Roku Netflix Player First Impressions

Netflix PlayerI had read a few things about the Roku Netflix Player, but hadn’t given it much thought. Then, while watching the 3 DVD’s we had sitting around from Netflix for over 2 weeks collect dust, I began to think more about the player. The 3 DVD at a time subscription is $16.99 a month, and as I said, we really don’t watch that many movies (I’m more a a TV junkie really), so it really hasn’t been a very good deal for us. The Roku player is $100+ shipping and handling (more about that in a bit), and requires the $8.99 a month subscription or greater, which allows one DVD at a time, plus unlimited streaming movies. So my thinking was, I would almost pay for the player in the first year downgrading to the lower subscription, it’s a no-brainer. Plus, there’s a 30 day money back guarantee, so worst case scenario, I get it, it sucks, I send it back, and simply rethink the subscription plan regardless. So a quick discussion with the lady of the house, and we decided to order it and give it a try.

This was last Thursday. We were given an option of spending an extra $10 on 2-day Fedex (on top of the $10 ground), so be the anxious geek, I pony up the extra money, thinking I’d have it on Monday. Well, Roku sent an email saying the player would be shipped from the warehouse in the next 7-10 days on Friday, which rubbed me the wrong way, as that wasn’t mentioned in the order process, but OK. Nothing else to my knowledge was emailed out (we used her email address). So I was resolved to not see it for 2 weeks. However, when I returned from running errands today, there it was sitting on my porch.

Since ordering, I had done a bit more research, and the one downfall I have seen repeated over and over is the limited amount of content available, as Netflix has to obtain digital rights to the content before being able to offer it. Consensus seemed to say that it is mostly older TV series, indie/foreign films, and few older major releases tossed in here and there. I wasn’t too anxious to really look at the selection, as I wasn’t expecting to receive it for another week at least, but I’m more an indie/foreign film kinda fan than Spiderman 3 anyway, so as I said, I’ve got 30 days.

As other reviews mention, it’s nothing but a simple little black box, with an external power supply. A small, boxy remote and RCA cables fill out the included items. Again, as I wasn’t expecting it so soon now, I hadn’t obtained additional cables (like optical audio to connect to the receiver or component video, which are all supported, as well as HDMI and s-video). I admit right up front I’m not the techno-geek when it comes to these aspects, so I’m not really qualified to say one thing or the other about the supported connections, etc. The player can connect via wireless or ethernet (however, as I understand it, it doesn’t support 802.11n). I gave the wireless a shot first, but figured I might have to run an ethernet cable.

Set up was really easy, a simple onscreen walk through entering my WEP key, a quick connection to Netflix, update some (firmware??) and restart, it gives a code that you then enter into your Netflix account. Maybe 5 minutes total, and my account was connected to the TV, any movies in my queue that were available for the Instant Viewing was added to that queue as well, and I could see them on the screen. I poked around quickly on the site, looking for something to add. Dexter season 1 was there, I never saw the first season, and figured it would be a good test. I added it to my queue, and within 30 seconds or so, it showed up on the TV. TV seasons only need the season added, all episodes are available, whereas with DVD’s you have to add each disc. I navigated to episode one, clicked play, a few seconds later it starts downloading, I see •••• quality after it loads (still not sure what that means, but I think it has something to do with my connection. I generally get 18Mb/s or better with my wireless connection, even faster wired). All told, roughly a minute before the show started playing.

Episode played fine, no skipping, no jumping, quality was as good as my FIOS cable (even with the included RCA cables). Fast forwarding is a bit different, as they break shows up into little chapters of sorts, with stills for each section. I haven’t really paid close enough attention yet to see what the time frame of each are, but they seem like 1 minute or so apiece. Different, but easy enough to adapt to.

Being the TV junky that I am, I poked around a bit more, and found that a lot of Law and Order SVU/CI seasons were available. I often find myself watching reruns on TNT and USA Network, as I never really watched the show during it’s first runs, and heck, why not just watch it in order without the annoying commercials on those networks? I added SVU season one, and watched the first two episodes. Again, quality was fine (once I switched the perspective back to 4:3 from 16:9), with no skipping/jumping. One criticism I’ve read about the player is that there’s no hard drive and no real buffering. ( A interview with a Roku exec I read said they did some research, and found people didn’t want to hear a fan/HD spinning, thus one reason it doesn’t have one. Plus, they wanted to hit a price point, as well as eliminate as many parts that could fail. Regardless of the reasons, so far, I don’t see a need for any of that with the connection speed I have.)

