Trials and Tribulations with the Roku 2 XS

Once there was agreement (after a lot of negotiation) that we weren’t getting the value out of our current television service provider, I needed to find a solution that would give us the option to watch some traditional network programming. We don’t live in an area where we can get any OTA (Over The Air) television reception without an extremely large antenna and amplifier (and that option had a low WAF I might add). Not wanting to purchase all the episodes of prime time television and not willing to wait until the season was over and watch them on Netflix, we were left with Hulu.  While not inclusive of all networks, Hulu does get most of the major prime time dramas (like Glee unfortunately) and other popular shows from network television.

The Hulu decision then drove the next.  How do we then get Hulu to our main television?  I could build a system or do the Mac Mini approach, but neither of those seem feasible for something we were going to just “try” given they are $500+ solutions.  The $59 Roku solution seemed to fit the bill.

As things usually go, if there is a low end and a high end model, it’s pretty predictable which I’ll end up with.  I’m sure the Roku 2 HD would have worked for us, but for only $20 more you step up to 1080p and only $20 more than that you get an “enhanced” remote plus an ethernet port (which seemed like it may be a good idea if it does 1080p).

During the first 30 days with the Roku, I was tempted many times to pack it up and return it to Best Buy.  Since most of my experiences to this point were with traditional set top boxes for cable or satellite and the Apple TV, I was accustomed to things working and working consistently.  What were the points of frustration?

  • Box freezing up – this would occur multiple times a day and be very frustrating.  Unfortunately it seems to occur more frequently on some “channels” than others.  This could be an indication of the fact that the channels are not written by the same people responsible for the Roku OS itself.
  • Remote responsiveness – I have not used an older Roku nor have I used the standard remote.  I’ve only used the “enchanted remote with motion control” that comes with the XS.  Often it take quite a few button clicks to “wake” the remote after it has sat idle for a bit.  After waking the remote, there is a lack of input response also.  After clicking a button, you can look to see the Roku box blink indicating it has received the remote input, however nothing occurs.  This causes you to continue to hit the same button expecting something to eventually happen.  Sometimes it will eventually take effect, other times all of the cumulative clicks seemed to get buffered and then happen all at once taking you somewhere in the system you didn’t intend to go to.
  • Justin.TV – okay it’s not specifically JustinTV, but the fact that channels are created and user supported.  I did find it interesting to be able to bring up some live television shows when they were being broadcast (sports, news, etc).  But the quality is deplorable and the reliability even less.  Remember OTA is not really an option for us, so this was worth trying, but not worth using that much.
  • Angry Birds – I will admit to having been suckered in like everyone else and spent entirely too much time playing Angry Birds on my iPad when we first got it.  I don’t know if it was just the addictiveness of the game or the competition with my wife to see who could keep the high score on each level…  But on the Roku, interacting with this particular game is not as eloquent as a touch screen device.  I appreciate that Angry Birds is a popular game and it may have helped to market the device to end users, but I think it was a bad choice/implementation.
What do I like about the Roku?
  • Picture/Sound quality – the one thing I can compare between the Roku and my Apple TV is Netflix.  So I’ve done quite a bit of A/B comparison and the video/audio quality on the Roku are noticeably better than the Apple TV.  While the Netflix interface isn’t as eloquent, we will watch more Netflix shows on the Roku.
  • Bluetooth remote – while I’m not happy with the inconsistencies of the remote, one interesting factor is it being bluetooth.  While everyone is very used to pointing the remote at the TV, it isn’t necessary with the Roku remote.  This means you can mount the box in a less conspicuous location and still be able to control it (unlike the traditional infrared remotes)
  • Size – Small. That’s cool and it makes mounting it easier.  Double sided tape and it’s almost integrated with your TV.  Certainly no need to purchase specific furniture or shelves to house it.
  • Justin.TV – if you’ve been paying attention, you’re probably thinking “wait, didn’t he say he didn’t like this?”.  I did.  But I think this shows a strength of the Roku in it’s user supported channels and content.  Over time I hope/expect that better offerings/implementations will be made available and the experience will be better.  I’m willing to wait and see.
  • Games – while I don’t think Angry Birds was a good choice for the device and it certainly doesn’t have the video processing to keep up with dedicated systems like a PS or XBOX, it has potential.
Would I purchase the Roku again?  Yes.  Would I get the XS?  Probably not.  I think I’d try the XD and see if the lack of enhanced features makes the remote use any more tolerable.

The real challenges of cutting the cord…

2011 is the year I took the plunge and finally separated my household from any cable or satellite service provider.  While my mother will say I’m just being cheap, it really is about a new way to consume entertainment/media that is “on your own terms”.  Fortunately my wife and children are very accepting of my quirks and have been (relatively) supportive during this endeavor.

Over the past couple of months I’ve done everything from changing ISPs, purchasing multiple “devices” to consume content on (or connect to my television), and tried a variety of online media outlets.  Rather than try to start at day 1 and recap how I’ve gotten here, I’m going to pick up from where I am today and then go back and fill in some of the history (hey, it worked for George Lucas!)

I’m going to also test out my (limited) WordPress abilities and try building out a specific section of the site to focus on this type of content.  Since today is October 4th 2011, my first post will be on what I was really hoping Apple would have released today… 😦