It's good but owners will need to wait to see the budget player at its best
What is the Roku 1?
Roku re-signalled their intent to make a mark on the UK market when they announced a whole new family of streaming media players toward the end of 2013.We’ve already had a good look at the Flagship Roku 3, which really impressed us but, for many, the slightly stripped down feature-set of the Roku 1 will be sufficient. Priced at under £60 before you even take any internet bargains into account, it certainly promises a lot but let’s find out if it’s worth shelling out that bit more for the more premium player.
Roku 1 Design & ConnectionsWell, like so many things we see, it can be described as black and boxy but it’s still an attractive little piece, thanks to the rounded out edges, slightly concave top surface and a plum coloured clothing-style tag adorning one side.
The Roku 1 keeps it simple, in terms of connectivity, with a single HDMI output but boats stereo analogue outs, where the flagship model doesn’t, as well as a composite video output – if you really must. There’s no LAN socket but there is built-in WiFi that is 802.11 a/b/g/n compatible, with support for WEP, WPA, and WPA2 encryption.
One of the things we really liked about the Roku 3 was its rather nifty remote that had built-in motion sensors, for gaming, and a headphone jack allowing for Bluetooth audio streaming.
But you don’t get any such fanciness from the Roku 1’s handset, though it is perfectly serviceable enough. Button choices are directional and select as well as a return command and some playback transport controls. There’s also a special contextual action button, represented by an asterisk, and a Home symbol that works across the in-built menus as well as the various Channels.
The one thing we definitely do miss from the remotes included with the higher-tier models is Bluetooth remote control functionality, as it means you will need to ensure line of sight for the infra-red and, frankly, pointing at things to make them work feels so 2008.
We miss the Bluetooth remote functionality
Roku 1 SetUpIt is a requirement to set up a user account with Roku in order to use the device. Some might not like the fact that they do ask for payment details, although we have no real problem with it and there is a PIN protection feature to prevent unwanted purchases.
Actual physical setup couldn’t be any easier really. It’s just a matter of hooking up your desired audio and video connections – HDMI obviously recommended for video – and then connecting the Roku to your wireless network.
Once all that is complete, you will be asked to link the device to your Roku account (see above) and the box will then go about the business of downloading any Channels you chose during the online setup process, although a few come ‘pre-installed’.
By default, video output is set to 720p in the Settings Menu, so you will want to change that to 1080p if you have a capable display and the Audio output is at Stereo unless you select Multi-Channel (Surround Sound) – for those hooking up to an AV Receiver.
Roku 1 Menus & InterfaceOther than the settings noted above, most will hardly need to venture in to the Menus as the majority of the key items are taken care of during setup but various Network, Screensaver, System Update and Factory Settings are present.
As the Roku 1 has no ‘Off’ Button, the unit remains in a standby state if it’s left alone for a few minutes. Some might not be keen that the device is constantly drawing power but as it’s only around 0.5w when not being used to stream and just over 3.0w when playing HD video, so it’s not going to break the bank or ruin the planet and it also helps to keep the system up-to date with regular software release checks that are taken care of automatically.
One thing you may want to look at in the Settings Menu is ‘Themes,’ if the default plum coloured UI doesn’t do it for you. Other options include Graphene – which is essentially monochrome, Decaf – which is shades of brown, Daydream – mainly sky blue and Nebula which, as the name might suggest, gives a starry theme to your Roku.
That rare and tasteful breed, plasma TV owners, might also want to knock the Screensaver wait time down from the default 10 mins to 5 and that about covers it.
Mobile app is brilliant and actually improves usability - shocker!!
Roku 1 Mobile AppThe Roku app for iOS and Android is, without doubt, the best we’ve used with a video device to date. To borrow a hackneyed phrase usually uttered when Apple’s products and services are mentioned, ‘it just works.’ But it’s more than just that it functions correctly, it also can add to the overall Roku experience.
As well as acting as an excellent substitute for the remote, it has a few tricks all of its own. There’s a ‘Launch Channel by Voice’ feature, which is exactly what you would expect but works better than you probably would think. In fact, bar the Channels with particularly unusual names, we found it flawless.
There’s an added benefit in using the Roku app over the standard remote, too, in that it makes it unnecessary to switch to the home screen before launching another Channel. That goes for both the voice commands and the dedicated My Channel page of the app, making the experience that bit more seamless.
And to top it all off, Roku recently added Video streaming to the Play on Roku feature to join the Music and Photo functionality, allowing you to (almost) effortlessly playback the media files stored locally on your mobile device.
