[A NOTE FROM HARRY: I'm tickled to announce that we'll be republishing some of Dave Zatz's posts from his blog Zatz Not Funny here on Technologizer. Dave's a frequent commenter here, but I was a fan of his blog--which focuses on digital media--long before there was a Technologizer. Welcome, Dave!]
I love my little Roku box. The Roku Digital Media Player ($99, Amazon), which began life as the Roku Netflix Player, streams Netflix content (free for subscribers) and Amazon video on demand (VOD). Standard def was decent, but both are now available in HD (720p). Sure, it’s not Blu-ray but it’s good enough for many. Perhaps, most. And the mighty quick, dead simple interface is a joy to use, providing a better experience than TiVo’s equivalent Netflix and Amazon apps. We know Roku’s got several new partner services lined up this year, including video podcasts by MediaFly and Blip.tv webisodes. Plus, it looks like YouTube may also be on tap. At $99 the Roku’s in impulse purchase territory–it’s hard to go wrong. Having said that, as an owner and a guy who follows this space, I’ve got a few suggestions for the Roku team (and their partners). Enable a few of these, and I’ll pick up a box for every room.
1. Display the Netflix Instant Streaming Library
If the Xbox 360 can do it, so can Roku. Let me browse the Netflix instant streaming library, instead of viewing just the queue I filled from my computer. It’s more a natural and spontaneous couch-based video experience. Even in its current updated form with the Xbox only displaying top titles in each genre, it’s still a massive improvement that I’d like to see replicated on Roku.
2. Enable 1080i
I was extremely psyched when Roku flipped the switch on HD last December. However, as it turns out, the Roku box only outputs 720p high definition. Meaning many early HDTV adopters are unable to use Roku in HD mode on 1080i-only sets. Which is what we have in the bedroom. With nearly 200 comments and over 38,000 views, Roku’s 1080i discussion thread is a strong indication I’m not the only one suffering.
3. Integrate Streaming Music
The Roku Soundbridge was my first streaming music hardware gadget purchased (and ebayed) many moons ago. And while both Roku, Inc and I have fond Soundbridge memories, they’ve clearly moved on from this product line. But why not leverage that knowledge and technology into their set-top box? Even if Roku’s no longer interested in powering LAN audio streaming, at the very least give us Pandora or Slacker – who have shown a willingness to partner in this space.
4. Sexify the Hardware
Obviously, one of the keys to Roku’s success has been keeping their hardware price in check. But, man, is this plasticy black box and remote seriously lacking in the personality department. There’s gotta be something economical that can be done to improve its looks. Especially if they plan to expand into the retail marketplace. I’d almost like to suggest a Roku Pro, a more powerful device with sexed up hardware. But that comes with its own series of challenges to overcome, including consumer education.
5. Play Boggle or Trivia in the Cloud
The problem with most platform casual gaming is that companies take the shotgun approach of engineering (or licensing) many games of questionable quality which are then buried in a rarely visited sub-menu. I propose a different strategy. Pick one game, partner, and make it a showcase piece. In 2005 (!), TiVo launched an (unofficial) amazing apps.tv example, which showed tons of potential. I was a big fan of this Boggle-esque game played against fellow TiVo subscribers. Unfortunately, but typical, for TiVo only a few dozen of us knew it existed and the game didn’t go anywhere. As Microsoft has 1 verus 100 on the Xbox locked up, Roku could partner with say NTN/Buzztime and let me subscribe to a trivia game network with real prizes.
6. Not Hulu
My love affair with Hulu is over. They’re a sock puppet for big media dinosaurs with an ever changing, incomplete, and restrictive video library. Let them fail with ZillionTV while Roku strikes independent deals with the likes of Comedy Central or sports leagues.