Roku is the best selling streaming player currently on the market according to
Roku Founder and CEO Anthony Wood. The new Roku 2 platform offers nearly 300 channels of streaming entertainment including movies and TV shows from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and Crackle. There is also live and on-demand sports from NBA Game Time, NHL GameCenter Live and Ultimate Fighting Championship. Music from Pandora, MOG, Rdio and TuneIn Radio are also available along with support for photos and videos from Flickr and Vimeo. On top of all that there are news and entertainment from around the world.
To say the Roku 2 is small is an understatement. The unit measures only 3.3" x 3.3" x 0.9" and weighs just a mere 3 ounces. The compact design allows it to be placed in tight quarters while generating little heat. In fact, the new design only consumes about 2 watts (typical) when streaming HD video and does not even require a vented case like the previous design. Lower power and cooler temperatures make for a more reliable unit. The Roku 2 is a stand alone media player without the need of a PC or a server running on another system. The only requirements is the Roku unit, broadband internet service, and a display. Standard A/V connections are provided, but the real performance is unleashed when using the HDMI output. This digital video interface offers high definition with excellent performance.
Roku 2 Line
The three new models (HD, XD, and XS) being offered carry a suggested retail price of $59.99, $79.99 and $99.99
respectively. The entry level Roku 2 HD ($59.99) features 720p HD video, English subtitles for Netflix streaming, built-in wireless(b/g/n), bluetooth (3.0) for connecting an optional Roku Game Remote ($29.99), and a microSD slot for additional channel and game storage. The Roku 2 XD ($79.99) is the next step up with all the features of the HD model with 1080p support. The Roku 2 XS ($99.99) being reviewed here is the top-of-the-line model that also includes the Game Remote, a wired ethernet port and a USB port for playing music, videos, and photos from a USB drive.
For the first time, Roku 2
XS players offer casual gaming and feature a full version of Angry Birds from Rovio, free of charge.
The Roku 2 XS also includes the new Roku Game Remote with motion control, which has been optimized for bird-slinging action
on the big screen. Both the HD and XD models offers standard IR remotes.
back of the Roku 2 XS Streaming Player features a microSD card slot, HDMI connector, A/V jack, wired ethernet and the power input jack. The supplied universal AC power adapter outputs 5.2V at 1.5 amps. There is also a reset button that can be used if the streaming player ever hangs up and becomes unresponsive. We never had to use it during the course of our review. There are none of the analog component outputs or dedicated digital outputs that we have seen on the previous designs. This is a cost savings that I certainly agree with since few displays use this. Since the HDMI interface can carry (up to 5.1) digital audio there is little reason to have a separate connection.
The Roku 2 XS remote is a step up from the standard remote that is included with the HD and XD models. This latest RF design does not require line-of-sight (like IR remotes) and includes a Bluetooth link that supports gaming capabilities with a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope that together offer precise motion sensing. When using it with the game Angry Birds, it has a similar feel to a Wii remote with movement tracking. It works well and allows for a whole different level of usability.
When we first installed the Roku 2 XS and configured the system, it asked to update the Bluetooth remote. We were surprised that the remote could be updated and found this to be an attractive feature for future capabilities. The remote is a fully functional
design for accessing and controlling the video content and operates on a pair of standard and easily replaceable "AA"
batteries. The buttons on the remote are large, but there is no backlighting.
The Home button on the top of the remote takes the user to the
main menu. Navigation buttons and an OK button are used to control
the menu system. The bottom three buttons (play/pause, forward and backwards)
control playback of video. There are three forward speeds
and three backward speeds. The two dedicated game buttons (labeled A and B) allow Roku game developers to custom program these to do things like fire a rocket or accelerate a moving vehicle. The Instant Replay, Back and Options buttons were introduced last year. Currently, Pandora, Netflix and the Facebook app make good use of the Option button. Roku's user interface is by far the easiest to use. The latest generation of players look and feel like their predecessors, but have many more features.
The Settings menu on the Roku 2 has a different look than the previous generation of Roku players. However, much of the functionality and features are the same. After all, why fix it if it is not broken. The sub-menus
are About (Unit firmware version), Network configuration (Wired or Wireless with connection status), Display type
(4:3 Standard, 16:9 Anamorphic, 720p, or 1080p HDTV), Audio Mode (Stereo or 5.1 surround), Sound Effects Volume (Low, Medium, High, Off), Game Remote Pairing, Screen Saver (Bouncing Roku logo, Roku Analog Clock, Roku Digital clock, or Facebook after 5 min, 10 min, 30 min, Off), Time Zone & Clock (Time Zone, Clock Format), Software Update, Player Info, and Factory Reset.
USB Media Player
The Roku USB Media Player is accessible through the main user interface and must be added to the channel lineup. Once a USB device is plugged into the unit, it is scanned for content. The media player supports the following formats.
Audio Support: MP3, AAC, Dolby Digital (MP4, MOV and MKV pass through only), and DTS (MKV pass through only). Video Support: MP4 (H.264), MOV (H.264), MKV (H.264), and ASF/WMV (WMV9/VC-1). Image Support: JPG, PNG. We tested playback capability using an 80MB MP4 (1080p/24) video clip and it looked excellent.
The channel list on the Roku 2 Streaming Players has increased as one might expect. There is content for everyone with both free and premium (paid) channels. Simply go to the Channel Store and add the channels to your lineup. Roku lists them by the following categories; Featured, Movies & TV, Sports, News, Music, Kids, Tech, Web TV, Lifestyle, Photos & Video, International, Spiritual, Free, and Premium.
One of the big reasons why most users will buy this Roku 2 Streaming Player is to stream Netflix content. The user interface is very much the same as the previous generation of Roku players with an intuitive and simple design. Users can view their Instant Queue and are also provided with recommended content based on viewing habits. The search feature allows users to quickly find content that is available for streaming by typing in the movie name. A virtual keyboard is used to enter movie names. This can be a bit slow, but works well. An advanced search feature automatically displays the closest movie match even before the name is completely entered. This greatly speeds up the search process.
The latest generation of Roku 2 players offer excellent picture quality without any significant issues with decoding streaming content. High definition content was impressive, especially when using higher data rate material streaming from the USB interface. While certainly not up to what I have seen on Blu-ray, the Roku unit does quite well with very satisfying resolution and minimal motion artifacts. Since our internet provider (Verizon FIOS) offers high bandwidth (20Mb/20Mb), we seldom saw any dropouts on content. However, your mileage may vary depending on your network speed.
Roku 2 XS Streaming Player is a very small, yet powerful streaming player. The latest design consumes less power allowing it to be packaged into a much smaller form factor. The Bluetooth remote not only provides gaming capabilities with full motion control, but also offers RF control of the streaming player without the need for direct line-of-sight as required for the IR remotes. The 1080p video looked fantastic and provided some of the best Netflix quality we have seen to date. Roku once again offers three models designed to fit into anyone's budget and performance needs.