Roku 1 ChannelsMaybe we should start with what’s missing from the Roku 1, when compared to the Roku 3. For now, the biggest omission, by far, is the lack of a dedicated YouTube Channel. We’ll speculate that it won’t appear until they have found a way of getting the DIAL (Discovery and Launch) Protocol in the operating system of the lesser models but they do promise both app and protocol will follow later in 2014.
The DIAL protocol allows your mobile device to essentially act as a supreme remote control. For example, you would launch your tablets’ YouTube app, find what you are looking for through the slick interface and search functions and then have it played on your big-screen via the Roku. It’s not streamed from mobile to device, it simply instructs the Roku to lock on to a particular URL. It’s much easier than trying to scrabble around with a remote and on-screen keyboard and it doesn’t drain your battery so superior to Miracast, provided enough apps support it.
For now, those supporting it, as far as the UK market is concerned, number only YouTube and Netflix but they are very influential so expect more to follow their joint initiative. Speaking of Netflix, the new user experience has not yet rolled out to the Roku 1 but it is, again, promised to be on its way. That’s also likely to follow the DIAL support but the existing Channel works very nicely, in the interim.
YouTube and 4OD are the big misses but on the way, at some point
Another notable Channel is Demand 5, but there’s no 4OD, which is disappointing when the LT, 2XS and 3 Models have it in their Channel Store’s. It is apparently being worked on but its hold-up has nothing to do with DIAL and is down to Channel 4 not having leant its support to the Roku 1 and 2. We’re pushing Roku for details on when the various missing apps and features are likely to appear and will update the review when we have any answers.
Sky’s good relationship with Roku is evident in the appearance of Now TV and Sky Store Channels and there are a lot of free movie and TV streaming channels including Crackle and Popcorn Flix, although they aren’t exactly abundant with high quality content. In fact, that’s a general comment one could aim at the Roku Channels, in general, but with over 700 currently available in the UK market, alone, it’s understandable there will be a number of ‘fillers’
That’s not to say the Roku 1 doesn’t have plenty of good stuff and we’ve yet to mention Spotify (premium subscription required), Facebook (photo and video), BBC News and TuneIn internet radio, to name a few key services.
As we’ve said in our previous Roku reviews, there are a couple of Channels which warrant a special mention in Twonky Beam and PLEX as they open up the boxes to a lot more content. PLEX is a very handy media streamer that will work it in conjunction with PC, Mac or mobile device (Android/iOS) and has a lovely front-end. PLEX also benefits from community-driven plugins, of which there are many, including YouTube so that’s one way of replacing the missing channel whilst matters are resolved.
Twonky and PLEX allow you to overcome some of the limitations
Roku does now have a media player of its own which also seems to work very well, is DLNA certified and has a very decent selection of file type support including jpg, png and gif for photos; AAC, MP3, WMA, WAV (PCM) and FLAC for audio and MKV (H.264), MP4 (H.264) and MOV for video files.
Another way of getting content not available directly through the Channel roster is use Townky BEAM via your mobile device. Twonky lets you send music, photos and video from your phone or tablet but not just those stored locally, it can also stream (beam) direct from websites so this another avenue to get at the likes of YouTube.
- Very easy to set up
- A cinch to use
- Lots of decent channels
- Good price
- Remote app is brilliant
- Flexible usage
- Lacks YouTube and 4OD
- No support for DIAL, yet
- We miss the Bluetooth remote
Roku 1 Media Streaming Player ReviewThe Roku 1 props up the family of streaming media players, offering a more streamlined experience at a commensurately lower price-tag. The build quality is every bit as good as the others, however, but we do miss the Bluetooth remote functionality of the higher-tier models and the lack of wired Ethernet can be a drawback for streaming 1080p video. Connectivity options are fairly limited but a single HDMI output will do for most.
It’s a breeze to set up and use with easy-to-follow menu structures that are logically put together. Some might prefer that you didn’t have to create a Roku account to actually use the device, however, but you either deal with that or decide that this isn’t the player you were looking for.
The device certainly has a very good selection of channels and you couldn’t complain at the diversity and sheer numbers. Operation is pleasingly snappy and the ability to switch instantly between channels from the mobile app makes using it over the standard remote almost a requirement. The voice launching of channels is also really cool and surprisingly reliable.
But for all that’s really great about this little player, anyone picking one up, as things stand, will need to wait some time before getting the full Roku experience. Key services YouTube and 4OD aren’t on the Roku 1 – although they are coming – and the DIAL protocol support is also not yet ready. And For that matter, nor is the new user experience for Netflix.
The Roku 1 is very good, but not great, in its current guise so we’d probably recommend spending that little bit extra on the flagship player for the fully loaded fun - it really is worth it!
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality8
Set up, Menus, Remote8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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