So how do these boxes perform as part of your home entertainment center? The big draw for most people will be the movie capabilities. Both products support Netflix and Hulu Plus along with other services such as YouTube, Blockbuster (WD TV Live only) and Amazon Streaming (Roku only). Figure 5 shows the main Netflix menu displayed by the Roku.
Figure 5: Roku Netflix menu
If you've used the Netflix streaming capability before, you'll feel right at home with either the Roku or the WD TV Live menus. In both cases, you'll find an attractive bright-red theme with a scrolling list of content to choose from. You'll have access to movie or TV categories, search, recently watched, full metadata, etc. Standard-definition and high-definition content is supported.
Both products have the same basic menu. But I slightly preferred the Roku implementation because it seemed to be a bit more responsive although I did experience an occasional menu lag.
One annoying factor in the WD TV Live's Netflix implementation is the transition time in and out of the higher-level menu. After selecting Netflix, you get nearly 10 seconds of totally black screen before you can start navigating through the menus. This delay was common for the other services as well.
As far as quality, 1080p HD movies looked great on my 52" HD TV and standard definition movies usually looked OK as well. I half-expected to see some stuttering or pausing as the movie streamed. But with Netflix, I typically had no problems over my Comcast Internet service, which a speed-test measures around 1.25 Mbps up and 15-20 Mbps down. I did see one lip-synch problem with an old TV show where the soundtrack was noticeably out of sync with the video.
One issue you'll have with streaming movies from the Internet on either box is trick-mode, i.e. fast-forward, reverse, etc. Figure 6 shows the trick-mode menu on the Roku
Figure 6: Netflix trick mode
You can't really tell from this screenshot, but moving around in a movie entails jumping from scene to scene. You won't get true fast-forward or fast-reverse behavior like you'd normally get in a DVR or on a DVD. But in general, Netflix was quick and easy to use on both boxes and had a lot of good content to choose from.
Both the Roku and the WD T Live support Hulu Plus. Figure 7 shows the Hulu Plus menu as seen on the WD TV Live.
Figure 7: Hulu Plus menu
The Hulu Plus display and interactions in the Roku appeared to be identical to the WD TV Live's. If you're not familiar with Hulu Plus, its an $8 a month service that lets you watch content (with ads) from various network providers.
The "Plus" refers to a supposedly larger catalog of available content as opposed to the standard, free Hulu service. But the reality is that the shows you get on Hulu Plus are a subset of what's available on the web. What you basically get for your $8 a month plus commercials is the ability to access Hulu from something other than a web browser running in a computer. The Plus service also seems to have more high-definition (720p-only) content than the web service.
You can get an idea of the available content by browsing through the hulu.com website. But from my browsing, Hulu's emphasis seems to be on network series vs. movies, although a large selection of movies is available.
I thought Hulu Plus' menus and interactions were attractive and fairly well done. But I had more playback issues with Hulu Plus than I did with Netflix. One evening while watching a TV show, I kept getting annoying pauses as buffering occurred during viewing over a wired connection.
When this started, I stopped the playback and measured a 20 Mbit/sec download speed to my home, so I obviously have more than enough bandwidth. I found that both the Roku and the WD TV Live had the same issue that evening, so I have to conclude it was on the Hulu side.
A couple of times, I also had the Roku box completly crash and reset while watching a Hulu Plus movie. Another time, after watching a movie for an hour or so on the Roku, I noticed that the audio and video were several seconds out of sync.
Like Netflix, trick-mode operations for Hulu Plus are more a scene-selection rather than a quick scroll to a desired spot in a show. Figure 8 shows the interaction (identical across both the Roku and the WD TV Live)
Figure 8: Hulu Plus trick modes
Like Netflix, Hulu Plus also includes recommendations based on your previously viewed shows, and a queue of shows to watch later. The catalog of shows is large and has interesting content. I just wish it were more reliable! (Tim says: Amen to that!) And also like Netfilx, bringing up Hulu Plus on the WD TV Live was preceded by 10 seconds of black screen.
Now for the differences between the two products. The biggest difference is that the WD TV Live can play local content while the Roku cannot. Well, that's maybe a bit harsh. The Roku can play some local content, but only from a USB drive plugged directly into it. And only if that content is mp4 (H.264) video, mp3 or aac audio or and jpg or png images.
I should also note that when I plugged a USB stick with a few movies into the Roku to do a quick playback check I didn't notice anything "funny". But when I plugged in an old 500 GB USB drive containing lots more content, the Roku became painful to use. Every time I navigated to the top-level directory of the drive, it appeared to be scanning the entire thing for content. So in this case, with a 500 GB drive, it was taking nearly two minutes! So down one directory, and then back up...wait two minutes...every time. Every time!
