Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roku XD|S

I have been interested in streaming content for a while. I have installed PlayOn and the tubeCore Windows Media Center plugin to view TV content. This is not an ideal experience.

With tubeCore, the user interface to browse the list of shows and episodes is pretty simple. For example, the meta data about the episodes is not shown. Also, I was never able to get reliable streaming though PlayOn and tubeCore.  Often, I would need to try to play a stream twice in order for it to play successfully.

The Roku XD|S looked like it would be a perfect way to watch content that is available on-line.  With the Roku, you have easy access to Netflix streaming, Amazon Video On Demand, Hulu and other content.  I like the hardware, as it is very quiet, and is small enough for me to use on any of our TVs.

The setup was pretty painless, and I was up and running with several of the content providers within 30 minutes of starting the setup process.  Where the content partners provided HD content, the picture quality was good.

There are several things that I would like to see changed/improved.  With these suggestions, I think that the Roku could be a more mainstream product.

  1. Improve the visual design of the UI - The UI of the Roku doesn't look that polished, and for me as a user who is used to TiVo, Windows Media Center, or Xbox, the lack of the polish can be a little jarring.  This is true for both the native Roku UI and the content partner's applications.

    • In the native Roku UI, there are several things that could be polished better.  The boot-up UI looks like an 8-bit computer or game console is starting up.  A boot animation could help this.  Also, the screen savers that are installed by default, are pretty bland.  For example, the default screen saver is a white Roku logo, on a black screen.  This reminds me of the stock screen saver from Windows XP.

    • The applications from the content partners don't offer much consistency in their UIs.  For example, the Netflix application uses a grid of icons to allow the user to browse (though there isn't an indication of where you are in that grid, and which way the user can scroll).  In the Hulu application, the navigation paradigm is to use a horizontal list of text to perform navigation.  While other applications use the single horizontal list of icons to allow the user to perform navigation.

  2. Roku should work with content partners to allow users to have access to a trial of their content.  Currently, most applications require the user to associated their device with an account.  (This will require the user to create an account, if they don't already have one.)  The requirement that the user has to use a computer to even start watching content makes this a product for a more tech-savvy user.

  3. Roku should have a way for users to make their content easier to access.  Currently, the user needs to know which application they need to use to access a particular content. Some ideas for this are:

    • Allow a single search function on the main home screen, that would search across all applications.  This would allow the user to find the content that they want, regardless of which application provides it.

    • Allow the user to "bookmark" content that will appear on the home screen.  Then once a user finds content once, it would be easy to find it later.

  4. Roku should do more caching of the applications.  Currently, when you start an application, it takes a while to load.  (I assume that it is downloading the app from the Roku servers when the app starts.)  I am not sure how much flash is on the XD|S, but caching these applications and syncing any update in the background would improve performance.

  5. Implement parental controls.  - I would like to be able to set parental controls once on the Roku, and then have each of the applications respect those settings.  If our kids are going to use the Roku, I would want to make sure that they couldn't see content that isn't appropriate for them

So far, I am pretty happy with the Roku XD|S, and I have stopped using PlayOn and tubeCore on Windows Media Center.

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