I recently dropped my cable television service, opting instead to rely on my Netflix subscription and online replays of most of my favorite television shows. While I do admit I miss live sporting events, especially during the college football season, I have found there is plenty of content available to keep me occupied. One way to access this content, and play it on your television, is with streaming media players. Numerous services are now available, including Apple TV, Boxee Box, Google TV and Roku. I have been testing one of Roku’s next-generation players—the Roku 2 XS—and I am missing my cable subscription less and less. Roku gives you access to nearly 300 channels of entertainment, including Netflix and Pandora, and the Roku 2 offers casual gaming capabilities.
Out of the package, I was surprised by how small the Roku box is: 3.3 inches wide, 3.3 inches long and 0.9 inches high, and the box weighs three ounces.
The first phase of setting up the Roku 2 XS was amazingly simple. You begin by plugging the box in to a power outlet, connecting the Ethernet cable (if you are not using the built-in Wi-Fi), and finally connecting it to your TV or home theater receiver via HDMI or composite cable. Using an HDMI connection, the Roku 2 XS supports 720p/1080p HD video and digital 5.1 surround sound.
Once everything is connected, you turn on your TV and the real setup begins. If you are connecting to the Internet over a wireless network, the Roku will first identify the available networks and ask you to pick which one you want to use. If needed, you must also enter the network’s password. The Roku 2 XS offers 802.11n Wi-Fi (b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPS and WPS2 support. However, it does not offer dual-band support for higher-end wireless routers.
Once the Roku is connected to the Internet, it downloads the latest updates and asks you to register your Roku online—not on the TV screen. For this reason, if you have a laptop, I suggest having it with you while setting up your Roku, as it will make things much easier. When setting up your Roku account, you will also have to provide credit card information. You will only be charged if you order a game or a paid channel.
Lastly, you select and install the media channels you wish to use. This will require you to enter your credentials for various services such as Netflix and Pandora or visit a website to enter a registration code to sync Roku with the service. The user interface (UI) is clean and simple, which helps make navigation and setup very easy. Using the remote to enter usernames and passwords is a little tedious, but once you have done it, you won’t be prompted for this information again.
From start to finish it took less than 20 minutes for me to start viewing streaming video and audio over my television.
Roku started out in 2008 as a Netflix player and has, over time, expanded its offerings to nearly 300 channels. Roku still supports Netflix as well as such popular streaming movie and TV services as Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and Crackle. You can also access online and on-demand sports from NBA Game Time, NHL GameCenter, MLB.tv and Ultimate Fighting Championship (here.). For music lovers, Roku offers Pandora, MOG, Rdio, Line 365 and TuneIn Radio. Lastly, there is news and entertainment from Disney, FoxNews.com, AOL and more. For a full listing of Roku’s channels, click
Many of the offerings are free, but fee-based apps and channels are also available. You can also rent movies or subscribe to channels for a monthly fee.
The only glaring omission is YouTube, which is unfortunate given its popularity. In addition, Roku does not allow you to watch downloaded content over your local network. The Roku 2 XS does have a USB port for playing video, music and pictures from an external device, and it supports MP4 video, AAC and mp3 audio, and JPEG and PNG photo. There is also a microUSB card slot for additional game and channel storage.
New with the Roku 2 is casual gaming. At this point, the only game title available is Angry Birds, which is included free with the Roku 2 XS. However, Roku promises additional titles in the future. While, at this point, I wouldn’t buy the Roku 2 XS for gaming, expanding its offerings going forward would be a way for Roku to distinguish itself from its competitors.
To coincide with the introduction of gaming to its platform, Roku has also rolled out a new Bluetooth gaming remote for the XS with motion controls. The remote sports a four-way directional pad, which comes in handy when entering usernames and passwords for connecting to your Wi-Fi and media services. The remote has 10 other buttons, including home, back, menu, video transport controls, and A/B gaming controls.
For those who have used a Nintendo Wii you will have no problem mastering the Roku Game Remote’s built-in accelerometer, which is sensitive and accurate. When playing Angry Birds, to launch a bird you press and hold the remote’s Ok button while gesturing with your hand to pull back the sling shot and aim. When ready, let go of the Ok button to release the bird toward the target.
Since the Roku player streams content over the Internet, your overall experience is dictated in large part by your Internet connection. Over my high-speed Internet connection, I found the picture and sound quality to be quite good. The picture quality can also be impacted by the channel you are watching and the age of the movie or video.
If you are looking for a streaming Internet player with a variety of content options, the Roku 2 XS is worth a strong look. If you already have a networked Blu-ray player or HDTV, chances are you have access to many of Roku’s content providers. However, the Roku 2 XS offers a combination of ease of setup and use, broad content, gaming potential, and reasonable cost that makes it an easy choice for those in the market for a streaming player.
Roku 2 XS Streaming Player
$99.99 (currently $98.00 from Amazon.com)