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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!