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Updated Review of the Roku Box - Review of the Roku XD/s

Roku XD/s Has Better Performance and Good Content

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Roku XD/s box and remote

The Roku XD/s box has a purple tag and a USB connection that isn't found on the Netgear Roku XD version.

Photo (c) Barb Gonzalez - Licensed to About.com
4/30/11

Roku recently sent me a new Roku XD/s media streamer so that I could take another look at Roku. The first Roku box I reviewed performed terribly (read previous review for reference). While Roku has a large number of fans, my initial experience did not make me one of them.

The follow-up Roku XD/s proved to be a markedly better performer. It is uncertain if the change in performance is because it is a higher model. This is the Roku XD/s; the initial review model was Netgear's Roku XD. It may be that there have been software updates or that the initial box was defective that caused the diminished picture quality. Still, the audio and video quality is at best acceptable.

Comparison of Roku XD and Roku XD/s

According to the Roku website, the only difference in features between the Roku XD and the Roku XD/s is related to connectivity.  The Roku XD/s uses the latest Dual-band wireless technology to ensure the best speed from your router to the Roku box.

The Roku XD/s adds a USB connection to play media from an external hard drive or flash drive. It can also be used to connect a USB keyboard for entering logins and search text.

The Roku XD/s adds a component video connection. This is a mini jack connection on the unit that requires the purchase of a Roku XD/s component cable that has the mini-jack on one end and the standard red, green, blue connectors on the other end. 

None of these differences would explain the better video performance of the Roku XD/s unit over the original Roku XD that I reviewed.

Video Performance Is Greatly Improved But Could Be Better

The picture quality of the Roku XD/s is vastly improved from that of the Roku XD box previously reviewed.  Still, although it is watchable, it would not be considered to have excellent video or sound quality.

The picture quality of the original Roku XD box I reviewed was unacceptable.  Netflix movies would stutter and judder.  Photos were solarized and had color aberrations where objects were outlined in purple or white.  

On the Roku XD/s, HD video from Netflix is high definition but not 1080p.  Video is smooth and problem-free.  Still, displayed photos were grainy and the colors were not smooth — as though it had a low color-bit rate.  This happened whether the photos were from channels like "1000 Places To Visit," or when they were my own digital photos on a flash drive.

If you are sitting further than 10 feet away from the TV, have a small screen TV or have poor distance vision, the diminished picture quality may not be obvious.  In these cases, the picture quality of the Roku XD/s may be acceptable.

Hundreds of Content Channels Are Available

If a media streamer is only as good as its content partners, this is where the Roku box reigns supreme.  There are hundreds of channels available for the Roku box including the most popular channels — Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon On Demand, Pandora, and the full version of Crackle.

New channels are added regularly.  "MOG" is one of the new channels.  It is a monthly subscription, music-on-demand service that has nine million songs available to play or to create music stations based on your favorite artists. 

The Roku box can also stream 3D content. "Wealth TV" has a few videos that will bring out the 3D glasses. 

The Roku XD/s May Be The Choice for Certain Viewers

If content is more important than picture and sound quality, the Roku XD/s may be the right media streamer for you.  Few boxes have all of the popular channels — Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon On Demand and Pandora along with a huge variety of other channels.

The Roku box can connect wirelessly to your home network and the internet so you don't have to worry about wired or powerline adapter solutions. 

Still, the Roku box is a media streamer, not a network media player.  Viewing photos or movies or listening to music from your computers and media libraries, requires uploading them to various websites — such as Flickr or Vimeo.

The Roku XD/s retails for $99.99.  No other media streamer has the number of content partners and can connect wirelessly at this price.  Although I was not a fan of Roku, I found myself recommending it to my elderly mother whose eyesight no longer warrants the highest quality video.  It gives her everything she wants to stream at a reasonable price and she doesn't have to fuss with connecting ethernet cables. 

In certain circumstances, I have become a fan.  Humble pie doesn't taste so bad.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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