Roku 2 XS Review (3100X model)


Yesterday I had the pleasant surprise to find a package in front of my door – the new Roku 2 3100X has arrived. I unpacked it immediately so I can put it to the test – here is the Roku 2 XS review summing my impressions. I also own the previous Roku (review here)  box for more than a year, so I knew what to expect. I knew the software would be similar, so I was mainly interested in the new box responsivity and of course, the new gaming platform Roku just launched.
A bit of history on the side – Roku was the first company to release a dedicated streaming box and they are now at the 3rd generation. While weak for local content, they have arguably the lagest selection of streaming choices with content from Netflix to Vimeo and UFC to FoxNews. Private channels can be added as well to support Plex, YouTube, PlayOn, etc.

p1070541

Roku 2 XS Unpacking

The box is smaller than the previous one and I expected a smaller Roku device inside. What took me completly by surprise was the lilliputian size of the device itself. Also in the box you can find a proprietary composite cable, the power supply and the remote control together with a hand strap for it. Your big screen TV will be safe from your expansive waving gestures this way.

p1070547

Design

As I mentioned, the box is incredibly small (the original one was not a monster either, but Roku 2 is by far the smallest media streamer on the market right now). It is even much smaller than Apple TV at 3.3 x 3.3 x 0.9 inches large and 3 ounces heavy and I suspect the next step would be to build them in the USB memory stick shape. Maybe some USB / TV standard could be built around this, so you can add connectivity to any TV without actually buying a connected TV, but I digress.

p1070550
Roku 2 is curvier than the original box as well. On the side you can find an USB port while in the back there is the microSDHC memory slot, the HDMI port, the proprietary composite port, Ethernet port and power socket. All in all, a very attractive design, but destinedf to be hidden somewhere in the pack, especially with the new Bluetooth remote control not requiring a direct line of sight.

p1070551

Roku 2 Tech Specs

Networking
•802.11n Wi-Fi (b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA and WPA2 support
•10/100 Base-T Ethernet
•Bluetooth version 3.0 (currently enabled for use with Roku game remote only)

Video Outputs
•480i (over composite video)
•480p (over HDMI)
•720p (over HDMI)
•1080p (over HDMI)

Video Modes
•1080p High Definition (HD)
•720p High Definition (HD)
•16:9 anamorphic / 4:3 standard

Audio Output
•Analog stereo (mini-jack to left/right/composite video RCA)
•Digital over HDMI (5.1 surround sound pass-through)

Storage Expansion
•microSD card slot for additional game and channel storage

Remote Control
•Roku Bluetooth game remote (with motion sensing for playing games)
•Streaming player includes IR. Compatible with various universal remotes

Power Consumption
•Less than 2W (typical) when streaming HD video

Power Input
•5.2V – 1.5A power adapter

USB Media Formats
•Video: MP4 (H.264), WMV/ASF (WMV9/VC-1) ASF/WMV files encoded in WMV9 can be displayed at a maximum resolution of 480p. MP4 and ASF/WMV files encoded in VC-1 can be displayed at a maximum resolution of 1080p.
•Audio: AAC, MP3
•Image: JPG, PNG

Size
•3.3 x 3.3 x 0.9 inches

Weight
•3 ounces

Installation / Setup

Roku 2 is really simple to install. You’ll need an Internet connection and Roku 2 XS has both Ethernet and WiFi available. The cheaper models, interestingly have only WiFi. Weird choice, I was expected the other way around. Soon after the box is powered on, Roku 2 will find a new firmware version to download and then it will display an activation code and prompt you to navigate (using your PC) to Roku’s website and create a new account if you don’t already have one. You are also forced to add a method of payment which is annoying. Even more annoying, with my existing account it still forced me to add a method of payment before I could activate the box. You can use PayPal though. After this step, your box is activated and Roku will  suggest some free channels to be automatically downloaded to the device. You can also sign for free trials for Netflix / Hulu Plus. For Roku XS, the Angry Birds game is free and you can download it as well.

p1070570

In my case, I had a list of 28 downloads before I could start using it. Angry Birds is quite big and it took about the same time to download as the other 27 channels combined. If you are a Netflix subscriber you can use your existing username / password. In Hulu Plus case, you can activate the box online or use your log-in credentials as well.

