Review: Roku Netflix Player Set-top Box
A low price and access to thousands of shows make this box is a steal, but not without a few (HD) limits.
September 26, 2008 by

Imagine a magic box that cost only $99 and gave you access to a decent library of DVD-quality movies and TV shows anywhere, anytime and without any monthly fees. You could take it on vacation, move it from room to room, or just connect it to the biggest TV in your house and enjoy. That’s the Roku Netflix player in a nutshell. Of course there are some caveats - and this certainly isn’t going to be a perfect fit for everyone - but we’ll tear it apart and discover who may rank this with the second coming, and who may find it completely insignificant.

When rumors of a Netflix set-top box started surfacing around the Internet, my ears perked up. The thought of bringing Netflix’ Watch Now technology to my home theater made me nearly salivate. After all, current “free” on-demand offerings from cableTV are extremely limited, showing up as channel-specific, public domain, and/or Black & White classic fare. Satellite TV’s flavor of on-demand is nearly nonexistent and its crippled functionality currently gives it a steep uphill climb before it can even begin to mature.

Upon hearing Roku announce immediate availability of its new set-top Netflix Player, I immediately ordered one. There’s been much criticism and skepticism about the player and its usefulness to enthusiasts. What I’ll attempt to do is break it down technically, demonstrate the interface, examine the playback quality, and then summarize what different types of users might think of this new technology.

The Roku Netflix Player doesn’t actually store movies within the set-top unit itself - at least not in their entirety. Rather, it caches enough to enable playback of the film, uninterrupted via streaming download. There are several advantages to this. First, it maintains the status of the box so that Netflix isn’t paying royalties on full downloads which then need to be concerned with HDCP or other copy protection. With the Roku box the other significant advantage is that selected films will playback almost immediately. Thirty seconds was the average time I measured for new downloads. Compare that to the length of time it would be to download an entire DVD movie, which could be in excess of 3 GB.

Build Quality
Upon opening the small retail packaging I was rather surprised by the diminutive size of Roku’s Netflix Player. The device is about the size of four (4) CD jewel cases stacked together. It’s so small, in fact, that we decided to take it with us on vacation. The Roku Player, its power supply cord, a component video, and an analogue audio cable all fit neatly into a gallon Ziploc bag. That’s a pretty handy way to take 10,000 movies along with you on your next trip!

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Product: Roku Netflix Player Set-top Box

Price: $99.99-129.99

Performance: 4 out of 5

Value: 5 out of 5


  • Easy to setup and use
  • Inexpensive way to access thousands of movies
  • No additional monthly fees for existing Netflix subscribers


  • No HD content
  • No 5.1 surround sound
  • High percentage of 4:3 content
  • Some movies have incorrect aspect ratios


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