Media streamers have proven a surprisingly hard gadget to get right. There's no one gadget that's easy to recommend for everyone--typically, you'd say an Apple fan should get an Apple TV, techies should opt for the Boxee Box, DIYers should go for a home theater PC, and those who want something cheap and simple should get themselves a Roku. The newest Roku, the Roku 2 XS, suffered from some connection problems, but it's still a very competitive and capable streamer--and most importantly, it's still easy to use.
The Roku 2 XS, despite its name, is actually the fourth iteration of the Roku. What started as a small, cheap box to stream Netflix to your TV has turned into an absolutely tiny box that streams Netflix, yes, but also a whopping 300 other apps, from Hulu Plus to Pandora to Rdio to MLB to Fox News. Those apps work essentially like any other app store: You can browse the store either on your TV, using the Roku's remote, or you can do it from a web browser. The apps are mostly free, but the good ones (Netflix, Hulu, MLB) require a separate subscription--the Roku itself, needless to say, doesn't require a monthly fee of any kind. The Roku 2 comes in three versions, the highest-end of which I tested. That one, the XS, comes with a Wii-like motion-sensing controller which can be used to play Angry Birds on your TV--the first time to my knowledge that those birds have graced a TV. The remote is actually compatible with any of the three models, but is included only with the most expensive.
This thing is tiny. I have wall-wart-style power adapters bigger than the Roku. I have eaten apricots bigger than the Roku. When everything is working properly (see the "What's Bad" section for more on why that caveat is necessary, but stay with me here), the Roku is genuinely the easiest, if not the prettiest, way to stream all the major video and music services to your TV. Video quality is stellar, and it remains one of the best Netflix streamers out there. The tiny unit also uses hardly any electricity--Roku claims less than 2W while streaming video--and goes into a sleep mode while not in use, so you don't really need to turn it on or off (hence the lack of a power button).
The motion-sensing remote is cute--Angry Birds looks great on a big TV, and the remote is fairly responsive. It's not an entirely natural way to play the game (and, of course, we've all played it a dozen times by now), but it works pretty well.
Well, I should first get this out of the way: The Roku 2 XS absolutely refused to play nice with my wireless setup, at least at first. The company was unable to figure out why this was--my router, a not-uncommon and fairly high-end model, was plenty close enough to the Roku, and I had no unusual security settings or architectural quirks. There's clearly some kind of incompatibility here, perhaps stemming from the cost-cutting loss of dual-band Wi-Fi support, but what the problem is is less important than the fact that there is a problem. The whole point of the Roku is to plug in and work flawlessly, and judging by some comment threads, I'm not the only one with this problem.
I eventually swapped out my regular router with a Netgear WGR, one of if not the most popular routers out there right now, and did notice an immediate improvement. The Roku connected immediately, though it still was not as fast as I'd expected. Loading my Netflix and Hulu accounts took quite awhile the first few times, and doing anything too intensive, like, say, selecting a TV show on Netflix with a hundred episodes available, tended to bring up the dreaded "Retrieving" message, which often lasted for several minutes. That kind of thing loads right away on a computer, Xbox 360, Boxee Box, and Apple TV--not sure what the holdup is here. But after a little while, the Roku definitely began loading faster and started resembling the simple, capable box we were hoping for.
There are other problems, though, unrelated to my connection woes. Compared to the Apple TV or Boxee Box, which both boast high-powered mobile processors, the Roku feels a bit sluggish and at times unresponsive, having to catch up to my commands when scrolling or executing commands quickly. Searching, or doing anything that requires text input, is kind of a pain.
Setup is surprisingly difficult--you have to create a unique Roku ID, as well as input a credit card, which Roku uses to make the purchase of apps quicker. That's all well and good, but I think most people won't ever have the need or desire to purchase an app, so it strikes me as inappropriate to demand credit card information from every single customer.
Oh, and the remote layout may be simple (albeit with two or three too many buttons), but I actually found myself longing for some way to use the motion-sensing remote to actually select things. If you're going to give me a motion-sensing remote, let me use it!
There are three models: The cheapest plays back only 720p video, and costs $70; the middle model plays 1080p for $80; and the most expensive adds Ethernet, USB-in, and that motion-sensing remote (which on its own costs $30) for a total of $100. These are cheap, especially the lower-end models, considering the breadth of features far outstrips the also-mainstream Apple TV.
I've liked Roku in the past, quite a bit. The idea of a simple, affordable media streamer is a great introduction for most people to the wonders of connected TVs. But Roku seems to have lost its way a little bit since the last time I checked in with the company: the unnecessary Roku ID registration and the difficulty in connecting are real problems for a device that prizes simplicity above all else. In theory, I can forgive the Roku's sluggishness and practical but sorta-ugly UI, but the current generation of media streamers are much more powerful and make the Roku 2 feel outdated.
On the other hand, assuming my connection problems were unusual, the Roku still does a lot of things really well. It has a huge selection of legitimately great apps, from streaming music to video to news (and there's a healthy homebrew scene as well, for unofficial apps) and it's definitely the least threatening and most intuitive media streamer on the market. I still like Roku--I just wish it was a little faster, a little simpler, a little more reliable.
