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Monday, April 27, 2009

Gadget Use: Roku Netflix Player

Getting The Girl a Roku for her birthday comes from the multiple times I've stumbled into the living room to watch her relaxing to some afternoon Comedy Central matinee. If you're lucky in such a situation, it's Half Baked playing for the 100th time and if you are aren't, it may be some odd amalgamation of B-List actors who, at as we suspect, got stuck in a coffee shop together one day and decided to make a movie for fifty bucks and a pizza.

It's not that she doesn't have good taste, it's just that she isn't normally allowed access to the kinds of movies and TV she likes and I could honestly skip. Roku solves that by giving us direct access into her Netflix Instant Watch queue (and Amazon On Demand as well).

Setup is about as easy as it could possibly be - plug it in, follow the wizard and enter the Roku code into your Netflix account. Voila, your list appears. You still need to manage your list online, but it isn't much of a bother. When we first played it, we couldn't seem to get more than two out of four dots of quality. Which when you're watching Tango and Cash, isn't really all that bad.

Eventually, though, the quality seemed to magically fix itself and soon she was watching her Irish soap opera at pretty much DVD quality. Since then, we've only had a couple of hangups. One - a later disc of said Irish soap opera seems to have been poorly encoded by Netflix and the audio is completely off. We reported it via Netflix and I'll be interested to see what the turnaround is for getting it fixed.

Then, we were watching Vantage Point and at one spot the player kept insisting it needed to download more, and then play a bit, and then start downloading again. Bit like a skipping record. Pretty easily fixed, though, we just bounced out of the film and back in - and the rest was fine.

So pretty high marks all in all. There are always going to be foibles with online delivery, but so far the Roku belongs way up there (and certainly deserves its own niche in the recent "Your TV Watching Options" post).


sterno said...

I'm assuming it's 802.11b/g? One big selling point of the AppleTV (though lacking netflix) is that it supports 802.11n. Keeps the box off of the very noisy 2.4Ghz band and makes the video a lot more reliable. My previous attempts at connecting the Internets to my TV have largely failed because of network connection consistency.

Josh said...

Yeah, I should note that I have a crazy simple WiFi setup - not even a WEP password.

Looks like it might support N:

jvm said...

Does Netflix streaming support captions? My wife, coming from a family with genetic hearing problems, grew up watching TV with closed captioning on and she prefers to have it as much as possible.

The PlayStation Store doesn't have video with captions, so that's been a real bummer.

Josh said...

It doesn't appear to support closed captions. Whether that's directly a Roku thing or Netflix thing is a bit unclear, but it seems to have been a major complaint from the start.

jvm said...

Yeah, I poked around a bit and it seems I'm not alone in wanting this.

Looks like physical Blu-Ray rentals will be our primary option for the near-term.