on July 29, 2011
UPDATED Nov 28, 2012 to reflect software changes to both Roku 2 and AppleTV.
This little player, about the size of a hockey puck, is exactly what I was looking for. It's cheap, easy, and fun. I got it to play Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Vimeo, and everything else it does is a pleasant add-on, especially motion-controlled Angry Birds. If you're in the market for a Roku 2, I think you might as well get this high-end model (there are stripped-down versions for less money) since it has a few more capabilities, including a game controller, an ethernet jack, and a USB port for playing external files. The software interface is not slick but everything fast and responsive. I added a star because this unit has proven itself much more stable than it was at launch, due to frequent software updates. The HBO Go app is particularly useful, which allows you to stream from HBO on demand from a huge catalog of movies and TV shows if you have a cable subscription with HBO included.
How is the Roku 2 different from the Apple TV (which it resembles, and I also considered)? It's physically similar and has some overlapping features, but here are the main differences as I see them:
BOTH have Netflix Streaming, Hulu+, Vimeo, and sports channels such as NBA and MLB (subscription required for the sports stuff). Both have wired and wireless network capabilities. Both are tiny, power-sipping, unobtrusive little devices that could probably be embedded in TV hardware.
AppleTV (not the Roku 2!) has tight iTunes integration, including iTunes movie rentals, streaming from a local PC/Mac with iTunes installed, and YouTube. Nearly all Apple iTunes video content can be streamed via Apple's iCloud if you don't want to use a local computer as a media source. If you subscribe to iTunes Match, you can stream your music in this way as well. Apple's proprietary AirPlay feature allows you to stream audio or mirror audio and video to the box from your iOS device. It works well and adds to the usability of this device if you have an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch. At this time, you can only use the "apps" that are included with the box. The AppleTV remote is made of attractive aluminum but relies on line-of-sight infrared signals. You can use an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch as a remote as well. AppleTV requires an HDTV to work and displays up to 1080p resolutions. AppleTV has a YouTube app. It also has Netflix and Hulu+ apps on par with Roku's.
Roku 2 (the product being reviewed! not AppleTV!) has a "channel" installer which you can easily manage via a web app on your computer. This system is a bit less polished, but a lot more open than the AppleTV system. Roku Channel choices include Amazon Prime videos, Amazon rentals, Vimeo, Hulu Plus, Pandora Radio, Plex Media Center, and bunch of streaming news and movie services. The Wii-like game remote comes with Angry Birds and several 2D casual games are available in their Channel Store. Development of new channels seems to have slowed down lately, but there are some fun options here. There's a MicroSD card slot on the top end model for storing more channels, as well as a USB slot for playing your own media. The game controller has built-in accelerometers and game-friendly buttons, and it works well for this game. This layout would be ideal for Super Nintendo style games, too. I like how it doesn't require an IR receiver like the Wii remote does. The tiny Roku 2 box has an IR receiver so you can use a universal remote with it, but the included remote uses RF signals and doesn't need line-of-sight to the box. Roku 2 XS can run on pretty much any TV (it includes composite cables) and can display up to 1080p resolutions. There's also an iOS app if you want to use a mobile device as a remote.
As you can see, these two machines are similar, but not the same. I originally chose this machine because it worked with an old SDTV, could play Amazon Prime videos (lots of kids programming on there, thanks Amazon), and offers a nice, standalone alternative to the Apple ecosystem. Since that purchase, I've added an AppleTV for the iOS-specific features, including AirPlay, iTunes Match, and YouTube.
on September 12, 2011
First I have to say the negative reviews are puzzling to me, because I dont think those buyers understand what they are buying.
As you know there is 3 versions, I absolutely recommend you spend the money on the XS (99.95) model, the main reason is because it's the only model with a USB port. Which in short term will allow you connect USB HD and play any movies you may of ripped from your DVD's. I have a 4TB array connected with most of my DVD collection, which is close to 1000 movies.
Roku has three type of channels:
The public channels are the once visible in what is called "Channel Store". Currently there about 300, but channels are added weekly. Looking at fan blogs, there has yet to be a weeks in about 4 months, that at least several channels weren't added.
Now channels can fall into three categories, Pay, Free, and Subscription.
