Roku Review – Bringing Netflix to your TV

My wife bought me a Roku for Christmas, which is a player that lets us instantly watch Netflix movie and television shows on our 57-inch LCD Samsung HDTV. I heard of Roku almost a year ago, but it had slipped my mind. So when I was opening the gift, my initial thought was that this was going to be some kind of Asian puzzle game or something. That would have been cool enough. However, not nearly as cool as the Roku Netflix player turned out to be.

Ease of set up – 5/5

Setting up literally took three minutes, and most of that time was spent entering the WPA security key for my WiFi router (not Roku’s fault, really). When I say that set up was easy, I’m talking Apple easy. It seems that companies are finally starting to take notice that simplicity and ease of use are extremely important and can set a product apart.

Here’s what I did in those three minutes::

1. Unwrapped the included batteries and installed them in the remote control
2. Gave the power to the set top box
3. Plugged an HDMI cable (not included) from the Roku box to my Samsung HDTV
4. Chose to connect to Netflix via my WiFi router and entered my WPA key
5. Activated my box by associating it with my Netflix account using my laptop
6. Added a few movies to my Instant watch queue

Immediately upon set up, I was watching the movie Transsiberian (which is a really good new movie, by the way).

Picture Quality – 4/5

The picture quality on a 1080p Samsung was, for the most part, as good as a normal DVD. Once the movie started, there were no lags or glitches. While there were some supposedly HD quality movies which did improve the resolution a bit, they were definitely not Blu-Ray quality. In other words, the picture quality cannot currently be described as “crystal clear” or “brilliant.” There is some blurriness that you may occasionally notice.

That said, I was impressed with the quality. In reviewing the Roku box and Netflix service, I was expecting to review sub-par picture quality. I just didn’t think movies could look that great on a massive 57 inch Samsung, if they were downloaded from the Internet.

So let’s just say this: there’s room for improvement in overall picture quality, but my expectations were blown away. I felt like I was watching a DVD, and I couldn’t have asked for much more, especially in the first generation of Internet movie devices.

Functionality – 4/5

Like I said earlier, the set up process was beautifully simple and easy. Likewise, adding movies to the Netflix queue to watch on the Roku device is straightforward (you do it using your computer). When you turn the Roku on, you see all of the movies you’ve added to the queue. Browsing through the movies is straightforward and intuitive.

Once you’ve selected a movie, it takes about 20 to 30 seconds to buffer and get started. That’s a little frustrating, but when you consider the time it takes to pop DVDs in and out and to start loading, it’s really not much of a compromise.

I guess what I dislike the most about the Roku system is that when you want to move forward in a movie or if you stop the movie and then restart it a few hours later, you are faced with the 20 to 30 second load time all over again. That really gets on my nerves after a while. I’m willing to deal with the load on the initial startup, but I really wish they’d keep enough of the current movie stored in memory so that subsequent loads are transparent.

Movie Selection – 3/5

There are some great titles available on Netflix for instant viewing on the Roku box. And the size of the library is getting quite large. Those are two promising signs for the future. But at this very moment, the vast majority of movies available for watching are older movies.

For a movie buff like me, this isn’t a big issue. It’s nice to be able to re-watch so many great classics and catch movies for the first time that I’ve been meaning to see but forgot about. The independent film selection is also excellent, including several that came out in the last three months. But those of you who are looking for the latest blockbuster movies will be seriously disappointed.

Overall – 4/5

I’ve seen firsthand the Roku and Netfilx partnership, and I’ve seen the future. Seriously. If Netflix plays their cards right, they have a beautiful system in place. Easy to use. Decent quality (really, for a first-generation system, it’s excellent quality). Large movie library.

The Roku box just works the exact way you’d want something like this to work. It’s that simple. Right now this minute, I would recommend it to all serious movie fans without hesitation. If Netflix manages to get licensing deals so they can show more of the recent blockbuster movies, I would recommend it as THE place to get your movies.

Over the next few years, I’m sure Netflix will work out the technical issues with load time and also getting a higher resolution picture. Even now, this system is high enough quality to justify mainstream usage. Interested in getting a Roku? The cheapest place where you can get it right now is at for $99.

Ryan blogs his thoughts on culture at Thrive and is a founder of the forthcoming online information project Brainz.