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An Early Review of Roku's Netflix-Streaming Appliance 113

Posted by timothy
from the standard-of-living-gets-another-upgrade dept.
Robert Green writes "Following and complementing the Netflix instant streaming video service for the PC, Roku has produced a Set-Top Box offering instant streaming of Netflix video to your home television set. Set to compete with Apple TV (major announcement pending), it began shipping last week and here is one of the first reviews." As has been discussed before, the device is fairly limited, but inexpensive (around $100).
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An Early Review of Roku's Netflix-Streaming Appliance

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  • I tried to, read the review. Something struck me as curiously odd:

    The big drawback right now is video selection. While there are over ten thousand titles available, it's possible to get through everything you may really enjoy in just a couple of months. I really think they (netflix) need to step up the licensing and video transfer to make this service great. I have to imagine that it will happen sometime in the near future as the instant video on PC has always felt like somewhat of a beta test program to me.

    Bold highlights added by me. Is this supposed to be the answer for marathon movie watching couch potatoes? I realize that I watch much less tv than do many people, but really, do people rent 2 and 3 movies a night? for months on end?

    Wow

    • The problem is, I like to watch the videos I like at a stretch. It's very tempting to finish a whole series of Arrested Development or Curb your enthusiasm. It is very difficult to stop after watching a single episode. And people tend to develop a certain taste and will only watch movies/tv that cater to that niche, everything else would pass by without getting noticed much (May be software based suggestions like, "you might like these titles" helps here). So it makes perfect sense that everything you enjoy
    • Re:RTFA ??? Huh (Score:5, Informative)

      by raving griff (1157645) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @09:32PM (#23697493)
      While there are tens of thousands of titles available in netflix's streaming service, only a handful of them are popular films. Personally, only 4 of the DVD's in my 72 movie queue are available to instantly stream. In my case, I could be done with all four movies in a week or two and be out of things to stream until I happen to come across another movie that I think I'd enjoy. The problem is that there is not a great selection of movies available for instant play, and of this limited selection, far fewer are popular titles.
      • by Spackler (223562)
        I am going to agree, and disagree.

        When I ordered this thing, there were about 7 movies in my queue that were "Watch it now". Right now I have more than 50 in there. Now I will grant you, these are things I probably would never have put in my regular queue. Old TV like "Adam 12" and Emergency!. Lots of documentaries as well. I am just amazed with the thing. I went from paying over $130 for cable from Comcast to now paying $15 for basic cable and $17 for netflix. It will pay for switching over in a lit
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The key phrase is "...you may really enjoy."

      Ten thousand titles means a thousand children's movies, a thousand Rob Schneider comedies, a thousand 60's sitcom compilations, and at least 2,500 horrible thrillers starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.

      So of the ten thousand there may be a hundred you really want to see... And at even 3 a week you'll get through them pretty fast.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The big drawback right now is video selection. While there are over ten thousand titles available, it's possible to get through everything you may really enjoy in just a couple of months. I really think they (netflix) need to step up the licensing and video transfer to make this service great. I have to imagine that it will happen sometime in the near future as the instant video on PC has always felt like somewhat of a beta test program to me.

      Bold highlight added by me. Most of the titles are crap, but I pr

    • by Jeff321 (695543) *
      The quality of what's available for instant viewing is not very good yet. I browsed the instant library on Netflix for a while and only came up with about 20 movies I wouldn't mind seeing. That said, I may still get this device since I already have a Netflix subscription and the $100 price seems reasonable.
    • Re:RTFA ??? Huh (Score:4, Informative)

      by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @09:38PM (#23697529)

      While there are over ten thousand titles available, it's possible to get through everything you may really enjoy in just a couple of months.
      Bold highlights added by me. Is this supposed to be the answer for marathon movie watching couch potatoes?

      The implication is not that you can watch 10,000 movies in a couple of months, but that there are very few you're interested in watching. There are 260 movies on my Netflix queue. 25 of those are available from this new device to watch instantly. Of those, I need to remove about 15, which are old TV shows available on Hulu.com for free. The remaining 10 are mostly really old, bad movies that are on there for bad movie nights. Seriously, the selection is awful.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) * on Saturday June 07, 2008 @09:21PM (#23697459)
    Nice puff piece. It doesn't mention what the resolution is or the surround formats it supports (or not). Who is going to want to watch crummy resolution on a 42" screen?

