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Software and Streaming Sources

Roku XDS Hands-On Review: Affordable and Powerful HD Streaming

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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