- Easy to set-up
- Simple navigation
- Great version of Angry Birds
- No coax or optical digital audio out
- Lacks DLNA support
- Poor USB media playback
- Lacks some key services such as YouTube and Lovefilm
- Review Price: £99.00
- Bluetooth motion-sensing remote control
In the US, Roku offers four different network media players, but in the UK we’re only getting two of these: the low end LT model, which is priced at £49 and supports playback resolutions of up to 720p HD, and the top-of-the-range XS model, which costs £99 and supports playback of 1080p HD content. Both players are available exclusively from Amazon. After having had a look at the US prices for these devices, we’ve got to say we’re a bit miffed at their UK RRPs. The XS retails for $99 in the US, which is closer to £62.50, so Roku is adding close to £40 on top for UK consumers. Even Apple would baulk at that kind of mark up!
But let’s get back to the actually player. The Roku XS is physically tiny. It measures just 84mm x 84mm and stands a mere 23mm high. As a result it’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The unit is square shaped, but has rounded corners and is finished in gloss black with the XS logo stamped in large letters on the top. Interestingly, there’s also a clothes-like tag with the Roku brand-name embroidered on it attached to the left hand side of the device.
There’s no display on the actual player, but there is a white LED light on the front that blinks while the device is booting up and then stays lit once it’s ready for use. The range of connection is a little bit limited. The right hand side is home to a USB port, while the back of the unit houses the Ethernet port along with the HDMI socket and mini jack AV output. Here you’ll also find the micro SD card slot, as well as a pin-push reset button. As you would expect, the player also has Wi-Fi built-in.
Unlike the lower-end LT model, the XS comes with its own Wii-style remote control that connects to the player via Bluetooth. However, the XS also has an IR receiver, so you can use it with universal remotes such as Logitech’s Harmony range. Although the remote is motion-enabled, the motion sensing feature is only used for games. When you’re moving around the various menus and apps, you navigate using the four way d-pad and the rest of the physical button, rather than by waving the remote around like a wand.
The first time you turn on the XS, it automatically starts up its set-up wizard. This first asks you whether you want to use a wired or wireless connection. Once you select one of these, it’ll then download the latest software for the player, which takes around two minutes. After a fairly quick reboot you then select your country and region via onscreen menus. After this the player displays a code on the screen that you then use to register it with the Roku website. Rather cheekily, during the registration process you have to enter either your credit card number or your Paypal account details in order to create an account, even if you don’t want to purchase any paid-for content.
Once you account has been created you select the channels – Roku’s name for the various video on demand services and games – that you want to add to the player. This channel list then gets sent to the player where they’re automatically downloaded and installed. It’s a very user friendly process and you can install more services later directly via the channel store on the player if you need.
The range of content supported by the Roku 2 XS is good, but not exactly comprehensive. It does include BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Picasa and Facebook (photos and videos only, for the latter). Alongside these you’ll find some services, such as Crackle, offering free older movies and channels for stuff like the Ted lecturers and various video podcasts. The Vimeo video service is also available, and you can add Daily Motion via a roundabout route (you have to set it up as a private channel via the Roku website).
However, there is also a lot of stuff missing that you’d expect to be included. It seems very strange that YouTube isn’t available, for example, and Lovefilm is also noticeable by its absence, although the latter is apparently in the works. The XS also lacks support for ITV player and 4OD – two services which are currently accessible via the PS3 – as well as DemandFive which is offered on Sony’s Smart TVs. There are also no premium movie rental services, such as Acetrax and Blinkbox.
The good news is that those services that are supported are nicely implemented. The BBC iPlayer apps uses the same updated, easy to use interface as found on the latest smart TVs, and all the other apps are presented in a very TV-friendly way, with large icons and easy to navigate screens.
Moving around the various menus is generally pretty speedy. However, some of the services take a long time to load. For example, from selecting iPlayer in the menu until the app fully loaded and was ready to use took 42 seconds. Netflix, by way of comparison, took 36 seconds to load. Both of those are fairly long waiting times.
There are some other issues, too. Bizarrely, despite being a network player, the Roku can’t actually connect to a PC or NAS drive to stream media via network shares or DLNA. Obviously, Roku wants this player to be predominantly used with online services, but as the range of supported services in the UK is rather limited at the moment, the omission of local media streaming support is all the more glaring.
And while there is a built-in app that allows you to play back media files via memory keys or hard drive connected to its side mounted USB port, this doesn’t work all that well. For starters, the unit can’t down-mix DTS and AC3 streams to stereo, but instead only passes them through the HDMI port. So unless you’ve got the box connected to a HDMI amp or home theatre kit you won’t hear any sound on these videos. Also, the lack of an optical digital audio output means that you can’t use the player with older style surround sound amps and decoders. Secondly, it refused to play some MKV files that our other network players had no problems with, so the format support seems like it needs a bit of work.
On the plus side, the player does come with a full version of Angry Birds and this is fun to play with the motion controller. You use the motion sensing to set the angle of your catapult and press the OK button to fire you avian payload. The graphics are smooth and the game itself is every bit as fun to play on your TV as it is on the iPhone. You can also purchase Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Bird HD via the channel store. However, the other games on offer aren’t anywhere near as good or as fun to play.
It’s difficult to know what to make of the Roku XS. On the one hand it does what it’d designed to do very well – make internet video-on-demand services very easy to access via your TV. However, it’s currently lacking some key services and we think it’s frustrating that it doesn’t allow you to play your own videos across your home network. Ultimately, we think it’s a bit too expensive for what’s on offer to UK users, as many people would be better buying something like the similarly priced Western Digital Live TV. It offers many of the most popular services found on this device, but adds great media streaming support on top.
Score in detail
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