Roku XDS – Day 1

Today is Day 1 with the new Roku XDS. Right after the CES 2011 announcements, I surveyed the new technology and determined that the Roku was the right technology for me. Well, for now, at least.

For those not familiar, the Roku is one of many devices that streams Internet video to your television. NetFlix and Hulu are among the best-known streaming sources, but there are others out there. The actual Roku is just a small box that connects your television to the Internet with a pretty menu. If you want to learn more, read the New York Times series on The Sofa Wars. I wrote a piece called Web Meets Living Room, if you want to check that out too.

Two important points influenced my gadget buying decision:

  1. First, the device had to work on an analog television. Most devices, including the Boxee and the Apple TV were strictly for televisions with HDMI connections. Roku offers both HDMI and RCA connections, and I needed RCA.
  2. Second, it had to be easy. Really easy. Reading reviews suggested that Boxee was a little more challenging than Roku because it offers more options. That’s fine for me, but the rest of the family wants easy.

I bought the Roku XDS, which is the top of the line model for $99.

So, setup was easy. You plug it in, it boots up, looks for a connection, and you’re ready to go. You do have to register for a Roku.com account and give them a credit card, but there is no Roku subscription fee. The credit card is for making purchases, I suppose.

Connecting NetFlix was also really simple. I’ve already linked NetFlix to the Wii, the iPad, the iPod Touch, and obviously my computer (iMac). Adding it to Roku was just as easy and within minutes, we were watching movies in our Instant Queue. Simple.

There was a weird problem with a connection error. NetFlix offered a live chat option and Steve, the customer service guy, was able to help me fix it within about 15 minutes. He instructed me to hold the reset button on the bottom of the box for 60 seconds and then let the system reboot. That worked, and I haven’t had a problem yet.

So far, I have hooked up a bunch of widgets that help you stream content. So far I’ve added an application that allows me to see photos from my Facebook account, something that gives me the local weather, and a really nice app that pulls news from different television channels.

Initial impressions:

  • Video quality is better than expected. Nice clear picture and sound with no problems syncing.
  • Control panel on Roku.com website is too basic. NetFlix is a better model because you can add and remove content from your computer or your television and it all works together. I’d like to see my apps and other resources through my web login, so that if I had to, I could add and remove features remotely.
  • So far, I haven’t found a way to search for video content beyond the offered channels. There’s a site called Clicker.com that has an amazing service, but I haven’t really figured out how to get it to work on the Roku. I read that you can make it work through NetFlix, but I really think it would be nice to have an actual widget or app of Clicker.com. There appear to be other widgets that provide similar resources, so I will be checking those out for sure.

We’ve had the Internet in my living room for a long time now, streamed through my PowerBook. But now it’s up on the TV screen, which is a natural and comfortable way to consume video content. A nice sofa beats an office chair any day.

At one time, the most advanced technology we had in our entire house was the television. But then the computer came, and the television felt like a relic of the past. In a reversal of fortune for the humble television, video streaming devices like the Roku — and some really impressive new TVs — are pulling people back into the family room.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to hop off the computer and go watch television. For a change.

More good readin’:

TV Apps Kickoff – 3 Things You Need to Know

TV Guide TV app available through YahooThe 2010 Superbowl officially kicked off the Age of TV Apps. The technology has been around for a few years and is already available to many people. But Vizio’s TV app Superbowl commercial was the kickoff heard ’round the world.

So what are TV apps? In a most basic sense, TV apps are like the applications you download for your iPhone. Small, limited-use software that allows you to personalize your hardware.

New stuff that was once only available for your computer — and then for your iPhone — is now available for your television. If you have Direct TV or Verizon FiOS, some of this is already baked into your cable box. Obviously you can get TV apps on the Vizio TV, but also on many Samsung and Sony televisions as well.

You can already use things like Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook on your TV.

Here are three things you should know about TV Apps

1. The technical field is relatively open.
Sure, there are some key players like Yahoo who have already set themselves as leaders, but that can change.  Currently, Yahoo controls the application and administers the software development kit (SDK). Note: From our personal experience, Yahoo was somewhat slow in distributing the SDKs to developers. That’s unfortunate because that could irritate programmers who could create an open-source system that could render Yahoo’s TV Apps technology obsolete. If you have the desire to create apps (or even a completely new OS), the time is now. The tech is in place for you to build the next great widget, gadget, social network, or living room app.

2. TV apps will present design challenges.

Weather TV app available through DirectTV

TV apps will face several user interface challenges. The most notable is that most people don’t have a keyboard on their television remote control. Sure, you can pull one up on the screen, but as you can imagine, typing with a little remote-control button is a pretty poor user experience. If you’ve used a Wii remote to create a Mii character, you know how tedious it can be to type out a long name. Designers will clearly make the difference between apps that succeed or fail. The old design rules will need to evolve to take advantage and address the limitations of a 10-foot interface.

3. Content & marketing opportunities will need to evolve.
The iPhone and other smart phones forced content developers and marketers to rethink the way we package messages. Long-form had to give way to shorter, more relevant messages. If not for mobile communications limitations, Twitter would have never gained a foothold in society. Face it, a 140 character message fits better on a cell phone screen than, say, a PowerPoint presentation. People who mastered the Twitter format (including URL shorteners) emerged pretty quickly as masters of the medium. And the marketers quickly caught on with brand messages. That’s a long way of saying that the new language of TV apps is still in flux. If you want to create content or marketing messages for TV apps, try to figure out what works with this new interface.

If you’re already exploring TV apps, congratulations. You’re probably going to have a head start on this unique and exciting new communications channel. I look forward to seeing what you create.

LINKS, NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSEMENTS: