Roku HD1000 Review

Roku HD1000

“The Roku HD1000 is a product for those that put pictures above audio and video.”
  • Looks great in your audio rack
  • excellent image quality when displaying high-resolution pictures
  • Laggy remote control
  • average music playback and compatibility

Summary

The Roku HD1000 is a product for those that put pictures above audio and video. The HD1000 really shines when it comes to displaying pictures in high-definition resolutions, and still has the basic features most will want when playing back audio files. Those looking for a more advanced digital media receiver may want to stick with the Slim Devices products or even Roku’s SoundBridge product which both are audio-only devices. The Roku HD1000 looks at home in any audio rack and is sure to help you show off that new HDTV television and make it the center of your home theater.

From an all-around perspective, the Roku HD1000 still feels like it’s in a development stage. There are so many possibilities with the HD1000 and we hope that developers take advantage to the open-source operating system. We would like to see more advanced features and audio format compatibility in the future as well as support for Apple iTunes play lists. We are unsure as to what laws and guidelines Roku Labs needs to follow when it comes to playing video content, but we would like to see a stronger presence in this feature as well.

Introduction

With the digital media receiver market still in its infancy, each company in the industry has their own idea of what the form factor, included features, and design of such devices should be. Roku is unique in that the company has two different devices to offer. One offering is their SoundBridge, which is a tubular-shaped home theater component that only plays digital audio. The other is the subject of this review, the HD1000 which supports the playback of digital audio, video, and images and can connect digitally to your stereo and high-definition TV. 

Roku also adds flash storage and wired or wireless network compatibility allowing you to play digital content via flash memory cards or your network.

Priced at $299, the Roku HD1000 is sure to pique the interest of audiophiles and anyone looking to show off the digital capabilities of an HDTV compatible television or monitor.


Roku’s HD1000 is a home theater component-sized networked media player.

Features and Design

The Roku HD1000 is a pretty sophisticated media receiver in that it has similar hardware architecture to many basic computers or game consoles. Powering the device is a 300MHz MIPS CPU (we are unsure of the manufacturer) with 16MB of internal flash memory and 64MB of DDR DRAM. The operating system is an open media platform that uses the Linux kernel and advanced Roku media APIs. There is no fan or hard drive in the HD1000 so it operates completely silently.

We have seen digital media players that look similar to SoHo routers and others that are a little bit bigger and designed to sit on top of your television. The Roku HD1000 is the first digital media receiver we have seen that actually looks like it belongs in a rack with the rest of your home theater components. Measuring 17-inches wide and 1.63-inches tall, the physical design is the same component width as DVD players, receivers and other home theater products on the market. Small plastic feet are located in each corner and provide significant room for airflow between your home theater components.

The front panel of the HD1000 features the navigational controls and flash memory readers. The device has a slot for Compact Flash, SD/MMC, Memory Stick and Smart Media cards. The HD1000 can even play the new xD-Picture Card format, but you will have to purchase an adapter from Roku for about $60 in order to do so. The HD1000 can play back digital media stored on the flash memory slots, and can even execute custom applications designed to work on the Roku platform. As with other networked digital media players we have seen, there is no display on the front panel itself, meaning that even for music, you must use a TV or monitor to navigate through and select music to play.

You can either control the Roku HD1000 by using the controls on the front panel or by using the small remote control included with the media receiver. The small remote control only has a few buttons on it designed for navigating the menu system, but that is all you really need. Some applications require the input of numbers and letters, and the HD1000 provides an easy to use on-screen keyboard for that.

Located on the back of the Roku HD1000 are all the audio and video inputs and outputs you will need to get the media receiver to work with your other components. There are VGA, S-Video and component outputs located here that should work with just about any medium-to-high-end television on the market. For home automation enthusiasts, there is even an RS-232 port so you can integrate the HD1000 with the rest of your setup. There are two options for connecting the media player to your computer network: you can either hard wire it using the Ethernet port on the back or you can use an aftermarket 802.11b/g wireless adapter by plugging it into the HD1000’s USB port. For audio connections, you can set-up the HD1000 to use either traditional analog stereo RCA connections or digital coax (S/PDIF) and optical (Toslink) outputs.


