Roku XDS: Step One In My Quest To Kill Cable

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Perhaps you read my post this past weekend about my quest to remove cable television from my life. As a refresher: I’m giving Comcast six months (heavily discounted months due to new service) as I try out better solutions, then I’m cutting the cord. This past week I got the chance to try out one possible replacement: the new Roku XDS.

If you’re familiar with Roku, it’s likely as the first box that was able to play streaming Netflix titles outside of the computer. Way back in 2008 it launched for just $99.99. Back then, that was a pretty killer feature for a pretty killer price. But since then, the marketplace has become much more crowded. It seems nearly every device (videogame consoles, TVs, etc) come with Netflix integration. And Apple is about to launch its new version of the Apple TV for the same $99 price also with Netflix.

The Roku XDS (and HD and XD versions) is Roku’s attempt to strike back at the competition. The box now offers a lot more than just Netflix (as it has for a while, but now there’s more content than ever). In fact, there are over 75 channels you can get for the box — Netflix is just one of them. And, the Roku XD and XDS offers 1080p HD support — something the Apple TV will not (it only goes up to 720p). Bottom line: it’s a nice, simple box with a ton of content for a good price.

But is it a cable-killer?

By itself, no. The main attraction of cable is still the good content (mixed in with all the crap) available. Roku has some of that content through both Netflix and Amazon, but it’s either limited or expensive, respectively. There’s other great content too — like MLB.TV, Vimeo, Pandora, MOG, etc, and plenty of much more obscure stuff — but it’s still not quite up to the quality of content you’ll get with cable. We tested a number of streamers recently and found this one slightly lacking.

That said, these new Roku boxes definitely seem to be a part of the equation in me killing cable. The Netflix integration is great, as are several of the other channels like Pandora, MOG, TWiT, and Revision3. Believe it or not, the interface is actually more simple than the Apple TV interface. You just have to pick whatever channel you want, and off you go.

In a way, it sort of reminds me of my old TiVo, a device which I used to love but has since been squeezed out by the ultra-cheap cable DVRs.

The Roku box itself has also been modified so that it’s now smaller and sleeker. It seems comprable to the size of the new Apple TV (which again, isn’t out just yet). There is also a new remote, which isn’t as sleek as the Apple TV remote, but feels nice in the hand and is a hundred billion times better than the remotes cable companies gives you with their piece of crap cable box hardware.

I’ve been testing the Roku XDS, which is the top-of-the-line unit (but only costs $99). The HD and XD are cheaper ($59.99 and $79.99, respectively) and have a fewer features. For example, the $59 HD only does 720p video instead of 1080p (which, again, both the XD and XDS do). The more expensive boxes also have more output options (though all have HDMI), better WiFi options (N support), and a slightly better remote. But it’s hard to argue with $59.99.

The Roku XDS has another very cool bonus feature though. Thanks to its side USB input, it can play content loaded onto a USB stick in 1080p HD. I’ll leave that up to you to determine what that means if you were to visit certain areas of the Internet that offer certain content for free.

I fully realize that even in six months there isn’t going to be one box alone that kills cable. But I definitely see the new Roku box as one of the pieces of the puzzle. And even for those not trying to kill cable yet (emphasis on yet), the Roku will undoubtedly be a nice, cheap addition to the home entertainment center to get plenty of Internet content into your living room.

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