Hands On: Roku Upgrades Netflix Interface
I dig out my old Roku box to see just what this upgraded Netflix UI is all about.
Roku’s Netflix UI upgrade brings search and genre browsing to the versatile set top box. 
May 28, 2010 by Stephen Hopkins

I’ve always been a big fan of the Roku box, mainly for the bread-and-butter offerings from Netflix and Amazon. That said, it’s never been a component I’ve kept in my theater or even bedroom for any amount of time because I’ve had the same main content offerings covered by TiVoHD, Blu-ray players, or HTPC (home theater PC). After some digging in my excess equipment closet, I found the little black box and hooked it back up to see just what the Netflix UI upgrade announced yesterday was all about. 

I’ve checked back in with my old friend Roku fairly frequently to assess new content avenues, so the upgrade process is easy and quick (one most might not even notice if they keep it powered on all the time).  After the upgrade was done, I dove right into the new experience. 

The first thing you’ll notice is the old horizontal scroll pioneered by Roku and found on so many other Netflix devices is a thing of the past. Replacing it is a scrolling tile system that fills the entire screen. Each row represents a different category, such as “Instant Queue” or one of the many movie genres.

As you scroll vertically, the top row becomes active for horizontal scrolling. A pop-out box taking up the bottom-right half of the screen gives you the synopsis of the selected title. This new arrangement makes better use of screen real estate, but the most important upgrade is the ability to browse full categories and genres other than just the titles in your Instant Queue.

The other major update is a Search feature. Similar to what TiVo users are used to, the on-screen keyboard input filters titles with each character input. This, on top of the addition of genre browsing, gives you quick and easy access to the entire Netflix Watch Instantly catalog with no need for adding titles to your Instant Queue on your PC ahead of time. This has always been the biggest drawback of many Netflix implementations, but it’s a wall that’s coming down quickly on several different devices. 

Since Roku’s Netflix UI was the de facto UI for many other Netflix devices at their launch, here’s to hoping the same becomes true of the new Roku Netflix UI. It looks better. It’s easier to navigate. There’s access to the entire Watch Instantly catalog with no PC necessary. 

With the Watch Instantly catalog continually filling out with more and better content, this may just be enough to put the Roku box back in my system for good, regardless of the fact that there are two or three other devices in my rack with Netflix access at any given time. 

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Stephen Hopkins is chief technology editor for EH Publishing. He writes product reviews, features, and focuses heavily on 3D TV, iPhone and iPad apps, and digital content.

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