Author: T_H_Schafer -- Posted: 2011-10-30
What started as a simple Netflix box, the Roku has branched off considerably. The the new Roku 2 is capable of streaming loads of different internet channels, including paid stuff like Hulu and Amazon Instant Video, while offering a surprising amount of free news, music and other stations.
For those out there looking for a dedicated device for streaming internet content to your television, the Roku 2 is great but it can't do everything. The model I reviewed was the XD, which is in the middle of the pack. At $79.99, it will stream wireless video at full 1080p resolution and is b/g/n wireless compatable. The cheapest one only does 720p. The cheaper versions also lack a wired ethernet port and the gaming remote which the $99.99 version incorporates. The $99.99 version also has a USB port for things like music and video, which I didn't get a chance to review, through the XD model does have a micro sd slot for that. Still, if you aren't interested in gaming on your Roku 2, the XD model has just about everything you need.
At 300+ channels, the Roku 2 surprised me with how much content was available for free, but if you really want to get your money's worth, having something like Netflix is really where it's at. Some of the services, like Crackle, don't offer enough to justify the purchase in my opinion. Not that these free services don't offer a bunch of content, but if you are only using the free stuff it is likely you'll be left wanting more.
As far as ease of use, the Roku 2 couldn't be more simple. After you connect to your wireless network, you're good to go. There are a handful of channels already there for you to watch, like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Crackle, and finding more channels is as easy as taking a look through the channel store. Find one you like and it will be added to your list of channels.
Performance wise, I did notice some minor hiccups. I can't be certain if it is the service or the Roku itself, but occasionally while watching Netflix I noticed that the audio would go off sync. It usually rights itself after a few moments, but it happens enough that I notice. Other than that, and even without a blazing fast internet service and an older router, most of the content comes in at a full 1080p resolution.
With such a small device, the Roku 2 blows me away a little. I know that I couldn't make something so small do so much. There isn't much to gripe about other than occasional lapses in video quality with the Roku 2, and those could be attributed to the services themselves. At such a low price, if you need something to watch streaming video on your television, the Roku 2 won't disappoint.