Roku 2 XS Streaming Player Review

Small Box = Big Fun

by hodg100
Home AV Review

Highly Recommended
Roku 2 XS Streaming Player Review
SRP: £99.00

Introduction

The market for streaming video media players has more than doubled in the last couple of years and a recent study found that they were now installed in 14% of US homes, which is a significant number in anyone’s book. We’ve seen one or two, here at AVForums already, notably with Steve’s review of the Apple TV and, more recently, our look at Sky’s NOW TV box. On the face of it, both those devices bear more than a passing resemblance to the Roku 2 XS up here for review but it’s with Sky’s box that the Roku shares more in common. Not surprising since Roku made it for Sky but what is slightly more unexpected is that the study, mentioned above, revealed that Roku streamers are more popular, in the US, than Apple’s which is clearly a state of affairs they would like to replicate over here. Let’s see if Roku is up to taking a bite out of Apple on this side of the pond?
Roku 2 XS

In the Box

The Roku 2 XS is an inviting little package from the outset. The packaging is fun and funky and bears the promise that ‘this is gonna be fun’ and we hope they're right. Unfastening the inner box reveals a simple ‘'Let’s get Started’ guide and under that sits the two stars of the show – the remote and 2 XS Box itself. Below that tier is the power supply unit and that’s the only other thing you really need to get going, other than a connecting lead (preferably HDMI) to the TV which isn’t supplied.

Roku 2 XS

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

The Roku 2 XS doesn’t come with an ordinary remote, although it looks unremarkable enough. Once the batteries are installed, it feels surprisingly heavy for something so compact and that’s down the fact that there are gyroscopic sensors, used for gaming, inside. The likeness to the Wii Remote Controller is furthered by the addition of two ‘action’ buttons, labelled ‘A’ and ‘B’, and the fact that it comes with a – you guessed it – plum coloured wristband, which is easily removed, thank goodness.

Roku 2 XS

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.

Setting Up

Assuming you’ve had no issues locating power and video/audio connections on the TV and box, getting started with the Roku 2 XS is very easy indeed, with a hand-holding process guiding you along the way. The Bluetooth remote should hopefully be paired automatically so the first thing of any note to do is set up your network access; obviously that’s simplified if you’re going wired and there’s no one touch Wireless setup so be prepared with your router’s log on details. All that then follows is a check for software updates and the selection of your desired video output resolution – naturally aim for the choice that matches your display’s native capabilities. The only other thing to do is to create a Roku account on the Web and then link the unique code provided there with the box, by means of a PIN code, to allow access to the Roku Channel roster. Unfortunately, at this point one is required to part with either credit/debit card or Paypal details, which some won’t like, but it will no doubt simplify the process of adding any paid-for channels from the box interface.

Roku 2 XS
Roku 2 XS
There’s a fair few options under the Settings area but they’re almost all very straightforward. Besides being able to change your network settings and video output, there’s also the opportunity of being able to send 5.1 audio via HDMI, although it would have been good if they could have somehow managed to find room for an optical connection, somewhere. You can also set screensaver type and corresponding trigger time, pair or re-pair a remote and perform a factory reset, if needs be. Other than those, it’s just the usual array of language and time settings found in virtually all menus, everywhere.

Mobile App

Of course there would be a mobile app and, as it happens, it’s an absolute corker, providing some of the slickest control we’ve seen implemented by a hardware manufacturer. The Roku Mobile app is available on Android and iOS and provides completely full and free control over the player, including allowing you to add channels, streaming your phone’s photos and music (not on iOS) and, probably best of all, it allows for quick launching of apps and it will even do it via voice commands, both of which actually make it quicker than using the conventional remote. We can rarely say the same of the TV & Set-top-Box manufacturer’s mobile apps. It’s also useful having a keypad on there for searching and, in fact, we actually can’t find anything to fault it with. It just works.

Roku 2 XS
Roku 2 XS

Channels

This would be one very long and tedious review were we to list the full array of all the official Channels available through the Roku 2 XS, which is testament to the open nature of the device which Roku are keen to foster. At the time of writing, we believe there are somewhere in the region of 600 official channels, on offer, with more being added on a weekly basis. The channels can are categorised by Roku into genres - Film & TV, Games, News/Weather/Sport, Music, Internet TV, Photos & Video, International, Food, Special Interest, Screensavers & Apps plus Religion & Spirituality Channels. Considering there are more than 120 channels in the last category, alone, it’s probably fair to say there’s an emphasis on quantity over quality but there’s plenty of excellent stuff there.

Roku 2 XS
Roku 2 XS
The channels that come pre-loaded appear in the My Channels segment of the Home Screen include BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Netflix, Sky’s NOW TV and a version of Angry Birds, which plays very nicely with the motion-controlled remote. Barring the Netflix Channel, everything seems as up-to-date as on any other of the numerous devices we’ve used them on and it they’re all snappy to load and navigate around. Like the Sky NOW TV box, video output at either 720p or 1080p is locked at 60Hz so it’s not ideal for UK services which usually work at 50Hz and this can result in a slight choppiness in certain instances. We could see virtually no stutter whilst watching Breaking Bad through Netflix but it was spottable with some iPlayer programming. We’d really like to see Roku add a 50Hz output option in the future.

Roku 2 XS
Other channels we found ourselves using most included Vimeo for high quality video streaming, TuneIn internet radio and Sky’s NOW TV Channel – the latter primarily because we have 6 months left but all were in very good working order. This isn't a product where the end user is being used as a beta tester, it's highly polished and clearly well maintained. We ceratainly wouldn't mind seeing a few more key channels added. Most notably YouTube is missing, which will need a patch up of relations between the two parties before it comes back, but we'd also like to see the ITV Player, 4OD and LOVEFiLM added, to name a few.

Special Mention Channels

So, on the face of it, the Roku 2 XS looks to be a very simple to use and highly effective internet streaming device – which it definitely is – but there’s lots more that can be unlocked via some of the more interesting Channels that don’t necessarily get featured by Roku’s marketing although, to be fair, probably the best of these channels – Plex - does get a supporting part. The Plex Media Server app is available across multiple platforms including Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, which obviously does require that the device is running. Plex allows the user to manage and play video, photos, music, and podcasts from a local or remote computer, making the Roku 2 XS a fully-fledged – not to mention very polished – media player but there’s more besides, including the ability to add community-driven plugins, of which there are many, including YouTube, Hulu and Netflix, to name but a few.

Roku 2 XS
Roku 2 XS

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.

Roku 2 XS
When you visit a website, Twonky Beam displays a Beam button over the media files that you are able stream to the Roku and the apps home page contains links to popular websites – such as YouTube, which is missing from Roku’s channel line-up - and you can easily return to this page by tapping the Twonky logo in the app. Twonky Beam is primarily aimed at internet video, but it also works well with audio and photos. You can create playlists of media items from across the web, continue browsing while playing media on a device and bookmark your favourite sites for future streaming and it all worked very well with our combination of Nexus 7 and the Roku 2 but a lot of the popular bases are perhaps slightly better covered by Plex.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • 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

The Bad

  • 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.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Performance

.
.
8

Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Set up, Menus, Remote

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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