Archive - Jan 23, 2011

Exploring the Netgear Roku Player

I’m a fairly frugal sort of guy, especially during these difficult financial times and particularly when it comes to electronics. My primary desktop computer is a salvaged 1996 era server. My primary laptop is also salvaged, about a 2004 vintage machine that I reformatted to run Linux. Other computers around the house are from different groups I’ve worked with and are mostly in various states of disrepair. I have a digital camera. A refurbished 2007 device that was my third upgrade of refurbished versions of a gift I got probably around 2001. We have not upgraded to HD TV or to Blu-ray player.

Yet yesterday, Kim and I went out and purchased a Netgear Roku Player (NTV250). Fiona was having a sleepover at a friend’s house, so it was going to be date night. I checked through the movies playing nearby and none of them seemed all that interesting, especially if it was going to end up costing somewhere around $30 between tickets, popcorn, etc.

Kim has been watching movies from Netflix on her laptop, which she has enjoyed, but gathering around a small screen to watch a movie just might not cut it for date night.

I’ve been interested in the Roku player for quite a while, and I saw that there low end model starts around sixty bucks. That is would be about the same as two date nights at the movie theatre. So, I searched around to see if there were any for purchase near where we live.

We did find a slightly higher end model at a radio shack in a neighboring town, so we went out and picked it up. One of the things I like about the Roku player is that you can connect it to your old fashioned TV using composite cables, or to an HD TV using an HDMI cable. What this means is that I can use it with my old TV right now, and later, if we ever upgrade to an HD TV, we will still be able to use it.

Reviews online said that it was easy to setup, but some people said that customer support is a bit lacking. Plugging in the cables and powering things up took but a few moments. It took a little longer to register the Roku player online and get it connected to our Netflix and Amazon accounts, but within minutes, we were ready to go.

The design is very simple. It is a small box with a few ports in the back to connect cables. The remote has eight buttons. Navigating the Roku is very simple. The downside of this is that if you want to search for specific movies on the Roku, it can be difficult and time consuming.

On the other hand, if you use your PC to select movies and put them in your queue, it becomes very easy to play them on the Roku. So, we sat and watched a movie last night, and the Roku worked great.

We also spent a little time configuring other things. I added a news channel and listened to some BBC and NPR programs. I set up Pandora and listened to my Pandora station. I even hooked up Facebook and looked at some of my Facebook pictures.

Being the geek, I was interested in finding out how open the device really is. Much of it is open source, but the operating system is fairly well locked down. You can telnet into the device on port 8080 and execute a handful of commands, like ‘press home’, ‘press forward’ etc to control the device. There are even android apps that put a nice front end onto this to make an android work as a Roku remote. It looks simple enough that I could probably even create an application for the Nokia N900. However, given my other time commitments right now, I suspect I won’t get a chance to try that any time soon.

So, I’ve been pleased with the Roku so far. We’ll see what else I can do with it.

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