The Roku Review

I have had my Roku Netflix box for about 2 weeks now and so far the Pros far out weigh the cons.

Setup was so easy that I am comfortably considering getting my parents one of these for Christmas and knowing that they could open the box and set it up themselves. Take it out of the box, plug it in, power it up and follow the set of simple onscreen instructions.

Connectivity is excellent, I have had playback over my AT&T DSL without glitch, hitch or hiccup.

The software interface is clean, easy to use and you can easily browse movies in a “cover flow” style, get details on the movie and jump back to the flow without difficulty.

Because the box only displays the items in your instant view queue, and does not browse the entire instant view library, you will need to either spend some time building up a long queue, or be satisfied with just a few choices when you use the box. Since I can never be sure what anyone will be in the mood for, I now have an instant queue that is 334 titles long and manually organized by movie genre. This was not a fun process and takes time to maintain when new movies are added to the queue.

Allowing profiles to have their own instant view queues and being able to select a profile from the Roku home screen would simplify this. Since we have a wide range of tastes ( elementary school boys, teen-aged girls and grownups) the titles I had to put in the queue vary widely and you have to wade through everyone else’s possibilities to find the ones you might be interested in. I do not like that I have to either closely monitor the kids and make sure they do not choose the more adult content in the queue, or else add and subtract it all the time to keep them out of it- but this is not a killer issue. I will just keep my fingers crossed that since they are officially keeping profiles on the regular queues, they will soon let us have multiple instant watch queues. Having a search feature to be able to search through the queue ( by title, by actor, by director, by genre) would be a great addition to the interface as well. I believe that Roku and Netflix think that people are going to put about 6 movies in their queue and dynamically change it all the time. I don’t see this happening. It is much more useful as a sort of streaming video on demand box with a broad list of options to choose from. Once you get more than about 20 movies in the queue, you really start to wish for search.

We have also learned that losing power unexpectedly will cause the box to lose it’s brains and hang- luckily a simple power hup seems to bring it right back again. The power up and reload process takes about 4-5 minutes ( I have a queue that is over 300 titles long, remember…????) so this is an annoyance if you are in a hurry- but not many people are on a tight time schedule to watch a show. Since power outages here are limited to about a weekly episode during thunderstorm season and this is not a daily occurrence, it is a livable problem. A cleaner failure would be nice- the hung interface would be frustrating to most users without the savvy to figure out the power hup trick ( then again in an age when cable companies make commercials telling people to power hup their routers and modems when they have problems, maybe it is becoming a common solution).

The biggest issue is the available content. Netflix is adding new movies and TV shows to the list of titles that are available through the instant view option on a daily basis- but if you are the type of person who only watches first run movies, the current industry licensing policies will keep you from ever enjoying this little box. If you like classic movies, strange B Science fiction, really great documentaries, musicals, music specials or like to watch TV shows on DVD, you will love this little box. Since there are tons of classic movies I still want to share with my kids, I like to watch musicals and bad science fiction while folding clothes and we are a documentary hungry household, this is a good fit.

BBC first to start to get it?

I was cruising the free rentals on Amazon Unbox earlier this morning and noticed that BBC shows are starting to get the right idea. I have written before how there is no way that I can make sense of the current “play it once within 24 hours”policy on digital rentals. And I do not see any family with children going this way. As long as hard disc rentals are infinitely more flexible and cheaper, Netflix will continue to be my best friend.

However, I am willing to play with the free rentals available on Amazon Unbox every week- especially the great Shakespeare productions that the BBC is releasing right now. Interestingly enough, when I downloaded The Tempest this morning( quick, go grab it- it is free until March 2), the notice read this:

” Your videos will be available to play on XXXXX for 30 days. Once you have pressed play for the first time, you will have 168 hours to watch that video.”

It is still a “play once only” situation, but at least the window to complete a playback has been stretched to a week- significantly more reasonable. I checked another non-BBC rental on Amazon, and it was still a 24 hour playback window, so this is apparently not an Amazon policy, but a studio policy.

I am starting to have faith that if I just wait long enough, the studios might actually get a clue, get digital rentals right and my Netflix account will go away.
What will it take for you to move to digital rentals??

Unlimited(??!!) Streaming downloads from Netflix

The AP reports that Netflix is poised to release news that they will lift the monthly “view instantly” streaming video limits currently on their plans. A quick check over on my Netflix account does not yet show any changes or updates. Perhaps I need to wait until after midnight to see if this helps. This is seen as a presumptive strike against Apple’s anticipated Movie Rental/Download service, expected to be announced at MacWorld this week.

When this service first came out from Netflix, I was very excited. And truth be told, I was really hopped up about it. But the reality quickly set in, and I have never once come close to hitting my maximum hours. This is really no big thrill. I am the perfect candidate for this service. I have a PC with a high speed connection and a Huge wide screen monitor in my bedroom, so I can tune in movies and watch them in bed. Heaven, right? Would be except the movie selection pretty much sucks. OK- corrected statement , you can not say it is full of bad movies when it contains movies like Tootsie and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, these are great movies. There are some great classics on there, but I am not a “watch this movie a million times, because I love it so” kind of gal. I watch a movie once, maybe twice and then not again for years and years. The balance of the selection is filled with Shows from the History Channel and Rock and Roll Documentaries. Again, not all bad– but not the variety that suits the whims of my fickle movie viewing mind.

Then there are the other strange hoops and jumps to watch the movies– first off, it only works on the Windows OS, so if you run Macs or Limux or any other OS.. You are SOL. Then, even if you have a windows box, their player requires that you be using the MS Explorer Browser. I wonder how much MS paid them for that one, or what sort of lazy hack of a programmer sold that as a good idea. Last I checked, 75% of the browser hitting up this Blog were running Firefox.

The article expresses financial concerns for this move by Netflix, as the extra load will cost them more money- but unless they fix a bunch of other things about the service, I see this as no increased burden at all. I would love some data from Netflix, showing how many users currently already max out their allotment and will be excited to hear about this option. Looks more like empty PR smoke to me. Once Apple ( or Amazon, or anyone else) starts allowing download rentals of current movies, with hotter content with an easy, cross platform portable playback option? Netflix downloads are sunk. I will still not stop getting Netflix DVDs in the mail ( at least for now…) but I will be checking out those other rental options.