AppleTV or Roku?
April 6, 2009 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I just got rid of my cable box, and got a Netflix subscription. I'ts very, well...refreshing. I like Netflix so much that I am contemplating ordering a Roku or AppleTV w/ Boxee. Can anyone share their experience with either/or? I DL'ed Boxee on my Mac, and it's extremely buggy. Is it the same on the AppleTV?
posted by helios410 to Technology (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I installed a Roku for my parents and it hasn't been particularly buggy, but it also doesn't have anything like a full complement of Netflix movies. Check out the % that are available via Roku to make sure you're not disappointed.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:25 PM on April 6, 2009

Boxee is worse on the TV than on the Mac. For one thing, it won't play Netflix at all, since Microsoft Silverlight isn't supported on the TV.

I am currently using Boxee on a Mac mini and even with its bugs, it's generally better than Front Row.
posted by kindall at 6:32 PM on April 6, 2009

I actually prefer Front Row (on a Mini) for usability/painlessness.... but I wish all the odd codec stuff would work in iTunes rather than just from the "Movies" folder, because it takes a maze of aliases to get it all working right. Only once, but it feels like a hack.

I rejected the AppleTV because of that codec problem. I tried Boxee on the Mac and hated it. Ugly and flaky UI... which I can get from XBMC on a my PC if I want it.
posted by rokusan at 6:38 PM on April 6, 2009

I do have an old Roku Soundbridge that I love (iTunes in the kitchen, yay, and it's worked every day for 3+ years now without a single hiccup) but haven't tried that new mini-DVP yet, which is what I think you mean by "a Roku."

I am considering one as a media player but only for playing files from my Mini or Windows server in another room. I haven't found the ideal network app for each TV yet, but for $99, I figure the Roku one is worth an experiment.

Oh, and um... no eponymous relation, btw.
posted by rokusan at 6:42 PM on April 6, 2009

I'm using Boxee on Linux. It's also quite buggy. Almost to the point where it's not worth using. XBMC is slightly better, but not dramatically so.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 6:46 PM on April 6, 2009

The Roku Netflix box is great. You can now also use it to download and watch movies from So if something's not available from Netflix, you can usually pay a little extra to watch it on demand. Picture quality is of course sub-dvd but should be quite watchable with a good cable connection.
posted by washburn at 6:54 PM on April 6, 2009

I'm running Boxee on Linux. It works but crashes frequently. Eventually it will be a great product.

I also have a Roku Netflix player. Works great, the only two issues I have are reliability of my internet connection (not their fault) and the limited selection of online movies. However, that's slowly improving.

Since it's only $100 and I already had a Netflix account, it was definitely worth the money. If there are enough movies available for you I'd recommending getting the Roku box.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:55 PM on April 6, 2009

If you care about HD, then make sure you've got at least 3 Mbps of internet connectivity, and preferably 6 Mbps or more.

Also consider getting a Tivo. Tivo + OTA = Free HD Awesomeness.
posted by intermod at 7:20 PM on April 6, 2009

The Roku Netflix box is great. You can now also use it to download and watch movies from So if something's not available from Netflix, you can usually pay a little extra to watch it on demand.

Not the OP, but thanks for this.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:25 PM on April 6, 2009

We just acquired a Roku box and it's really great. Tiny and unobtrusive, with a buffering time that is nearly negligible. We are periodically dismayed to find that something isn't available for streaming yet though (we could wait for the DVD in the mail, but that sort of defeats the point), so it might be a good idea to browse some of the Netflix "Watch Instantly" movies first to see if it's worth the initial investment for you.
posted by ktrey at 7:36 PM on April 6, 2009

For what it's worth, I can tell you that the new Samsung Blu-ray player can connect to your netflix account. The picture is actually pretty good - at least as good as any regular DVD. But yeah, a fast internet connection is critical.
posted by jknecht at 7:50 PM on April 6, 2009

The S.O. and I have a Roku and love it. Love it. It's slicker than whale poop, that thing.

