Don’t buy Roku: no access to locally shared media

Posted by & filed under Reviews, Technology.

So, I, in my infinite stupidity, bought Roku box on Woot. Because I thought that, certainly, when some piece of hardware is capable of streaming video over the internet, it’ll easily hook up to my windows media server, or, heck, shared folder to watch video.

Dreams of easily watching my old anime and whatnot from the comfort of a sofa on a TV screen were mercilessly shattered by the fact that this p.o.s. box doesn’t do any of that. You can watch Amazon video on demand, or Netflix or a ton of tiny weirdo-channels (if you love your local access channel, one of those that lurk in low “10s” channels on your cable provider you will love those) but connecting to any local share? No.


Yes, I understand that all sorts of boxes have the right to existence — some people just want an MP3 player, and don’t want a video, some want a portable video player, etc, etc.

But when primary function of the device is to stream video, castrating its abilities to just remote video from places far far away versus locally accessible video streams is very stupid.

Oh well, the joke is on me. Device gets 1 star, and I’ll try to find if someone actually wants to buy it while knowing that there’s no easy way to watch content from the computer on TV.

Bonus: support forums of Roku is full of snarky comments to the tune of “well you should have read all the description before buying it cause it doesn’t play locally shared content”. Yeah, and 4 pages of fine print too. You buy a blender, but it only works on organic california-grown strawberries, and can’t use local produce. Argh!

I did eventually found Roku Media Server but installing yet another server, then mass-converting video etc seems to be way too much to do for something that box should be able to do from the get go.

So, don’t buy Roku unless you’re really-really into not streaming local content.

p.s. Update – the news of a price drop somewhat answers my question about how they can possibly compete with severely limited functionality against other hardware players.

p.p.s. For those who want to watch Netflix on “lower” WD Live (not Plus) version there’s a thread on

43 Responses to “Don’t buy Roku: no access to locally shared media”

  1. M. Osten

    What is your post tomorrow? “I bought an Ipod on a whim, but don’t anyone else buy an Ipod because it doesn’t have FM radio!”, never mind that it is the best device in it’s class that does what it is *supposed* to do.

    The forum posters were right, you didn’t read the product description, you didn’t give it a chance to do what it does, and you’re mad at the product because you made an uninformed purchase.

    Now, if you would have taken the 2 minutes required to be an informed shopper, you would have purchased the Popcorn Hour (if you don’t care about Netflix and want local streaming) or the Western Digital Live Plus if you wanted both.

    • Max Smolev

      Yes and no. It would be more like if iPod were announced to play streaming media but you couldn’t listen to Shoutcast radio with it, which is not the case.

      With most devices when creators announce certain functions, there are implied capabilities one expects. In this case there’s a severe mismatch between what would logically one expect it to do and what it can do.
      Additionally, from Woot’s blog entry there’s nothing really that says it won’t stream local media.

      Presence of the threads on support forum does confirm that I’m not the only one who thinks in this direction.

      I am looking into Western Digital Live Plus now, by the way, so thanks for your suggestion. Do you know any real life testing between the WD and Popcorn Hour to see which one beter supports more formats? Exotic combinations of MKV containers? DTS down-converting?


  2. Ticked

    I just bought I Roku to discover this same problem. WHAT A CROCK OF SH*T. I’m pissed.!!

    • Max Smolev

      I was lucky enough to be able to sell it on Amazon, and now about to make a final decision, if I want to go with WD Live or one of the small-format HTPCs (ION II seems to have some problems due to architecture of the system, which gave me a pause)

      • mike

        So you bought a roku for streaming media from your computer i do it through plex server channel and plex server on my computer. On my network it works ok a little troublesome at times to be discovered but works for me most of the time. I have to admit it takes some time of exploring for channels but it comes close to cutting cable except live streaming tv. would be nice if one of the channels were just a web browser

    • Bill Rowe

      I just bought a Roku 3 because it has an Ethernet jack.

      I Googled “plex server windows 7” and installed a Plex server on one of my workstation computers. I then can add media from my server to the Plex library. I did mine folder by folder because I wanted fewer choices inside each libray listing. Works great. I don’t know what the fuss is about.

  3. John

    Just wondering what you finally decided, since I’m about to make the same decision…

    I’m glad I stumbled on your post before I bought the Roku!

