I Am Matt's Guinea Pig: Roku/Netflix

I've had my Roku player for a smidge over three weeks now, and Matt has been pestering me for a review. So, here goes.

If you're a pop culture junkie who finds great pleasure in lounging in a comfy position, mindlessly flicking through TV channels, coming across something you're in the mood to watch, and settling in for the duration, then this Roku box for Netflix is the best invention ever. Allow me to explain. . .

I am exactly that kind of pop culture junkie, but I refuse to sign up for the schmancy zillion-channel cable service that comes with a DVR and video-on-demand. Thus, the stars do not often align to allow one of my eighty basic cable channels to offer up the exact type of cinematic treat I need at the exact moment I need it.

Oh, sure, maybe I'll be looking for a way to while away the hours on a Sunday afternoon between the latest Browns loss and the start of FBNIA* when soft! What light through yonder television screen breaks? It is Back to School, and Rodney Dangerfield goes to college with his son. Oh joy! Oh rapture! Oh, look how young Robert Downey Jr. is!

More often than not, though, by that time in the weekend I will have watched all the TV I've taped/DVDs I've Netflixed, said "Meh" to the pile of videos/DVDs in my medium-sized home library, and turned to the Interwebs in my hunt for something else to gaze at while my brain turns to tapioca.**

However, anything I found online had to be viewed on my laptop while curled up on the loveseat in the living room, as opposed to viewed on the flatscreen while stretched out in bed.*** So, it was with a slightly hopeful heart that I purchased the Roku box from Netflix.

I mean, I had already done some basic online research, so I knew better than to think that every one of the 300+ titles in my Netflix queue would be at my fingertips, just a flick of the remote and a brief download time away from sating my every entertainment desire. I had read of other users' complaints about the limited number of titles available for instant viewing, as compared to the vast number of titles in the general library. With my relatively low standards, however, I felt pretty good about my chances of finding something I could tolerate.

The setup really is as plug-and-play easy as it is described on the official Web site. My issues were mainly with the fact that I wanted a wired connection but I wanted to place the box on the complete other end of the apartment from my cable modem/router. Since it's only me in my apartment and broken ankles are a risk I am willing to take, I ran an ultra-long ethernet cable down the hall to my bedroom. (One of these days I'll put up more of those 3M hooks and run the cable along the ceiling, which is what I did with the phone cord. Or I'll brush up on my hacker-foiling skillz and feel confident enough to go wireless, whichever.)

After everything was connected, I flipped through my "Watch Instantly" queue (At the time, a slender 68 items!) and found . . . nothing I was in the mood to watch. (To be fair, it was late and I was tired.) Since you can't access the entire Netflix library via the box, I had to get out of bed and go online to add more stuff to the Instant queue. Initially I had some trouble finding more things I wanted to watch, but when I checked back in a few days, I noticed more titles seemed to be available.**** Once I fattened up my queue***** it took just a few seconds to load up a movie or episode, and the playback was fine.

So, if you're thinking about laying out the $100, check out the Watch Instantly choices first. If you can find a fair amount of material you would enjoy — keeping in mind that you can't access bonus features like audio commentary — start thinking about where you would put the box. And remember that you'll need to pick up a router, if you don't already have one. I forgot about that last bit, which meant a late-night trip to the closest 24-hour Wal-Mart. Beyond that, I think it's well worth the monthly Netflix charge, which can be as low as $5 or so, if you pick the one-DVD-at-a-time unlimited plan, which is what I'm on right now.

* Which I watch mostly for the Olbermann-Patrick pairing.

** As we all know, doing household chores and/or getting fresh air and exercise are for suckers.

When you're pretty tall for a girl (five nine), the joy of stretching out should not be taken lightly.

Apparently Netflix cut a few more deals with content providers (NBC, Starz), so they have more programs to offer. Note that some items may have a "view by" date. Not all licenses allow for indefinite "watch instantly" availability, I guess.

***** I went with old sitcoms I vaguely remember from my youth, like Kate & Allie, and crimefighters from the 70s, like The Rockford Files.


  1. Ok, so how's the quality? Is it all web-video icky, or high-def gold, or somewhere in between?

  2. I found the picture to be equivalent to if I were watching an actual DVD from Netflix.

    Image quality would probably depend on how you connect the box to your TV, though. I'm using the standard RCA outputs, but there are a few other options available, including HD.

    I seem to recall that the HD connection requires buying a separate set of cables. There's some information on the Roku site about it.