    • by daemonburrito (1026186) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @09:52PM (#23697587) Journal

      It's not about "resolution" as you're probably thinking about it. For right now, it is 480p, but that's not what is important.

      The amount of compression is varied depending on the speed of the connection. Netflix says it's pretty good at 1.5mbit, and perfect at 4mbit.

      • What I don't understand: is there any advantage to this box over just having my computer output directly to my HDTV (in my case with HDMI) and using full screen with the streaming player on the Netflix website?

        The review says we need to use a computer anyway to add things to the queue.

        Are people just too dumb to buy a cable for their computer to output to their HDTV? I assume there are some hidden advantages I'm missing? I didn't see anything that says the resolution is higher with the box. Is it?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          What I don't understand: is there any advantage to this box over just having my computer output directly to my HDTV (in my case with HDMI) and using full screen with the streaming player on the Netflix website?

          You don't have to have your computer in the same room as your TV. You can use a remote control to select movies, play them, pause, etc.

          Are people just too dumb to buy a cable for their computer to output to their HDTV?

          Not everyone has or wants to have a computer in their living room, or an extra computer sucking down electricity. It's fine for us geeks, but not necessarily for other people. It's not a matter of being "dumb" just priorities.

        • by Kopiok (898028)
          Not everybody has a PC handy right by their movie-watching TV.
        • by Robert1 (513674) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @11:28PM (#23698003) Homepage
          In the real world - i.e. not in your room in your parent's house - people don't have their computer sitting in the living room by the TV.

          I've noticed a certain lack of critical though on Slashdot lately. I mean really, you could have answered your own comment if you had thought about it for just a moment. Really thought about it, like ran through your head situations where people have different living situations/setups than you. You would have had your answer.

          This is a comment in line with people who bitch at people bitching about high gas prices cause they ride their bike 8 miles a day to work. "Why would anyone possibly need a car," and "everyone should just bike to work." Its like, people think that everyone must be exactly like them - no family, non-professional job, snow-less southeastern US, and young. They have no capacity to think critically and put themselves in someone else's shoes or see the situation from a perspective that isn't theirs.

          Just think for a fucking second and realize the rest of the world isn't you.
        • Netflix is forced to use drm. I try to keep a drm-free box. Also, IIRC, it is Windows-only.

          So, to answer your questions: 1. No, unless you don't have/want a windows box with drm crap down to the metal. 2. See (1).

          • Yep, that's why I'm seriously thinking about picking it up for my wife-no Instant Viewing on Macs, Linux, or anything Not Windows. So in reference to a comment above-it doesn't matter how technically savvy she or I or the neighbors are if we don't have Windows machines.

            I suppose it'd be different if I had a virtual Windows machine somewhere, but as I don't it seems to me that the startup costs for us to use Instant Viewing favor Roku.

      • That is what is important to me since I have a 30mbit connection.

        I am a little concerned about the selection. It sounds like a bunch of low quality old source material that wouldn't look that great on a HDTV even if they were run through a good video processor.

        At the price though it might be worth experimenting with.
      • by smoker2 (750216)
        If it can run well in a 4 mbps setting then it could be sent using DVB-T. Be just like satellite but cheaper.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bsharitt (580506)
      Yeah, I was hoping for a bit more content. Right now I'm kind of torn between this and the AppleTV. Sure the AppleTV might theoretically cost more to rent, but I don't watch that many movies and I can stream the media from my PC, which would be a huge thing for me. Right now I'm leaning toward the AppleTV since buying this box would mean I'd still have to come up with something to stream the music and video from my PC.
      • by rthille (8526)
        That's one thing the NetFlix box is missing. Actually, the NetFlix box might have the ability, but the PC software certainly hasn't been announced. But there's nothing to stop the hardware from talking to a local 'queue' running on some PC or Mac in the house, serving up whatever video formats the hardware can play. It might involve transcoding your library, either on the fly or in advance, but it seems like that would be a strong selling point to be able to stream your 'legal' home videos or whatever in
      • by tgibbs (83782)
        I'd be willing to pay the price for the Apple box, but I don't like per-movie pricing, and restrictions that tell you how long you can wait before watching and that potentially cause you to lose your money if something comes up and you can't finish watching on time are simply unacceptable.
    • by maxume (22995)
      How close are they sitting to the screen?
  • I ordered one of these the first week they started shipping, and I'm not disappointed. The video quality is as good as your internet connection, unfortunately. If you subscribe to Netflix and enjoy "Watch Now" titles this is a must!
  • Subtitles? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by imag0 (605684) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @10:09PM (#23697665) Homepage
    I think that having subtitles in regular movies would be the deal breaker for me. While the review showed a foreign film with subtitles, does anyone know if "normal" films have subtitles as well?