    • Max Smolev

      I decided to re-use my old PC with Ubuntu for now (see XBMC vs Boxee post) – xbmc solved all of my problems – streams everything, easy controls (bluetooth keyboard is handy), 1080p without any issues.
      It is a bit noisy for now – about as noisy as PS3 when it fires up its internal fans. I’ll see if during Black Friday there will be any deals on WD Live Plus. Also, another interesting idea — Dell Outlet frequently has special deals for about $250-$300 you can get a practically silent PC with many of them having IR sensor built-in.

  4. mpmchugh

    Roku definitely has a local media strategy in the works, as evidenced by a recent user survey on the subject and the recent leak of the Netgear XD project to the FCC… Stay tuned….

    • Max Smolev

      Well sure, strategy, future versions, etc. Up until that strategy gets implemented (without installing additional servers/media managers/recoding software) it’s a “don’t buy”.

      Of course Apple also threw a monkey wrench into those plans. Because it will also have to be significantly cheaper than $100, otherwise I’m not sure average users would choose it. “$100 for Shiny Apple Device, that works with my iTunes and streaming or $100 for Roku?” is a question that I think users will answer “Apple of course”. Apple’s PR machine is well oiled…

      • Wayne

        due to the lack of current functionality, i will not buy the “future”product either… Roku is on my do not buy list forever and, being the owner of a local business, i have the trust of a great many customers who listen to me when i say a product is not worth the money…. to date i have prevented at least 13 roku sales and hope to continue to do so….

        • aselvarial

          I can’t say I would buy Apple if it were $1. I have Roku, and while it does need some tweaking, I find it far less annoying than ANYTHING Apple puts out. Apple’s PR machine HAS to be awesome, as frankly, their products are merely mediocre and priced at the realm of awesome

  5. Andy

    There is also Roksbox but it still requires a local server, not an external HDD.

    If you bought the Roku XR with the USB port, you could have tried nowhereman’s channel add to make the port act as a media browser and you would have a channel that will play mp4 video, mp3 audio, and png or jpg photos.

    I bought my Roku almost 2 years ago, before they had three versions listed, mine is what they call the HD now. I knew prior of the limitations however.

    Also might want to wait for the new Sony SMP-N100 which has 2 USB ports and will do what you want for around $130 or less. Boxee Box and Google TV will be >$200

    • Max Smolev

      Yeah, mine was Roku HD, which I have already sold (thank goodness for Amazon Marketplace).
      Will see where the competition will lead them. Perhaps some new firmware will start connecting to Windows Media Server too

  6. Grover

    Dude, I understand being mad when you don’t get what you expected, but this rant is completely nonsensical.

    Your opening paragraph says “it’ll easily hook up to my windows media server, or, heck, shared folder to watch video.”

    There are channels you can install on a roku that do the latter exactly. You confess to finding at least one of these (roksbox being another option by the way), but then make up excuses not to use them because you’re clearly more interested in being mad than finding a solution.

    Any streaming device is going to have constraints on format. Period. Any device that tried to play every video file that exists would be a disaster because not all formats of video are appropriate for streaming across a network. That’s just the nature of the beast.

    If you need something that works with Windows Media Center (I assume that’s what you meant by windows media server) then you’ll need to look for that. It certainly not something you can assume since Windows Media Center only streams to other Windows Media Center devices.

    If you want something that plays every type of video and doesn’t require you to install any server component (to transcode it live), then you’re looking for a unicorn device that doesn’t exist and inherently can not. It’s like you went Best Buy and bought a Verizon phone, and are now mad you can’t sign up for service with AT&T.

    • Max Smolev

      I know that new Roku XD version adds a beta for attached storage, however I still haven’t seen anything official that would just support shared network folders. Once that capability is added, the primary objection will certainly be gone.

      I didn’t want to install another separate server or recode all my media. If network-attached players like Popcorn Hour or WD Live (Plus or otherwise) can support way many more formats, so can Roku.

