I went over to Roku's offices in late April to meet with Roku founder Anthony Wood and several other team members to discuss this new Netflix player they developed. I've met with Anthony many times before over the past few years and always found him to be intelligent and forward thinking. He was one of the original founders of Replay TV and for that I have always given him a great deal of credit. So anything Roku puts out I am generally interested in to start. I had a rough idea of what I was going to see going into the meeting. During the course of the meeting I was pleasantly surprised with this new Netflix player by Roku that focused on Netflix. Another quick bit of history is that Anthony did a short stint at Netflix working on some of their set top box integration strategies. All of that I feel is relevant due to the rational behind this box and where it may go.
The Roku box itself is quite simple and tremendously easy to set up. The user interface is fantastic and one of my favorite features is the way is rewinds and fast forwards. Because there is no drive the entire experience is done by streaming the content right to the box. So initially one would think fast forwarding and going back in a movie would be difficult and painfully slow. That is not the case with this box. Roku worked closely with Netflix at the software layer to allow you to see scenes in the timeline of the movie both forward and back that you can simply choose to go forward to or go back to. When you do this it simply buffers the stream from that spot and then starts right where you selected. Quite nice and quite pleasant.
One other feature I really like is how it handles episodic content. Episodic content is my favorite feature of Netflix streaming and the Roku player handles it well by letting you select any of the episodes in a series and lets you pick up where left off and any current episode you were watching.
Lastly I liked more then I thought using the computer to add content instead of using the TV. My biggest beef with the first Apple TV was that it required iTunes to add and discover content to view on the TV. I felt I would have the same feeling with the Roku player however that was not the case. Probably because I was familiar with the Netflix site to add movies to my queue I found this experience to be quite nice. One could envision in the future using your PC to configure your DVR recorded shows etc. None the less there was something familiar about using the PC and the web to configure the streaming queue and movies or TV shows added to the TV interface in less then 15 seconds.
Now I am sure people will be harsh on this category, no one wants another box in the living room we know. Is this player a DMA in the future who knows. What I do know is that most other box's that extend video or media to the TV have not faired so well. I believe that is because they do so much and do not have a tangible use case attached to them that most consumers can understand. This is not the case with the Netflix player by Roku. I feel it is the simplicity of this box that will lead to it's success. I also feel that it may very well help to spur the thinking behind things like Vudu and Apple TV in the future. Once consumers get a handle on a simple use case then they will start asking what else can I do like see my photos or view networked content.
Roku can easily go that way in the future but for now simplicity will be what moves this box into consumers homes.