I was a complete non-fan of Netflix's online movie service (the browser-based version). Tried it once, didn't like it, never tried it again. Too Youtubey, don't like watching videos on my computer, generally just the wrong experience.

But the Roku is very slick. Hook it up to a nice big flatscreen or a projector and you have a really sweet home theater. With the Amazon digital download service in addition to Netflix there's really no reason to ever go out to Blockbuster again. The DRM irks me a lot when it's on a computer but doesn't bother me nearly so much in a standalone device. (I look at the Amazon movies expiring as though they were physical rentals that magically return themselves, sans late fees.)

I'm really surprised that Netflix hasn't started offering a subsidized version of the Roku in return for signing a 1 or 2-year contract. Although I hate subsidized deals like that, I think they'd sell like hotcakes if they did. But the $99 up-front price is totally worth it.

Having gone the quasi-DIY route (MythTV) once to avoid paying for a TiVo, I'm so glad I just bought the "black box" instead of trying to roll my own commodity-PC-plus-software-attached-to-TV solution for online video. The damn thing just works. In contrast to my MythTV setup, which is admittedly very cool but has consumed countless weekends of my free time and still doesn't work right, the Roku took my S.O. about two minutes to set up, and has worked flawlessly (actually, more than flawlessly; they keep upgrading the software and improving it) since.

The ratio of [time spent getting system working] : [time spent using system] is already significantly higher for the Roku than with my homebrew PVR, and given that cable/OTA PVR systems are old hat compared to the bleeding-edge-ness of projects like Boxee, I think it's way higher than if I had gone the homebrew route.

tl;dr: Unless you want a project just get the Roku.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:15 PM on April 6, 2009

And when I say the ratio is "higher" I really mean "better," as in more use per unit of setup time — I noticed I wrote the ratio backwards so it doesn't make sense if read literally.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:19 PM on April 6, 2009

Am I right in thinking that the XBox360 is still the only way to stream Netflix in HD? At $200 for the basic model, they're more expensive but a little more flexible...
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 9:10 PM on April 6, 2009

Sorry, just remembered - I think you need an XBox Live Gold Account as well as your Netflix subscription, so it's an additional $45/year or so to go that route.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 9:14 PM on April 6, 2009

Nice Guy Mike, if you have a Tivo HD you can stream in HD.
posted by sugarfish at 9:25 PM on April 6, 2009

I am on the Xbox 360 bandwagon, just because it works as my DVD player, Netflix streaming player, can stream other digital media from the computers on my network as well (I use Rivet on my MBP), *and* I can play videogames with it. The only thing I don't have is Hulu, and I know it is available through the Windows Media whatever thingamawhoosit, so there you go.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:16 PM on April 6, 2009

I love my Roku for its simplicity and reliability. It's been well worth the money.
posted by egret at 10:40 PM on April 6, 2009

Those of you who already have a Roku DVP (Netflix/Amazon box), can you forgive my question-jacking and report a little on how it works (setup) and performs (codecs, compatibility) specifically as a player for video that is already on a computer on your network, rather than as an Amazon/Netflix-sucker?

That'd be like, oh, 99.5% of my use of it, see....
posted by rokusan at 11:30 PM on April 6, 2009

I'll Nth the Roku for it's ease of use. I'm only an occasional TV watcher and it meets my needs. The only two shows that I watch that aren't on OTA are BSG (which is over) and the Daily Show. But both of those were available online, so I have no need for any kind of cable service.

Rokusan: currently it doesn't. But apparently they are going to open it up so folks can muck up the insides.
posted by bigmusic at 1:04 AM on April 7, 2009

I do believe they unrolled the HD for the Roku, too. So HD is available through Tivo HD (which I highly recommend), XBOX 360, and Roku. My mom has the Roku, she likes it, it's VERY easy to set up. But if you've got a Tivo or were thinking about getting one, I'd say that's the way to go...
posted by Grither at 4:32 AM on April 7, 2009

The only issue I have with my Roku box is how few new releases are available (free) on it. I'm definitely into mining the long tail and will gladly watch one BBC miniseries after another, but it's kind of a bummer not to see much recent stuff available on it. Of course, those things are always available on disc or by ponying up a few bucks to Amazon, but still. It's the principle of the thing.

