roku netflix player

I got a Roku Netflix player a few weeks ago, and I’ve been meaning to write a review about this thing ever since. However, the idea keeps getting pushed back, and since I don’t think I’m ever going to get around to doing the in-depth take on it, a short overview will have to suffice for now. Plus, posting this now is partly inspired and prodded by Engadget’s review of Netflix streaming devices, which was great, but managed to miss, in my opinion, one really major flaw with the service.

Here’s the short summary, before I go into any detail:

Ruko: Almost Perfect (A+)

Netflix: Needs Work (C+)

It’s hard to really write an accurate take on the Roku box because it is, for now, only tied directly to Netflix’s service. The Roku box and it’s firmware, UI, and options are simply amazing, awesome and wonderful. The best way I could describe it is it’s as simple and easy to use as the Tivo’s PVR menus are.

The only problem is with the Netflix service itself. I’ve run into apparently the same issue that others have, and that is that there is audio/video sync issues all over the place. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s happening in about 35% of the movies I’ve watched so far … and I think I’m being generous with even that number. It feels like its closer to 50%. I haven’t done any hard data gathering, but it happens enough that I’ve almost completely resigned myself to sticking to DVDs because its so common.

Before I bash Netflix, though, lemme go on with the glories of the Roku player because it really is awesome. When I first got mine, I took one look at the remote and thought to myself, “you have got to be kidding me.” It’s really small and the buttons look like crap. It looked like it was going to be an instant disaster, but after about 30 seconds of using it, I knew I was dead wrong. The feel is actually really comfortable, and the UI is smartly done, and makes the need for more buttons absolutely unnecessary, by combining multiple functions into each one.

I could go on and on about the UI, because it is is nice, but I’ll do that later. I’ll just say that it’s intuitive and well-done. One thing I was really worried about was that the interface would suck because the one on my HD Tivo leaves a bit to be desired. The Tivo’s Netflix interface by comparison is total crap.

The Roku has some features that I really like. Some of them are that if you are browsing your queue, and you are at the first or last entry, going to the left or right will wrap around and continue at the other end.

Choosing your rating for the movie is simple, too. It displays it as a selectable option in the menu, and when your pointer moves over it, then you have the option of selecting the star rating. Kind of a cool, nice touch.

Fast forwarding and rewinding is really cool. Instead of actually moving you through the stream, once you hit one of the buttons it will show snapshots of the scenes. You just select the scene where you want to pick up, it will rebuffer the stream and away it goes.

Finally, the feature I am most happy about, being the freak that never finishes watching anything in one setting, it makes it easy to resume playback of where I was. Not only that, but it remembers the last movie / show I had selected of my queue whenever I wake up the device again. That is just awesome, and one thing that really annoys me about the Tivo interface — any changes you make and it will bump you back to the first entry in the queue. That probably wouldn’t be an issue with most, but since I have 150+ in mine, it’s a bit of a pain going back and forth.

Speaking of updating the queue, the second you change something on the Netflix website, it will get changed on your box as well the second you start navigating around your selections again. It’s great.

The Roku even has a cool feature for resuming playback of TV series. I started watching Star Trek, the original series, and once I finished with the first episode, the first entry in the menu for that selection was to start watching the second one. The Tivo’s interface, on the other hand, will just dump me into the same menu regardless of where I left off.

One interesting thing about the resume point for shows / movies, though, is that the location is stored remotely on their servers. That’s actually a nice thing. So if I stop watching the show on my Roku, I can go over to my Tivo and resume playback from the exact same position (and now that I think about it, it actually does that on the website, too). That’s another nice touch.

Anyway, I have no complaints with the Roku box itself. There’s a lot of little things it has that just impress me, and I haven’t even gone over all of them. It’s one of those things that just works. As far as the hardware goes, I’m impressed with that as well. It has every video output available, from Composite to HDMI and everything in between (Component, S-Video). For networking, it comes with both an onboard NIC and an onboard wireless card. Not even the Tivos have that yet, which is another minor annoyance for me. And it still is only $100. Very nice.

Now, then, the only problem is with the actual Netflix service. I don’t know what they are using to encode their movies, but something along the line absolutely sucks, because the A/V sync issues are pretty annoying. And I’m not talking about me being the videophile noob that notices 10 milliseconds of delay, but I’m talking about 3 to 5 seconds delay. Sometimes it’s present in the movie no matter what you do, and sometimes it happens if you stop the movie and restart playback. I haven’t watched a *lot* of stuff on there yet, so I haven’t noticed any patterns … if it’s with certain studios, or whatever. It is pretty lame, though.

