Review: Roku XDS adds instant replay feature and more

Roku announced three new models of Roku players, ranging from $59.99 to $99.99. We spent some time with the Roku XDS high end model and are quite impressed with over 85 channels of media content to enjoy.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Rather than pay the cable company high monthly fees to add a cable box to each of the TVs in my house, I prefer to use the Roku devices that only have one single price. Tonight, Roku announced their new lineup that includes three new models to replace the existing Roku SD and Roku HD-XR models that were released last October and original Roku HD. The new lineup consists of a new Roku HD (moved from mid-range to low end and now has wireless capability), Roku XD, and Roku XDS, priced to sell at $59.99, $79.99, and $99.99, respectively. The Roku folks sent along a Roku XDS to test out and you can check out my image gallery and thoughts on using it below. The gallery compares the XDS to the previous high end HD-XR and you can visually see the improvements in reduced size for both the unit and remote control.

Image Gallery: Check out some product photos of the Roku XDS with the HD-XR for comparison.
Image Gallery: Back of the two Rokus
Image Gallery: Roku purple flag

The three new models are shipping from Roku.com with pre-orders available from Amazon. Before we look at the details of the high end XDS, here is the tale of the tape between the the three new models:

  • Roku HD: entry-level model with wireless radio, but no 1080p support, $59.99
  • Roku XD: mid-level with 802.11 b/g/n and 1080p support, $79.99
  • Roku XDS: high-end dual-band wireless (2.4GHz and 5GHz) technology, 1080p support, and USB port, $99.99

All three models have HDMI, ethernet, composite video, and analog video ports. The new Roku HD is sleeker and smaller than the original at 1 inch tall and 5 inches wide. The Roku HD originally launched for $100 in May 2008 and is now available for just $59.99. Even if you have a device that streams Netflix content, like an Xbox 360 or Wii, you may still want a Roku for all the other great content that you get access to for free.

In the box and first impressions

In the box you will find the Roku player, remote control, 2-AAA batteries, power adapter, red/yellow/white RCA cable, and Getting Started Guide. I was impressed by the slimmer feel of the Roku XDS that is now much shorter than the Roku HD-XR. The remote control also lost some girth and is now narrower, shorter, and longer than the one for the HD-XR.

Initial setup

I plugged in the HDMI cable and A/C power and waited as the Roku home page appeared. I walked through the setup wizard to choose the WiFi network and then a software update was performed, followed by a restart. I then completed the setup again after the software update and then had to go into my Roku account to link this new hardware to my account. At first I noticed the quality of the fonts was not that great so I went into the settings and found the Roku was set to 4:3 standard definition by default. I changed it to 720p, I don't have a 1080p TV, and things looked MUCH better. I then went into my existing channel lineup and had to activate a couple of accounts (Netflix and Amazon) to get my subscribed content up on the new Roku. It was all a very easy process controlled with the new remote control.

Differences between existing HD-XR and new XDS

The new XDS is sleeker in size (4.9 x 4.9 x 1 inches) than the HD-XR (5.1 x 5.1 x 1.6 inches). The USB port has also been moved to the left side rather than the back so this should make it more convenient when USB support is added in a couple of months. A purple name tag made of material is now present on both the Roku XDS and remote control. The same A/C power adapter is used and ports for ethernet, HDMI, and optical audio are present. The three color (green/blue/red) component video ports have been replaced by a single component video port so if you were using these cable to connect you may need to pick up an adapter. I was using HDMI with the HD-XR so it was simple to plug it right into the XDS.

More ZDNet Roku coverage: It turns out that these evaluation units may actually already support USB mode as you can see in Jason Perlow's detailed post where he tested out playing video content stored on a USB thumb drive.

The remote control is new too and still has the great rubberized keys. The center directional/select buttons have been changed from five separate buttons into one single button and a new back arrow has been added up to the left of the Home button. Below the directional button are two new buttons for Instant Replay and Options. You will still find reverse, play/pause, and forward buttons along the bottom. One slick new feature, an industry first, in the XD and XDS is the Instant Replay button that lets you skip back in 10 second increments without having to wait for a rebuffering delay. You can do this with hard drive based devices, but the Roku boxes do not have integrated storage so this is a technology they developed that is quite convenient.

How does the Apple TV compare to the XDS?

As I went about setting up the Roku XDS I decided to scan through the channels in the Roku Channel store and was extremely impressed to find there are currently 86 channels available for all three Roku players. I found it interesting that there are now channels for church content, Sirius/XM radio, Last.fm, Vimeo, games such as video poker, photo channels like SmugMug, and loads of other content. The primary channels are Netflix and Amazon Video On-Demand which are similar to what you can find on the Apple TV with Netflix and iTunes content. Apple TV gives you access to Netflix, iTunes, YouTube, MobileMe, and Flickr so as you can see the amount of available content is a huge difference between Roku and Apple TV devices.

The Roku XDS also has a USB port and in November (expected release date) you will be able to enjoy stored music, photos, and 1080p video using the USB player channel through a free upgrade to the device. Roku stated that this USB channel support will also come to those of you with the HD-XR that also has a USB port.

Roku continues to deliver a simple solution for streaming video content and I will continue to recommend them to family and friends. Most people will be satisfied with the Roku HD at only $59.99, but for those of us wanting the latest and greatest the XDS is a nice choice too.

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