The Roku HD XR takes a very different tack to media streaming, in that it accesses Internet content only, unlike the other boxes we tested. It will stream audio and video content from a vast array of free and subscription online services, but it won’t play any of your own content on your TV.
If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can stream movies on demand from that service. More importantly, you can browse and search through the company’s streaming library. With earlier models, you had to browse with your PC, adding titles to a queue before you could stream to a box such as this.
Roku has aggressively sought out deals with a variety of premium content providers—including Major League Baseball—but the company's hardware is all but oblivious to the content you already own.
Roku maintains an online “channel store” where its customers can choose from dozens of free and subscription streaming services, many of which—including Amazon Video on Demand, Major League Baseball TV, and Ultimate Fighting Championship—are not available on the Seagate, ViewSonic, and Western Digital boxes. A Roku box will stream Pandora Internet radio and photos from your Flickr account, too, but you can’t use it to watch any of those wacky YouTube videos.
The Roku HD XR’s video resolution tops out at 720p. That’s not terrible, but if you don’t have a TV or A/V receiver with a good scaler, you’ll wind up with black borders all around the video. The box does have a built-in wireless networking adapter—an added-cost option on the competition—as well as a 100Mb/s Ethernet port. Roku has developed a very strong user interface, too; its remote control, on the other hand, is extremely basic.
The Roku HD XR is very inexpensive (when you take the integrated Wi-Fi adapter into account), and Roku offers the strongest content lineup (assuming you don’t care about YouTube). But the absence of any means of accessing your own media via either your network or local storage is baffling.
This review is part of a Maximum Tech media player roundup which can be found here.