      Have a look at Popcorn Hour list of supported formats, or WD Live: Video – AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG1/2/4), MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG1/2/4, VC-1), TS/TP/M2T (MPEG1/2/4, AVC, VC-1), MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264), M2TS, WMV9. I suppose unicorns are real 🙂

    • Wayne

      you should check your knowledge before you post idiotic comments…. there IS a streaming player that can play EVERY video I have ever encountered VideoLAN (aka VLC)…. you don’t believe, go check it out…

      some people ought not be allow to post such dumb things

  7. John A.

    apparently, this feature is new……
    there is now a service called GABBY
    its one of ROKU’s own services, and no, there are no additional charges for this feature….
    all you have to do is go to your services page and find GABBY under new services and link it…..
    that will also install software on your computer or laptop and you tell it what folders to share to your Gabby service and then you are set to go.

    • Max Smolev

      Well, that sounds a lot more reasonable. I guess it’s time to write an updated post. Thanks for letting me know!

  8. Shiva

    This is your answer.. You can stream local media there is also another thing called avc Streamer, still investigating how it works but I just wanted you guys to know that It is not that doors are completly closed to play your local media on Roku.

  9. Bob

    I tried that Gabby POS. I could not get any of my movies to play properly through it. In fact I just recently bought my Roku XD and I intend on returning it. I cannot figure out why there seems to be so many fan boys on this device. I have streamed using Xbox and Netgear and so far the Roku is worst of the bunch. Maybe if the people at Roku get their heads out of their arse and open their eyes, they will be able to see that everyday there is more and more competition out there doing more for less.

  10. Paul Grant

    I’m trying to feel bad for you, but I can’t quite work up the tears and emotion required. You bought a device that you didn’t research and then got mad when it didn’t do what you thought it should do. The person you really should be mad at is yourself for not properly researching your purchase. It is quite obvious from the Roku site and other places on the internet, that local streaming is not the current focus of the device. So instead of ranting and raving about how bad and awful the Roku is and impugning a great set top box, you should be writing a review exposing your own stupidity…wait, you already did.

    I’ve been a Roku owner for a long time and for what it does, it does a fantastic job. Now with Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, etc, there’s almost no need for me to subscribe to cable anymore. Local streaming would be nice, but it’s not a deal breaker for me. If I really want to watch a video on TV, I can always connect my TV to my computer and that works great, and it’s in full HD. Additionally, there are numerous other devices and ways to stream content from your computer/server to your television. Next time, how about you do your research before going off half cocked…again.

    • Max Smolev

      Dragging computer to a TV? Yes, in the end that’s what I’ve done — used old PC to set up XBMC and watch everything in glorious 1080p. Except there’s no need for a Roku box once that’s done.

      Roku is moving in the right direction — they are adding local streaming through beta and such, so, I guess in reality they do need it. Some people are okay with “internet only”, some want both local and internet (WD live plus devices, some other manufacturers). It’s just silly to limit streaming to internet-only.

      I was able to sell the box and get my money back right before they dropped prices, so I’m okay with that. But I don’t think it’s the right decision to have a device that only does internet streamer, even Apple doesn’t do that (you can stream content of your iTunes to Apple TV)

      • John

        Apple TV doesn’t actually play content from you computer. It actually does it exactly like the roku box does. it needs something that will stream the files to it. In other words you have to install and setup iTunes. So either way you need to have a Computer with iTunes running to make it work. You can’t just have the files on say a NAS and play from the apple TV. Even if the NAS is an iTunes Server (this doesn’t equal iTunes streaming).

        So to me I see no difference in the Roku or the appleTV. If you willing to run a pc with iTunes. Why not so willing to run a PC with one of the roku alternatives.

        • Max Smolev

          Yes, but installing iTunes is something a few million people already has done, and it’s a better user experience than installing some extra special server.

          I think Roku is almost ready to introduce regular SMB streaming (though it’s been in beta forever), so the whole point may, finally, be moot.

          • John

            Well I can understand that argument. If you currently use iTunes and are trying to decide between roku and or something else than roku might not be the best for you since it doesn’t support iTunes streaming so you might want to consider appleTV. However to say that roku sucks because it doesn’t support something that some one may or may not be currently uses is king of dumb I think.

            Personally I like the apple TV if you currently use iTunes. I also like roku, if you want access to internet stuffs and are just starting to build your digital video library.

            My favarite is to build a cheap htpc, or XBMC system. The route I think that would be great for roku to take would be to support windows media streaming from windows 7 directly, that would be cool. I dont think they will do that though since it leaves mac out and apple wont let anyone pull from there iTunes streaming that I know of. But it would be cool if they could just support those directly.

