that Netflix apparently either doesn’t have the server power to have their entire catalog digitized or they are operating under some draconian licensing because a lot of the new stuff isn’t available and some items (even old movies) become unavailable; otherwise the Roku box would kill your [Comcast, Verizon, etc] OnDemand service.