Product Review (July 2008) - Netflix
Media Player by Roku™

By Kevin Nakano

Netflix, the world's largest online movie rental service is well known for offerings its customers a convenient way to rent movies without the hassle of driving to the store or waiting in lines. More recently customers have been able to use their own PCs to connect to the Netflix servers and watch a select number of movies online. While completely functional, it requires the user to have a PC connected to the A/V system or the user must watch the movies on the PC screen. Now Netflix has teamed up with media player innovator Roku™ to provide its subscribers with movie-on-demand capability using a set-top box. The Netflix Player by Roku™ is a compact unit (approximately 5"W x 5"D x 2"H) and comes with a simple and easy to use interface for watching movies. The good news is they do it for a one-time fee of $100 for the player. The unit supports the simplest configurations with older analog TVs all the way up to full-blown home theater systems with digital displays or projectors.

The Netflix Media Player is loaded with interfaces and comes complete with wired and wireless Wi-Fi ethernet, an HDMI output, analog video outputs and a digital optical (toslink) output. The HDMI connection provides both audio and video to the display over a single cable giving newer displays simple connectivity. Video is limited to 480p using the HDMI and component video interface, so there is no upconverting or scaling done in the player. However, most displays have this feature built-in anyway. For those users with older conventional televisions, the media player also includes composite, s-video and component analog video outputs along with a pair of analog audio outputs.

The Netflix Media Player comes with a simple, yet fully functional IR remote for accessing and controlling the video content. The remote has a good feel with large buttons and runs on a pair of easily replaceable "AAA" batteries. A Home button on the top of the remote takes the user to the main menu. Navigation buttons and a Select button are used to control the menu system. The bottom three buttons (play/pause, forward and backwards) control the playback of the video being watched. There are three forward speeds and three backward speeds. The left and right navigation buttons also scan forward and backwards. When scanning through movies and TV episodes, a special screen appears with segmented clips of the content being played with a time bar below it. This is similar to selecting tracks on a DVD and allows the user to see past and future scenes.

The Settings Menu has several sections for configuring the unit. The sub-menus are for Network configuration (Wired or Wireless), Display type (16:9 or 4:3), Sound Effects (Low, Medium, High, Off), Screen Saver (5 min, 10 min, 30 min, Off), Player Info, and Factory Reset. When configuring the media player for streaming content, the user can select between wired or wireless connectivity. Users can select from the Choose Wireless Network screen. All wireless networks broadcasting an SSID can be seen here with secure connections shown with a lock symbol. User can enter their WEP or WPA passphrase for security. Our tests were run with a wired connection to ensure consistently high bandwidth. The video quality indicator displayed on the TV screen indicated we had a high speed connection. Our Display Type was configured for a 16:9 display. The Sound Effects level is selectable and provides a sound each time the button is pressed. This helps provide audible feedback to the user when control the player. The Screen Saver begins as defined by the user. The user can select Player Info, which displays the software and hardware versions, MAC address (wired and wireless), IP address, gateway, and serial number. There is also an option to upgrade the firmware once a new version is released. The firmware version that was shipped with the unit was current when we checked the server through the user interface.

Choosing Movies
Selecting movies and TV episodes to play on the Netflix Media Player requires the user to select movies online and place them in the Netflix Instant Queue. Once loaded in the queue, the movies will appear on the TV screen menu almost instantly. Users can then simply browse through the available items that have been added to the Instant Queue and select one to watch. The only issue here is the content must be placed in the Instant Queue before users can watch it on the media player. This requires a PC connected to the internet to update the user's queue information.

Once the movie or TV episode is selected, a description of the program is displayed along with the user ratings, run time, year, MPAA rating, and genre. The user can then resume the program from a previous stopping point or play it from the beginning. There are also options to choose a different episode or remove the series completely from the queue. There is no hard drive in the Netflix Media Player, but the unit does take several seconds to load data before the video begins to stream. Keeping the unit buffered with some data prevents skipping when playing a movie even with varying data bandwidth. The design works well and we never encountered any problems while watching a movie or TV episode.

The Netflix Media Player by Roku™ allows members to watch over 10,000 movies and TV episodes instantly over the internet with no change in monthly Netflix costs. Members can watch as much as they want and as often as they want without paying more and will receive the same number of DVDs by mail. The advantage is it completely complements what you already have and enjoy. The Roku player is solid and connects to virtually any TV. Users can play, pause rewind and forward just like a regular DVD without the hassle of mechanically placing the disc into a machine. The large number of audio and video outputs support both analog and digital displays as well as preamps and receivers with digital audio capability. Wired and wireless Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g) connectivity are supported to stream the content. This Netflix Media Player is a real winner and it was a smart move to have Roku provide the hardware/software platform. If you are willing to fork out $100 for the player, you can get a lot more with no additional monthly cost. It almost seems silly not to get it if you are already paying for the benefits of Netflix.

- Kevin Nakano

OPPO BDP-83SE Blu-ray Player

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Review System

Projector: Mitsubishi HC5000 1080p High-Definition LCD Projector
Screen: Stewart Filmscreen 100" Luxus Deluxe FireHawk Screenwall
Mitsubishi LT-46148 46" 120Hz 1080p High Definition LCD Display
Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 TripoleŽ Surround Speakers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Samsung SIR-T165 Terrestrial HDTV Receiver with DVI
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
DVD Player: OPPO DV981HD CD/DVD Audio & Video/SACD Player
Media Player: MediaGate MG-450HD HD/SD Media Server
Laserdisc Player: Pioneer CLD-D704 CD/VCD/LD Player
A/V Cables: Ethereal A/V Cables
DVI Cable: Accell Corp 25-meter HDMI 1.3 Cable
Video Generator #1: Gefen 1080p HDMI HDTV Video Pattern Generator
Video Generator #2: Sencore VP300 SDTV/HDTV Video Pattern Generator
Video Signal Analyzer: Sencore VSA794 NTSC Video Signal Analyzer
Color Analyzer #1: Sencore CP5000 Multi-Display Color Analyzer
Color Analyzer #2: GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro with ColorFacts Software

Review - At a Glance

Netflix Media Player by Roku™

Package Contents:

  • The Netflix Player by Roku Media Player
  • Remote control (including 2 AAA batteries)
  • Standard A/V Cables (Yellow/Red/White RCA)
  • Power Adapter
  • Getting Started Guide

  • Company Information
    12980 Saratoga Ave., Ste. D
    Saratoga, CA 95070
    Phone: 1-888-600-7658 (ROKU)
    Fax: 408-446-1734

    International Callers: 1-408-556-9040
    The Sales Hotline is available 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. PST, Mondays - Fridays.


    Source: Manufacture Supplied
    MSRP: $99.99

    Warranty: 1 Year

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