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Roku Netflix Player Review

Bob Jackson
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by Bob Jackson

I purchased a Roku XDS digital video player (Editor’s Note: things change fast in technology and this product is discontinued, please see the modern version here) so the whole family could watch Netflix instantly on the high definition TV and I’m very pleased to write this Roku product review. Roku has opened up a whole new world of internet video entertainment on the flat screen TV including YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora internet radio and several dozen other channels.  Roku has transformed my TV viewing experience and is the best $100 I’ve ever spent!

One way to watch Netflix instantly is to connect your home computer to the TV, however this a bother to configure and Microsoft Windows is often uncooperative. Watching TV should be frictionless and simple. The Roku digital video player solves this in a small and wonderfully easy to install and operate package!

Roku Netflix Player Product Review

From the moment you open the Roku box it comes across as inviting and uncomplicated. The setup instructions are a big card that says “Hi” and with 5-step Getting Started foldout card with lot’s of pictures. The Roku kit contents are:

  1. Roku digital video player
  2. Composite (red/white/yellow) audio/video cable
  3. Power adapter
  4. Getting Started guide
  5. Remote control with two AAA batteries
Roku XDS Model 2100X Netflix Player
Roku XDS Model 2100X Netflix Player

The 5-step Getting Started Guide is the best I’ve seen and clearly explains with pictures and minimal words how to connect your Roku to the TV, which are:

  1. Connect to your TV
  2. Power Up
  3. Connect to your network (wired or WiFi)
  4. Complete the Guided Setup to link it to your Netflix account
  5. An overview of the remote control functions.
Roku Netflix Player and Getting Started Guide
Roku Netflix Player and Getting Started Guide

The Roku remote control has very few buttons and is really more of a mouse in operation to navigate the on-screen widgets.

Roku XDS Audio / Video / Network Interfaces

The Roku player is offered in three different models as shown on the Roku product matrix that range in cost from $60 to $100 in round figures. I chose the top-of-the-line Roku XDS model because I wanted:

  • An optical audio port for Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound through my Home Theater system.
    My home theater system doesn’t have an HDMI port, so I needed the optical audio (Toslink) for Dolby surround sound.
  • 1080p HDTV signal
  • Dual-band WiFi (not using dual band yet, future proof feature)
  • USB port to play digital home video’s by plugging in a flash drive
Roku XDS Digital Video Player Audio/Video/Network Interfaces
Roku XDS Digital Video Player Audio/Video/Network Interfaces

The front of the Roku is solid black. A dim purple LED illuminates in the right corner when it’s powered on.

Roku XDS Digital Video Player - Front Panel
Roku XDS Digital Video Player – Front Panel

Until I got my Roku player, I wondered what the blue tag was on the left side – an antenna or some sort of authorization card? – it’s just a piece of fabric with the Roku logo for the designer touch. The remote control has the same fabric tag, too.

Roku HDMI and Optical Audio Cables

Roku doesn’t include an HDMI cable, so you’ll need to provide one yourself. I’m using the HDMI cable to connect Roku to my plasma HDTV and an optical audio cable to connect to my older home theater receiver to take advantage of Dolby 5.1 surround sound. The two 6-foot cables shouldn’t cost you more than $20 together from Amazon.

Roku XDS - HDMI and Optical Audio (Toslink) Cables
Roku XDS – HDMI and Optical Audio (Toslink) Cables

Here’s the Roku HDMI and optical audio cables as connected to my TV and home theater receiver. The power cable is on the far right.

Roku XDS HDMI and Optical Audio Connections
Roku XDS HDMI and Optical Audio Connections

My internet connection is WiFi (wireless) so the RJ-45 Ethernet port is not used.

Roku Player Setup

Roku displays a welcome screen when the unit is first powered-on to configure your network (wired or wireless), TV display settings and to create a Roku account. The Roku player is very small and unobtrusive as it sits below the flat screen TV as shown here:

Roku Player Welcome Screen
Roku Player Welcome Screen

Roku requires a full time Internet connection to access Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Facebook, etc. and the network setup is very easy. I choose the wireless (WiFi) network connection option:

Roku Wired or Wireless Network Connection Menu
Roku Wired or Wireless Network Connection Menu

Roku will display a list of WiFi networks to choose from in your neighborhood. Select your WiFi network and enter your WiFi password so Roku can connect to your network. The password is saved so you only need to do this once.

Roku Wireless Network Connection Key (WEP or WPA) Password
Roku Wireless Network Connection Key (WEP or WPA) Password

When your Roku player first connects to the Internet, it will automatically download any software updates (cool!), restart itself and launch the Roku Home Screen for the 2nd phase of the setup process.

The 2nd phase of the setup process takes about 5 minutes to link your Roku player to your Roku account, select the TV display type and add channels – Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and so on.

