Roku is prepping its set-top box line for the holiday season by adding two new models and new content "channels" due within the coming weeks.
The step-up Roku HD XR Player ($130) adds faster 802.11n. Wi-Fi and a USB port "for future use." The step-down model--the Roku SD Player--loses the HD outputs of its siblings; it'll retail for $80. The two new boxes will have the same look and feel of the existing Roku box, which is being redubbed as the Roku HD Player. That model (802.11g Wi-Fi, no USB port) will continue to be available at the same $100 price point.
Currently, the Roku boxes have three content channels: Netflix (unlimited streaming of thousands of TV shows and movies for Netflix subscribers); Amazon Video-on-Demand (thousands of movies and TV shows available on a pay-per-title basis), and MLB TV (out-of-area Major League Baseball games, available as a seasonal subscription). However, the imminent (November) launch of the "Roku Channel Store" will add an expanded roster of programming options, including some free content. That should include the already announced Blip.tv and Mediafly channels, and may include some others as well.
Update: Blogger Dave Zatz notes that online tech video site Revision3 has already announced that it will be getting a dedicated channel on the Roku boxes. Furthermore, during a demo of the Revision3 Roku channel posted earlier this month, icons for Flickr and Pandora channels are clearly visible on the Roku's home screen.
We'll have a full review of the Roku HD XR Player once the new programming options appear next month via a firmware update. (Right now, the HD XR's USB port is disabled, so there's not a lot to test.) In the meantime, we hope that Roku is able to one-up itself with some compelling online programming offerings. The company's $100 box has long been our cheapest and easiest Netflix streaming recommendation, but recent price drops and newly available Netflix-enabled products are making that less of a clear-cut decision. Already available on the Xbox 360 (which costs between $200 and $300, depending on the model), Netflix is coming to the $300 PS3 as well. It's also available on all 2009 Samsung and LG Blu-ray players and Blu-ray home theater systems (and coming to some Sony models as well). And it's even popping up on entry-level models such as Insignia's supercheap $99 Blu-ray player, too. True, not all of these products have the Roku's built-in Wi-Fi, but they all offer the added features of playing DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and/or games.
At the same time, as products approach the $100 price point, every $10 or $20 represents a big percentage change in the price tag. Those looking for the best value--or to add Netflix streaming to a second or third TV in the house--may well find one of the Roku boxes to still be the best value.
What do you think: Are you an existing Roku owner looking forward to the new content? Are you planning on buying one of the models for the holidays? Or do you think the other Netflix-enabled devices are a better deal? Share your thoughts below.