Some online channels you'd really like to see, such as YouTube, don't appear on the menu at all. That's not to say Roku doesn't support them -- it just hasn't turned them on. You can add such channels by visiting the sites of Roku developers -- after a few clicks at one such site, TheNowhereMan.com, I was enjoying YouTube and Archive.org movies on the big screen.
Streaming media from your computer is a little less satisfying on a Roku box than streaming from the Internet. You need to add the Gabby Personal Media Server channel to your Roku, and download and install the server software on your PC (yes, it's a PC-only server). After a few rocky restarts on my test system, the local media server kicked in, but there was a noticeable latency when scrolling through to find files I wanted to watch. In short, I had to wait too long for menus to respond and files to load.
To play an iTunes library on a Roku box, you need to jump through another hoop: Register and set up a locker at MP3tunes.com, where you can store up to 10GB of MP3, AAC and other iTunes-friendly audio files for free. The plus side: You get 10GB of your iTunes library to play on any Web-ready device. The downside: You have to set it up.
In terms of video output, the HDMI video and audio output from the Roku XD|S matched that of Apple TV and Logitech's Revue when I played comparable Netflix videos and downloaded HD footage from BBC America. The video output from Roku's composite and RCA jacks was of lower quality, but that's because RCA and composite are always grainier than HDMI -- and kudos to Roku for providing some backward-compatible options in its streaming boxes.
At a Glance
Dimensions: 4.9 x 4.9 x 1.2 in.
Video output: 1080p HDTV
Audio output: 5.1 surround sound
Remote control: IR remote, iOS apps
Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n, Ethernet, one USB port, HDMI out, component video out, optical audio out
Basic media channels: Vimeo, Pandora, Roku Newscaster, others
Premium media channels: Netflix, Amazon VOD, Hulu Plus, UFC, NBA Game Time, Mog, MLB.tv, Weiss Money Network, others
On a couple of occasions, it seemed to take the Roku box a while longer to buffer up a good stream before playing than the Apple and Logitech boxes on the home network tests, though that wasn't apparent in the load-balanced corporate network testing.
As a platform, Roku feels like the world of home-brew computer enthusiasts in the 1980s. There's a lot of professional-grade stuff there; there's a lot of clever amateur stuff, too. For a consumer, it means that there's plenty of choice, much of it free, but you may find a few channels are clunkers before you design your dream menu of video options. The plus side is that you can do that more readily with Roku than you can with Apple.