CNET First Look
Roku PlayerIf you don't need compatibility with iTunes, Roku's trio of ultra-affordable video boxes offers a wider range of streaming video and audio providers than you'll find on Apple TV.
I'm David Carnoy, executive editor for CNET.com and I'm going to give you a quick video tour of the Roku Player, an inexpensive media streamer that was once simply known as the Netflix player. In its latest incarnation, Roku has made its little black box even smaller while retaining the same on-screen look and feel, and channel options that are currently headlined by Netflix, Amazon Video-On-Demand, Pandora, and MLB.TV. The new box also comes in good, better, and best versions--the $59.99 Roku HD, the $79.99 Roku XD, and the $99.99 Roku XDS. From the front, all the models look the same and each one offers wired and wireless network connectivity, plus HDMI and composite AV video outputs for HDTVs and standard TVs respectively. Internally, the big difference involves the flavor of Wi-Fi you get. The base model has 802.11g while the Roku XD has faster 802.11n. Step up to the XDS and you get dual-band 802.11n. Additionally, the two higher-end models come with the enhanced remote you see here that offers three additional buttons--instant replay, back, and info. And, finally, the Roku XDS also includes a USB port which, once activated, will be used for viewing USB-based media. It also offers an optical output and support for component video via an optional breakout cable. For what it's worth, the XD and XDS support 1080p video while the entry-level Roku HD does 720p video, but we should point out that there's almost nothing in the way of true 1080p streaming video so you'll have a hard time telling the difference between the resolutions. All in all, the Roku player's biggest strengths are its ease of use, affordability, and diversity of its channel lineup, though it is missing content from YouTube and Hulu. The quality of the video varies from channel to channel but both Netflix and Amazon Video looks very good as does the video from MLB.TV. Sound quality was also quite good. The Roku player faces stiff competition from network Blu-ray players and game consoles that also offer Netflix streaming capabilities. That said, a lot of people will be comparing this product to Apple's newly redesigned $99 Apple TV which currently integrates Netflix and YouTube but not Pandora. In short, if you need a product that's part of the i-universe namely one that offers compatibility with iTunes and the likely interaction with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad devices via the new AirPlay feature, Apple TV will be a better choice. If, however, you want something that offers content beyond just iTunes, Netflix, and YouTube, Roku is the way to go. I'm David Carnoy and that's the latest Roku Player, thanks for watching.