My Roku2 Review

It has been a while since I last posted a review of any technology. Part of this is because I didn’t have the time to but the other part was that I simply didn’t have many new tech toys that I felt worthy of mention other than my new iMac which I discussed earlier. I wanted to change that because I finally got a Roku2 for my house and I don’t know why it took me so long.

For any of you that are not aware, my wife is pregnant with our first (and only?) biological children – yes, that is plural, we are having a girl and a boy. Because of her health and the fact that these are multiples, the doctor recently placed her on modified bed rest which means that she has to cut her daily activities by over 1/2. Since she was going to be spending more time laying in our bed, she asked if I could add some entertainment to our master suite. I first moved our old TV in there (the one I had used as my studio monitor before the iMac) and added a new HDTV cable box. However, one day while I was at work she told me that she really wanted Netflix in our room because she was getting bored with the daytime TV shows. I needed to get something in there but using the Wii would be needlessly complex and make it that much more difficult when the kids wanted to play. I didn’t want to move the Logitech Revue in there because I still use it when I am in there and it is one of the primary Netflix sources when the kids want to watch TV. So, after listening to the suggestion of one of my co-workers and doing some research, I ended up picking the Roku2.

When I first opened the thing, my impression was “this thing is tiny!” because it really is not much bigger than about 4 inches squared. The only connectors on this thing were an HDMI connector, what appeared to be RCA connectors (maybe RGB), and a port for the AC Adapter. It also came with a slightly unusual cloth tag with the word ‘Roku’ on it. The other piece of equipment this came with was the patented Roku remote with its built-in headphone jack and cleanly packaged earbuds. This thing is even smaller than my Logitech and it looks like the system casing is even more refined. I have not even hooked it up yet and I am already intrigued. With very little effort, I plugged it into the second HDMI slot on my bedroom HDTV and started the setup.

After a little learning curve getting to know the on-screen keyboard which you must navigate using it’s game-like D-Pad, I was able to get it on my wireless with no hiccups. I paused temporarily to activate a Roku account from my iPad and then link the device here in my home to that account and now it was time to customize my box. I added all the free channels I could find and went through the activation with some of the special channels (Disney, History Channel, etc.) to prove that I had a cable provider. Soon it was done and BOOM! What a machine!

After very minor setup I was able to link up Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Pandora. Not only was the setup more simplistic than the Logitech revue but also the speed is remarkable when you compare it to my Revue. The Netflix viewing environment is virtually identical to the one on my Revue though it is a little more snappy but the search features are massively better. The Amazon Prime video is massively improved over my Revue because it actually has its own app interface whereas the Revue literally opens a Chrome browser which is highly inefficient on a big screen TV. I think the Pandora interface is pretty much identical to the one on the Revue but it does seem to run slightly faster. I also like the way that YouTube works on the Roku. The Revue’s interface is similar to the Amazon video player, it is basically a Chrome browser which is still too annoying to try on an HDTV. But the Roku’s interface is clearly streamlined to work with your TV and provides crystal clear HD viewing for YouTube videos. Further success!

Going beyond the standard things I looked for on the Roku2, it offers other features that caught my eye. First of all, the News channel was very interesting. I don’t tend to be too much of a newshound but I certainly watch certain technology stories and big world-impact things like the Malaysian plane story. I have the News Channel on my Wii but as far as I can tell, this has never worked. I tried the News Channel on my Roku and was instantly able to watch news stories including the weird news channel which I thought was pretty cool. A large portion of the news articles came from a website called “Newsie” which I was unaware of prior to owning the Roku but that doesn’t make me dislike the channel. Overall, I found the interface fun and interesting. Another interesting thing about the Roku2 is that it has a few skins that you can apply to give the device different appearances. I stuck with a metallic gray theme but the defaults include a space age looking interface, a silly cartoon interface, a blue-sky interface and a few others. It is possible that additional skins may be available but I am not sure how one might apply them other than a ‘push’ from the Roku site. It seems like a silly thing but the fact that Roku actually had the foresight to include different skins shows that they were paying attention to the tiny details. I have yet to test the ‘private mode’ which allows me to listen to the Roku with only headphones and not disturb other people. If that function works, especially with different headphones, buying a second one of these boxes is in my very near future.

