Roku recently introduced the Roku 2 Series of streaming media players, which includes the Roku 2 HD ($59.99), Roku 2 XD ($79.99), and Roku 2 XS ($99.99). We have not performed a hands-on review of these products, but here is a more comprehensive look at their features. All three models grant access to a wide range of Web-based services, including video-on-demand from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus. All three have integrated 802.11n for a wireless network connection, as well as a MicroSD card reader and an HDMI output. The XS and XD models support 1080p output, while the entry-level HD model is limited to 720p. The premium XS model is the only one that offers a wired Ethernet connection and a USB port for playback of personal media files. It also includes an Angry Birds application and a special Bluetooth motion-control Game Remote. (The HD and XD models come with an IR remote; the Game Remote is available as an optional accessory for $30.)
The Roku products are streaming devices; they do not contain hard drives for local storage of media content. The MicroSD card is for game and channel storage only, not media playback. Only the XS model, with the USB port, supports playback of the following types of media files: MP4/H.264, AAC, MP3, JPG, and PNG. Also, the Roku 2 boxes do not support media streaming from a networked computer or DLNA server.
In addition to HDMI outputs, the Roku 2 boxes support analog A/V output via a mini-jack and supplied breakout cable with composite video and stereo analog. So, unlike the Apple TV and Boxee Box, you can connect these products to older TVs. The Roku 2 has a sleek form: The glossy black box is a 3.3-inch square that can fit in the palm of your hand and weighs just 3 ounces. Both the IR remote and Game Remote are models of simplicity, with a clean button layout but no backlighting or QWERTY keyboard. Android and iPhone/iPad remote apps are also available to control the Roku 2.
Roku’s list of supported Web services is extensive, including but not limited to: Netfix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Pandora, last.fm, Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, Angry Birds, MLB.TV, NBA Game Time, UFC, and NHL GameCenter Live. These services are presented as channels, and you can add or delete channels as desired. You can explore the full channel lineup here [http://www.roku.com/roku-channel-store]. Some channels are free; others cost. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus are among the fee-based services that require either a monthly subscription or a pay-per-use charge. From what I’ve seen, the Roku user interface appears to be clean, straightforward, and very easy to navigate.
Read about the high points and the low points of the Roku 2 on Page 2.
• The Roku 2 provides easy access to the hottest
Web apps, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Pandora,
Facebook, and many more.
• The XS model includes the full version of Angry Birds and a Wii-style remote.
• All three models have built-in WiFi; the top-shelf XS model adds an Ethernet port.
All three models have an HDMI output, with 1080p support on the XD and
XS models. They also have an analog A/V output, so they’re compatible
with older TVs.
• The form factor is sleek.
• Android and iPhone/iPad control apps are available.
The Roku 2 does not support DLNA media streaming, and the two
lower-priced models don’t include a USB port for playback of personal
• Neither the basic IR remote nor the Game Remote has a full keyboard for easier text input.
• The box lacks an optical or coaxial digital audio output.
Unlike the Boxee Box we recently reviewed, the Roku 2 menu doesn’t
incorporate free TV content offered by the likes of CBS.com and NBC.com,
although the nature of this evolving genre means that could change.
Competition and Comparison
You can compare the Roku 2 with its
competition by checking out our review of the Boxee Box. You
can also get more details by visiting the product pages for the Apple TV and Logitech Revue. Learn more about media
players by visiting our Media Servers and MP3 Players section.
The Roku 2 is definitely a media streamer,
as opposed to a true media player. Sure, the XS model can play some
digital media files via its USB port, but it can’t really compete with
the Boxee Box or the Apple TV when it comes to playback of one’s
personal media library. The Roku 2 boxes are a great choice for someone
who just wants to add Web services to his/her existing system through a
box that’s inexpensive and very easy to use. Unless your heart is set on
playing Angry Birds (and probably other games in the future) on the
Roku 2 XS, I recommend the XD model: You still get all the other great
Web services and 1080p output for just $79.99.