Pay means you pay onetime fee and you get access to the channel, subscriptions are channels like Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc... if you already have those subscriptions, you just add them at no additional cost. If you are an amazon prime customer then you will get access to amazon prime streaming collection, about 9000 movies and shows. You can also rent movies from .99 cents to 3.99. Or you can digitally buy movies, which will then be permanently accessible to you through any device that supports the Amazon channel.
I will admit that half the pay channels are bad, so do your homework before laying out money for any channel that requires either a onetime fee or subscription. You have to understand the Roku is a streaming device, they are not a content provider, so they don't have anything to do with setting prices. That said there are 100's of free channels, especially if you are fan of Video Podcasts from companies live Revision 3 or TWiT. They are all there in HD, and free.
I imagine as time goes on more pay services will become available as well as free once. To give this device a bad rating because you have to pay for some channels, is just typical spoiled attitude. Remember folks who provide these channels have to pay for servers that store the content, bandwidth that delivers the content, and sometimes licensing of the content.
Roku 2 operates on a modified Linux OS. This gives this device a lot of flexibility. Roku has also given out an API so others are writing applications for the device. There are already some games available, again some free, some pay. If you buy the XS model you get a motion controller, similar to the WII one. It's obviously that it's very early in the devices API development. Even though Roku 1 has been around for years, the API flexibility really didn't open up until Roku 2. There is also SD slot so you can upgrade internal memory so you can store games and apps, which you will likely have use for in the coming months, as more apps come out. For example there is one very useful app for Netflix users, called Instant Watcher, it's a onetime fee of $2.99, and give you a lot more flexibility and power to browse the Netflix Streaming Library, you link you Netflix account through this application, and then it allows you to do everything from managing your queue to browse various lists. I discovered a few movies and shows, I would of probably never found on my own.
Second category is Application, which also includes games. That's where the motion controller that comes with the XS model comes in. XS comes with a full version of angry birds, which actually looks and plays quite well. I don't see using Roku to replace my PS3, PC, or WII as gaming platform. But I can see a few possibilities like network wide scrabble; poker, etc... type games and tournaments. There also application, some free some are pay. For example if you got the XS model you have a USB channel, to enable its use for a HD connection you have download a free application. But there is also a pay application, which will allow you to stream audio and video from your server or PC's in the house. There are few other apps, but nothing of any real value at this time. Since the API relatively new, I would expect we will see a lot more apps coming in the next few months.
The last type of channel and probably one most people will not know unless they are told or stumble on it on the forums are "Private Channels". These channels are not advertised or visible through any Roku channel. There are dozen plus sites that track them. Simply google Roku private channels and you will see quite a few. Again some are free, some require a subscription. Channels range from Adult content to one person operations. Some are quite unique like a live stream of ABC in Australia. Like Public channels, private channels go up all the time, and because many of them are one person operation they also go down just as quick sometimes. Adding private channels is quite easy you login to your Roku web account, and there is an option to add a private channel, you enter a code that each private channel provides, and it will then show up on your roku. It says it may take up to 24 hours for a private channel to show up, but most show up within seconds or minutes.
Negatives: You have to buy your HDMI cable, it does come with analog cables, you have to provide your own USB cable. Adding many channels is a major pain, Many times you will get a screen with a code that requires you to go to the channels web site, register, and then enter the code. This isn't Roku's fault, because the channel provider configures how they will allow you to add the channel, and of course many of them want your email so they can market to you. This is especially a pain, if you don't have access to internet while you are in front of your roku, I do, but still this is a major pain. Roku should require providers make channel addition seamless. There is no reason why you cant allow them to pull the info they need for registration from your Roku account if you give permission. I bet in fact its already in the API. There are a lot of garbage channels, and some pay channels are not worth the money. So DO YOUR homework before you spend your money. Roku has a great forum community and you will get straight answers most of the time.
My final recommendation is that this is the best streaming device on the market today, better then Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee, and any other. It simple to use, has amazing amount of variety, and the future for this device is very bright. Streaming is the future of media, but you can get a good taste of it now with this device. I do recommend you buy the XS model, if fort no other reason, the USB port, will eventually act as DVR, there is already buzz that apps are being written to be able to record streaming shows to a HD for later viewing.
on February 17, 2013
I absolutely love the Roku, of which I bought multiple refurbished units. The audio and video quality are top notch. Highly recommended.
