By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 5:30 am
Roku’s little video player is one of my favorite ways to get movies and TV shows off the Internet and onto a TV: It’s cheap, inconspicuous, and ridiculously easy to set up and use. And the content providers–Netflix, Amazon, and Major League Baseball–make for a nice lineup of entertainment.
Today, Roku is announcing that its lineup of players is expanding from one box to three. Don’t get too excited–the boxes all look the same, have the same remote, and are more similar than different in terms of features. But the new top of the Roku line is the Roku HD-XR, a $129.99 version with 802.11n Wi-Fi for better performance and range (the previous model maxed out at 802.11g). The HD-XR also has a USB port for unspecified future use.
Roku lent me an HD-XR box to try. Here at Technologizer World Headquarters, it did indeed deliver better wireless video than the original Roku–as long as nothing else terribly heavy-duty was going on over my broadband connection, I was able to stream high-def video wirelessly and reliably. That’s an improvement on the first box, which works reasonably well but hiccups occasionally even when streaming standard definition programming.
The new Roku did, however, get bogged down when it had to compete for network bandwidth–such as when I watched YouTube on my laptop, or copied files from one machine to another. If you’re able to use the player’s Ethernet port rather than depend on wireless, it’s still the best option. (I sometimes use powerline networking for this purpose.)
The existing Roku player is sticking around, under the new name of the Roku HD; it’s still $99.99. The company’s also releasing a stripped-down model called the Roku SD–it only has composite output and therefore can’t do high definition at all. It’s $79.99, but I’d spring for the HD model (or the HD-XR one) unless you’re absolutely positive you’ll never own an HDTV. (And if you are, I’m surprised you’re reading this.)
Roku tells me that it’ll have news soon about additional channels of content that it’ll offer to folks who own its boxes; if it’s good stuff, it could be at least as exciting as today’s hardware developments. And my colleague and fellow Roku fan Dave Zatz’s list of five ideas to improve the company’s players remains unfulfilled. Here’s hoping that Roku implements at least some of Dave’s proposals…