In the Box
The streamer box is almost all piano black but has a fabric, plum coloured ‘Roku’ nametag in the style of a piece of clothing – which is in keeping with the rather hip and fashionable image the company gives out. The device measures just 84x84x23mm (WxDxH) and weighs in at only 85g so if you can’t find somewhere to fit it in, you’re sorely in need of a clear out. The (also plum coloured) rear connection plate squeezes in a HDMI output, a LAN port and a composite video output jack as well as the input for the power supply; to the side is a USB port which can be used for media playback (via the plex app) or to provide further storage for downloaded channels.
Not just any remote
There’s no infra-red emitter on the remote, this is a Bluetooth only deal which we do think is a mistake. We did have a situation where the box was stuck at the menu screen with the remote refusing to re-pair so we had to get out the Sky Now Box remote, which does have IR, to fix the issue. Similarly, we could have used the Roku mobile app but not everyone will have that facility available, or an alternative handset. The rest of the story is fairly simple, however, with the controller having all the transport buttons, directional keys and navigation buttons one would expect and, Bluetooth blip excepted, it proved a joy to use.
Special Mention Channels
The Roku Box doesn’t allow for custom settings for DNS, which is a minus point when compared to some others – Apple TV included – so if you want the likes of US Netflix through the Roku you have the choice of a very complicated set up via PC, Router and a DHCP application or the slightly easier route of installing Plex on a PC using you’re favoured DNS provider. In the case of Netflix, we’d have to advise that you really want to be running a wired connection for both the box and PC/NAS running Plex else quality could well be poor and it’s not really a substitute for running a ‘native’ channel but it’s there if you are desperate for access to content from other regions and have no other means of doing so.
Another possibilities-opener comes via the Twonky Beam app which is kind of like having Apple’s AirPlay on the Roku. Twonky actually offers enough to merit a review of its own – much like Plex – and we did just that, not so very long ago. Twonky Beam is essentially just an enhanced browser that is available for both Android and iOS which provides a simple way to play internet videos on your tablet or smartphone and then stream or 'beam' them to your Roku through your Wifi network. You will, of course, have to add the channel on the Roku, too.
- Incredibly simple to use
- Loads of great channels
- Good connectivity for something so small
- Mobile app is brilliant
- Possibilities are near limitless with channels such as Plex and Twonky Beam
- Open(ish) platform
- No 50Hz support for HD signals
- DNS settings are locked
- No Infra-Red on remote
Roku 2 XS Streaming Player Review
Whilst Roku is a fairly new name to the UK streaming player market, it is well entrenched in the USA and is actually more popular than the Apple TV – to which it is undeniably very similar – and we can see why. The little black box comes with a Bluetooth remote that can be used as a motion controller – Wii Stylee – for a number of games, including the pre-installed Angry Birds ‘Channel’. By the way, what most would call an App, Roku terms a channel. Roku has crammed in the connections to this tidy little device, including HDMI and USB but it’s a shame there’s no room for a dedicated digital audio output.
Once hooked up to your TV and connected to your network, finalisation of the setup process necessitates that one must create a Roku account online, which is fine, but it shouldn’t be mandatory to have to give over your card or Paypal details – not that we suspect Roku of being fishy, just that some will object and it might restrict the potential user base, if only a little. Once this little hurdle has been negotiated, you’ll have full and unrestricted access to the full range of official Roku Channels – of which there are around 600, currently, plus there’s a number of unofficial channels that some might find of interest.
The box comes with a very good selection of pre-loaded channels, including BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Netflix and NOW TV but we could occasionally see that the Roku 2 XS wasn’t outputting video in the frequency used for UK broadcasts, where we could detect just a little stutter on panning shots. This mainly seemed to affect iPlayer and we’d like to see Roku add 1080 and 720p at 50Hz as an option in the Settings. It’s a relatively minor thing and something many won’t notice but, nevertheless, needs addressing for markets outside the US. That niggle aside, the apps, sorry Channels, all seem to be very polished and responsive and video quality, in terms of clarity, is also very good with the better services.
Special mentions should go to the Plex Media and Twonky Beam Channels and corresponding apps/media servers for computers and mobile devices. Plex, in particular, opens up a whole new world of possibilities for media streaming, as well as all its numerous plug-ins and it arguably more than doubles the functionality of the Roku 2 XS, not that it was lacking prior to that. Twonky BEAM works from your iOS or Android device and allows very easy sharing of internet video to the Roku from phone or tablet, in an Apple AirPlay kind of way. Roku also has its own app for iOS and Android, which is excellent, allowing full control of the box and speedy channel launching.
’There’s a ton of entertainment in this little box,’ says the Roku advertising and we could hardly disagree with that. What’s more, it’s all dished up in such a slick and incredibly usable way that it might just leave you wondering how you ever managed without one. It’s not perfect and there’s always room for more quality channels but the open nature of the platform leaves us certain there’s plenty more to come.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality
Set up, Menus, Remote
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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