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Roku PlayerWhen Roku first introduced the Roku Netflix Player in mid 2008, the only service it accessed was Netflix. For a Netflix subscriber, it was a relatively no-brainer addition to their homes because it was a one time $99.99 purchase for the box and it would allow them to stream Netflix’s Instant access library of movies and tv shows directly to their televisions for no additional cost to their Netflix subscriptions. The box is prepared for any kind of connection to the television with outputs including HDMI, Component Video, Composite Video, S-Video, and even audio outputs in both analog and optical. And it can be connected to the Internet with either an Ethernet cable or it’s built-in wireless connection.

The first available movies and television shows on the Roku Netflix Player were all older titles. Eventually Netflix partnered with Starz to bring more recently released titles to their instant viewing offerings. Roku, the manufacturer of the box, promised the box would be able to access additional sources of content in the future. In early 2009, Roku added access to Amazon’s Video On Demand service which allows the owners of the box the ability to purchase or rent movies or television shows on a per-title basis. This allowed people with the box the opportunity to enjoy the most currently released content right on the box as soon as the day of release for most titles. And both Netflix and Amazon were offering the opportunity to watch content on the box in High Definition. The HD streaming is only available if you’re connecting the box to your television or entertainment system through an HDMI connection.

And as 2009 comes to a close, Roku is further proving their commitment to bringing additional content to their player which they have dropped Netflix from the name of the device and now simply call it the Roku Player because it now does so much more than just Netflix. Roku has added what they call the “Channel Store” which allows the owners of the boxes to pick and choose the additional content they want to add to their Roku Players.

There are a couple of additional premium content channels available that will require additional subscriptions if people want to use them, such as the addition of MLB.com which allows for Baseball fans to be able to purchase the ability to watch out of market Baseball games either live or on demand. A neat option if you like baseball. I on the other hand find watching paint dry far more entertaining than baseball. Another premium content option is MobileTribe which appears to be a subscription service which allows the user to access multiple social networking sites all in one application. It doesn’t seem to be of interest to me, but some might appreciate it.

Most of the new channels offer free content, such as access to Pandora Internet Radio, Flickr photo sharing, and Facebook Photos. The Pandora is a welcome addition because it allows you to easily connect your Pandora stations to your home entertainment system without having to connect the computer up. Flickr and Facebook Photos basically turn the Roku Player into virtual slide projectors by allowing access to user accounts and stream the photos directly to your television. The Flickr channel allows access to public photos in addition to your own photos and any groups you follow, but doesn’t have any access to Flickr friends photos. and the Facebook Photos channel does allow access to your photo feed, your own photos, and the photos of your friends. And there is a neat one called FrameChannel which you can customized to be a virtual slide show of various content such as top headlines from a variety of news sources including the BBC, Fox News, Getty Photos, as well as local weather, horoscopes, daily comic strips, and more. The content you pick streams as a slide show and randomly plays. Roku has apparently made the Channel Store an open platform so its possible for content developers to design channels for the box leaving plenty of room for more options to be added over time. Check out the available channels for the Roku Box by clicking here.

On top of the additional content, Roku now offers Roku Players in three different levels of capabilities. The Roku Box as it was originally released is now called the Roku HD Player and is now the midline player and maintains the $99.99 price point. The two new models bookend the original player in both price and features. The lower end Roku SD Player eliminates the ability of the player to stream High Definition content and only offers composite video and analog sound output but still keeps both the wired and wireless Internet access. The Roku SD Player is available for $79.99. A new top of the line model called the Roku HD-XR Player adds Wireless N capability (the SD and HD can only access Wireless B & G protocols) which allows for faster streaming and greater range away from a Wireless N Router. They also have added a USB port to the back of the device but as of yet, it doesn’t yet have a purpose. Considering how the original Roku Player started with only offering Netflix, and now is capable of so much more, there’s a good sign that Roku does have plans for higher capabilities for the Roku HD-XR model that I’m sure there is a purpose in mind for that USB port. The Roku HD-XR is priced at $129.99.

The easiest way to get a Roku Player is to order through Amazon.com. Amazon offers free shipping on the Roku Boxes and they are eligible for free faster two day shipping for Amazon Prime members. (You can sign up for a free one month trial of Amazon Prime by clicking here). Ordering from Amazon has an added advantage for California residents in that Amazon orders bypass the sales tax Roku will charge you for ordering direct from Roku. Click here to go to Amazon’s Roku page, or you can get a Roku Player through my “Ryan’s Incredible Store” by clicking here. (Ryan’s Incredible Store is powered by Amazon.com) or pick your Roku Player in the Amazon product carousel below.

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