Continuing my reviews of “over the top” (OTT) solutions, the Roku deserves a special place in the list of options.
Roku started out with music streaming devices, then moved on to video a couple years ago. Their equipment and software is mature and feature rich, showing the polish of consistent updates. It’s interface is smooth and simple, making it easy to use for any member of the household.
Unlike the Sezmi, the Roku is OTT content only, and unlike the Boxee, it’s isn’t for playing local media like your photos or videos you download to your PC.
What the Roku does best is stream high quality content like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, MLB.TV, NHL and many more. Some are free, but Roku’s strength is that it has the best array of commercial streams of any player that I have tried.
Roku also offers the most mature interface for Netflix. If you are a Netflix subscriber, Roku offers the best playback experience, and includes capabilities like search, queue management and browsing. Fast forward & rewind are also much better on the Roku than other Netflix playback devices.
These are important points — Netflix is currently the dominant OTT content provider, so a great Netflix interface is a big win. Many households have more than one device today that play Netflix today, but because the Roku does it so well, this has made it a favorite in our home.
For fans of sports like baseball, hockey and UFC, the Roku may also be a fit because of it’s available subscription sports services. They are not inexpensive (MLB.TV is $100 for the season), but they can provide more sports content (every baseball game, every hockey game) than pay TV options today. Notably, NFL is missing – NFL doesn’t do OTT, instead NFL is the domain of DirecTV, which we’ll happily sell you if you do decide that you want a traditional pay TV option.
The other great selling point of the Roku is price: it’s $60 (HD 720p), $80 (HD 1080p for full HD resolution) or $100 (w/dual band 802.11n and a few other less used features. Just buy the $80 version.)
If you subscribe to Netflix today and don’t already have one of the many Netflix playback devices, or if you want more capabilities like Hulu Plus, MLB, etc, give the Roku a look. It’s a low cost way to get started with a simple and high quality OTT experience.