But I had a Dickens of a time getting the remotes to pair with the base units, so I thought I'd share what I've learned.
I kept trying to pull the batteries and push the pairing button, as shown in the little manual, but it wasn't working. Here's what finally worked on all my units.
Put the batteries into the remote FIRST, before you plug in the Roku base unit. Have the remote right next to the Roku base unit when you supply power to the base unit. The base unit will then properly search for, and find, the remote and pair with it during the boot-up process. I tried it every other way I could think of, but couldn't get the two to pair properly. This method did the trick. You'll know everything's correct when you stop seeing flashing lights on the remote.
on August 3, 2011
I've been using Roku 2 XS for a few days now and I must say I like the device, but there are quite a few hiccups. So first the good stuff.
* The Box is tiny and the setup is a breeze. I was up and streaming in under 5 mins.
* Netflix, Huluplus, Amazon and Pandora worked fine
* Streaming in 1080p worked fine without buffering (I use Xfinity) and the quality is superb
* The Ethernet option (available only in XS) is very helpful and the Quality of streaming is far better than wireless
and the not so good stuff:
* The Box does not have adequate memory and needs an external micro-SD card for more capacity
* The device re-booted a few times for me when switching between channels. I was initially very upset with this as the reboot process takes about 3-4 mins. I called support and they asked me to uninstall Angry Birds as it takes up huge amount of space. Did that and then on no re-boots. This sucks as Roku 2 advertises Angry Birds big time and the remote is designed for that, but the device is not capable without additional memory
* It is non-sense that I buy the high end XS version for Ethernet and HD support and I still have to buy HDMI cable and Ethernet cable separately!
* I mainly bought Roku for streaming International Channels and to my horror I found that most of the channels do not work in Roku 2!! Apparently Roku 2's video format is different to that of Roku 1. Roku support says that the Channel provider needs to fix it and the Channel provider's support say that Roku needs to fix it!!! So why advertise them and make me sign up for them then??
* Finally, many channels have sub-channels within them. Switching from One channel is only possible through menus and there are no short-cuts. It takes up to 5 to 6 button press to switch Channels and it obviously sucks.
If Roku is serious of competing with Apple TV and Content is the differentiator, then Roku needs to pay more attention to the content and ensure it works and make the user experience better.
on September 10, 2011
The Roku 2 is really amazing and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to cut their huge cable bill. It was easy to set up and everyone in the family is still happy. Yes, even without Comcast cable, we're still happy.
To put this review in context, my wife and I both work and we have two children (3 years old and newborn). The 3 year old likes to watch cartoons/movies on the weekends. We had Comcast Cable with DVR and all of those channels. Most evenings, after the kids were asleep (8:30), we rarely found ourselves watching cable and when we did, we couldn't find anything on the channels to watch anyway. Quite often, my wife would order ONDemand movies from Comcast for $4-5. Our cable bill with those movies was about $90-100/month. We subscribe to Netflix streaming only, Amazon Prime and recently Hulu Plus after liking the one month trial. We're not huge TV watchers but like to watch a movie every now and then. Our goal was to stop paying so much for cable when we don't have time to watch much TV anyway.
Setup - It was easy and it'll take about 10-15 minutes. It's best to have an iPad or laptop nearby that is online. I connected the Roku 2 to my router via ethernet cable so I cannot speak to a wireless setup. Once connected, the Roku box walked me through the setup. It updated the software and then I began adding channels. I added Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to start. You are prompted to either login using your username and password or you are given a code to enter in online. It's really easy and haven't had any issues since the setup.
Content - With these three channels (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus) we have more content than we could ever need. For my 3 year old there are so many cartoons to choose from and all the episodes - Caillou; Backyardigans; Word World; Sid the Science Kid; Dragon Tails; Madeline. We haven't even scratched the surface on kids cartoons. There are kids movies that we found on the three channels - Tangled; Toy Story 3; Curious George; Ponyo. That's more than enough TV for weekends. As far as TV for us, Hulu Plus has tons of good TV to watch and with Plus you get full seasons worth. With Netflix, we get full seasons of other TV shows and decent movies - although I will say, Netflix needs more titles. The Amazon Prime account gets us even more free streaming content that I've yet to really explore. It looks only ok but the great thing about the Amazon Channel is that you can rent newer releases for $3-4.
