Roku: $100 gadget for watching Netflix movies on your TV


In his Cool Tools email newsletter, Kevin Kelly reviewed the Roku box from Netflix, a little $100 internet-connected box that lets you watch movies and TV series from Netflix's large "Watch Instantly" library on your TV set. I bought one based on his review and am already in love with it.

The Roku box from Netflix allows you to watch movies on your TV whenever you want to, for no extra charge, in DVD quality. It is a tiny thing that sets up in a few minutes. If you have wi-fi in your household it will link up to that so you can put the box near your TV. For achieving such a complex task it has a remarkably simple interface and no-fuss approach, very similar to an iPod. We were watching a movie within ten minutes of opening the shipping box.

You use a small clicker to control your Netflix queue on your TV. Movies are streamed (no waiting beyond a few seconds at the start) in unexpected big-screen TV quality. I don't know how they do it. It is miles better than the streaming on those little YouTube boxes. There is no noticeable stutter, blobs, lags, or hiccups. But it ain't hi-def, either.

The service is a joy to use. You manage your queue -- adding and re-ording flicks -- on your computer, and the Roku box automatically syncs up. Back at the TV you click through the instant choices, pick one, and in a few seconds the movie starts. You can pause, change movies, and resume the first where you left off.

Subscribe to Cool Tools

UPDATE: Joel Johnson reviewed the Roku on BB Gadgets.


  1. cue some tech dork who just spent 5000 on a high def TV complaining about how it doesn’t utilize his hard-earned hardware in 3..2..1

  2. @2: no, but you need to connect an ethernet cable from your broadband router to the Roku. I have Wi-Fi so it was really easy to set up.

  3. I just use a regular windows box that’s stuck behind my entertainment center with a decent video and sound card in it. It streams the Netflix instant movies just fine. Plus, I can show picture galleries to guests, stream music and non-Netflix videos, and browse the web from my couch. I don’t have a fancy remote control though (just a wireless mouse).

  4. I used a cheap PC hooked up to my TV to watch Netflix videos but the delays in streaming were unbearable. The Roku has not stuttered yet.

  5. I have a device hooked up to my TV that lets me watch Netflix movies with no streaming delays PLUS all kinds of cool extra features like directors’ commentary and outtakes. My computer’s in the other room and I don’t have WiFi and it works great. It’s called a DVD player and it was really cheap. :)

  6. I stopped keeping a TV in the house about 15 years ago because I was watching it too much. Since then this internet thingy has become a big part of my life. And I’ll be watching too much TV again in 3..2..1….

  7. I have a Windows Media Center box connected to my 50″ Samsung DLP TV that I can use to watch Netflix movies. I’ve only watched two films with it, but I’m VERY impressed by the quality that Netflix puts out, especially considering it’s streaming video. I mostly watch indie flix/comedies, so I can’t really comment on the quality of the big action flix on my badass setup.

    I can see this Roku unit really taking off, especially for the reasonable price. Blu-ray nothing; this is the future of entertainment.

  8. I’m excited about this development because Netflix is one of those few companies whose services I find myself basically recommending unconditionally.

    What I’m kind of holding out for, though, is the console part of the plan… On the Netflix site, they make vague reference to the possibly near future involving a Watch Instantly client for major game consoles. I did just plunk down recently for a PS3, and saving $100 and an HDMI port would be even more awesome…

  9. This will be great for Netflix customers who are also Mac users. Right now we cannot Watch Instantly, but this gadget will make it possible!!

  10. D’ya spose this device (and the other ones like it coming down the road) has anything to do with why Netflix decided to ditch the multiple queues on individual accounts?

  11. I am impressed with the Netflix service and would buy a Roku today, except, unlike youtube, it does not “cache” the video for you. So if you have a slow (<1Mbps) connection, you are stuck with "buffering..." pauses. If they set it up so you could download overnight, or at least for an hour before watching, that would be better. I suspect they don't for anti-piracy reasons.

  12. Personally I use a monitor cable to connect my laptop to my TV, and then set up dual monitors. It’s a FREE solution for doing what this $100 box does.

  13. Even though I have my computer connected to the TV and have done the Netflix movie thing on it, I would gladly spring for this box except for the one thing that keeps me ordering the DVDs instead of doing more instant-watching… I really need subtitles for my wife to enjoy the movies with me. I asked and there are not even plans in the future to provide for subtitles, never mind multiple languages. Oh well, not worth the $100 still for me.

  14. Given that the Roku Netflix player is based on Linux, why can’t I get a Neflix streaming player for Firefox (or standalone) on Linux?


  15. Pretty surprising to see that among all these comments, the biggest thing wrong with the Netflix Player isn’t mentioned here or in the story: The movie selection blows.

    I bought the Roku, and have been a Netflix members since the beginning, but I’m amazed that of the supposedly 10,000 movies in the collection available for the Roku player, it feels like the vast majority are absolute crap. (I think the total Netflix general inventory is more than 100,000).

