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Software and Streaming Sources

Roku XDS Hands-On Review: Affordable and Powerful HD Streaming
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The XDS comes with a number of channels already added, including Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, and Hulu Plus (which I was disappointed to see is actually a “coming soon” placeholder.) You have the option to add more from the Channel Store, and this is where the process gets a little cumbersome. To link the XDS with your Netflix account, for example, you’ll need a computer--the XDS will show you a code generated by Netflix, and you’ll have to login to your Netflix account and enter the code so Netflix knows your XDS is an authorized device. It’s not unusual, but you’ll have to repeat this process for most channels you subscribe to, especially if those channels are pay services or offer premium content that requires you to login to an account.

If the bulk of the video you want to stream to your Roku XDS is free Internet video from popular channels like the TWiT podcast network, Revision3, or NASA TV, you won’t have to worry about registering for much. However, if you plan to watch channels like the Major League Baseball channel and the UFC channel or buy $0.99 videos from Amazon Video on Demand, you’ll find yourself sitting in front of your TV with a laptop while you add the channels you want to watch.

The channel store itself is remarkably robust, and features big names like Netflix and Amazon next to channels like Picasa Web Albums, MediaFly podcasts, and Flickr photos and videos. Compared to a product like iTunes and the Apple TV, Roku provides far more flexibility in bringing media from the Internet to your television through Web services like Flickr, Facebook, Netflix, and even streaming Internet radio from Pandora. Browsing the channel is easy and intuitive. Once you’re subscribed and logged in (if necessary) you can immediately begin streaming video, audio, or photos right to your television.

Our biggest complaint about the setup of the Roku XDS is that the device, which is the most feature-rich of Roku’s lineup, has no easy nor integrated way to stream media from other devices on your home network. There are third-party channels you can add to your subscription list (and in some cases pay for) that offer network streaming features from an iTunes library or from a server on your home network if you know the IP address, but the XDS itself has no built-in capability for streaming from shared folders on another computer. However, almost all of Roku’s competitors have streaming features built-in.

You do get a side-mounted USB port that you can use to stream video or audio from a USB storage device like an external hard drive, but you need a channel to use it, and even that was a little buggy when we tried it. Additionally, the device only supports a handful of video and image files for streaming over USB.

The lack of network streaming capabilities is probably the Roku XDS’ most significant con and the fact that Roku has given control to third party developers that want to publish channels is almost unforgivable. We found one channel that promised, for a fee, to stream content from my home network to our Roku device, but it wouldn’t even let us type in the device name or the network share’s mount point--it wanted to scan subnets of the local network to find available devices.

If you don’t generally keep media you want to watch on your home network and instead stream all of your content over the Internet, this may not be an issue for you, but when compared with other set-top boxes that already do this, it’s a drawback that’s difficult to overlook.

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  • 1 Hide
    spectrewind , October 28, 2010 5:48 AM
    This article very much hits the nail on the head with the reference to the secondary installation places for a device like this. "It’s difficult to recommend the XDS for the living room entertainment system" >> This is very well spoken.

    Essentially, the delta between this device and an XBOX360/PS3 is price and form-factor for occupied 3D space. It becomes an expanded argument either way, when you figure that for $200 more, a PS3 will do this and give you blu-ray play back.
    Not even mentioning PS3 games....
  • -1 Hide
    sliberman , October 28, 2010 3:15 PM
    The review did not cover the component video output. There are many HDTV sets out there that do not have HDMI. The whole point of the Roku XDS device is the component video output.
  • 2 Hide
    waffle911 , October 28, 2010 8:40 PM
    slibermanThe review did not cover the component video output. There are many HDTV sets out there that do not have HDMI. The whole point of the Roku XDS device is the component video output.

    Uh, yeah it did. First on page 2 it pointed out the component video output. On page 4 it mentioned that while the XDS has component output and USB, the cheaper XD does not, and that you should:
    Quote:
    Take care when picking the right Roku box for your particular wants and needs--if you know you’re going to connect via HDMI and won’t use the half-implemented USB streaming capability, you may want to scale back instead to the XD to save some money.

    Honestly, I don't know what else you want from them. It has component video and it has optical audio; combined they perform exactly the same function as a single HDMI cable. So if your TV doesn't have HDMI, but does have component video, then logically you'd spend a bit more and get the XDS instead. HDMI has been around since 2003 and has been mainstream in HDTVs for quite some time now. If your set was made in the last 5 years or so, I would think it should have at least one HDMI input.
    What are they gonna do, compare the quality of the picture over component output versus HDMI?
  • 1 Hide
    stingray71 , October 28, 2010 10:07 PM
    Access to my network media files
    Netflix
    WiFi

    What's so hard about that. Guess I'll hang on to my WD media player.
  • -2 Hide
    stingray71 , October 28, 2010 10:08 PM
    Access to my network media files
    Netflix
    WiFi

    What's so hard about that. Guess I'll hang on to my WD media player.
  • -2 Hide
    stingray71 , October 28, 2010 10:09 PM
    stingray71Access to my network media filesNetflixWiFiWhat's so hard about that. Guess I'll hang on to my WD media player.