    Misspent youth playing in speed metal bands before turning into a hardcore geek has unfortunately robbed me of a nice chunk of my hearing. So, subtitles are a necessity.

    Cheers,

    imag0
    • by Kopiok (898028)
      If it's anything like the normal Netflix streaming, there would be no subs.
    • by ahbi (796025) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @01:01AM (#23698363) Journal
      OK, first off I love Netflix Video On Demand feature. It was in fact one of the main reasons I setup my Media Center.
      I suggest either Anthony Perkin's (IIRC) MyNetflix plugin or the better vmcNetflix plugin (both for Vista)

      But here is the deal:
      What you get is essentially VHS. Both in terms of features & resolution.
      No subsitiles option (forgien you have them; English you don't)
      No menus and therefore no special features.

      Selection:
      This is an odd mix.
      You don't have the full Netflix selection.
      New releases are hit and miss. It really depends on what the studios let Netflix put on there.
      The selection compaired to other VoD systems is very good. Especially the TV shows (which aren't in HD anyhow).
      Also I al amazed by how quickly they are adding titles to the VoD service

      So, Netflix VoD is not a replacement for TV.
      Or cable VoD services (for new releases)
      However, with your normal Netflix subscription (~$15) it is free. And that makes a huge difference.
      Now I have a massive selection of shows I can watch anytime I want. I have access to TV shows that really aren't rerun anymore.
    • by kklein (900361)

      Yeah, that's the dealbreaker for me as well, but my industrial band days have only left me incapable of having conversations with background noise (bars, etc.). For me its my wife, who is Japanese. Her English is decent, but I have to hit "pause" to catch her up a lot less if she has both auditory and visual linguistic input.

      Here in Japan, talk shows and reality shows tend to subtitle all the funny/important comments for effect, and I, too, find that that often makes the difference between "Huh?" and "H

  • Judging by the review they seem to have discovered the 'Zen of GUI' - keep the interface as simple as you can - only include what is necessary to use the device.

    Apple seem to understand this as well.

    I think that software developers and GUI designers can learn some lessons here (me included).

  • With broadband service providers like Comcast and Time-Warner preparing to impose usurious tiered pricing on users, 'All-you-can-eat' services like Netflix look like a bargain compared to something like this.
  • by jafo (11982) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @11:11PM (#23697929) Homepage
    I've had my box since Tuesday. Overall I'm very happy with it. It's inexpensive, and on my cable modem the quality is reasonable, though it will step down if I'm doing a big download.

    The box works up to my expectations, with one exception... It's tied to the remote servers. In most cases, where you're watching a movie, this isn't really an issue.

    However, I've had the box 5 days, and last night late the Netflix servers that hand out the video were down. We'll see how frequently that happens.

    The other place it comes up is when you're seeking. It has a nice interface where you see stills go by as you are seeking forward or back, but once you select it you then have to wait for it to re-spool the data. Even if you seek forward 30 seconds (the buffer seems to hold several minutes) it will still take a while after seeking to start playing.

    It's a great box, but as soon as they have one that I can stick an 8GB memory card in, or a hard drive, or the software for the PS-3, I'll be ready to switch.

    By my calculations it's around 600 to 900MB/hour. So even a 2 or 4GB SD card should be able to do pretty nicely. Grab a full movie or two at full resolution, instead of having to stream it it could suck it down at a slower speed, seek more responsively, and hopefully not be so dependent on the Netflix server if it's down for a bit.

