August 10, 2009
| by Stephen Hopkins
The Roku Player
, to date, is the only box purposed specifically for Netflix Watch Instantly. It has added Amazon Unbox support (also included on the TivoHD), but Netflix streaming is its primary function.
I’ll go ahead and say up front: if you’re only looking to add Netflix Watch Now support, this is the device to get. It’s cheap ($99), it’s wired or wireless, and it’s dead easy to set up and use.
The Roku interface is extremely simple to use. Titles from your queue are presented in a side-scrolling panel of cover art icons. Title, run time, rating, and an HD indicator are shown for the title highlighted, while description and playback/rating/deletion options are shown once the title is selected.
You get a twofer with the $99 Roku Player: Netflix and Amazon.
It’s hard to expound on details of the interface because it’s so intuitive. I’m not sure if I’m breaking any literary rules here, but it has a very basic elegance, where most CE GUIs almost seem like an afterthought.
Playback performance mimics that of the TivoHD. I used the film Serenity for my playback tests, partly because it’s one of my favorites, but mainly because I could easily compare the Netflix HD image quality to DVD and Blu-ray (played back through the Samsung P2550), and HDTV (recorded on the TivoHD from UniversalHD).
HD images look great, if not quite as sharp or rich as HDTV, but are a very noticeable step down from Blu-ray. It’s a tougher comparison to DVD. The picture definitely has more resolution in static images, but motion seemed to blur a bit more on Netflix playback. I’d still say the Netflix 720p HD image quality still falls somewhere above DVD but below 1080i HDTV over cable.
To reiterate my opening statements on this device, if you’re ONLY looking for Netflix playback on a TV or theater display, this is the device to get.
The Roku player is my second choice of the devices I have in my theater.
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.