Roku expands their digital media streaming hardware lineup today. Joining the $100 HD Roku box, is a new lower-end SD unit ($80) and a slightly higher-end Roku HD-XR model ($130). Unfortunately, for tech snobs like me, all three boxes retain the same utilitarian enclosure that Roku launched with.
For an extra 30 bucks, the Roku HD-XR model bumps wireless reception to 802.11n for quicker streaming and improved range. Additionally, USB has been integrated for “future use.” Presumably for local media playback off an external drive. However, without Roku putting a stake in the ground, we just don’t know. (And there’s a history of companies failing to deliver on those “future use” ports. The Slingbox SOLO and wireless Slinglink ring a bell.)
I’ve had the HD-XR on hand a few weeks and unfortunately my biggest Roku disappointment hasn’t been addressed. Roku units output HD video as 720p only. Yet our four year old bedroom television (Panasonic, 30″ tube) only renders 1080i. This isn’t an issue for most set-top boxes — which easily flip between 720p- or 1080i-only output. I’m not sure if this is a software or hardware limitation for Roku, but it’s something to keep in mind if you have a slightly older HDTV. And something that prevents me from fully enjoying the Roku experience in a prime viewing location.
On the service side of things, it looks as if compelling new content is on the way to Roku. In announcing their Revision3 video podcast channel, served by the previously announced Mediafly integration, Tekzilla also may have outed upcoming Pandora and Flickr Roku channels. Nice! (But where’s the YouTube?) So, for now, I’d say stick with the $100 Roku unit. It’s a great value, with existing partners (Netflix Instant Streaming, Amazon VOD. MLB.TV) and those to come.