Thursday, September 8, 2011

Roku 2 Review (vs. Apple TV 2)

I recently purchased the new Roku 2 XS Streaming Player to add to the long list of media streaming players that we already have in the house.  The primary driver behind this purchase is Hulu Plus.  I've been waiting for the Apple TV to add support for Hulu Plus for over a year and with the launch of the latest version of Roku, I figured what the heck, I'll give it a try.

The Roku 2 is a great device and if I didn't have a bunch of Apple TVs hooked up to every TV in the house, I would've had a heart attack seeing the user interface as it seems great.  However, when you compare it with Apple TV, Apple wins hands down.  There's a lot to love about Roku 2 XS and a few things to dislike, at least when you compare it with the Apple TV.

The Positives
Starting with the positive aspects of the Roku 2, here's what I found to be worthwhile:

  • Form Factor.  The Roku 2 is very small and light and is easy to hide behind the TV or anywhere your media cabinet, especially since the remote control uses Bluetooth (see below).
  • Remote Control.  The Roku 2 XS comes with a Bluetooth remote control, which means that you don't need a direct line of sight between the remote and the device itself.  The Bluetooth remote control also has a built-in accelerometer, which is great for games.
  • Applications.  The Roku 2 supports a variety of applications, including games.  I especially like the fact that it supports Hulu Plus and Crackle.  The XS version comes with a free Angry Birds game that takes advantage of the accelerometer in the remote. 
  • The Price.   You can't beat the price for the functionality.  The XS model is the best value because it comes with the Bluetooth remote and Angry Birds for only $99.  The HD model costs $69.99 and the XDcosts $79.99.
The Negatives
At least for me, I found the following to be negative:
  • Sluggish User Interface. The user interface is a little slow and feels sluggish at times.  It's not remotely as smooth as the Apple TV, but is better than Google TV, Boxee and many other streaming devices.
  • No iTunes Support.  If you have music and videos on your network that you want to stream, you're out of luck because Roku 2 does not allow you to stream your own content through a local network.  Instead, you can copy your media to an external USB driver and connect that to the USB port on Roku 2.  The results are not very impressive and, again, I'm comparing it to the Apple TV where it naturally integrates with your existing iTunes library.
  • No iPhone App.  I'm surprised that Roku 2 does not have an iPhone/iPad app to control the device with.  The Apple TV obviously has an app, but other streaming devices do as well, including Boxee.
Bottom line:  The Roku is a great device for the money, but you still need an Apple TV to stream your own content.