Tech Review: Roku Digital Video Player

Roku Digital Video Player

The future of the web video is a on demand network that you can watch anywhere at anytime. Well at least that is what I’ve heard it to be. The Roku Digital Video Player expands that anywhere to one more location, the living room television. Right now that video is limited to Netflix and soon to include Amazon’s Video On Demand service, with the possibility of more video channels in in the future.

At its core the Roku Digital Video Player is only a streaming video server. It does not feature a harddrive. So you can never retain a digital copy of the video.

Streaming up to 720p HD video with Netflix only takes a minute at most. You’ll need to buy an HDMI cable and update the box to software version 1.5. The video playback runs smooth and looks great. In the standard definition modes of both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, the video quality is fuzzy and soft. It looked much worse than DVD resolution. If you enjoy watching your cable provider’s On Demand videos then maybe you might be fine watching Netflix in standard definition.

Another issue with the way Netflix works on this set top box is that it requires users to still interact with their computer. Users have to add movies or TV shows to their Netflix queue via a computer and then that information is instantaneously received by the Roku Digital Video Player. This two step process defeats the purpose of having a separate box in the first place. It would be much better to be able to search for content directly from the box without having to access a computer.

The nice thing about the box, from a design standpoint, is that it is pretty tiny. It’s much smaller than the standard cable DVR box. It features built-in WiFi and also includes an ethernet port. The remote itself is easy to use as it only has 9 buttons total. The worst part about the remote is taking off the backside for the batteries. The backside literally engulfs the remote and becomes a hassle to take off.

It is peculiar as to why Roku did not try to offer more with this device. Their SoundBridge devices are great music players that allow you to stream music from a computer to a sound system. Why not merge this capability with the Digital Video Player, especially when its competitors like the Apple TV offer music playback in addition to video?

$99 for the Roku Digital Video Player is a pretty nice deal. However, for right now, don’t buy it unless you do have a Netflix account. If you do have a Netflix account, be sure that you don’t already own a device that can also be used to stream Netflix video like an Xbox 360. Other than that the Roku Digital Video Player is a solid product.

Apple TV $229 AND with MORE Features

At Macworld Apple announced several new features to the Apple TV and a new price ($229 for 40gb, $329 for 160gb), all making for a package that’s actually appealing.

Users can now rent over movies straight from iTunes. Over 1,000 titles will be offered by the end of February. Of that 100 titles will be offered in high definition with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Costs will be $3.99 for new releases, $2.99 for library titles, and $4.99 for high definition titles. Costumers will have 30 days to activate the title and 24 hours after that to watch it.

Purchases downloaded to Apple TV are automatically synced back to iTunes on the user’s computer for enjoyment on their computer, all
current generation iPods or iPhone.

“With the new Apple TV and iTunes Movie Rentals, movie lovers can rent DVD-quality or stunning HD movies from their couch with just a click of a button,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “No more driving to the video store or waiting for DVDs to arrive in the mail.”

Other new features include viewing photos from their computers, Flickr and .Mac Web Galleries on their widescreen TV as slideshows or screen savers, and anytime photos are updated on Flickr or .Mac, they are automatically updated on Apple TV.

Apple TV NOT Needed with HomeDock HD

Dock your iPod and view its content in high-definition on your TV, sweet. HomeDock HD Upconverts iPod Video to 720p or 1080i via HDMI. Control the content via an RF remote and you’re good to go. The HomeDock HD will be released in Q2 2008 for the price of $249.99.

HomeDock HD

As of right now you’ll save $50, but the question at this point in time is will the price of Apple TV reduce or add more features that makes the HomeDock HD not that great of a bargain? We’ll disclose this information later today.

[Update] It’s official the Apple TV is now $229. Looks like the HomeDock HD is going to have a tougher time in the market.

Xbox 360 IPTV

IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is the wave of the future. On January 7, 2007 Bill Gates announced how Microsoft will bring Television to Xbox 360 users, not through downloads but through live feeds. The Microsoft TV IPTV Edition is set to be available this holiday season and will give users an alternative route to watching TV.

Imagine being able to throw away your DVR/cable box, not paying for your Cable TV service, and seeing every channel in digital format as well as high-definition. That’s the promise that IPTV brings. While Microsoft isn’t the only company working on IPTV technology, Microsoft is well ahead of the pack because it’s install base for Xbox 360 users is already over 10 million worldwide!

While it isn’t clear how Microsoft will distribute this service, if it’s a free download on the Xbox 360 – why wouldn’t you use it? As a suggestion for Xbox 360 owners who want IPTV, you might want to purchase Xbox 360 Messenger Kit. Isn’t it easier to search for a show by literally typing it in rather than selecting the on screen text?

IPTV is only one part of Microsoft’s overall vision of creating the “Mediaroom.” Microsoft’s Mediaroom will bridge the gap between home computers and the living room Television, expanding upon the current Windows Media Center software.

The only company that’s close to bringing IPTV to the home is Apple. Similar to the Xbox 360, the Apple TV can grab photos and videos. So far though the Apple TV hasn’t been that great of a success. Right now there’s no major advantage to owning the Apple TV simply because it doesn’t do anything outrageously unique.

Rumors have surfaced saying that Apple will release its IPTV product/software sometime in 2008. As with any product, Apple tries to be as innovative as possible. But how can you innovate in a sector that has yet to be widely tested?

Every electronic manufacturer realizes that the future of the technology industry is convergence. Hopefully these software giants know that consumers want their content no matter the platform it was purchased or added onto. The service that’s going to succeed is the service that provides it all, in an easy to use system.

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