    Here are some of the “new releases” available for the Roku on Netflix this week:

    Coach, Season 1
    Backgammon, Survival of the Misfits
    The Karate Dog
    Best of Boys In Love
    Cobra (Yes, Sylvester Stallone’s classic from ’86)

    There’s just nothing great here yet. The top 50 viewed movies seem to average 3 stars out of 5.

    I have 2 weeks left on my 30-day free trial, and I hope the content improves, otherwise I may have to return my beautifully functioning Roku device that does a splendid job playing terrible content.

  16. I checked my queue. Out of 292 films in queue, only 22 are available for instant viewing.

  17. If you have comcast as your ISP many people are reporting a very bad experience when using this service I have tried it and the performance is very bad and as mentioned the selection of movies is even worse

  18. I just plug an S-Video cable from my lappy into the t.v. and set it as a second monitor to watch Netflix. The quality is fine, and I discovered an odd bonus, if I close the laptop lid, and then reopen it after a few seconds, the movie will become true full screen, with the window that houses it appearing separately on the laptop’s monitor.

    To get really fancy, I used Touchpad Pro on my iPhone to control everything.

  19. In general I’m happy with the Roku. No stutters, or speeded up playback to catch up with audio. I don’t have a PC with Vista and don’t want Vista so the Xbox/ Windows Media Center is not viable for me. Now if PSP3 supported Netflix, Hulu etc. I might consider buying one!

    I’m not obsessed with new releases and have been mining the long tail of the netflix catalog. I don’t think the new release situation will change because the studios want to max out dvd sales, pay per view etc. before allowing Netflix to stream it. But I like that I’m tying up my at home queue with fewer documentaries and similar items that I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch.

    There are some user interface changes I would make.
    1. Status display option. The only way to see how much time left/elapsed is to hit the pause button. And it only gives minutes played/left. It doesn’t display seconds. I was trying to find my place in a selection last night and was really, really missing the time info that any dvd player gives me. Even the online Netflix viewer display basic time info on mouseover.

    2. Faster ability to interrupt and return to home when I select the wrong thing. This is mostly a TV episode issue. I have to wait for it to load before I can return home. I ought to be able to interrupt and return to the home display before it goes through the whole process of loading the episode.

    3. I wish I could skip ahead in the queue via the remote by more than a single item. It’d be great to able to select 1, 5, 10 items. Big queues mean surf it on the laptop, move selections to the top of the queue, then go to the Roku.

    4. Ability to store info for more than one network connection. I took it to another house and it was annoying when I got home to have to reenter all my network info via the remote.

    1-3 are straight software and hopefully Roku will fine tune the interface via updates. 4 might depend on how/where they store the info. Also hoping Roku adds support for Hulu etc.

    I still have the laptop S-video setup but prefer using the Roku. I don’t have to hook up the cables, but the laptop in video mode, shut down anything CPU intensive etc. The convenience has been lovely. I just move the Roku between the tv’s using the cable I had setup for the laptop.

  20. Of the 60 in my queue, 7 are available for play now. 4 of those consists of a series, though, so really only 4 out of say 56 are available.

    Then again, are they ripping the DVDs themselves? Do they need permission from the publishers? That could explain the paucity of selections right now.

  21. I like the Roku, but three things that bug me:

    -so far, the movie selections kinda stink. I actually caught myself watching Kramer Vs Kramer last night.

    -it’s not always DVD quality, even when you have a broadband connection

    -it’s about 10-15 seconds to fast-forward or rewind anything (on my broadband connection).

    that said, it’s really great.
    The David Pogue review is good, too:

  22. @22

    3. I wish I could skip ahead in the queue via the remote by more than a single item. It’d be great to able to select 1, 5, 10 items.

    Use the fast forward and rewind buttons while browsing the queue to move 5 at a time in either direction. Still limiting, but it’s much better than 1 at a time.

  23. @26

    “Use the fast forward and rewind buttons while browsing the queue to move 5 at a time in either direction. Still limiting, but it’s much better than 1 at a time.”

    Hadn’t stumbled on that trick yet. Thanks!

  24. I’m a current Netflix user, but I’m waiting a bit for Roku to iron out any problems:

    * HD is coming later this year (via firmware update)
    * Netflix claims they are using users’ queues to determine which movies they should encode for streaming.

    I suspect they probably encoded some less popular movies so their new service wouldn’t blow up on the starting line. This “soft start” lets them scale up.

  25. It’s worth mentioning that the quality of the video someone will see depends quality of the connection between them and the Netflix service.

    I was chagrined to learn that my DSL connection is only capable of supporting their measly low-quality streaming, which looks worse than a bootleg VHS tape.

    Then again, I am in an area with poor wiring and a lot of full intertubes.

  26. Its cheaper to just get the free Wii netflix disk. I can do more with the wii (for just an extra 50 bucks added to this devices 100 price) than you can with a Roku

Comments are closed.