Gadgets and Games

Hands On With the Roku XDS, Your TV's New Best Friend



Don't tell anyone, but I don’t have cable. 

That’s right, I was sick and tired of spending a hundred bucks a month for content I could "mostly" get other places. Yes, live cable news is more difficult to get, but I manage just fine. College football is hard to get too, but again, I manage just fine. In the two years since I abandoned cable, one device has saved my Dexter-loving life: Roku.

The Roku XD is a little box that lets you easily stream tons of online entertainment from the Internet to your TV. It's one of a growing class of gizmos that seek to connect you (in your living room, on your couch) with the wide world of videos otherwise only available from that PC in your office. 

Roku helped start the market way back when, and the company's self-titled gadgets remain among the easiest to use; the brand new Roku XDS continues that tradition.

Roku partnered with online movie site Netflix back in 2008 -- that’s when I became a fan -- and then expanded its channel count to more than 75, including Pandora, UFC, Amazon Video on Demand, and my favorite channel, MLB. Using it, I watch live Phillies games in New York City. 

Roku's new lineup of devices was released this week -- three models including the top-of-the-line Roku XDS ($100), the mid-range Roku XD ($80), and the entry-level Roku HD ($60). 

There's one big change from earlier models: All of the boxes now stream videos in high definition. A spokesman for Roku told me they’ve dropped the prices to remain competitive as well, given the upcoming release of Apple’s new Apple TV ($99).

I’ve been playing with the new Roku XDS all week, a nice but boring hardware upgrade to the lineup. Sure, it’s smaller, faster, and provides better Internet connectivity over my home Wi-Fi network. But beyond that there’s no "wow factor" that truly separates this box from the army of other set-top boxes about to hit the market -- the Apple TV, Google TV products, the Boxee Box, and others.

What I wanted, but didn’t get, was for Roku to wow me with a new content-partner announcement. Without that, the upgraded gadgets remain easy to use, but nothing to get excited about. Not just yet, anyway.

I’m told by that same spokesman to expect some major new partnerships in the coming weeks. Did someone say Hulu?

Clayton Morris is a Fox and Friends host and the tech godfather behind the Gadgets and Games show. Follow Clayton's adventures online on Twitter @ClaytonMorris and by reading his daily updates at his blog.