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Geek Gifts 2010: Roku XDS streaming media player

The original Roku media player was a featured gadget in the Geek Gift Guide and the Roku XDS continues the tradition with new features and technology.

In June 2008, I gave a very favorable review of the Roku Netflix Player and it was one of our featured gadgets in the 2008 TechRepublic Geek Gift Guide. Well, the 2010 Roku XDS iteration of that streaming media player continues to impress. With new features, access to more content, and the same low price, the Roku XDS is one of 2010's best geek gifts.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 4.9 x 4.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Networking:
    • 802.11n Wi-Fi (b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA and WPA2 support, Dual-band 802.11n (2.4Ghz and 5Ghz)
    • 10/100 Base-T Ethernet
  • Video output:
    • Composite video (480i)
    • Component video (720p/480p). Requires Roku XDS component cable (sold separately)
    • HDMI (1080p/720p/480p)
  • Video modes:
    • 1080p High Definition (HD)
    • 720p High Definition (HD)
    • 16:9 anamorphic / 4:3 standard
  • Audio output:
    • Analog stereo
    • Optical digital audio (5.1 surround sound pass-through and stereo)
    • Digital over HDMI (5.1 surround sound pass-through)
  • Port: USB 2.0, supporting video and image files
  • Cost: $99

What I like

  • Ease of use: One of the best things about the Roku XDS is how easy it is to setup and use. The instructions for activating the device are straightforward and take only few minutes. And, once it is up and running, streaming media is just a few clicks of the remote away.
  • WiFi: The original Roku had a very good WiFi radio, but the XDS ups the ante with a dual-band 802.11n compatible system.
  • Available content: While Netflix is still the primary content provider, there are new content deals being made all the time. Hulu Plus will be available in December 2010 and there are now dozens of other channels available with a Roku box.
  • Upgrades: Roku is designed to be easily upgradeable for new features and new content and these upgrades happen automatically.

What I don't like

  • No 1080p yet: The Roku XDS is capable of streaming a full 1080p HD signal, but none of the content providers is actually sending those signals yet. Within the next year, 1080p on the Roku should be common place, but it is not yet.
  • Growing pains: The popularity of streaming media, especially with Netflix, means there are some growing pains. Sometime services get overwhelmed and content is not available. However, Netflix, for example, is very sensitive to these outages and has always given credit off the monthly subscription fee for any downtime.

Geek bottom line

The Roku XDS is a fine piece of hardware that does exactly what it is designed to do and does it elegantly and without complications. A Roku player streaming media to your home is one of the most enjoyable multimedia experiences a person (geek or otherwise) could ask for. And at a reasonable price of $99, the Roku XDS is very highly recommended.

Geek Gift Score

  • Fun factor: ****
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: *****

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2010.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

6 comments
mlavoie1956
mlavoie1956

I have the original Roku, received it as a gift a few years ago, I love the thing. Just recently added Hulu Plus to my lineup. I have mostly used it for netflix and amazon movies. Sometimes I have a little trouble with downloads, but I think that is my ISP. The picture and sound are great. About a year ago my Roku could not find my network. I called the company and after trying to trouble shoot it, they decided to replace the unit at no charge. The trouble is that my unit works so well I have no need to update it.

alfmeister
alfmeister

Vimeo is a source of 1080P amateur videos. One of the reasons 1080P isn't available from Netflix is the huge amounts of data required. It would be impossible with most wifi connections causing constant rebuffering to try to keep up. I do love my Roku XDS though because there are lots of channels to choose from. It's up to 98 already and more are on the way.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you taken the plunge into streaming media? Are you using a dedicated box/gadget? Which one and how do you like it?

Tank252ca
Tank252ca

The availability of streamed content has been limited in Canada, so I was looking at the Popcorn Hour due to the range of supported file formats and the user community. I currently use a PS3 with PS3 Media Player software running on an Windows XP system, but that's more for the tech savy. Netflix is available in Canada now on the PS3, but I have yet to subscribe. What the PS3 lacks is a nice interface for organizing your contact. All you are really presented with is a folder and file list. The Popcorn Hour has some very nice customizable interfaces that display cover art and can contain complete descriptions pulled from the internet. The biggest obstacle I face is bandwidth limitations. I'm near the max distance for DSL service, so I'll never be able to stream HD video live. That's why I opt to download content and use a file server. Another issue is video quality. Streamed media is so highly compressed that there are always video artifacts. Didn't we all get HD TVs for a better picture? And lastly, there is the issue of bandwidth caps. I'm still on DSL because I have a grandfathered unlimited plan which is no longer available. The 2 major providers have placed caps on all of their current offerings and are in the process of squashing the small ISP companies that lease their lines and still offer unlimited service. The old unlimited plans like mine are slowing being priced into oblivion as they jack up the rates every year. I've been monitoring my bandwidth usage and I'm already above the caps most months, and we still use basic cable for much of our TV viewing. If we were to switch completely to Internet content, the surcharges for exceeding the bandwidth caps would severely impact the cost. I love these little media server devices, but under the current model for Internet service in Canada I don't see how streaming media will be affordable beyond just occasional use.

Pint15
Pint15

Simple to setup and easy to move around the house. Quality of streaming is great. Small issue is that adding some channels requires retrieving setup keys from websites and then entering them into the Roku player. Prior to the Roku I used the xbox 360... until the video died on it. Xbox beats the Roku for seamless integration with other PC devices. Roku beats the Xbox for compactness and transportability.

labattomy
labattomy

I have tried two of these devices, one was the Patriot Box Office and the other was The Seagate FreeAgent Goflex Media Player. Both were around $99. The Patriot was over a year ago, and while it was flexible with the media types it played, and had great reviews on Newegg, it did not play Netflix. At that time the only one was the ROKU. you could install a hard disk in it too. I returned it after a month. I also recently tried the Seagate and my experience was terrible, it did support Netflix BUT it did weird things like it would not show any movies in my queue when the queu was large (like 20 movies) It crashed often and was so slow I never did get a movie to play on Netflix. So instead of opting for a dedicated DVD/Blu-Ray Player with Netflix and media player integrated, or something like the more expensive Popcorn Time (which I hear is great) I decided to get an Acer AR3610 PC, While a little more expensive than the dedicated Media Player, I have full PC, 6 USB ports, HDMI, eSata connector, SD Card Slot and a VESA mount that mounts it on the back of the TV. I can also add an external Blu-Ray player of my choice. It is a far superior solution for the tech - but getting it setup for 'non-tech savvy' people in my family is more of a challenge. It came with Windows7 x64 and I automated a lot of it and use a wireless remote and now everyone loves it.