User Interface

The user interfce is similar with the one from original Roku, but slightly more responsive which is a good thing. The previous model was quite slow, and the Hulu Plus feedback to the remote control commands was atrocious. The new Roku 2 seems to have fixed the speed issue altough it is not as fast as let’s say my PS3 for both Netflix / Hulu Plus. It doesn’t need 150+ Watts of electricity either. Per Roku tech specs, it is very frugal with only 2 Watts of energy consumption while streaming HD video.

p1070572

The UI is attractive and simple to use, with horizontal scrolling. The Netflix UI allows both vertical and horizontal scrolling with movie categories aligned vertically and category content horizontally. I wish companies would understand that standard definition devices are a thing of the past and design their interfaces to better take advantage of big screens or at least offer several layouts. As it is, the movie icons are just too large and not enough content fits on the screen at any given time. The same is true also for the home screen where the icons are grouped in a horizontal line with a lot of empty space above and below. Roku was sneaky enough to add some advertisement on the bottom which is very annoying. I woulde much more preffer a table layout with rows and columns, similar with arrangement in the channel store. They obviously can do it!

Channel Store

Roku has by far the most channels available for streaming, even more than Boxee Box. You can find the three big streaming companies (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon), Pandora, Facebook photos and movies, Crackle, UFC, FoxNews, International channels, applications and games, etc. Roku 2 has a much larger application memory than  its predecessor so fortunately you won’t be limited to only a few channels installed at the same time. Games similar to Angry Birds 2 obviously eat a lot of space and if Roku is serious about pushing Roku 2 as a gaming platform for family / occasional gamers we shouldn’t be fine space wise for a while.

p1070573

Netflix

The Netflix UI is exactly like its predecessor but ads subtitles, 1080p streaming and Dolby Digital 5.1 support. In my opinion the tiles are too large and do not take advantage of my 60″ plasma. You can fit so much more info without  becoming too crowded. I really don’t understand why Roku thinks they need to support standard definition TVs in 2011. Maybe next year!

p1070583

Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus interface is exactly the same across all platforms that Hulu supports with one exception, Sony’s SMP-N100 media streamer. That being said, there are few surprises in Roku’s case but Hulu Plus client does feel more responsive. As I mentioned, I also own a Roku XD and the performance in Hulu is abysmal. It sometime takes over one minute to respond to remote commands.

p1070591

Private Channels

There are some useful private channels, not officially supported but install-able on Roku 2. You can add them by signing in your Roku account and follow these steps:

1. Navigate to your Roku account (also be sure to log-in)

2. Add the channel code for the private channel desired.

3. Wait up to 24 hours or refresh faster by navigating to Channel Store on your Roku box

There are various lists containing private channels all over the Internet, here are the most popular (and stable) ones including their codes:

YouTube – B8VVK

POD TV – H9DWC

CNN – RBFA1

PlayOn – PLAYON (no local content though and you’ll need PlayOn with a premium license)

Archive.org – NMJS5

PLEX – plex

Local Content

Roku can play a variety of photo/audio/video formats from local sources like the microSD card or USB drives. These are the frmats supported:

•Video: MP4 (H.264), WMV/ASF (WMV9/VC-1) ASF/WMV files encoded in WMV9 can be displayed at a maximum resolution of 480p. MP4 and ASF/WMV files encoded in VC-1 can be displayed at a maximum resolution of 1080p.
•Audio: AAC, MP3
•Image: JPG, PNG

MKV/DIVX/XVID support is notably missing making the box less useful for local files. For these, I’ll still use my good old WD TV Live Plus which excels at playing everything under the sun.

Remote

Roku 2 XS comes with a Bluetooth gaming remote which resembles the Wii controller in functionality. The remote pairs automatically to a nearby Roku 2 box so there is nothing specific to be done to connect it. While the precision and smoothness of the operation doesn’t match the Wii Remote, nevertheless, the performance while playing Angry Birds was better than I expected, smooth and precise without requiring any additional calibration. I am impressed.

p1070543

One aspect of the remote I did not particularly like is the re-position of the OK button below the directional pad. It feels cumbersome and I wonder why the designers have chosen this layout.