The TV will display a six character “link code” with instructions to go to http://roku.com/link to link it to your Roku account. If you don’t have a Roku account, you can create for free.

Roku Player Link Screen (http://roku.com/link)
Roku Player Link Screen (http://roku.com/link)

Roku will ask for a credit card number or Paypal account to make purchases for premium content from the Roku Channel Store. I added a 4-digit PIN number to safeguard against accidental or unauthorized purchases.

The TV will display a success message when your Roku player is linked to your account

Next, select the display type that best matches your TV. If you have an older standard definition TV, the 4:3 standard is best. I chose the 1080p HDTV for my flat screen TV.

Roku TV Display Type Selection (standard or high def)
Roku TV Display Type Selection (standard or high def)

Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Setup

Roku defaults to stereo sound output. Using the Roku remote control, go to the Settings menu and select Audio Mode then “5.1 Surround Sound” to activate Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. You must have an HDMI or optical audio cables to receive Dolby surround sound signals. The movie must be encoded with Dolby 5.1 to hear surround sound.

Roku - Configure Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Roku – Configure Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound

Roku Channel Store – Netflix Activation

Select the Netflix icon from the channel from the Roku main menu. You will be asked to link your Roku player to your Netflix account to watch Netflix instantly. Follow the on-screen instructions to log onto your Netflix account and enter the activation code for your Roku player.

Roku - Netflix Channel Activation
Roku – Netflix Channel Activation

After logging on to you Netflix account, enter the Roku activation code. The Roku player will display a confirmation message on the TV screen.

Roku: Netflix Activation (http://netflix.com/activate)
Roku: Netflix Activation (http://netflix.com/activate)

Now I’m all set to watch Netflix instantly on my TV with Roku!

Roku Netflix Watch Instantly

The Roku will list the movies in your Netflix Instant Queue, which is nice because anything you add using the computer will reflect here. You can also find movies using the Roku remote control by clicking Search widget in the center of the screen.

Roku Video Player TV Menu - Netflix Watch Instantly
Roku Video Player TV Menu – Netflix Watch Instantly

In this next image, I’ve paused the movie UP by Disney/Pixar. You can fast forward and rewind at slow/medium/fast speeds with the remote. The video and sound quality was excellent. However, many Netflix movies are not Dolby 5.1 surround sound encoded so you’ll get stereo instead.

Roku Netflix Player:
Roku Netflix Player: “UP” by Disney/Pixar

Roku: Pandora Radio

Roku has a free Pandora Radio channel. A one time activation is necessary to link your Pandora account to the Roku player. We fire up the TV to select the Panadora radio station we want to listen to, then turn off the TV because only the home theater receiver needs to be on for music.

Roku Player: Pandora Radio
Roku Player: Pandora Radio

Roku YouTube Channel – Alternate Method

Watching YouTube on TV is loads of fun! Add the YouTube channel to your Roku player by following these instructions at the Roku Support forum.

Update: The Roku 3 player with ver 5.3 software is now required to watch YouTube, but you can try this alternate method.

Roku YouTube Channel
Roku YouTube Channel

The Roku YouTube channel application is nicely organized with several categories for featured and most watched videos. Use the search option to find your favorite artists and videos. Here I’ve searched for Lady Gaga to display all of her videos:

Roku YouTube Channel - Search and Select Videos
Roku YouTube Channel – Search and Select Videos

YouTube videos look great on TV with the Roku player. Here I’ve paused the video with the Roku remote control.

Roku YouTube Channel: Music Video
Roku YouTube Channel: Music Video

Vertical Green Line on TV Screen

The vertical green line down the left side of the screen is an alignment error where the image is shifted a few pixels to the right leaving an exposed area that displays as a thin green line or bar. I’ve tried adjusting the TV picture options and changed the Roku display from 1080p to 720p resolution, but the green line is still there. It’s an overscan or pixel mapping imperfection that’s easy to ignore. My next troubleshooting steps are to try the second HDMI port on the TV and/or 1080p component video cables. If I find a fix, I’ll post an update.

Roku Netflix Player – Two Thumbs Up!

Roku fundamentally changes the TV viewing experience by bringing streaming Internet video into the living room. I used to get bored because watching TV because “there’s 250 channels but nothing’s on” or I’ve already watched the Netflix CD’s received in the mail. Now I can surf the extensive Netflix Watch Instantly streaming video library, laugh at YouTube videos or simply listen to my favorites on commercial free Pandora radio.

For ease of use and value for the money, Roku is a winner!

Enjoy!

Bob Jackson

dolby digital 5.1HDMI cableHulunetflix watch instantlyroku hardware
Bob Jackson
Bob Jackson
Technology product manager by day and a prolific handyman in the evenings and over the weekends. Bob was the founder of the original Handyman How To website and that tradition continues on this site with excellent new handyman content into the future.
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