Roku's products are famous for their consumer friendliness and the Roku 2 XS is no exception. The box is nicely packaged and comes with an excellent setup guide. The guide is simple enough even for a complete novice. The contents of the Roku 2 XS package are as below:

  1. Roku 2 XS main unit
  2. Setup guide
  3. Composite cable
  4. 7.5W AC Adapter
  5. Gestural remote control

The Roku unit is small enough to fit within one's palms. The exact dimentions are 3.3in x 3.3in x 0.9in. The unit has a slightly raised rubber base glued to the entire underside. The front of the unit has an LED that blinks during various stages of operation. The right side has the USB port while the left side is plain. On the rear side of the unit, we have the microSD slot on the left top corner and the HDMI port right below it. The composite video port is to the right and a Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) port follows it. A reset pin hole and the adapter port wrap up the rest of the rear side.

From reset (either hard or soft), the Roku 2 takes, on an average, 150 seconds to land at the home screen. I would normally complain that this is way too long for a media streamer. However, the absence of a power switch indicates that Roku doesn't expect the Roku 2 to be switched off, but rather kept in idle / sleep mode when not being used.

Once the unit was connected to the TV, I was presented with what I consider to be the first drawback of the Roku 2. It is not possible to set up the unit without creating a Roku account. This, by itself, is fine. However, the fact that a Roku account can't be set up without registering a credit card can't be excused. Roku supposedly does this to ensure that the user has a seamless experience while purchasing apps from within the Roku 2's TV interface. There is also the option to require a PIN for any such purchases. Even a company like Apple (which is considered by many to have the perfect user experience) allows for the creation of iTunes accounts without the need for a credit card. This makes it hard to justify Roku's requirement.

Once an account is linked to the Roku box, the rest of the set up process is a breeze. A number of channels can be chosen even while creating the account, and these get automatically downloaded to the Roku box after linking. The unit has a pleasing and effective 10 foot UI, and the various channels and options are presented in a coverart flow view. However, a visit to the Settings page led me to the second drawback of the unit.

Throughout our review process, the Roku 2 XS was connected via HDMI to the Onkyo TX-SR 606 and then to a Sony KDL46EX720 1080p 3D TV. Most other media streamers that I have tested were able to grab the EDID information delivered by the Onkyo AVR and set themselves up with the highest possible settings. Unfortunately, the Roku 2 doesn't seem to care about EDID (this is good in other cases, but not during the initial set up). I had to manually set the resolution to 1080p and also the sound output to 5.1 channel (it defaulted to stereo). The rest of the settings and a glimpse of the UI are available in the gallery below:

The UI is snappy enough to prove a reasonably good experience. It is advisable to have a broadband connection with decent speed, and it is preferable to have the unit connected to the router in a wired manner. No prizes for guessing that the 2.4GHz only wireless support is not the best for network streaming, particularly with sites that don't implement an adaptive bitrate and/or buffering streaming methodology.

For the discerning user who wants fine-grained control / information about the Roku 2 unit in operation, some of the interesting key-press sequences are presented below:

  1. Debug Info on screen (Bitrate override) : Home 5x, Rew 3x, FF 2x
  2. Channel Version Info: Home 3x, Up 2x, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left
  3. Developer Settings Page (enable playback debugging): Home 3x, Up 2x, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right
  4. Soft reset : Home 5x, Up, Rew 2x, FF 2x

In the next section, we will take a look at the platform on which the Roku 2 lineup is built.

Introduction Broadcom All the Way
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  • ganeshts - Saturday, October 1, 2011 - link

    No, not really.. there are lots of limitations wrt the browser in the Revue and it is not a very great experience. I would suggest just using a laptop for your purpose (maybe a old one repurposed as HTPC, or just build a HTPC -- it is very easy to get satisfied wrt online media with HTPCs.. It is codec configuration which is the most difficult part of the HTPC experience)
  • danjw - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    I know the last generation of Roku worked with Amazon Prime, does this one? I have been using my current Roku for that.
  • ganeshts - Saturday, October 1, 2011 - link

    Yes, it has Amazon VoD...
  • blahsaysblah - Saturday, October 1, 2011 - link

    You're all missing the biggest downside of Roku. You should read the EULA. The fine print says they collect and use your viewing habits. They see everything you watch in Netflix,...

    I got the Roku XD when it first came out. Then some random article pointed that out... Threw it in the trash after i verified it myself.

    Thats why its so cheap. They make money off selling your viewing habits. Good thing the new version enforces linking a credit card to the box.
  • ganeshts - Saturday, October 1, 2011 - link

    :) I saw that myself in the Wireshark traces (they even reach out to their servers when you start playing Angry Birds).. Then, I realized there are no popular online streamers which don't do that.. Boxee Box does something similar too..
  • Samus - Monday, October 3, 2011 - link

    if SoC's cost so little ($25) why do smartphones still cost $400? all they add is a screen, single-cell battery and some NAND.
  • Cali3350 - Monday, October 3, 2011 - link

    Well, the Screen, battery and NAND (and much more ram) easily cost into the hundreds. Add the Radio, camera et all and you add up.
  • ganeshts - Monday, October 3, 2011 - link

    This SoC was probably built for the sub-$100 'smartphones' for the developing markets (it has only ARM11 as the main processor, while the $400 smartphones probably have Cortex-A8 or Cortex-A9s). Since Mediatek and other Taiwanese companies have the sub-$100 smartphone market covered, Broadcom probably had to shop this SoC around for other applications like the Roku 2.. Broadcom PR wasn't very forthcoming with info about this SoC..
  • Bownce - Monday, October 3, 2011 - link

    How's it compare to "WD TV Live +"? i've concluded that WD doesn't put enough advertising dollars into the review stream since it seems to be ignored in spite of supporting so many different file formats for local/LAN streaming. No on-line gaming, but the media formats it supports without transcoding still seems to dwarf other options.
  • ganeshts - Monday, October 3, 2011 - link

    WDTV Live + is very good, except for some minor issues with DTS-HD audio streams (no bitstreaming) and some splitter bugs. We covered it in these review pieces:

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