Now if you'll excuse me, there are several seasons of Murder, She Wrote demanding my attention.
posted by bcwinters at 5:45 AM on April 7, 2009

The combination of Boxee on Apple TV is not ready for prime time. It requires mucking around with loading software patches onto the Apple TV with a flash drive (which is actually easy, but not elegant.) The Boxee software isn't nearly as polished as Apple's, TiVo's or Roku's. And, as others have noted, you can't stream Netflix on the Apple TV yet. However, that combination does give you access to both the free internet streaming videos available through Boxee plus the paid ala carte media available in the iTunes store.

If Netflix is your main source of content, the Roku box is the easiest and cheapest way to go.

TiVo HD can do Netflix as well as record OTA HD, but even without paying a cable subscription, TiVo requires its own subscription fee (available monthly/yearly/lifetime). It's more useful than the Roku box is now, but substantially more expensive over its life.
posted by andrewraff at 7:30 AM on April 7, 2009

Those of you who already have a Roku DVP (Netflix/Amazon box), can you forgive my question-jacking and report a little on how it works (setup) and performs (codecs, compatibility) specifically as a player for video that is already on a computer on your network, rather than as an Amazon/Netflix-sucker?

It doesn't at all. It's entirely for playing content from Netflix and Amazon at the moment, although I'd expect the number of sources to increase over time if the device remains popular.

It is very much not designed for playing content already on your network. If that's what you want you are better off getting an AppleTV or doing a roll-your-own HTPC.

Having owned it for a few months now, I don't think this is as much of a limitation as I thought it was initially; when you have a lot of content "on tap" you just stop downloading it to your network. E.g., I used to download or schedule a lot of TV eps for recording, and then watch the recordings (which got stored on a MythTV system). Probably a few hundred GB a week.* Since getting the Roku I've been doing a lot less of that, because we've just been streaming stuff from Netflix. There aren't a ton of recently-released movies, but the back catalog isn't bad and their TV episode selection is quite good for what we're interested in.

I noticed a few days ago that the amount of available space on the media server was higher than it had ever been since I started using it, almost completely attributable to using streaming via the Roku instead of download-and-store or record-and-store.

I'm curious whether total internet traffic has gone up or down as a result; my feeling is that it's probably gone up significantly -- there's stuff we were watching recorded from cable that we're now neglecting in favor of streamed shows, and a HD stream pegs our internet connection pretty thoroughly.

* Mostly of MPEG-2 not MPEG-4 so this isn't quite as ridiculous as it sounds.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:43 AM on April 7, 2009

I own the Roku box, and I'm running it on a wireless network. I've never had an issue while playing media, although sometimes it times out when I've first selected something to play. Selecting it again usually works. Rewind/fast forward is clunky, but functional. I've rented a few Japanese animation movies, and they were subtitled, so I would guess the most of the other non-English releases would be the same. The available selection is getting better, but only you can determine if what is available is of interest to you.

Bonus to me: CSI New York episodes are being posted within a few days of being aired. I don't have to buy them, or tape them, or be home to watch them. It's great. I think other series are doing this as well, but I don't know how many.

One other thing, the Roku standalone box cannot be turned off or set to standby mode. It is always on. It's a cheap box, and very simplistic, and doesn't draw a lot of power, so I understand why they didn't feel it was necessary, but it still annoys the snot out of me. It just seems unneccessary to have it on all the time if I'm not going to be using it for several days. It's not a deal breaker, but I never saw it mentioned anywhere prior to my purchase, so I thought I should mention it for you.
posted by rakaidan at 8:25 AM on April 7, 2009

It is very much not designed for playing content already on your network. If that's what you want you are better off getting an AppleTV or doing a roll-your-own HTPC.

The latter seems the less-hacky route, ironically, since the AppleTV's codecs are limited to things you may buy from iTunes. :/
posted by rokusan at 8:37 PM on April 7, 2009

« Older Lawyer   |   Weak wrists and yoga pain Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.