Picture Quality - My TV is only 720p but the picture-quality is really good for those programs in HD. Overall, the amount of programming in HD is not as high as Comcast but I'm ok with that. The quality is still really good. The other day I went on to Vimeo Channel (like YouTube) and found some cycling videos and I was amazed at how clear the footage was using Roku. It was HD quality. Also, I've yet to have any problems with skipping or delays (again I'm hooked up with an Ethernet cable).
UI - The user interface is easy. Roku could make it more slick but why? It just works.
COST SAVINGS!! - We were paying $7.99 for Netflix and just added $7.99/month for Hulu Plus. We were setup on Amazon Prime already. So, the total bill per month went from $90-100 to $8. I'm sure we will rent new releases from the Amazon store but we were doing that with ONDemand anyway. Plus, Amazon movie rentals look to be cheaper per movie anyway.
If you are in a similar situation as my family, I think the Roku 2 is the way to go. Saving $80-90 a month worth it and Roku may get even better with more content. For $99, it's worth trying it out.
on August 24, 2012
I got this product last week and I have been using it everyday. It is connected to my wireless network, router on 1st floor and Roku on second across the house. I read many reviews on this product and want to address those who complain about buffering on a wireless connection. I want to let people know that this is being used wirelessly. Wireless connections are not as reliable as wired installations. I am a network engineer with years of experience in wired/wireless installations. You will not get dependable connections via wireless due to so many variables. If you want near perfect connections all the time, break open your walls and run some cat 5. I knew it would have some issues sometimes and that DOES NOT bother me.
Now onto the wireless review. I had it connected to my network in about 5 minutes. After connecting to my network - it updated and that was it, I had internet TV going. We use it mainly for Netflix and to start using our Amazon Prime streaming service. Sure we have had buffering, but not a lot and not during a show/movie, just at the beginning of the stream. May be once it happened within the first 5 minutes of streaming. I am using 802.11g, not 802.11n. I really do advise of getting an additional micro SD card for additional memory. I chatted with Roku and was told it will support up to 16GB. I had a 8GB laying around so I am using it. If I did not have it I would have bought a 16GB. For now the 8GB is enough.
The Roku does have some nice features like the game remote. I went with the XS because of future game releases. When something is new, you have to wait for things to be developed for it. Companies don't want to develop unless there is a market for it, look at the iPhone and all the apps NOW. Not many apps in the beginning. I cannot wait for it to become the next best thing. Apple TV was not a consideration as it does not permit Amazon Prime Streaming.
I gave it four stars for content, there should be more free content. But remember, Roku is not a content provider - they just deliver it. I am sure quality/content will get better with time as more people start to use this little gem.
I do recommend this device and it does have the ability to become something bigger than it is. If you want the Roku (and buy it), definitely get additional memory. *8GB is good for me know. I wish there was a way to see how much is used/unused (so I will wait to see if I need to get larger). Use what you might have laying around otherwise go with what you can afford (larger the better I say). Also, I wish the Roku had a longer power cord as my TV is mounted on the wall and the outlet is below the TV so I have to figure a good way to hide it with a cable chase. Maybe Roku would get smart and sell a longer power cord for those who have older houses and do not have a power outlet installed behind the TV.
Also get the Roku Universal Mounting kit, it hides the Roku behind the TV (note that the XS has a Bluetooth remote and it does not need a direct line of sight to work). My TV is mounted on the wall, so hiding devices makes the installation look cleaner. The mounting kit only hangs on the vents on the back of my Samsung TV. Looking at the TV, you do not see the Roku and the remote works great.
Hope this review helps. Just remember that if you want to use a wireless connection, the connection won't be as reliable as a wired installation. This goes for all the internet TV devices, Apple TV, Boxee, Roku, WD TV etc... If you can go wired great, if not remember my review.
I will update later in time if I remember.
on July 26, 2011
With an upgraded processor and design, it carries most of the same features as the original player in a smaller size; the main changes is the Wii like remote and Angry Birds being included along with a small selection of games that you can purchase from their games store.
