Roku XDS Review: Choice Is Never a Bad Thing

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As we mentioned in our Apple TV review, there’s no better time to be in the market for a set-top box. While we wait for Boxee to release the Box in November, we’ll take a look at Roku’s recently announced XDS.

It’s the cream of the crop and has the specs to back it up. It ships with an HDMI cable but also works with any TV, if you purchase a separate component cable from Roku. Composite cables are also included. It has built-in Wi-Fi (dual-band 802.11n) and streams full HD content. A future update (sometime in November) will allow owners to stream content (movies, music, photos) off a thumb drive, too. All for just $99.

Setup, much like the Apple TV, is simple. You really only need to plug in the power and AV cable to get started. If you’d prefer to hardwire into your network, then go right ahead. If you’re going the wireless route, you’ll be prompted to pick a network and input a password. The on-screen keyboard for this is much cleaner and friendlier than the one you’ll find on the Apple TV. Netflix is also easier to setup. It asks if you’re a subscriber and if you are, then you get a code that needs to be inputted on the Netflix web site to link the Roku box to your account. Easy, right? Sort of.

This is where it gets a little hairy. Any time you want to add a “channel” like MOG or Amazon VOD, you have to be sitting near a computer to input the code that’s spewed out to link the two together. Very easy and not very time consuming, mind you. It’s not a dealbreaker but it is a pain in the butt if you’re trying to detach from your computer. And the keyboard is different than the one you used to input your wireless network password. See below.

Roku sets itself apart from others thanks to these channels but it does lack the ability to stream content from your home network. Sure, the Apple TV is limited in the sense that it will only stream content off your Home Share machine but it’s done over the network. Roku plans to release a firmware update in November that will allow you to stream content off a thumb drive, but you have to encode into mp4 or m4v because these are the only video formats it will support. It’s not perfect. Nothing is.

Any of the new Roku boxes are perfect for non-Apple households. That’s not to say, an iOS owner should steer clear of a Roku box, but as I said in my Apple TV review, if you’re entrenched in the Apple eco-system, then that’s the right box for you. But if you don’t really care and just want to watch Vimeo, UFC fights, Netflix, Hulu Plus or stream MOG or Pandora, then take a look at any one of the three Roku set-top boxes.