            I don’t think the box will ever get the ability to directly play media files from the network. At least not the current hardware, but that would also be a good device.

  11. Mauiman

    I watch my personal hi-def video’s through my Roku all the time.
    I use Play On to do so. Works great.
    There are several ways to stream your personal video’s through Roku.
    I also stream MP-3’s to my Roku using squeezebox free app.
    In fact, I can stream most anything from my PC to Roku one way or anther.
    My problem with Roku is reliability.
    Especially in the HDMI output. Major concerns there.

    • Max Smolev

      Interesting. What model do you have? I haven’t seen that many complains about HDMI output

    • Andy

      I’m running Play On for my Wii, but can’t find a way to connect it to my Roku. It looks like they discontinued support. Any idea if this is still available?

  12. John

    I’m loving all this debate. I also bought a Roku XDS device recently and have found this whole tech rant informing and full of helpful tips. I also understand Roku is limited in it’s local media streaming services, however I knew this before I bought the device, and bought it for its HD playing features.

    …hopefully Roku will add network file access.

  13. mike

    Same issues, but I knew it going in. I found Gabby and thought all of my problems were solved, but it is still a little flaky. It plays my .avi files and it looks great…for a little while. I can’t get through a whole movie without having to restart the server and what’s worse, one of my files actually became unplayable after Gabby errors. Hopefully, they can correct the issues and this will be an awesome solution. Btw, it works great for my MP3 files.

  14. Doug

    Try Plex for streaming local files to the Roku. It does require installing a “server” software on a computer, but it beats all the other solutions I’ve tried and has a much nicer UI than PlayOn. It will transcode media on the fly, so no need to re-encode your files.

  15. Kevin Fields

    I just installed Plex myself, VERY simple to install, EXTREMELY comprehensive. Add the private channel ‘plex’ to your Roku. You may need to configure it to limit the stream rate to 2Mbps for some content, depending on the Roku box you have. I had everything up and going within 30 minutes.

  16. kams912

    get the WDTV live plus, this think smokes Roku. It streams media via local shares or UPnP even USB.

  17. Ken

    There are channels that will stream local media – rocksbox and plex are the most popular.

  18. Robousta

    I’m presently using roConnect (it installs a web server on your PC from Wamp). You need to purchase the roConnect channel from Roku (0.99$).

    The problems I’ve encountered with this solution are :
    -limited formats are streamable to my Roku XS HD,
    -frequently crashes the Roku when opening certain video files (don’t know why yet)
    -is difficult to setup because you need to understand how to connect a device to your network via your wireless router (which wasn’t as straight forward as the roconnect web page states!) I spent almost a full day trying out several options before I got it to work.
    -the roConnect PC-side GUI is flakey at best and video indexing is touch and go. You may even loose your metadata if for some reason you have to re-index.

    So, yeah… not SO great…

    I will be trying some of the solution in this thread, they all sound interesting, especially the PLEX. If it ‘s that easy to setup and use, I will be a happy camper!

  19. Green

    I had WD live plus. It was great,
    Jumped on the band wagon, and got the Roku.
    The lack of streaming local content was killing me.
    Then I installed Plex on the readynas, along with couch potato, and now this thing rocks.
    I order up movies like ordering food from a menu.

    Yeah, it sucks you have to jump though hoops, but once you do, it will be the best experience you could hope for. Otherwise, Just keep the WD live plus.

  20. Tony

    PLEX is the solution guys.. I have an Ubuntu Headless server with PLEX on it.. with all my media.. I use it as a NAS.. and a Roku.. works wonders..

    PLEX does all the transcoding if required for all video formats( I mostly have avi, divx, mkv, ) .. a PC or Unix box/PLEX/Roku good combination..

  21. strats

    PLEX is NOT a universal solution. It WILL NOT stream ISO and VIDEO_TS files; they must be converted first. Also no DLNA support.

  22. qwerty smith

    I’ve had a very different experience with Roku. Plex media center is a great server for local media and the Plex channel can be added to the Roku in o e click. Not only will it stream your media, but you can also add specific channels to it and queue nearly any video on the web. I am impressed with the diversity of Roku and it gets better all the time.


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