What’s Next For Roku? 5 Suggestions.

Dave Zatz —  August 8, 2009

roku

I love my little Roku box. The Roku Digital Media Player ($99, Amazon), which began life as the Roku Netflix Player, streams Netflix content (free for subscribers) and Amazon video on demand (VOD). Standard def was decent, but both are now available in HD (720p). Sure, it’s not Blu-ray but it’s good enough for many. Perhaps, most. And the mighty quick, dead simple interface is a joy to use, providing a better experience than TiVo’s equivalent Netflix and Amazon apps. We know Roku’s got several new partner services lined up this year, including video podcasts by MediaFly and Blip.tv webisodes. Plus, it looks like YouTube may also be on tap. At $99 the Roku’s in impulse purchase territory – it’s hard to go wrong. Having said that, as an owner and a guy who follows this space, I’ve got a few suggestions for the Roku team (and their partners). Enable some of these, and I’ll pick up a box for every room.

1. Display the Netflix Instant Streaming Library
If the Xbox 360 can do it
, so can Roku. Let me browse the Netflix instant streaming library, instead of viewing just the queue I filled from my computer. It’s more a natural and spontaneous couch-based video experience. Even in its current updated form with the Xbox only displaying top titles in each genre, it’s still a massive improvement that I’d like to see replicated on Roku.

2. Enable 1080i
I was extremely psyched when Roku flipped the switch on HD last December. However, as it turns out, the Roku box only outputs 720p high definition. Meaning many early HDTV adopters are unable to use Roku in HD mode on 1080i-only sets. Which is what we have in the bedroom. With nearly 200 comments and over 38,000 views, Roku’s 1080i discussion thread is a strong indication I’m not the only one suffering.

3. Integrate Streaming Music
The Roku Soundbridge
was my first streaming music hardware gadget purchased (and ebayed) many moons ago. And while both Roku, Inc and I have fond Soundbridge memories, they’ve clearly moved on from this product line. But why not leverage that knowledge and technology into their set-top box? Even if Roku’s no longer interested in powering LAN audio streaming, at the very least give us Pandora or Slacker – who have shown a willingness to partner in this space.

4. Sexify the Hardware
Obviously, one of the keys to Roku’s success has been keeping their hardware price in check. But, man, is this plasticy black box and remote seriously lacking in the personality department. There’s gotta be something economical that can be done to improve its looks. Especially if they plan to expand into the retail marketplace. I’d almost like to suggest a Roku Pro, a more powerful device with sexed up hardware. But that comes with its own series of challenges to overcome, including consumer education.

5. Play Boggle or Trivia in the Cloud
The problem with most platform casual gaming is that companies take the shotgun approach of engineering (or licensing) many games of questionable quality which are then buried in a rarely visited sub-menu. I propose a different strategy. Pick one game, partner, and make it a showcase piece. In 2005 (!), TiVo launched an (unofficial) amazing apps.tv example, which showed tons of potential. I was a big fan of this Boggle-esque game played against fellow TiVo subscribers. Unfortunately, but typical, for TiVo only a few dozen of us knew it existed and the game didn’t go anywhere. As Microsoft has 1 verus 100 on the Xbox locked up, Roku could partner with say NTN/Buzztime and let me subscribe to a trivia game network with real prizes.

Bonus suggestion:

6. Not Hulu
My love affair with Hulu is over. They’re a sock puppet for big media dinosaurs with an ever changing, incomplete, and restrictive video library. Let them fail with ZillionTV while Roku strikes independent deals with the likes of Comedy Central or sports leagues.

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17 responses to What’s Next For Roku? 5 Suggestions.

  1. 6. Add an OTA tuner and an antenna connector in the back of the box

    KTHXBAI

  2. How about going back and licensing the old arcade games like Dig-Dug, Pac-Man, etc. and then selling a wireless remote control. Make it so that these games are social and add a few more classic games like Chess, poker and hearts. It wouldn’t compete with an Xbox, but it’s something that my parents would definitely like.

  3. How about support for streaming video from a local pc? DLNA? That would be a nice plus.

    To be honest, I haven’t used mine much since the recent updates to xbox 360 let it do so much more. The Roku has been relegated to the spare bedroom.

  4. It’s a dream, but I would love to see interoperability between devices. Along the lines of the above, it would be great if a Roku box could get codec support from my Popcornhour and together they could make something work.

    What that “something” is and what the standard could be are beyond me, but if it’s a wishlist…

  5. John, I’ve thought about that. With the large number of codecs out there and limited consumer interest/understanding it might not be the best bang for their development buck.

    Big John, agreed. Wish Sling had opened up their protocols so multiple devices from various vendors could become a “SlingCatcher.”

  6. I would like to see top notch support for windows home server streaming, album/dvd or even just support for my movies with whs.

  7. How about streaming MRV support with a next-generation TiVo?

  8. My not so humble opinions
    1. Display the Netflix Instant Streaming Library
    Awesome! My #2.
    2. Enable 1080i
    Not worth the resource requirements. If your TV is so old it will do 1080i, but not 720p, I’m sorry but you were an early adopter, buy a new one.
    3. Integrate Streaming Music
    Love it! My #3.
    4. Sexify the Hardware
    Don’t tart up my Roku! The hardware does enough and is decently small and conservatively attractive. The remote is a gem of just the right size, weight, simplicity, and tactile feel of the buttons.
    5. Play Boggle or Trivia in the Cloud
    Waste of dev time. I rarely play games, and this is not the right format. But I admit I do like NTN in bars, and it might be mildly amusing on the Roku.
    6. Not Hulu
    Hulu annoys me, but if they are offering something I want to see, this would be my # 4.
    7. Support streaming from home devices
    My #1 request. I’ll leave this to Roku to decide who to support, or just provide API. But I’d really like it to play my MythTV content. I’m sure playing stuff from Windows Media Center/Windows Home Server, and iTunes would be required for decent market penetration.

  9. So are you prescient, or did you have inside info about the MLB deal when you wrote the bonus suggestion?

  10. A little bit of both… It seemed like a logical move and after Boxee announced MLB streaming a month or so back, I called my PR contact and basically tricked him into confirming it was coming. ;) (“Hey, when’s that MLB streaming going live?”) He asked me to keep the specifics under wraps until the announcement, which I did. I’ll shoot some video of it in action this evening. Although, I’d much prefer the NFL or even the NHL.

  11. How about friendster or facebook?

  12. I’ve been watching MLB games on it for about a week. It really works well for being so new and still ‘beta’ (although MLB has no problem with charging me for beta).

    I say give me Hulu but would be happy if they struck individual deals – like the MLB one. HBO? ESPN 360. Please.

  13. I would love to see ESPN360 on Roku.

  14. Good call(s) on ESPN 360. My cable provider, Cox, is giving it to us 9/30.

  15. I love that basically every suggestion has come true within a year…nice!

  16. HBO, Showtime, and Comedy Central. I would pay extra for these three.

  17. How about adding ESPN and TNT? I would be willing to pay $15.00 a month for these two together. Please God let me be rid of cable!