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If you are using wireless to streaming content, I highly recommend upgrading to a dual-band router to take advantage of 5GHz 801.11n speeds. It’s also especially helpful when clustered around several neighbors in an apartment complex where 2.4GHz streaming is tougher. That being said, a wired option is preferable over wireless for the fastest speeds possible. For A/V connectivity, HDMI is obviously the best option and the simplest solution.
Compared to the interactivity of the Apple TV, the Roku XDS comes up a bit short. The user is faced with a fragmented series of app authorizations prep their Roku device for everyday use, an experience that requires a larger investment of time than setting up the Apple TV. However, you can speed up the process if you own an iPhone or iPod Touch. I’ve been using a fantastic app called DVPRemote. Not only does it offer all the same remote functions via Wi-Fi connection, it also provides an on-screen keyboard for typing search queries as well as a compatible channel guide. The app also works on the iPad and offer more screen space for searching for content.
As mentioned earlier, most of my testing focused on a handful of the premium apps; specifically Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon on Demand and Pandora. The Hulu Plus interface is very similar to the web interface, both in style and navigation. Unfortunately, it’s tough to determine what’s available on Hulu Plus through device streaming and what content is PC only. I repeatedly ran into situations where I couldn’t access a specific show because it could only be reached from the Web. However, the quality and speed at which content was presented was excellent. I never ran into any lockup issues and all the content I played simply worked, be it with the occasional annoying commercial. Netflix was also just as responsive. The only time I noticed a problem was during movies. Seventy-five percent through most feature films was typically the time when Netflix would revert my speed connection from HD to SD. I experienced this when using wireless, but eliminated it when using a direct, wired connection.
Amazon on Demand was the source of my main frustrations. When watching the recently released Unknown as a HD rental, the device locked up about halfway through the film. Pausing / fast forwarding the film was impossible and required a device reset to fix the problem. The Roku has no power button, thus you are forced to yank the power cord to cycle the XDS. Pandora is a sparse, but functional experience. All the main Pandora functions are easy to access and skipping around between tracks is a breeze. I’m curious if Spotify is going to roll out on the app store now that it’s been released in the United States. The USB channel is also simple to use and allowed me to quickly access content I downloaded from the Web to play on the device. While I would have vastly preferred true DNLA support to access all the content on my hard drive through the wireless network, transferring it to a USB stick isn’t a huge pain.
The Roku XDS is a snappy media player that offers a great deal of streaming content for the price. The setup process takes a bit more time than other streaming players, but the end result is well worth the effort. On an interesting side note, my significant other had no problem jumping into controlling the XDS and finding her favorite shows on Hulu / Netflix. I was able to teach her the main functions of the remote within a few minutes and she was navigating around like a pro immediately. When pairing this with a simple HD antenna, you can easily save hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. Outfitting all the televisions in the house is relatively cheap as the majority aren’t going to require the XDS boxes, but rather something less expensive in the Roku lineup. I highly recommend the Roku XDS for anyone seeking a method to cut their dependence on cable /satellite television or are simply looking for an easy way to access the most streaming content off the Web on their main television.