Roku Netflix Build Quality
When rumors of a Netflix set-top box started surfacing around the Internet, my ears perked up. The thought of bringing Netflix' Watch Now technology to my home theater made me nearly salivate. After all, current "free" on-demand offerings from cableTV are extremely limited, showing up as channel-specific, public domain, and/or Black & White classic fare. Satellite TV's flavor of on-demand is nearly nonexistent and its crippled functionality currently gives it a steep uphill climb before it can even begin to mature.
Upon hearing Roku announce immediate availability of its new set-top Netflix Player I immediately ordered one. There's been much criticism and skepticism about the player and its usefulness to enthusiasts. What I'll attempt to do is break it down technically, demonstrate the interface, examine the playback quality, and then summarize what different types of users might think of this new technology.
The Roku Netflix Player doesn't actually store movies within the set-top unit itself - at least not in their entirety. Rather, it caches enough to enable playback of the film, uninterrupted via streaming download. There are several advantages to this. First, it maintains the status of the box so that Netflix isn't paying royalties on full downloads which then need to be concerned with HDCP or other copy protection. With the Roku box the other significant advantage is that selected films will playback almost immediately. Thirty seconds was the average time I measured for new downloads. Compare that to the length of time it would be to download an entire DVD movie, which could be in excess of 3 GB.
Upon opening the small retail packaging I was rather surprised by the diminutive size of Roku's Netflix Player. The device is about the size of four (4) CD jewel cases stacked together. It's so small, in fact, that we decided to take it with us on vacation. The Roku Player, its power supply cord, a component video, and an analogue audio cable all fit neatly into a gallon Ziploc bag. That's a pretty handy way to take 10,000 movies along with you on your next trip!
There is no power switch and also no Standby mode, a definite drawback but not one that interferes with its use. In fact, to get around the power issues, we recommend plugging the Roku into one of the power receptacles found on the back of most AV receivers (this may be difficult for some, due to the size of the actual DC adapter). This will allow the Player to power up only when the receiver is being utilized. A firmware update with a sleep/hibernation mode would be a welcome addition, especially since - when the unit is on - the video output remains active. On displays with auto-sensing inputs, this may pose an inconvenience when you power down other devices (the display would auto-switch to the Roku whenever, for example, the DVD player was powered off). There are about 6 different workarounds to this, so we quickly moved on.
There are no surprises on the back of the Netflix Player, save the pleasant kind. The box has all the analogue flavors of video: composite, S-video, and component. For audio there is both TOSlink optical digital and analogue stereo. This means that, at the very least Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks are supported by the hardware - even though neither is currently implemented. The pleasant surprise was the inclusion of an HDMI output (the version is unspecified, but at least 1.1) which supports high definition audio and video. You can use the HDMI output for playback now, even though the source content being streamed is currently limited to 480p video with stereo PCM audio.
While you can certainly use the HDMI connection on the back of the Roku, Netflix has yet to enable any actual HD audio or video beyond the 480p/stereo fare it has available in its system. For some this will be a huge issue. For others, like me, this is just icing on the cake. The Netflix Player is powered by an external DC power supply that is actually just a power adapter. While quite small the bulk of it is around the power plug, but aligned sideways so as to not hog traditional power strips.
Thanks. Is there anything oher than video game systems that can do this? There has to be, right?
try something like this http://tombuntu.com/index.php/2008/12/09/transform-ubuntu-into-a-media-center-with-xbmc/ [tombuntu.com]
For streaming your files a media PC would work well. The x-box or PS3 might do it - I haven't tried. When I used to stream I used my hacked Directv tivo box ...