I, too, recently purchased the Roku 2 XS. Overall, I have been happy with it. I had no issues with set-up. It hooked right up with my wi-fi with no issues. The gaming remote is fairly impressive when playing games, but less impressive when not playing games. The only major issue I have had is that it occasionally seems to freeze up. It only seems to happen when watching Hulu, so I'm not sure whether it's a Roku issue or a Hulu issue. But, I have not experienced Hulu freezing up outside of using it on the Roku. Some annoyances: Searching on Netflix (or anywhere else) is a pain with the remote. I'm not sure why the keyboard interface wasn't made qwerty instead of alphabetical. I do find it sluggish when loading, but can live with it for the price and for the size of the box which is impressive.
Overall, happy with it. Went back out and bought the lesser version for my daughter's room.
I'd think the "refresh" looking button is like a "go back 10 seconds" button. I have one of those on my dvr remote at home and love that ability when watching. I think the remote app for apple tv on iphone has one of these.
At moments like this in POPSCI I just wish to yell "HAMMER TIME" and dance all over the screen and yell commercial.
But commercials are beneficial. They inform us of the cool gadgets that are now available. I adore cool gadgets.
I have little knowledge of this product above. I can only comment on a similar product I happen to own.
I own a Western Digital Multi Media Player HD. The fact is it is great and gives me lots of options. I will not go on further, because I do not want to take away from the above product.
I do like to say, these little boxes offer a lot more variety to your home entertainment pleasure and add a lot of connivance.
Now I also own a Sony flat panel TV. And my point here is these modern devices do tend to update their firmware as you are attaché to the internet and constantly update your current entertainment choices and get the bugs out of the system too. In this case, some website you attache to, cause the bugs, so its all a process.
From friends I have heard lots of positive things about
ROKU! I am sure its s fun toy for the home entertainment!
i gess this can be good for if uwant 2 do netflix on ure tv but u don have an xbox
I do not pay for any type of TV service. I use FREE over the air digital TV. To add to my home entertainment of course I have the internet. The ROKU box and other technologies similar to it do add lots of entertainment choices. It’s a great and up and growing technology. I look forward to its further development!
I don't have a ROKU so I don't know if this will help. But, I just recently setup a wireless capable tv. I ran into a problem where it wouldn't connect to the internet well. Turns out, the router was a dual band router. I had to disable the SSID broadcast for the wireless-n signal. Once I did that, i manually entered the SSID for the wireless-n. From that point on, it's had a flawless connection. Like I said, don't know if it would help but it's worth a try.
I have a Roku XS and I too had some issues while setting up on my dual band router. After resetting the router and Roku a few times, it connected and has been flawless. I picked up a second Roku for upstairs set a few months ago and was kind of kicking myself when I saw this new model. I'm both glad and sad that the Roku2 doesn't appear to be a big improvement over the old Roku.
I just bought the Roku XS and have been pleased, but also ran into the same problem with wireless and used a cable instead. Regarding the credit card, I absolutely refused to give them a card, and went to the support site and into chat with an online person. They created my account for me without the card, so I was good to go. He did ask me if I tried the "Skip this step" button on the credit card page, but when I told him that did not exist he then created the account. That may be a new feature coming on the registration (or maybe it used to be there and is gone now, who knows).
I LOVE our Roku! I also shed a tear for what it could be if we had more media access - not a shortcoming of the device but of the media outlets.
Oh to have access to homegrown primetime TV from all the English speaking countries and subtitles from the countries who don't speak English. Devices like the Roku prove that this is completely possible - no technical hurdles left.
We have DSL and a router. I plugged the Roku directly into the modem and fixed many of my video streaming problems. Hulu remains flaky. It causes lockups/freezes about 30% of the time. Sometimes we'll go spells with no lockups, sometimes we'll have a lock up every time for several days.
Netflix and Hulu also remain irritations with content restricted to certain restrictions. Despite paying for Hulu there remains shows that are "web only". It's still worth $8 per month to me as it is. Netflix has content as everyone that's used it which is restricted to DVD only and some which can be streamed. Both sources contain so much media that I'll never run out of shows to watch. The complexity of these restrictions can be frustrating.
All that said we've cut the cord to satellite and to cable years before that. We were tired of paying for dozens of channels we had zero interest in so we could watch 6-8 channels. We were already down to the basic package. The only way I'd go back to satellite or cable would be a-la-carte pricing. We still only have interest in a dozen or two channels - science, history, old movies, old TV shows. The on-demand feature of a device like the Roku really trumps traditional TV - no matter which channels we could have. Even like the Roku better than the flaky subscription satellite DVR we had before.
Now for you folks following live TV shows, live sports events, and those of you desiring to watch the same shows as the rest of your social circle so you can chat about it over the water cooler tomorrow at work - this may not be the primary entertainment device for you. Like I said before - technically it is possible but because of business agreements - these shows aren't available in real-time from what I can see. My family - we are perfectly content to watch well aged entertainment as long as it is new to us.
Love the idea of the Roku box... But why the hell can't I stream from my local network? This is my big turn off from Roku, and the Boxee and Apple TV (who can both stream from your local network) are priced much more than Roku.
Please Roku, add network streaming!
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