Roku HD-XR Review

roku hd xr review

Roku HD-XR

“The Roku HD-XR delivers a wealth of high-definition content from a variety of Internet sources straight to your HDTV.”
  • Access to online HD content
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Simple RF remote control
  • 13 Channels with more to come
  • No access to local drives or content
  • No YouTube
  • Can't browse or shop on Netflix channel
  • Need laptop to link to most channels

Roku HD-XR

Introduction

Here’s a spot of good news for multimedia enthusiasts: What Roku’s HD-XR streaming media server ($129.99) does, it does exceedingly well. Specifically, the device delivers a wealth of high-definition content, where available, from a variety of Internet sources (including Netflix) straight to your HDTV. And the sources from which this content flows are growing; Roku’s Channel Store currently lists 13 channels, but the company is actively pursuing additional content partners. The problem here, however, is what the gizmo doesn’t do – namely, supply a bridge from content already on your home PC (at least not yet). Plus, a growing number of HDTVs and Blu-ray players offer similar capabilities sans an extra set-top box.

Features and Design

Like many streaming media bridges and extenders, the Roku HD-XR is a boring black box, about the size of a thick paperback book. On the rear is a complete analog/digital jack pack – HDMI, composite video, component video, S-Video and optical audio jacks for TV and AVR connectivity are all included, as is an Ethernet jack for network connectivity. The HD-XR includes built-in WiFi (b, g and n) support.

Roku HD-XR

Also on the HD-XR’s rear is a lone USB jack. Theoretically, this is for connecting a local hard disk or flash thumb drive. Roku told us, “clearly we have it there for future use,” but its current lack of functionality at present gives us pause.

In addition to Netflix, the Roku Channel Store currently includes apps for Amazon On Demand, Major League Baseball’s MLB.com Premium, Pandora, Facebook Photos, Revision3, Mediafly, TwiT.tv, blip.tv, Flickr, FrameChannel, Motionbox and MobileTribe.

Performance

Setup isn’t quite the easy five minutes Roku boasts on its Web site; when you get a connection, the box will go through a software update then a restart.

You’ll also need your laptop handy to create a secure link to varying personal content (i.e. Flickr, Facebook Photos, FrameChannel, Motionbox) or pay channels (i.e. Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand). Basically, you’ll need a code generated either by Roku that you then have to enter at the channel’s Web site, or vice versa, all of which also is a bit time-consuming.

Roku HD-XR

Once you complete initial setup though, you’ll have plenty of content, both HD and standard def, to watch. Each channel has its own way of labeling HD content, some more obvious than others. One shocking omission: No YouTube.

On the bright side, the Roku HD-XR’s user interface is incredibly simple, simply being a vertical row of icons set against a pleasing white background that you step through to view and select a channel.

For Netflix use, you’ll also need your laptop or PC to actually shop and setup your viewing queue – annoyingly, you can’t browse via the Roku Netflix Channel. You can shop, however, from the Amazon Video on Demand channel.

As for additional functionality, since digital photos aren’t 16:9, the Flickr app opted to display our snaps full frame, cropping them top and bottom rather than show the full photo with black bars on the left and right; this cropping was especially egregious in vertical shots. Fortunately, both FrameChannel and Facebook Photos respect your photos’ visual integrity.

Roku HD-XR

Flicking through the channels and channel options is easy with the small and simple RF remote, which has a familiar four-way navigation toggle/select key arrangement, a Home key and the usual three AV Play/Pause/FF/Rewind/Skip transport controls. Just get used to hitting the “up” navigational key to return to the previous screen because there’s no “back” button.

Conclusion

Note that you can buy an HDTV or, better yet, a growing number of cheap (i.e. sub-$200) Blu-ray players with built-in Web connectivity, including Netflix and other similar content apps. As such, the Roku HD-XR’s real added value would be the ability to wirelessly access your own music and video files (without first having to upload them to a limited separate service). Until Roku activates the device’s USB jack and/or enables some kind of personal multimedia file access, however, be advised: A connected Blu-ray player is a better investment.

Highs:

  • Access to online HD content
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Simple RF remote control
  • 13 Channels with more to come

Lows:

  • No access to local drives or content
  • No YouTube
  • Can’t browse or shop on Netflix channel
  • Need laptop to link to most channels