Roku XR

Aron Schatz
February 4, 2010
Roku XR
The Roku XR may not be a worthy upgrade if you already have a Roku streaming box, but new customers should enjoy the features it provides.

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When Netflix unveiled its new streaming service a couple of years ago, Roku was the first standalone box that supported the feature. It was dubbed the "Netflix Player" by multiple sources and was sold as the easy way to enjoy Netflix on your TV without using DVDs. Since Netflix streaming only supported Windows at the time (it still doesn't support Linux), this was the only way to enjoy the streaming service without being tied down to a computer. Fast forward to today's market and there are a multitude of products that support the streaming service from Netflix. Roku is hoping to stay ahead of the curve with the release of the Roku XR.



Roku sent the unit in the retail box with a label over it. As you can see, we have trouble removing part of the label for taking a picture of the box. We apologize for this inconvenience, as we know how important it is to see the box.

Packaging and Parts


Opening the box yields the getting started guide which is always helpful since it might not be you that is setting up the device. What if this product is a gift, can your grandma set it up?


The next layer of items are the Roku XR itself and the IR remote for the unit.


Finally, the AC adapter along with the remote batteries and a standard yellow-red-white RCA cable for composite connections. Even though the box supports component and HDMI, none of those cables are included, nor was an ethernet cable included.

Roku XR


The XR itself is stylish and subtle. It is a small box that is as big as a CD case (with more depth) which should fit inside most people's entertainment area. The XR is passively cooled so make sure you don't place it in a non-ventilated area. The front of the unit has no buttons. There is a reset button on the bottom of the unit (in case the unit crashes), but we never used it. Simplicity is one of the benefits of this product.


There is a wide range of connections that the Roku XR supports. It has A/V connections for composite, component, HDMI, S-Video, and optical audio. For data services, it supports ethernet and 802.11n (2.4GHz and 5GHz). If you don't have an ethernet connection near the unit, the wireless will work fine. There is a USB port that is unused for now but possibly could be used for some type of mass storage or other support in the future (speculation).


The remote that goes with the XR is shockingly simple as well. There are four buttons and the navigation controls. ASE Labs appreciates when a product is designed to be used by everyone and giving this remote to someone not technically oriented yielded positive results.


The one gripe we have about the remote is the way you change the batteries. You basically slide the entire remote from its lower housing, and sometimes it doesn't want to budge. Regardless, the batteries won't need to be changed that often for this to be an issue.
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Forgive the poor quality of these screenshots. We captured them over S-Video as we had no component or digital capture devices. You should be able to get a feel for the device through the shots anyway. Also, make sure you see the video review.


Plug the unit, hook it up and you'll see this splash screen telling you to wait while the unit boots. The XR uses Linux to power all its functionality and hopefully we'll get to see some new features through the use of the USB port on the back. The initial setup is easily guided and everything works out of the box. The player had the latest update, but it will check for new updates and upgrade the firmware accordingly. Be sure to check for firmware updates regularly, as Roku adds considerable content availability through new firmware updates.


The "Netflix player" is front and center on the XR, but there is more than just Netflix streaming content with the new firmware. Roku has added additional "channels" that you can add to your Roku XR to provide additional content other than Netflix alone. Most of the content is free, but some is behind a pay wall. The XR currently doesn't support internet video sites like Youtube or Hulu (the latter being supported by almost nobody), but you never know when support could be added. ASE Labs believes that people will generally buy the devices for Netflix streaming or other service based functions. Who needs Youtube when you've got good TV shows to stream?


Heading into the "channel store," there are many new content providers that you can select to add to your Roku XR. Probably the next best service is the Amazon Video On Demand which allows you to rent or buy content. While not as price effective as Netflix ($9/month will get you all the streaming Netflix content), it is nice to have options available to you. In addition, Framechannel is supported by the XR. We are no strangers to Framechannel as we have reviewed devices that use the service. Unfortunately, you'll need to create multiple Framechannel accounts to support different Framechannel content on those devices. This is a minimal part of the XR, though.


Like a normal Framechannel device, every service you use on the XR needs to be activated with an account. Netflix and all the other pay subscriptions work the same way. You are given a code and must enter it at the website that provides the service. The service then activates the XR for use.


We don't want this review to be about the Netflix streaming service, but since the device is billed to serve that purpose, we'll give our impressions. The catalog of content over the streaming service is nowhere near the general DVD catalog by mail. There are many movies that are available for streaming, but most movies that would be popular aren't available which is a shame. As you can see from the screenshot, we've got some comedy, action, and other genres available. You need to setup a streaming queue on Netflix's site which means you can't do everything from the XR. The XR can remove content in the queue, but not add it.


Push play and the device buffers away to prepare to play the movie/TV show. There is a quality bar that basically gives you a reading of how much bandwidth is available to give you the best quality picture. If you get the HD signal for the quality, that's the best. Don't be fooled, this is still streaming over the internet and it won't be looking (or sounding) like an ATSC HD broadcast. It does do a good job at satisfying the immediate need to consume content, though. The XR can do normal standard definition, anamorphic widescreen, and 720p resolutions.


You can perform seek functions while watching content and once you want to play again, it buffers for smooth playback. We are happy with the Netflix streaming service and the integration with the XR works well. It's too bad more content isn't available through it, though.


The Roku XR is a nice update in the line of Roku players. On the low end, they have the SD which is just standard definition with no wireless and no USB port. In the middle, the HD model includes 802.11g and HD picture support. The XR is the top end unit with the disabled USB port. ASE Labs is pretty sure that this USB port will be used for mass storage in the future and will probably enable UPnP streaming on your own network. Roku is very good at bringing out features, as the original box only supported Netflix streaming and now it plays many different services.

Roku has competition with the new Blu-ray players that also stream Netflix built into the box itself. This is a very enticing proposition, since for the same price as the Roku XR, you can pick up a Blu-ray+Netflix player and it will support BD-ROM and Netflix all in one box. However, since Roku has added more content providers, their products are in a better position than just supporting Netflix. If you do have Netflix, this is the box to get. Roku knows the Netflix service and they continually add new features above and beyond simple Netflix support. The XR is a good addition to the line, and we recommend the XR if you have Netflix.

ASE Labs would like to thank Roku for making this review possible.


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