Overall, I am very pleased with this device. I can’t believe that I just now acquired one and evidently my friends agree. I am known by my friends as a techie guy who likes to play with new stuff and who also likes his movies and TV. When I mention to friends that I purchased the Roku2, they all seem to say the same thing “You JUST got one? Wow, I have had mine for a while”. Yeah, I am behind the times but now I see why these things are so popular. I am not regretting the money that was spent on it. Even if my wife does not use the one she has very much, it will get used.

Ratings:

  1. Performance – ✮✮✮✮ – This thing is cool and snappy in its performance. The setup is very easy and the thing runs extremely well. I can’t ask for a better performance out of my device.
  2. Features – ✮✮✮ – This thing is packed with features for the buck. The only thing I wish it did was allow the HDMI pass-thru like my Logitech Revue.
  3. Price – ✮✮✮✮ – Given the amount of features that this little thing packs, the price of approximately $75 is a good deal. My Revue cost over $100 when I got it and has nowhere near the features.

All this is to say, if you have yet to pick up a Roku2 and need a streaming media box, go get this one!

 

Apple Supercomputer

The first Apple product I purchased was an iPod Nano back when they were relatively new but I eventually ran out of space on it to store my massive MP3 library. Then, I purchased an iPod classic which I never fully filled up but lasted me for some time. By this point I had already invested quite a bit of money in iTunes, something that was uniquely Apple.

I purchased an iPad2 (Wi-Fi only) for my wife to use as she was zooming about town taking our kids to doctors. When I started my music career, it became apparent that the MacBook Pro and Apple’s Logic Studio would be the best items for me to use for production so I bought a used (and heavily modified) MacBook Pro from a college student. I used the laptop only for my music production and a few other basic operations because I felt that “Mac could not do what Windows does.” However, I was impressed enough by my wife’s iPad that I purchased an iPad3 with LTE…wow… how did I live without this? In fact, when I dropped the iPad and busted the screen I was so distraught at how much time and work I had invested in my apps and notes on this device that I purchased a NEW one that day.

By now, I have a substantial music library with a large part of the songs being iTunes only. I discovered the wealth of movies that you simply can’t get on NetFlix and noticed a markedly higher-quality video from the iTunes rentals over NetFlix. I started using my MacBook for daily operations that I normally thought were only Windows-capable things (i.e. writing documents, printing resumes, etc.) . I even figured out how to make the thing play WoW and The Sims 3. There are very few things that I CAN’T do with a Mac so now you will understand the title of this post. I have purchased a BRAND NEW iMac.

This ain’t your momma’s iMac! It has a beastly 7 core processor, 32GB of RAM, a video card that smokes almost any video card I have used before, 3TB of hard drive space, even a 27″ monitor. Yes, it cost a lot more than a basic PC would cost with a similar hardware base but after seeing the punishment I could put my modded MacBook through with it’s 8 year old hardware (you read that right) I am certain this thing will blow my PC’s away. I almost jumped for the new Mac Pro (aka the trashcan computer) but considering it is totally new and therefore may have bugs combined with the fact that it won’t even ship until at least March, the iMac was the best choice.

My plan now is to transfer all of my old data from my MacBook pro to the new computer once it arrives. I will then wipe the MacBook and reload it so that my wife can use it. Why? Because she is already a rabid iPhone user (I have still kept my trusty Android phones), wants a computer that doesn’t need to be fooled around with to make it work, and something that is as easy to use as her iPhone. Ding ding ding! The MacBook makes perfect sense. I have already seen her delight in amazement at how quickly she could edit photos on the Mac and upload them directly from iPhoto to our Flickr account (something that no Windows computer even comes close to) and how quickly she figured out how to use the Command+menu keys while working on the MacBook.

The computer I will soon have is unlike anything I have ever used before. It may be so good that I completely abandon my Windows computers in the future. No, I am not going to be some snobby hipster who says that I can only use Mac or the world will end. Not at all! There are lots of things that Windows computers can be used for – mostly business applications – and I will still use those at my day job. I will just focus on using this spiffy and super-powered iMac to do my bidding when I am off the clock.