Last week I purchased a Roku 2 XS Streaming Player from Amazon. Normally costing around £80, Amazon are now selling them for £55, making them just £6 more expensive than the slightly newer but more limited Roku Streaming Stick.
When I discussed streaming media boxes last month, the streaming stick was my original first choice, but this was before the drop in price of the Roku 2 XS. Compared with the Streaming Stick, the 2 XS adds a number of extra features:
- A USB port, for plugging in external hard disks to watch video files from.
- A Micro-SD card slot to expand its storage space from the 256 megabytes provided as standard.
- An Ethernet port.
- Analogue outputs for televisions that don’t support HDMI.
- A motion-sensitive remote for playing games, with Angry Birds included.
The latter two don’t bother me too much, but extra capacity could be useful if I end up installing lots of extra channels.
I’m really impressed with it, actually. The box is tiny and can sit comfortably in the palm of your hand – in fact, the remote control is longer than the box itself. Speaking of which, the remote is simple and doesn’t have lots of seemingly useless buttons like most of our other remotes. It doesn’t come with HDMI cable as standard, instead shipping with an analogue cable, but you can get a reasonable HDMI cable from most pound shops these days.
Setting up the Roku
Device setup is quite easy – plug it into your TV and the mains, and then the device will try to connect to the internet. If you haven’t plugged an Ethernet cable in, you’ll get to select a Wifi network, and enter the passcode. Your device will now ask you to go to a computer and set up a Roku account, and then enter a code to link your device to your account. You do need to enter either a credit card number or PayPal email address to create an account, but you won’t be charged unless you purchase an app which costs money.
Roku will offer several channels to you, and then you’re ready to go. It’s easy to navigate around, although sometimes there’s a bit of a lag between you pressing a button on the remote and the box reacting. The newer and more powerful Roku 3 should have less lag but it’s quite a bit more expensive.
Setting up your Roku with your YouTube, Facebook and Flixster (for UltraViolet) accounts is done on your computer as before, but the Netflix app requires you to enter your username and password on the device itself. You can use an on-screen keyboard, or a mobile app for iOS or Android which turns your phone into a remote control, with keyboard entry. I found that the Netflix app would not accept a password with special characters so I had to change it first.
Using the Roku
Once set up, the device is really simple to use on a day to day basis. Firstly, you don’t need to turn it off, as it effectively runs on the same power as a Raspberry Pi and can be left plugged in and switched on without drawing too much electricity. This means it doesn’t take ages to boot up when you want to watch something. Apart from the slight interface lag as mentioned before, it’s quick to navigate through, and as most of the apps are official and authorised you get a consistent experience – the iPlayer app works in a similar way to the BBC’s web site, for example.
I’ve mentioned BBC iPlayer, but ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5 are also available, covering all four main free-to-air broadcasters in the UK. Of the paid-for streaming services, Roku supports Netflix and Sky’s Now TV, but not Tesco’s BlinkBox or Rakuten’s Wuaki TV. US users can get the Amazon Prime Instant Video channel but it hasn’t launched in the UK yet.
If you want to watch content on your own computer, such as films that you have copied from DVDs, then you can install the Plex app on your Roku, and the Plex Media Server app on your computer. The Plex app on the Roku is free for 30 days and then there is a small charge to keep using it – I paid £1.49 but I think this was a special offer.
Another nifty feature allows you to beam content from the YouTube mobile app to your Roku, in a similar way to Google’s ChromeCast stick and Apple’s AirPlay. An icon appears on your screen, which will show the video on your TV, but you retain control on the mobile device. Right now, YouTube and Netflix are the only two apps which support this although I haven’t tried Netflix myself.
On the whole I’m really impressed with the Roku. At £55 it’s only just over half the price of the Apple TV, and can do just about everything its more expensive competitor can do, and more. The interface is simple and enjoyable to use, apart from the slight lag as mentioned earlier. I would definitely recommend it.