My main peeve is the same as the first player; the device never powers off. This messes with my auto switcher and I have to unplug the Roku when I'm not using it and want to watch something else or play games. Roku's whole goal with this is so that the unit will always be able to receive updates. Even with them saying that it consumes little power while idle, I would rather have the option to power off. I know I could get a better switching system that would correct this, but I don't feel like spending the money on that part of the system at this time.
I've heard several complaints of no Optical connections, which depending on your setup can be a big hindrance, for me this isn't a big issue as I don't use optical. All else fails, you can always get a HDMI to Optical converter box. This may be a big reason that a lot of customers stay with the original Roku or go for another system all together.
The Roku 2 no longer supports dual band Wireless N, it only works in the 2.4 Ghz range.
The XS model is the only one that comes with an Ethernet port, so if you have poor or no wireless you'll need to get this version to be able to connect. For the extra $30 dollars this player costs you, it includes the spiffy remote, Free Game, Ethernet port and USB option. So if you have any hesitation, opt for the XS.
They've moved the USB connection to the side of the device, but you'll have to wait till September for the full USB functional to be released in a new firmware update. Until then you'll have limited compatibility and functionality.
They've opted for a Micro SD card to increase device memory when you need more space for games or more channels. I know it's smaller in size, but I would have liked to see a Standard SD card slot so I don't have to buy special memory for this specific device. Just personal preference and doesn't hinder the usability.
I wouldn't be surprised if in the future their next system was an all out gaming console. With the new focus on games, it just opens up the possibility.
Overall, I'm a casual TV watcher, I might watch an hour a day or less and it fits my needs. if you don't care about the games and a little bit of added performance your original Roku will work just fine for you. Otherwise, if you care about size, new technology, and the option for basic games. It's worth the upgrade.
on June 27, 2013
I purchased this unit in june 2013.. its now September 15.. I still love this unit.. aside from some repeated commercials I cannot complain at all.. yes, you still need an antenna or very basic cable to get local channels with the exception of
"PBS" . but it is well worth it. I cut over $40.00+ off my cable bill . (The free content ),, movies, documentaries, etc, is extensive. there a lot of free music channels ( all genres ) and even karaoake channels, workout channels,games etc. OH,, there's even "DOG TV" for your dog to watch... our cats enjoy the "cat tv" channel too. there are a lot of short videos of birds, fish etc for your cat to watch.. There are a lot of inexpensive pay channels such as "HULU" and "NETFLIX". the ROKU has an easy to use menu that categorizes each channels programming by category such as " action", "comedy", "kids", etc. always wanted a fireplace but don't have one? they have that too.. note !!! some content isn't quite for kids..no big deal,(there are ratings shown before you start the show). we dumped the cable tv all together . As for the unit itself, I couldn't be happier, it has worked great, a small amount of buffering at times but I notice this only on some music channels. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for an alternative to cable. as far as regular network tv channels, you can add "hulu" to get many of them !
UPDATE<!!!!!!!! JAN,14, 2014,, We like the ROKU so much we purchased another one for our bedroom tv. a ROKU LT. it is the more basic model but works pretty much the same. I have recommended these units to many people looking for a cheaper alternative to cable. several of these people bought them after I showed them what ours does. They are constantly adding new channels. We never seem to run out of programs to watch. As I said earlier in my first part of this review, you will see repeated commercials and the volume on them can be loud at times but this is a small price to pay for what your getting. We like the amount of control we have with the ROKU, like pausing, rewinding and fast forward of shows. and again , the selection of shows is massive, something for everyone. For local channels I constructed my own hdtv antenna with plans I got from the internet using coat hangers of all things, sounds cheesy but it looks good and works well, I get 23 local channels. As for the ROKU I still would recommend it to anyone. you can run as many ROKU'S in your home as you want for free with tons of free shows, unless you subscribe to a pay channel. GREAT PRODUCT !!!!!!!!!
on August 20, 2011
First some info about my setup, as I think this is important when reviewing a streaming player:
*Roku XD connected via ethernet and HDMI cables to my HDTV.
*Roku 2 XS connected via ethernet and HDMI cables to my daughter's HDTV.
*High-Speed Internet connection via Comcast's Xfinity Blast! service. My speeds are: 30mbps download and 5mbps upload.
*Modem: Motorola SURFboard eXtreme DOCSIS 3.0 Modem, model SB6120. (Comcast compatible. I own my modem, so I don't pay Comcast rental fees anymore!)
*Router: NetGear N600 Wireless Dual Band 802.11n Gigabit Router, model WNDR3700.
*Ethernet cables: Cat6a throughout (best for carrying broadband video). Cat5 or Cat5e is what most customers have, and do not need to be replaced unless one wants the very best video performance an ethernet cable can provide.
*HDMI cables: Bought the cheapest ones available; they either work or they don't, as the signal is all digital.
Because of the type of Internet service one uses, along with the equipment they use to access the Internet (modem & router), there may be a wide range of personal experiences that have little or nothing to do with the Roku player itself. The only issue I've read so far that makes some sense, excepting the occasional report of a bad Roku unit, is that the Roku 2 XS has a problem with it's storage capacity when the game Angry Birds is played. Many have reported this problem and one of the fixes is to uninstall the Angry Birds game. Another possible fix is to simply purchase a microSD card when buying a Roku 2; Roku sells a 2GB card for $5. That is exactly what I did when I ordered the Roku 2 XS from their site, and neither I nor my daughter have had any problems whatsoever with the game or the Roku player trying to reboot/recycle.
Both the older Roku XD and the new Roku 2 XS work extremely well for what they were designed to do - stream video. I've had both units connected wirelessly and via ethernet cable. Both units were a little slower with a wireless connection when compared to being hard wired. Too, a wireless connection was much more likely to downgrade the video quality from 4 dots to 3 or 2 when in Netflix in order to play a video. (Netflix uses 4 dots followed by HD, if the video can play in HD, when it is loading a video. This looks a bit like this: **** HD). Downgrading video quality does not happen very often when using an ethernet cable. However, I was surprised the Roku 2 XS responded faster wirelessly and didn't downgrade the video quality as often as my older Roku XD. This could be a difference in the hardware itself, or it might be that my Roku XD's extra distance of about 10 feet from my router caused the slower performance.
Advice to prospective customers wanting to buy a Roku streaming player:
I would recommend the Roku 2 XS over the other Roku 2 models simply because it comes with an ethernet port for a wired connection. For some customers this could make a big difference when a wireless connection is difficult to achieve or slow at best.
Too, those planning on wireless, and want the best, most reliable performance, use an 802.11n router. However, if one only has an 802.11g router, a Roku player might work just fine; try it before you buy the faster 802.11n router.
Finally, one should have a fast Internet connection. DSL speed may offer erratic streaming at best. Even basic Internet service via cable may not offer the consistency of streaming that high-speed Internet service does in some areas for some folks. Most cable companies offer varying speeds - I pay $10 extra a month for Comcast's Xfinity Blast! high-speed Internet service, for example. New Roku users should try the service they have first and then upgrade, if necessary.
When one has good equipment and a (consistent) high-speed Internet connection, these Roku players perform extremely well. I'm very pleased with both units we have working off the same Internet connection.
Oh, one last thought: I like the Roku 2 XS remote much more than the one that came with the Roku XD. The buttons all set up higher, making them much easier to use, and because of it's use of Bluetooth wireless to control the Roku 2 XS, one need not point the remote directly at the Roku, which I do have to do with my remote for the Roku XD.
on September 12, 2012
I got the Roku 2XS about 2 weeks ago after lamenting for months about what streamer to get despite all signs pointed to Roku's products. I LOVE it. Simple to use, easy set up, HD streaming, etc! It's especially nice because Its so small--literally the size of a hockey puck, though much lighter, and I can throw it in my purse to take to friends houses to watch Netflix. The USB port allows streaming from a jump drive, too. I just don't have anything bad to say about the product, the service, or anything. I do have netflix, but there are a lot of free channels available, too, and it separates out newly added channels, so you are always aware of what's been added.No other device will allow you to stream content from so many different providers. My family gets lots of use from our Roku devices and you won't regret purchasing the Roku 2 XS.