I’m not too worried, overall, I’m sure the issue, along with the small selection, will get worked out sooner or later. I’m just surprised how common it is so far, especially as the service is getting pushed out to a lot of devices.

For now, though, if I had to recommend getting something for streaming Netflix, I’d say if you are into independent film, then don’t wait. I still think the Roku box is an amazing deal at just $100 for everything it does.  My wishlist of features that the UI had is extremely short — with a big queue it’s a bit tough to navigate through all of them quickly.  One thing has certainly settled on my mind, though, everytime I watch something — I definitely think I made the right decision in buying the shows I want to watch myself on DVD and controlling every aspect of the UI and playback myself.  There’s just enough kinks and tweaks that need to be worked out that I think owning or renting the DVD still wins for now, but only barely.  It’s getting to be a really close battle.

circuit city

Looks like Circuit City is officially going away for good. Well, poo. I really liked that store, and have been shopping there for a long, long time.

Comparably, I can’t stand Best Buy. Sure it may be cleaner / nicer in some ways, but they also have really annoying pestering sales people who pressure you to buy magazines at checkout. It’s gotten to the point where I pay cash just so I know I won’t get signed up for an MSN subscription or something. The worst problem I ever had with Circuit City was that I couldn’t figure out where the cashiers were hiding.

One thing I really liked about Circuit City was that it was always a nice place to quietly just browse and look around without being bothered. That might contribute to their poor sales (no sales people bothering me, no customers making noise), but I’m still going to miss the ability to go through the aisles at my own pace and just look at stuff without being interrupted. At Best Buy, they always have *loud* music on overhead, and the displays for most stuff is badly lit. I guess I’m just old school.

There’s a *lot* of stuff I’ve bought at Circuit City. In fact, every major piece of entertainment hardware I’ve bought there at one time: game console, TV, HDTV, receiver, speakers, CDs, DVDs, remote, car stereo, etc. I even bought my netbook from there just last month (it’s a Lenovo IdeaPad, I still need to write a post about it).

I’m bummed.

Edit: I keep thinking about this — not Circuit City specifically, but shopping in general — and I figured I’d comment a bit more on things.

Brick and mortar stores have, for me, become nothing more than a convenience factor.  I buy just about everything except food, office supplies and clothes online, and it’s been that way for years.  One other exception is big-ticket items, like a game console or an HDTV, because that’s something I’d really like to see and inspect in person before I buy something like that.  But, for the most part, stores have just become the go-to place for when I don’t want to wait.

I’m sure that Internet sales played some part in how badly business has gone.  It’s obviously much simpler for Amazon to update a column in their database to say that a DVD is on sale, versus Circuit City who has to plan the thing ahead weeks ahead of time, prepare circulation and ads and still time it with the website as well.  There’s just so fewer steps for online stores, and it’s been my experience (as a shopper) that traditional stores are just pretending to ignore that the Internet exists completely, and not trying to compete at all.

There is one kind of a store that I would like to see, and that’s ones that have hard-to-find items to start with.  For instance, there’s nowhere in Utah that I could go to buy a Mini-ITX board today (well, not without a huge markup of 50% or more) or find a video store that has pretty much every title available.  Part of that problem, of course, is that I live in Utah.  I realize that, as far as populous states go, I’m in the boonies.  But I also realize that because of the economics, it’s not gonna happen … a long tail store just isn’t gonna spring up.  It makes more business sense to sell just the hits.  Of course, a part of me thinks there could be a compromise — just have a simple store frontend with one cashier at your warehouse.  I don’t wanna browse, I know what I want, and I could just go in and pick it up that day for the online price.  No glitter, no fuss, very little overhead, and I can still get what I want.

Anyway.  I’m not an economics major, and I’m not really interested in why some things work out or don’t all that much, but I’m pretty certain that the business model of ignoring the Internet as competition is what is really hurting these traditional chains.  I’ve summed up a lot of my thoughts in a previous post of how a video store chain could catch up and compete in this one: video stores are deprecated.  That pretty much says it all, I think.

comcast fail

What’s wrong with this picture?

And, for the record:

  • I cleared out my phone number (it was the only populated fields)
  • I filled out the entire form, and nothing magically appeared
  • I originally was using Seamonkey on Linux, but I figured it was another stupid website that only works in IE on Windows, tried that, no workie
  • I’m willing to accept that it’s probably just something wrong with my setup :)

media-tv cleanup

I woke up early this morning (3:30) and started going through Gentoo bugs. I got a lot of crap in the media-tv category either bumped, poked or fixed, but there’s still some stuff to do.