  • 1 Hide
    Darkk , October 29, 2010 2:34 AM
    Hulu is finally coming to Roku. I am looking forward to that. :o )

    Darkk
  • -1 Hide
    coldtortilla , October 29, 2010 5:19 AM
    If there is already a Xbox or PS3 in the house there really is no point in this device, it is kinda cool, but I would rather carry around a laptop, and just plug her in, then waisting money on this.
  • 0 Hide
    dark_knight33 , October 31, 2010 12:09 AM
    waffle911Uh, yeah it did. First on page 2 it pointed out the component video output. On page 4 it mentioned that while the XDS has component output and USB, the cheaper XD does not, and that you should:Honestly, I don't know what else you want from them. It has component video and it has optical audio; combined they perform exactly the same function as a single HDMI cable. So if your TV doesn't have HDMI, but does have component video, then logically you'd spend a bit more and get the XDS instead. HDMI has been around since 2003 and has been mainstream in HDTVs for quite some time now. If your set was made in the last 5 years or so, I would think it should have at least one HDMI input.What are they gonna do, compare the quality of the picture over component output versus HDMI?


    It actually isn't the same as a single HDMI cable, since the HDMI spec is plagued with DRM, and you can't easily split off the audio into a discrete Amp, unless the Amp also supports HDMI. On the other hand, I can simply run the component into my HDTV, then the toslink into my Amp. HDMI was an evolving spec when I purchased my TV, and the first one I purchased had an even older version simply called HDCP interface, with a completely different connector. Fortunately, I took it back an got a newer model that had a single HDMI port, but only supports the earlier spec. My Amp, purchased at the same time, does not have any HDMI switching, and was an extremely uncommon (expensive) feature at that time. HDMI/HDCP is nothing more than the MPAAs paranoid attempt to prevent people from doing disc to recorder copies like old VCR-VCR copies. What sense does it make from a consumer perspective to have a degraded HDMI video output (480p) on a perfectly fine HDTV because it doesn't support the current HDCP standard?

    Component has no such problem.

    I agree with your point that the other poster should have thoroughly read the article before complaining, but I completely disagree with your sarcastic characterization regarding addressing HDMI restrictions and output quality vs. Component. If they don't cover it in the review, fine, but it's not a "non-issue" for many people.
  • 0 Hide
    hellwig , November 1, 2010 5:04 PM
    dark_knight33It actually isn't the same as a single HDMI cable, since the HDMI spec is plagued with DRM, and you can't easily split off the audio into a discrete Amp, unless the Amp also supports HDMI.


    Hmm.. first off, do you plan to copy a lot of copy-protected media? Not ALL HDMI signals are copy-protected, and for the ones that are, you probably shouldn't be copying them.

    Second, many newer TVs (I know you said yours was old), support audio pass-through and time-delay, with the explicit purpose of allowing you to use an external amplifier for the audio signal.

    Still, my old roommate had a 61" HD rear-screen projection TV that only had component inputs and even lacked an ATSC tuner. HD TV technology was far ahead of the actual content, so yeah, in certain cases, its good to have the proper selection of outputs.
  • 0 Hide
    ender21 , November 9, 2010 3:37 PM
    Tom's needs to get on the ball with blocking spam posts.
  • 0 Hide
    tomscot2 , November 27, 2010 7:32 PM
    I have a Roku Netflix player with a standard component video RCA outputs (RGB) that I connect to a component video switch that connects all of my video components to my HD TV through an in-wall component video cable. I use the optical audio out to connect to my home theater audio system.

    I purchased the XDS because it has both wireless n and a component output. When I opened the box I was surprised to find that the component output is nonstandard (I admit that I did not read the fine print). It has 3.5 mm jack output, not the normal 3 RCA jacks. Consequently I am unable to simply unplug my old player and plug in the new one. When I went online to find a cable I discovered that no one seems to make this cable. To make matters worse ROKU is out of stock of the cable.

    What I don't understand is why they kept the RCA composite video output (Y) with the RCA stereo audio outputs (R/W) when there are lots of inexpensive cables on the market that use the 3.5 mm jacks to connect camcorders and ipods to TVs. Component video equals HDMI video in quality when using quality cabling. Composite video is clearly inferior, especially for a box that is supposed to have 1080p out. BAD ENGINEERING is the only answer.

    I use my current Roku to watch Netflix videos several times a week. I also use it to listen to Pandora on my stereo because we live in an area with terrible FM reception. I just want my new box to work with my new wireless n router to take advantage of HD video streams. My new XDS is waiting patiently. In the meantime I am sharing my experience with all, which I promised Roku customer service that I would do.
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