TV watching on the internet is growing rapidly and is on the verge of breaking out into the mainstream. The old VCR and the new DVR showed people they weren’t tied to scheduled broadcast times and annoying commercial breaks. Youtube, Hulu and Netflix have introduced the masses to online content that mirrors what they get over the air or through their cable/satellite providers. Virtually anything you see listed in TV Guide can be found online somewhere and the majority of it doesn’t even violate the evil Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The bottleneck to accepting online content seems to be the setting we’re used to viewing these things. Computers are ‘lean forward’ devices and generally require more direct interaction in that people use search features and scroll around pages clicking on links to view multi-media content. TV viewing is traditionally a ‘lean back’ activity where a couple of clicks on a remote get us what we want. Many folks are not keen to hook a computer to their TV and navigating with a keyboard/mouse is viewed as more trouble than it’s worth. This has led to a number of set-top boxes that stream internet content to the TV via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection. Roku, Apple, Logitech, Western Digital, D-Link(Boxee Box), and others sell these devices. They all work pretty much the same way and differ mostly in their interface and what services they have lined up.

Based on some research into these products and their reviews, I chose to spend some Christmas money on the Roku XD. It is the mid price product in the line with 1080p output and a better remote and slightly more capable Wi-Fi than the $60 basic model and really only lacks the USB port of the $100 higher end product. The beauty and ultimate success of these devices centers on their simplicity. Geeks will complain of the lack of this or that, but to get penetration into the homes of folks who mostly use computers for email, banking and Facebook, these things have to be, not idiot proof, but mother/father/grandmother/aunt/uncle proof. The Roku XD is pretty simple to get working out of the box. If you have a newer HDTV with HDMI, then one cable (sadly not included) carries video and sound from Roku to TV. Older TV’s will have to use the supplied composite video/RCA stereo cord. Plug the unit in (remember to put the included batteries in the remote) and follow the on-screen directions. You have to decide on wired or wireless connection. A wired Ethernet connection will be the fastest, but depending on your broadband speed and router connection, it may not be noticeable and running a wire across the room may be aesthetically unacceptable to some. Once connected to your network the most complicated thing is linking your Netflix and other accounts to your Roku. It’s not hard, but tedious to go back and forth from your computer to the Roku entering codes. I suggest having a laptop on hand, so you don’t have to run from one room to another. Once set up, the Roku just works. There is an eclectic mix of channels that provide content from all over the world and you will have fun exploring them. The basics are Netflix, Youtube, PodTV, and the Internet Archive for me. There are lots of news, sports and educational channels. Most are free, but some offer premium subscription content too. The user interface is simple, but effective. The remote navigates you mostly up/down and left/right through the channels and shows on them. It’s pretty easy and it works. I can get a number of local channels with an indoor antenna and now with the Roku I can get almost everything else. Of course in my bedroom I have my big computer and full access to the same thing, but sometimes you just want to lean back and watch TV.

Right now you can get a $20 credit off the Roku XD on Amazon by spending $5 in their VOD area. Amazon-Roku XD dealYou have to spend the $5 by January 3, 2011 and buy the Roku by February 5th.