Roku 2 XS Review
UK price (as reviewed): £99.98 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $89.99 (ex tax)
There is an absolute wealth of media out there in internet land, and watching it is becoming more and more popular - you’ve only got to listen to the creaking protestations of our telecoms infrastructure to see how much video is being consumed over the web these days. The only problem is that most of the time your internet is being piped to your PC, which - chances are - isn’t set up for long viewing sessions or for more than one person.
The answer here, obviously, is to try and get that internet media into your living room somehow. This is already happening for some of course; if you buy a new TV today, chances are it’ll be internet ready to some degree. Not everyone has one of these or wants to stump up the cash to get one however, especially if the unit they currently have is of a decent spec, and interface quality and ease of use also varies wildly from one TV manufacturer to another. Thankfully, internet enabled media streamers such as the Roku 2 XS offer a compelling and relatively simple way to get the best of both worlds.
Indeed, simplicity seems to be something of a byword for Roku, as everything about the device - from the remote to the interface - has been stripped down to make it as easy to work with as possible. Setting the streamer up, for instance, is an almost entirely painless exercise; the only bump in the road is the fact that you’re asked to provide your payment details upfront, even if you never plan to purchase any of the paid for content available. We’ve got some sympathy for Roku here - entering your payment information like this makes any later purchases simple and quick, but including it in the initial setup feels a little invasive, even if it will save time in the long run.
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Connectivity is handled via either 802.11n wi-fi or a 100Mbit Ethernet port, and you’re given a choice of either composite or HDMI video outputs. Annoyingly though there isn’t a HDMI cable bundled with the device - a glaring omission seeing as this is the only way to get a HD signal out of the Roku 2 XS.
Once set up, you’re asked to pick which channels you’d like made available. The mix is decidedly US centric, with 4oD and ITV player conspicuous by their absence. BBC iPlayer, Netflix and the excellent free Crackle film channel are available however, along with a dedicated TED channel, and a large range of news channels, such as Fox News.
Annoyingly, however, the Roku 2 XS cant stream media from a network attached PC out of the box - you have to install a media streaming program, such as Plex, on your PC first. This is a hassle, and means that the Roku 2 XS is far less flexible than other media streaming devices. You can at least play media from an attached USB stick (though you’re limited to only to MP3, AAC, MP4, MKV, JPG and PNG format files), which mitigates this omission to a degree.
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Picture quality varies depending on what we were watching, but when provided with a quality video stream, such as from iPlayer, the Roku 2 XS output a crisp picture, even on a large TV. The player also has a number of neat touches, such as integrating motion control into the remote (so it can be used in the downloadable games) and making the remote to base unit connection radio wave rather than infrared based, so that don’t need to have a direct line of sight between the two.
The Roku 2 XS is an attractive little piece of kit that’s ideal for someone looking to turn their old, but still capable TV, into a newfangled Smart TV without too much fuss. Unfortunately that's pretty much where the good news ends, as its lack of network streaming functionality means it feels a little too dumbed down and simplified when compared to competing products such as the £80 WD TV Live
. Its size gives it the edge in some scenarios (it's small enough to travel with for example) but even so, it still looks expensive at £100 - especially when you compare it to the US (admittedly ex tax) retail price.