Roku HD1000 Media PlayerJune 11, 2004
HDTV Media Player
The Roku HD1000 is an HDTV media player, designed to show photos and play music from your PC on your TV. It isn't the first, and likely isn't the last in a series of network-aware media players (for a music-only solution see my review of the Audiotron). It assumes that your PC (or PCs) contain your music and pictures, unlike some which come with their own storage. I prefer having no storage in the device, as I have a lot of data already, and am not about to copy it all to yet another device.
Designed for HDTVsWhat makes the Roku unique as far as I know is that is is designed for HDTVs. That means it has video output in all formats (480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i) over component and RGB transports, as well as low tech s-video and composite. It also understands the difference between 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 sets, which is very important when you are displaying photos in particular. It also sports a a similar set of video inputs, so you can use it in pass-through mode (except on RGB) if you have run out of HD inputs on your TV. I didn't try this, I used the RGB output for ease of use on my plasma TV. I experimented with 720p vs 1080i and for my TV, the latter gave the better picture, thanks to my TV having a vertical pixel count that exactly matches (i.e. 1080). The box gives fine control over the position and the size of the picture, so you can set it just right for your display device.
As well as the flexible video output, there are also analog and digital audio outputs (and analog input for pass-through usage). Most important is an ethernet jack, a USB port (for supported Wi-Fi adapters) and an RS232 port for hooking up to advanced control systems like a Creston.
A little stubby IR remote comes with it that lets you navigate the UI in a simple and efficient way. Range seems a bit short on the remote though.
Displaying PhotosYou can read photos from any memory card format via slots on the front of the unit (it supports CompactFlash, SD, MMC, Memory Stick [+Duo], and Smart Media), as well as from any network share. We have had great fun just popping the card out of our camera after a weekend away, inserting it into the Roku and getting an instant slideshow: no PC required in this case. Photos do look glorious on any flat-screen TV, and on a nice HD resolution plasma they blow you away. The photo viewer lets you view individual photos, rotate them if necessary, zoom & pan, as well as Slideshow through them. The Zoom&Pan gave me a Blade Runner moment the first time I used it. Remember the scene in the movie where he uses a photo viewer to zoom into a photo to get some hidden detail? That was me. Now technically his photo was in 3D, but hey, go with me here. The photo viewer supports JPEG files only, and allows you to view Info on the photos such as their resolution, date, and a subset of the metadata available in a JPEG file, overlaid into the corner of the picture.
Playing MusicAgain you can read music files from any memory card format or, more likely, a network share. It understands IDv3 tags, and is extraordinarily fast at scanning a share for music. It is far faster than anything I have used, including PC programs, and even faster than the Audiotron (which was the previous best, taking 25 minutes on our collection). It scans the identical collection in about a minute! For comparison Windows Media Player 9 takes over an hour on a 1.5GHz PC and amazingly it is the fastest PC program I have that does this! For smaller collections, the list of music sorted by Artist then Title will probably do, with the ability to page down at a good rate, but for large collections like ours that isn't a practical method of finding a tune. You can switch the music player into Folder mode, which assumes you have a directory structure of Artists names and it just displays that, then lets you drill down into each directory. This is a lot faster to page through and works reasonably well, unless your collection is split over multiple shares, or multiple directories. Our music is at two locations for historic reasons (\\server\d\music and \\server\d\my music) and needs to be merged to get the Roku to give an easier to navigate list. I'd have done this already if I didnt have to update a bunch of playlists and rescan the whole thing with numerous PC programs. Music files are supported in MP3, WAV and AIFF formats, though I have only tried the former (as that is all I care about). It had no trouble with my IDv3 tags.
On the subject of playlists, it can handle M3U format playlists but is overly fussy. The playlists have to be on the same share as the files they refer to, and have to be relative. The Audiotron can handle absolute entries such as \\server\d\music\Sting but I have to edit all of them for the Roku to read them. I'll go through that pain when I re-org the directory structure.
Playing VideoThe Roku site is a bit vague about playing video, but at one point claims 'Full hardware MPEG2 MP@ML and MP@HL decode and MPEG1 decode; Currently, the HD1000 software decodes and displays all 18 DTV ATSC MPEG2 formats only.'. My experience is that it cannot play a damn thing, video-wise. I tried mpeg1 and all kinds of mpeg2 files, all gave an immediate error. I downloaded two applications from the web site (CinemaSix and Streamplayer), the former displayed black screens for all my files, the latter didn't even get that far. Others have got some success based on the email discussion forum, but it is a black art and basically does not work at all. Yet.
Its LinuxThe device actually contains a 300MHz MIPS CPU and runs Linux, which means that it is possible for developers to create new applications for it. CinemaSix above was one such 3rd party application, but like all things Linux, lots of people are keen but few can produce quality, usable applications, so far at least. Roku themselves have upgraded the firmware a couple of times, and their email support has been good to me so far, so I have high hopes for the future.
Burn-InIf you have a nice flat screen HDTV, the last thing you want is burn-in: having the Roku UI permanently burnt into your expensive display device isn't going to make you happy, but fortunately the device has a built-in screen saver to stop you doing this. Of course if you have an LCD TV or similar then you won't need the screen saver, but plasmas really do and I am very grateful for the option. TiVo, are you listening?
Additional InfoRoku's official site
I paid $299 for it at Magnolia Audio-Video in Bellevue, WA. It was $499 previously, which was too expensive.
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