Just a heads up that I know that LIRC, DVB firmware, IVTV and MythTV (to a degree) all have some stupid issues that need to get sorted out.

I need to slap my TV cards back in my box and get testing again. Ever since I got my TIvo I haven’t even *looked* at recording TV with Linux anymore. It’s just that nice (and simple).

Anyway, no worries, we’ll get you taken care of.

One thing I’m thinking of doing is getting rid of some of the crufty, ancient applications that are in the tree.  There are some TV apps that are really, really old (3+ years) that haven’t been updated, and are pretty ugly.  We have so many of them, too, I think it might be simpler to trim it down to the ones that are useful and/or supported.

one resolution

Note: I had a real hard time phrasing this post properly .. some pictures would probably help clarify.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, since I’m big on making resolutions all the time. But, when I’m gone for a long time (Christmas vacation) and come home, I tend to have a new perspective on things.

When I got home from vacation, I had a fresh approach on how things were setup in my apartment. I could look at it more objectively since I hadn’t been living there day to day for a week. In my living room, I have a card table where I throw all my incoming mail and just general stuff. I hate organizing and filing paperwork, whether its bills, receipts, things to do or archive or whatever. What happens is I just lump them on my desk and tell myself that I’ll get to them later. Later usually meaning anywhere from next week to next year.

I took one look at my desk and thought, “this system isn’t working. I’m going to completely scrap it.” So, I did.

I realized that the stuff I had sitting around falls in one of very few categories:

  • Bills I need to pay
  • Papers that I think may be important so I want to hang onto them (warranty information, updated insurance stuff, whatever)
  • Receipts
  • Mementos (movie stub tickets, cards, drawings, stuff I wanna keep)

Aside from stacks of ads and newspapers and junk mail that was lying around, that was it. So, I decided that instead of trying to save it all and eventually get around to it, I’d try a new system where I just have a place to put all of it, or get rid of it. Essentially it comes down to four options: deal with it, file it, shred it (or throw it away) or recycle it.

As far as stuff to deal with, that’s just bills. I looked at the ones I hadn’t paid yet so I checked out if I could do online billing so I wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore. That’s already helping. The rest, I just write checks for and send em off. One thing I always do, as well, is I keep my old bills for everything I get sent (credit cards, insurance payments, phone bills, whatever) and archive them in a file folder. I decided I’m not doing that any more. I always hang on them because of this vague sense that someday I might need them or something’s going to happen where I’ll have to look something up. Screw that. That *never* happens. If something does come up, just get on the phone and call them up. I figure I’ll let the corporations do the record keeping, I’m tired of cluttering up my desk and my life dealing with paperwork of stuff that’s routine and isn’t gonna change anyway. I do keep the important ones, like my credit card bill and my credit union statement, but everything else is easy to access and I’ll never need them again. Into the shredder they go.

The recycling stuff is easy, too. I get some junk mail, not a lot, but most of it’s already targeted for me so a lot of times I’ll hang onto it thinking I’ll look at it later. What happens though is I never get around to it, and instead if I need to find something I just use the Internet anyway. So, I just have a small box that sits next to my front door where I immediately throw any junk in there so it gets recycled. That’s done with, too.

There’s also my little mementos. I already have a small tin jar where I keep memorable stuff and keepsakes, but it was getting full, so I found a shoebox and just started using that. It’s big enough to hold everything, and it works great.

Finally for the stuff that’s “important” but doesn’t really fit in a file folder all its own, I just decided to get a set of folders and label them monthly only. That way, if I ever do need them, I can just look back to the month when I think it came up, and I’ve already got it. And I don’t get nervous knowing I threw something away just because I didn’t wanna find a place to file it.

So far, my new system is working great. The biggest problem I had, I realize, is that I completely overestimated the value of some paperwork. Realizing that I hadn’t ever gone back to look up stuff at all, ever (minus financial stuff) really helped put that in perspective. I really hate the feeling of having too much paperwork in my life. I cleaned off, threw away or filed all the clutter on my desk and I can soon get rid of it completely and just have a few boxes on my floor where I deal with all the incoming mail from the moment I get it. Minus the bills, of course. I’m still working on a system for that one.

Best of all, that’s one idea that’s been coming up lately that has been really helpful. Too many times when I have a system that isn’t working, my initial reaction is, “well, you just need more self-control.” That’s just a recipe for disaster because you’re constantly coming up short. It takes some thinking outside the box and using your imagination to scrap the system and start over, but almost everytime I do it, it just works out much better and far more efficient than I could have supposed. It really takes some perspective to see that the entire thing isn’t working, though, and then have the strength of character to start over. It’s worth it, though.