The Roku LT is a killer streaming-media box, offering tons of streaming video content, including favorites like Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and Pandora, for just $50.
Here's how you know the Roku LT is a great product: it's both the cheapest and one of the best streaming-video boxes we've tested. Roku has managed to shave the price all the way down to $50, jettisoning unnecessary features, while keeping all of the streaming content that we love.
Around back, there's just an HDMI output and a minijack output for the included breakout video cable, so you can use the Roku with older TVs. If you want additional connectivity--like an Ethernet port, SD card slot, or USB port--have a look at the step-up Roku 2 line of players, but we think most of those features aren't needed. (The USB playback of the Roku 2 XS isn't its biggest strength, and we can live without its small collection of casual games as well.)
The LT has built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi for connecting to the Internet, and while it's not dual-band like the old Roku XDS, we didn't run into any performance issues.
The remote is delightfully simple. There's a directional pad with an OK button in the center, and there are some basic playback buttons, plus home and back. The asterisk button on the bottom generally brings up more options, although we could never quite be sure what we were going to get when we pressed it. Overall, we like the Roku LT's clicker even more than the flagship Roku 2 XS' remote, which has a slightly more cluttered layout and is a magnet for fingerprints.
The home screen has a basic interface, with a horizontal row of channels to choose from. The Roku LT comes preloaded with the most important channels: Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and Pandora. The first three are an outstanding trio for cable-cutters, letting you mix and match subscription and pay-per-view content to catch up on your favorite TV shows.
The user interfaces for the major services are good, although we've seen better. Netflix here looks similar to the Sony PlayStation 3's Netflix interface, although fewer titles are visible on a single screen. Unlike on the very first Roku boxes, you can search through Netflix's streaming catalog, as well as browse titles that aren't in your instant queue. The new Rokus also support closed captioning on Netflix.
The Amazon Instant interface is reminiscent of last year's Netflix interface, with cover art laid out horizontally. It works, but it's not nearly as nice a browsing experience as you'll get with Vudu or Apple TV.
The Channel Store itself is as overwhelming as the amount of content in it, presented as a huge grid of channels. The lack of a search function can make it annoying to track a specific app and even though there are filters, like "Most popular" and "Movies & TV," it's still easy to get a little lost as to what you're actually looking at. Luckily, once you add a channel it shows up on the home screen, and you can arrange home channels in whatever order you'd like.
No matter how many times we say 1080p doesn't matter, buyers still get worried when they see that the Roku LT "only" does 720p HD video. Again, we didn't find the lack of 1080p video to be noticeable using the Roku LT, even for HD streams from Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus.