ROKU is offering two models of its tiny (0.9 by 3.3 by 3.3 inches) set top boxes..the basic XD model and the all dressed XS which comes with an enhanced remote control with motion control for games, a full edition of Angry Birds and an ethernet and USB port. The remote on the XS by the way, is Bluetooth so you can hide the box away in your component cabinet. I have been testing the XS model for the past month or so and my observations are based on that model.
As I said, it is tiny little box..barely a handful..with Roku’s signature purple fabric tab. On the back are the HDMI out port(cable not supplied), Component out (cable supplied) Ethernet in and Power. There is also a micro-SD slot used for storing configuration data. The USB port on the side can be used to play content. Setup is pretty much idiot proof whether you use the internal WiFi or connect it to your home network via the ethernet cable..you will need access to a computer or tablet and a credit card to sign up..your card won’t be charged anything unless you decide to buy premium content.
There is a fair bit of content..in Canada ROKU is offering 100 channels to start (there are over 450 in the US) to start and promises to expand. There is a good selection of movie and TV providers in addition to the ubiquitous Netflix there is Crackle, Movie Vault, Flixster; news and weather from Fox, CNET and others; music from services like Rdio and Tunein Radio; sports including UFC, NHL and social networking sites like Facebook, Vimeo and Flickr, although no YouTube. There are quite a few games offered but most cost money.
I was most impressed with the video quality from the HDMI connection to my TV..good sharp video..just short of Blu-Ray quality.. with few artifacts and thanks to an adaptive streaming system, you’ll rarely, if ever see a buffering sign on the Roku 2 XS, with the stream’s visual quality adapting to match that of your web connections capabilities. Even with a modest connection however you should be able to view stutter-free 1080p HD streaming.
I found the user interface spotty..the main screen is a horizontal line of icons showing your channel selections..after a month I had added enough that it was a chore to scroll through them all looking for one particular channel. The Netflix layout on the other hand is one of the best I have seen and the Channel Store is nicely laid out separating the channels into categories.
All is not perfect however.. media codecs and file formats supported is not a long list..You have a choice of two lossy codecs for music: AAC and MP3; the player can’t decode Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, or FLAC. Video must be encoded as MP4 (h.264), with the option of using an MKV container. If you connect the box to your A/V receiver, it will pass through a Dolby Digital or DTS bit stream, but there’s no support for the high-definition soundtracks you’ll find in Blu-ray discs (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio). Digital photos, meanwhile, must be in either JPG or PNG format. Plus forget about playing content from other devices on your network unless you know your way around..Roku does not support DLNA so the only way you can get at content on your computer for example, is to install a custom channel PLEX on your Roku then install a PLEX server on your PC. Although the windows version seems to have evolved from a Mac version the setup is kludgy and surprisingly unintuitive.
That said the Roku is really good at what it does do. So, if you want a low priced, easy to set up and simple to operate way to watch top quality streaming video such as Netflix on your TV then you can’t go wrong with Roku. The XD model sells for $89.99 while the all dressed XS goes for $109.99. Frankly I would go for the XS..the extra features especially the Bluetooth remote are worth the extra 20 bucks..no to mention you will find Angry Birds on the big screen really addictive. You can buy the Roku on line at Amazon.ca or find it in London Drugs and Walmart stores.