Roku PhotoBridge HD1000 Review
George Graves, April 27, 2006
OK, you bought your HDTV and you love it. You're watching PBS nature programs in HDTV and marveling at the color and detail. You had a bunch of your buddies over for the Superbowl and they were bowled over by the picture quality. You're finally enjoying the "progressive" part of that new DVD player you bought last year, and you're looking forward to HD movies from HD-DVD or Blu-Ray this year. Lately, you've been wondering what else can you do with this glorious display device.
Got a computer full of pictures from your digital camera? How about using your new HD monitor to show a digital-picture slide show? How about being able to access all of your digital pictures in your TV room from your computer without actually having to move your pictures off of your PC?
Well, there is a great way to use your big-screen HD monitor to run high-definition slide shows over a computer network from your PC. It's called a Roku PhotoBridge HD1000 and it's fairly easy to set up and network to your PC and gives great results.
The PhotoBridge HD1000 is about the size of DVD player and retails for $299. It has a handsome brushed metal front panel with slots for popular flash memory camera cards.
The back panel looks more like a piece of lab equipment than it does a consumer appliance with the following inputs and outputs:
- Component video (Y/Pr/Pb) - 1080i, 720p, 480p, and 480i
- VGA - 1080i, 720p, and 480p
- S-Video & Composite Video - 480i only
There are also video pass through jacks for component video (Y/Pr/Pb), S-Video and composite video. These allow you to daisy-chain your PhotoBridge HD1000 with other components thereby freeing up inputs on your HDTV.
At the moment, the only picture format supported is non-progressive JPEG, but it shouldn't be a problem as this is what most digital cameras output anyway. RAW format pictures are not supported at this time.
Supported video formats include full hardware MPEG2 Transport streams in MP@ML and MP@HL. Currently, the PhotoBridge software decodes and displays all 18 DTV ATSC MPEG2 formats only. At this writing, only the NTSC format is supported, but PAL support is coming with the 2.0 software that is currently in public beta and available to any PhotoBridge customer. 2.0 also adds MPEG2 Program stream (DVD-style support). Software updates are free, downloadable and installable by the user.
The Roku also has audio outputs to play most music file formats that you have stored on your computer. Audio output is analog left & right or digital S/PDIF coax which supports 5.1 surround sound. Supported audio formats include MP3, WAV, AIFF (AAC support coming soon with the new v.2.0 software upgrade). A TCP/IP RS-232 control port is also available for automated computer control.
Rounding out the back panel I/O is a 10/100MBit wired Ethernet RJ-45 connector and a USB port to accommodate a supported USB wireless Ethernet adapter. Networking protocols include DHCP and Windows file sharing (SMB or "Samba"). The Roku is compatible with Windows XP and Macintosh OSX v.10.2 and above. It might also work with the Linux operating system, if that distribution supports SMB.
Setup and Operation
The Roku is factory set at 480i but other settings will yield superior results. You will want to follow the instructions to set your HD display to either component 1080i or VGA 1080i, whichever is appropriate.
All adjustments and all navigation on the Roku are accomplished via the remote control or front panel controls. The remote is convenient and easy to hold, but it's easily swamped by ambient light sometimes making navigation frustrating. It's best to operate the PhotoBridge HD1000 in dim light.
Networking to your PC
The Roku will work with either an 802.11 wireless network or with a dedicated Ethernet cable. The former requires an existing wireless network and an 802.11 adapter (connected via USB to the PhotoBridge) or a wireless bridge (connected to the Ethernet jack). The easiest and cheapest way to connect to your home network is to use a dedicated Ethernet cable.
Viewing Camera Memory Cards
The slots on the front of the PhotoBridge HD1000 can be used to load images from Compact Flash, SD/MMC, Memory Stick, and Smart Memory. Curiously, Roku opted to not include a USB connector here. This is a glaring oversight in my view, due to the widespread use of USB connected "key-chain" memories, not to mention the several micro cameras on the market which are the size of a lipstick and have a male USB connector as their only interface.
To view pictures from a memory card simply insert it into the appropriate slot and the contents should pop up on the screen. Select it with the remote and any pictures on it should show up in the folder that the camera creates on the card. Opening that folder will reveal thumbnails of all the pictures. You can then view them individually or as a slide show just as you would with images from your computer.
You can rotate vertical shots or zoom-in on portions of the picture. I have been amazed at how much I can zoom-in on digital pictures of 5 megapixels or greater before they start to "pixelate." If your JPEG picture has camera information on it like date and time, shutter speed and f-stop, hitting the info button on the remote will display it as well as the image title.
Roku sells a number of Art Packs for the PhotoBridge and includes a sample with the unit. The packs consist of high-definition photographs and photos of various famous artworks that you can display on your TV. The included preview consists of some nice nature photographs and a rendition of Van Gogh's famous Starry Night painting as well as several "nature" photos. The Art Packs are listed on Roku's web site and consist of six different packs at the current time. "Classics" is a package of famous paintings from Van Gogh, Monet, Da Vinci, etc., and Nature is a package of animal photos and pictures of natural splendor. Aquarium (vol. I and II) is self explanatory as is "Space." "Clocks" seems to be a collection of clock faces (which will always display the correct time). The Art Packs are available directly from Roku or a licensed retailer and sell for about $70 each.
The Roku PhotoBridge HD1000 is truly a bridge between your photo library and your HDTV. It is well-made and an ideal companion for your digital camera. Since still pictures aren't very satisfying on a normal 480i television connected via composite or S-VHS interfaces, it is absolutely necessary that an HDTV display be used. What surprises me is that Roku seems to have this market all to themselves. I can find no other stand-alone device on the market which will display digital still pictures in high-definition (although a couple of High-Definition TVs do ship with this feature). I highly recommend it.
On July 26, 2006, Anthony Wood, Founder & CEO of Roku, announced, "Roku has officially discontinued the HD1000/HD1500 models. They are no longer in production. The current release of 2.0 software which was in 'beta' is now the final software update for these platforms." He also said, "We have not discontinued the PhotoBridge line of products. We are working on new PhotoBridge models.")