Final Thoughts
All in all, first day in, it seems like a fine investment. I found several more movies quickly browsing through the instant available selections (this has to be done on the computer, you can’t search for movies from the TV), so not counting the TV shows, I have 7 films queued up. Plus the 3 DVD’s collecting dust, so I think I’ll be fine for the short term, they seem to be actively adding more content, and I’m sure as the player(s) gain popularity, they will be in a better bargaining position to obtain more. If your goal is to watch a lot of new releases, don’t plan on dropping your regular subscription down anytime soon. However, at $100, the player seems like a fair investment if you are a TV/movie junkie. Also, there seems to be quite a bit of children’s content as well as History channel type documentaries, so the cost might be enticing to parents as well.

I’m sure I’ll discover more as I use it, please don’t hesitate to ask questions if you are interested in the player.

Verizon Fios Experiences

I just got off the phone with Verizon customer migraine service, and am left completely mystified. My story starts with the fact that Verizon didn’t notify us that their was a shortage of HD DVR boxes when we placed our order. It continued to the installation process, where the affable technician, albeit sporting the classic plumber’s crack while installing, failed to explain to us that while he was connecting the DVR to the HD TV, that in fact, we wouldn’t be able to watch any HD programming. I had to wait until the next business day to speak to anyone about the problem (installation was on a Saturday, and though they advertise 24/7 support, that doesn’t apply to most FIOS issues). I was then explained to that there was a back order on the Motorola HD DVR boxes, and that it would probably be the end of the month (February) before they were in. Sounded fair. They would discount our account the price of the DVR until then, we’d get the new DVR via UPS, swap them out, mail back the standard box at no cost. OK, slightly inconveniencing, but fair.

First of March, I hadn’t heard anything, so I called customer service again. I was given the same basic information, but this time, I was told middle of March. Frustration is growing.

Mid March, I call again, I’d really like to be watching some of the movies and programming I enjoy in HD. This time, I was told it would be the end of the month, and that some boxes had already been swapped out, but there was still a back order. Frustration is reaching the point of wanting to yell and reach through the phone and choke the people on the other end of the line, but I managed to remain calm.

Which brings me to today. I call to ask about this issue, as well as to inquire about picture-in-picture. I get a tech support person who I’m sure isn’t based in the U.S., perhaps Mexico City? Regardless, I inquire about the PIP. This gentleman insists that if my TV supports PIP, then I should have PIP. I explain to him that sure, with an antenna, I can watch PIP, but that PIP with the cable would require the box to split the signal, and when would this be introduced. He doesn’t have a clue to what I’m talking about. I ask to speak to someone else.

The next gentleman I speak with is most likely Indian, again, the primary problem is communication, not nationality for me. This person informs me that if I want PIP, I would need a second box, or use a splitter from the coax entering the house and would get PIP for the first 50 channels. Again, I try to explain that for instance, BrightHouse supports PIP within their DVR boxes, but he doesn’t believe me. After another tech question about using the “last” (previous) button. The Verizon Fios boxes support 9999 channels, so if you want to watch, say channel 8, you can just enter 8, but there’s a delay, so I got into the habit of hitting 0008. Well, to me it’s a bug, to them, I’m stupid, but if you type 0008, then 0084, the previous/last button won’t work. If I do 8/84 it works. What ever. I then asked to be transferred to customer service, as tech support doesn’t know anything about FIOS DVR boxes. Oh, and he comes back and says, “they are working on the PIP as we speak, and might be available in 6 months”, obviously someone was listening in and corrected him to a degree.

I get a very nice lady, most likely U.S. based. She tells me she’s not been given any timeframes for the the swap out, and that she’s been collecting names to call back when she has information. At this point, I’m completely frustrated, and want to just cancel the package, without penalty (technically, we signed a 2 year contract, with a $199 cancellation fee) because they are not providing all the services outlined in the contract. I was transferred to a “retention specialist”, again, most likely American, who said she didn’t know anything about PIP, nor did she have any time frames for when the boxes would be swapped. I said I’d like to confirm I could cancel without penalty, and she said, no, you are still be provided with the bundled service. I then outlined that I had been lied to about the time frame of replacement during the first month when I could have cancelled the service. She simply ignored me. Had I been told in mid February that it might 4 months before HD boxes would be available, I might not have signed on with Verizon at the time. I could have gotten BrightHouse, without a contract, and simply switched when HD was available. But no, Verizon felt is was better to lie and hide information and con us into keeping the contract for a short term gain, and the loss of long term satisfaction.

I will say I have no qualms with the other two services provided, internet connection is as fast as advertised, and the phone service is fine. I don’t like the fact that to use the provided voice mail, I have to call a separate number to check my voice mail, I can’t simply call my own number to do so, but what ever, that’s what the memory is for on the phone I suppose.

I’d love to know just for personal satisfaction if indeed Verizon could be sued for their unscrupulous actions regarding the hiding/lying about HD service. I highly doubt I would have much of a case, as I don’t have any real documentation as to who/when I spoke with about the time frames, which I generally tend to do, and will start doing again when speaking with customer service reps.

Ahh, now I feel better.