As for supported formats, I didn't have much luck with anything other than mpeg 4 files. But even then, some mpeg4/H.264 movies I had captured from an elgato device just hung up in the "retrieving" menu, forcing me to cancel playback.
None of my .mov, .mpg (mpeg1), qt, or avi files even showed up in the menus. Along with standard-def H.264 content, I was successful with a 1080p H.264 movie. Looked pretty nice, in fact. But I was a bit disappointed that the trick-modes worked much like the online content—no fast-forward scrolling. Just jumping.
It looks to me like Roku's local playback support is for just for displaying a handful of files. It's definitely not designed to handle a big library and certainly not a big library of mixed formats. I hate to see what it would have done with my 2 TB drive! I'd probably be waiting 10 minutes every time I changed a directory.
In contrast, the WD TV Live has the ability to stream data from a local DLNA server as well as from an attached drive. And if you don't happen to have a DLNA server, the Live can also browse plain ol' network shares on its own. The Live also supports a much wider array of formats than the Roku, as listed in Figure 9. For more on this, check out my review from last year.
Figure 9: WD TV Live supported formats
Something the Roku has that the WD doesn't is games. This feature is supported only on the top-of-line XS, however.. Figure 10 shows a session of Angry Birds playing on the Roku.
Figure 10: Angry Birds on the Roku
As usual, Angry Birds is a lot of fun, but it's a bit challenging to play with the Roku remote. The gyroscopic remote helps, but you don't get the same degree of control as you would on a phone or PC. The pigs are safe from me!
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Average user rating from: 4 user(s)
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|User Rating [Back to Top]||Overall:||3.8||Features :||3.5||Performance :||3.8||Reliability :||4.3|
February 10, 2013
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I bought the unit refurbished from E-Bay. The first time I tried to use it it required a software update and using the wireless connection with my linksys It would fail and show a code 011 or 014. I found the only way I could do a software update was to connect to my Modem direct and then the update took fine . I then returned to the wireless setting and everything work as expected. once I got past the start up problem the unit works very well and I am very satisfied with the Roku 2xs.
December 08, 2012
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i had the roku and you just need to install Plex server on your computer and Plex client on roku, you can watch what you want and where you want with this setup.
comment on seamless integration
May 15, 2012
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Just a comment on the menus (do you want to quit) and " You get the feeling that each source is its own little island and you have to mentally change gears to move from source to source."
I don't find this as a problem at all. Each content source IS essentially it's own little island, and while it would be cool to have all your content mashed up into one simple interface, that's not something I really expect as long as the content is being offered via different companies. White kind of company would want to forgo all of their branding, and give up control of how their content is served to their customers (not just the content, but their ability to serve ads or anything else for that matter). There's just no way that's going to happen, and that makes complete sense to me. When I leave their service to go back to my Roku menu, the idea that I'm 'quitting' also makes sense... This is pretty much how it is on every device I've ever seen that lets you use these services (roku, wd tv, ps3 etc).
I can concede that maybe those concepts are more intuitive to people who are more 'techie', and maybe not to the mainstream consumer, but until we have one service to rule them all I think that's something people are going to have to get used to... not really a fault of the devices themselves as they have no control over that.
A few corrections...
November 29, 2011
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I have both of these players and just want to correct a few things in this article:
-Games ARE supported on WD TV Live. Also, The Roku HD/XD both support games if you buy the gaming remote for an additional cost, not just the XD and aside from that, there are games that don't utilize the gaming remote. The Roku's gaming remote is a neat idea, but the Bluetooth connection runs through batteries very quickly, even when just using it for streaming videos.
-On the WD TV Live, it will pull cover art, backdrops, and movie information for your local video files if they are named appropriately. Plex is a free app for Roku that will transcode and stream video files to your Roku, it even pulls movie covers and information for them just like the WD TV Live does. It doesn't play everything, but greatly broadens file support and opens enables network streaming.
-You can fast-forward and rewind just fine. It doesn't jump to different scenes. You use the ARROW buttons for small steps and the FF/RW buttons for large jumps in video. Maybe this is what you meant and your wording was confusing.
-This article goes into detail about the UI of streaming services, but doesn't even mention the actual system menus and doesn't show any screenshots of the actual user interface of either product. I personally think this is pretty important and personally prefer the WD TV Live UI, as I find the Roku's too static and simple, lacking the animation, theming, weather widget, etc.