The HD1000 features both analog and digial connections to your video and audio devices.

One very cool feature which we have yet to see on other digital media receivers is the ability to use the Roku HD1000 as a pass-through to your other home theater components. This is great for those that might not have enough connections in their home theater receiver for every component they own. For example, by plugging your home DVD player into the HD1000 and then plugging the HD1000 into your home theater receiver, you only need to utilize the single audio and video inputs on your receiver versus two for each component.

On the media side, the Roku HD1000 can only play a limited amount of file types, but the company says they will soon be adding more supported formats to the device. On the audio side, the it can playback MP3, WAV and AIFF formats but those looking for WMA, Ogg Vorbis or AAC support will have to wait for an upgrade.

Visual quality is where the HD1000 really stands out. What is unique to the device is its ability to display high resolution JPEG pictures back in high-definition resolutions, up to 1080i if your television or monitor can support it. You can choose to show the pictures individually, or you can setup the HD1000 to play back the pictures in a slideshow format. This is perfect for those that want to show off pictures of the family vacations, or those that simply want something decorative displayed while having dinner guests over. Roku also sells what they call “Art Packs” – high resolution images of classic art and other pictures to turn your high-definition display into what they call “wall art”. Lastly the HD1000 has full hardware support for ATSC-compliant MPEG2 transport streams. This is the type of signal typically broadcast over the air by a local digital television station and the format that many PC-based TV tuner cards capture video in. These streams may be either standard-definition or high definition, and may include multi-channel audio (Dolby Digital 5.1).

Setup and Use

We found the Roku HD1000 to be easy to setup on some televisions and difficult on others. The reason for this is that you will need to align the product’s display properties with your television. And because the HD1000 does not automatically detect your HDTV’s current settings, you may get a blank blue screen if your TV doesn’t support the same HDTV setting as the HD1000. For example, we plugged the HD1000 into our 55″ Mitsubishi HDTV set. The Roku media player immediately goes to a 480i setting (the lowest HDTV setting) and then you must use the setup menu to change the resolution to a higher settings. For some reason, our Mitsubishi TV would not switch to the higher HDTV resolution automatically when we changed it in the HD1000 setup menu. As a result, we were forced to change the TV’s resolution manually. It would have been much easier to have the HD1000 detect our televisions setting and then change its output resolution accordingly, instead of relying on the television to automatically change. When we hooked up the HD1000 to our Toshiba 27″ HDTV, the Toshiba set automatically switched to the matching resolution. For those of you who have an HDTV set that will not automatically switch settings, simply power down the HD1000 and restart it again to get to the setup screen. It may be a little frustrating, but you should be able to get it to work.

The remote control can also be a little difficult to use. We found the remote control to be sluggish while navigating the on-screen menu and you really have to point it directly at the Roku HD1000 in order to get it to work. We had trouble getting the receiver to respond to the remote from medium ranges (15-20 feet) or from 45 degree angles. This may be a big issue with some users that don’t want to wait for a response from the device when using the remote control. Other networked media devices we have reviewed also suffer from a latency problem when using the remote and while the HD1000 isn’t as noticeable as others, it doesn’t provide an instantaneous reaction like a regular player would.
 
We decided to setup the HD1000 using the Airlink wireless bridge which Roku provided with the review unit. The wireless bridge, in effect, turns an Ethernet connection into an 802.11g wireless connection. Setting up a wireless bridge is relatively simple to do, but you will need to know some basic information from your computer network such as your network name and whether your home network automatically assigns you an IP or if you have to manually type it in. We typed in our network information and the Roku HD1000 found our network right away. For a list of compatible wireless adapters, you will need to go to the support section of the Roku Labs website and find the list there.