    So, in short: I really like it, but I'm looking forward to the next rev.

    Sean
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @11:18PM (#23697959) Homepage Journal
    Once we go back to pay-per-byte internet, you might as well drive up to blockbuster, it will be cheaper.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by freedom_india (780002)
      Yup.
      The product is too good: But AT&T, verizon and COmcast will kill it.
      Netflix has been the one company which has fiercely focussed on customers instead of quarterly profits and pleasing the wallstreet flip-crowd.
      I was a customer for 2 long years, and once am back in US, i plan to resume it.
      I was looking forward to Roku, but...now i guess Netflix is going to hit because the blood-sucking vampires at Comcast/Verizon/AT&T think that reducing service is better than providing better service at higher c
  • Killed by Comcast (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @11:45PM (#23698073)
    Comcast is all set to kill Roku.

    1: Claim to only "delay" Bittorrent traffic while actually killing it with reset packages.

    2: When called on the carpet by the FCC, claim that you were only taking "reasonable network management" approaches.

    3: Pretend to appease the FCC by claiming in the future that you will "slow all net traffic equally" when managing your network.

    4: Heavy users (i.e. those streaming videos to RoKu) find this 8Mbs promised and paid for bandwidth reduced to <800Kbs rendering RoKu unable to stream. And with no onboard storage, no preloading of content ahead of viewing.

    5: When Comcast video services are never slowed no matter how contested the network becomes, poo poo critics as oversensitive wusses.

    6: PROFIT!

    • Comcast is all set to kill Roku.

      The good news is Qwest is all set to kill Comcast. If you don't subscribe to the Comcast triple play package (TV, Telephone, Internet) and just get the Internet, they soak you about $60/month. Qwest is running DSL fiber in our area with prices close to $35, Comcast is toast as soon as Qwest can hook me up.
  • ...that this is a work in progress. I love mine, and for now it will let me catch up on shows I missed (I'm a SF fan who has yet to watch the new Dr. Who, and there is it available for streaming!) and there's a pile of classic old SF films available. I may watch Soylent Green next week. Love that film. For recent stuff I have my 2 DVDs out at a time. Getting this box doesn't stop your ability to get DVDs.

    Netflix is working licensing issues, and the Roku team is free to allow other sources to stream to their
  • Is there an advantage over just plugging one's laptop's TV-out into the TV, and plugging speakers into the laptop?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jeremy Erwin (2054)
      You mean besides ergonomics and convenience?

      I used to use my laptop as a dvd player. Somehow the act of plugging everything in, turning off the screensaver, rooting around for the proper cables, making sure that the remote control's software was actually working etc really took the spontaneity out of watching a movie.
    • by PhotoGuy (189467) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @08:08AM (#23699631) Homepage

      Is there an advantage over just plugging one's laptop's TV-out into the TV, and plugging speakers into the laptop?

      Yes, you don't have to plug your laptop's TV-out into the TV, nor do you have to plug speakers into your laptop!
    • by Renraku (518261)
      You can still use your laptop. The movie might be in 5.1 but most likely its going to come out as 2.1 or 2 from your laptop.

      Also, if you're going to do that, just get something like a PS3 and stream the movie from a wireless-capable PC or fileserver type of setup..that way you can have your 5.1 cake, your laptop, and don't have to deal with cords.
  • What was that supposed to be?
    First of all, there are no real $20 HDMI cables. If you see one for that price rest asured that the shop bought it for less than $5 and the company which sold it from the shop got it from China for far less than $1 a piece.

    Then second, what did we learn? Barely nothing! We only learned that that device exists and works. He didn't even open it.
  • I'm sorry if I missed something but what about AppleTV: (most of this is straight off of their site) stand-alone unit works with widescreen, enhanced-definition, or high-definition TVs capable of:

    1080p/i 60/50 Hz
    720p 60/50Hz
    576p 50Hz (PAL format)
    480p 60Hzt;
    connects to internet via wired or wireless network 802.11n draft; iTunes video library including YouTube, TV shows, music (no commercials); hookup HDMI to HDMI cable or
    HDMI to DVI cable and analog stereo or optical digital audio or
    Component video c

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