I bought my first Roku way back in I believe 2003 – it was a little silver log that could amazingly stream Napster (the crappy pay service, not the awesome but illegal original) songs to my home stereo. Unlimited music for $15/month! Unfortunately that version was buggy as hell – it froze up on me frequently and I got to the point where I never even tried to use it anymore. Having until recently had a PlayStation 3 at my disposal, I never had the need to try out any of the many streaming devices now on the market. One of my technofile buddies has had a Roku for a few years and swore by it, so when I lost my PS3 in a custody battle I decided to give Roku another try since the Roku 2 XD got great reviews and was under $80.
The Roku (I never really figured out if it was pronounced “rock you” or “row coupe”?) is indeed a simple device. Plug it in, connect the HDMI cable to your TV, sign into your wireless network (maybe the most difficult part of the process since typing with a simple remote is always challenging) and you are in business. As advertised, you can be watching Netflix or Hulu Plus literally within minutes of opening the box. The picture looks pretty good but as many people have noted you probably won’t get true 1080p output through many wireless internet connections. There are many channels available but mostly I will just use this product to stream Netflix and Hulu to my TV; I believe I will eventually cut the cord with cable completely.
Things I like about the device: Super simple to set up, Roku seems to be actively working with content providers as shown by recent introduction of HBOGo app (need HBO subscription – or at least to know someone with one!) and the most recent version of Netflix which provides a Closed Captioning option (handy if you are in an apartment and don’t want to be blasting the volume late at night), great value. Also can integrate with cloud services to display saved pictures, videos, etc.
Things I don’t like about the device: Non-premium content is pretty scant – there are some news programs and audio streams, but without Netflix/Hulu/Amazon streaming one would be pretty disappointed with the options for mainstream entertainment. Apparently Crackle is an option but I’m pretty sure I got a virus from Crackle ads last year so I’m staying away from that one. Would be nice if there was a wired option (looks like there was in a previous version) would perhaps improve the video output up to true 1080p. Not really a lot to dislike, these are quibbles.
As you can see, the connections are indeed super simple, most people will just use the HDMI slot but there is a output for a composite video cable as well as a MicroSD slot if additional memory is needed for apps or games. There is a reset button as well which I have not had to use as of yet – I hope this is not an ominous reminder of the frequent hangup problem from the silver log Roku of old, but I’m pretty confident they got those problems ironed out. Overall the Roku 2 XD is very much worth the price – if you already have subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu, you can certainly extract $80 of happiness from being able to watch those services on your big screen tv.