Our computer network which we used to test the Roku HD1000 with consists of the Windows XP Pro and Home editions. According to the Roku Labs website, the Roku HD1000 supports any operating system that uses SMB shares such as Linux and Mac OS X. This is one of the features that separates the HD1000 from other networked media devices. There is no software to install on any computer on your network. As long as you have a network share that allows guest or passworded access, the HD1000 should be able to access the data. The FAQ page on the Roku website is very detailed and we recommend you head there first for any questions you may have about compatibility with your home’s setup.

Pictures in High-Definition

Once we had the HD1000 setup correctly, we tested its picture and video capabilities There are several options available when displaying pictures. You can either use the memory card ports on the front of the unit, you can display pictures found on your computers network, or you can use one of Roku’s Art Packs which provide numerous high-definition pictures with a theme. The Art Packs include some great images and provide a nice music soundtrack in the background while you play your slideshow.

If you have an HDTV plasma or traditional television which you like to show off in your home, the HD1000 is perfect for doing so. At first we had a hard time viewing our digital images because the HD1000 automatically stretches 4:3 pictures to 16:9 in HDTV mode, but putting it in “fit” mode made the images appear in the normal 4:3 aspect ratio. Otherwise pictures taken in both portrait and landscape modes with our camera showed up just fine. You can rotate and zoom in on pictures using the remote control or the buttons found on the front of the Roku HD1000. Pictures shown on the HD1000 with a High-Definition TV or monitor looked simply breathtaking. This is the way digital pictures were meant to be seen.

Audio and Video Capabilities

As we mentioned in the introduction, the Roku HD1000 is not simply designed for just displaying pictures. It does have the ability to play audio and video files as well. Using the setup menu you can have the HD1000 scan your computer network for sharable drives. It will then grab the file types it is compatible with and show you the files you can play using the digital media receiver.


The HD1000 can play digital media from your networked drives or its built in flash storage readers.

The device easily located our digital audio folders on our network and the HD1000 organized them in alphabetical order. Unfortunately, you cannot organize your music based on the album, artist or genre which is disappointing. However, the HD1000 will read standard play lists created by programs such as Winamp, or Windows Media player. The HD1000 also supports both id3v1 and id3v2 (up to id3v2.3) tags. There is no current support for Apple iTunes play lists, but according to the Roku Labs website there should be support in the future. We experienced no problems actually playing MP3, WAV or AIFF audio files recorded in the 96kbps to 192kpbs compressions range, but we did encounter problems when playing music using the wireless network adapter. It appears that the Roku HD1000 plays back music over your network in real-time without any type of buffering, so if there is any sort of interference with your wireless network, it will show up while playing back media on the HD1000. It would be great if they implemented some sort of buffer into future flash upgrades.

Playing back MPEG movies proved to be harder that we expected. You cannot simply playback regular MPEG movies like you would on your computer. They have to be encoded in the ATSC compliant MPEG-2 format in order for the HD1000 to play them. We tried getting the HD1000 to playback our HDTV movies from our computer, but it failed miserably. PC-based digital TV tuner cards record in this format. If you plan to purchase the HD1000 for the purpose of playing video, make sure you visit Roku’s Website and read the FAQs to ensure your files are compatible.

Conclusion

The Roku HD1000 is a product for those that put pictures above audio and video. The HD1000 really shines when it comes to displaying pictures in high-definition resolutions, and still has the basic features most will want when playing back audio files. Those looking for a more advanced digital media receiver may want to stick with the Slim Devices products or even Roku’s SoundBridge product which both are audio-only devices. The Roku HD1000 looks at home in any audio rack and is sure to help you show off that new HDTV television and make it the center of your home theater.

From an all-around perspective, the Roku HD1000 still feels like it’s in a development stage. There are so many possibilities with the HD1000 and we hope that developers take advantage to the open-source operating system. We would like to see more advanced features and audio format compatibility in the future as well as support for Apple iTunes play lists. We are unsure as to what laws and guidelines Roku Labs needs to follow when it comes to playing video content, but we would like to see a stronger presence in this feature as well.