Gaming

Roku is trying to position its new line of media streamers as cheap gaming boxes for the occasional gamer. Angry Birds is the first big name game to become available and it is included for free with Roku XS. It is obviously a large game but once it is loaded, it runs surprisingly well and it is actually really cool to see it on my 60 inches plasma TV. The video quality is gorgeous, the game has an excellent feedback and it offers a good playing experience. Now, if only Roku would sign more game publishers to develop for the platform and be able to keep the prices reasonable ($1-$5 each), Roku would gain a lot of value.

p1070600

DLNA

Unfortunately, DLNA continues to elude Roku boxes and to be honest, I don’t understand why. I realize Roku might think they need to extend the format support but a DLNA server like TVersity can transcode without effort any format in something supported by Roku. Until then, we’ll have to somehow lobby Roku to add DLNA functionality at some point. Until then, you can use clients (custom channels) for PlayOn or PLEX to achieve similar functionality over the local network.

Conclusion

Roku certainly has a winner in their current Roku 2 line. The box is small, power frugal and implements the largest collection of streaming channels on the market including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Amazon Video on Demand, Vimeo, etc. The company also announced that a YouTube channel is in the works and while we know YouTube doesn’t want you to stream HD on your TV, we hope for some secret upcoming agreement. Gaming wise, Roku XS shows a lot of promise and the included Wii like Bluetooth remote is a great idea. I would recommend, especially if you are interested in some gaming, to get the most expensive model, Roku XS at $99. It already includes the Bluetooth remote, Angry Birds, and more important, at least for me, it is the only model sporting an Ethernet connection.

Pros

  • largest collection of streaming clients
  • gaming support
  • Bluetooth remote Wii style

Cons

  • no DLNA support
  • weak local file support
  • Ethernet is only supported by the most expensive XS model.

Gallery

Related posts:

Tags: , , , ,

  • http://profiles.google.com/mrhammerstein mr hammerstein

    i tend to disagree with you on the size of the movie titles in netflix. using apple tv2 as the other extreme, i can’t even read the titles on the apple tv2. the roku design is much easier to navigate with. saying that, maybe they could shrink the size by 10 or 15% and see where that gets us.

    the home screen horizontal screen is annoying. after i found out how to reorder the channels, it became much more usable. they should look into having a top row with 4 or 5 favorite channels and then a scroll bar on the second row with everything in it.

    nice review. can’t wait to get mine.

  • Erik Stevenson

    MKV support will be coming in September (according to Roku’s website). Why it supports WMV, which nobody uses, and not AVI, is beyond me.

  • Erik Stevenson

    MKV support will be coming in September (according to Roku’s website). Why it supports WMV, which nobody uses, and not AVI, is beyond me.

  • http://www.reviewhorizon.com/ soricon

    That would be amazing if true! Thanks for the update :)

  • http://www.pulsorock.com Guillermo Carrion

    You can reorder the channels positions? How?
    That’s on the Roku 2 XS or the previous Roku XDS too?

  • http://www.reviewhorizon.com/ soricon

    Both. While on Home, press * on the remote and a menu will pop-up. On the first position you’ll see the option: Change channel position.

  • http://www.pulsorock.com Guillermo Carrion

    Great! I’ll give it a try! thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/JassmineSasha Jassmine Sasha Amos

    I LOVE that Roku is compatible with Standard Definition Television, that is specifically why I am getting it and many other people I know either have it already or are getting it as well. Especially when you still have the SD television you spent $4000 on less than a decade ago. My Wii’s and PS3′s are hooked up to my HD’s, but now I need a Roku to hook up to my SD. Thank you, Roku for supporting the Senior Citizens who may once again enjoy their Matlock, Murder She Wrote, Doctor Zhivago, and Valley of the Dolls. =)

  • Daniel Golightly

    Not Really Wii Style. I have a Wii and it is 100 times more accurate than my Roku2 XS, aside from that, great review. Accurate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=549023573 Felipe Alarcon

    can i connect my wirless keyboard?