Review: The Roku 2 XS Does Internet Media Streaming, Motion Gaming In A Tiny Package

This is Roku’s third media streamer lineup. The UI isn’t that much different from past models nor are the capabilities. We’ve used and reviewed almost all of the Roku products, from their first Netflix box, so we’ll keep this short and sweet. This Roku series ushers the media streamer into casual gaming thanks to motion controls and Angry Birds. Yep, yet another Angry Birds incarnation.

Roku has always featured a dead-simple UI; I’ve always said it’s boring-simple because, well, it’s a rather dull interface. The home screen features a row of icons for the available stations. Clicking on one brings up an interface unique to that station.

The best thing about Roku devices are that they are generally bulletproof. This one doesn’t seem any different. Once set up, the device runs without issue. Most of the time if a station crashes, it will freeze and then take you back to the main interface, which is a better alternative than a compete crash. That’s not saying the box doesn’t ever lock up. It’s a consumer electronic device so things can and will happen eventually.

There are three new models within the Roku 2 lineup with the most expensive being the $100 XS model. This option nets buyers the Wii-like gaming controller that doubles as a system remote. The top-tier XS model also sports 1080p/720p HDMI output, an Ethernet port a microSD card slot for future gaming applications. The $79 XD model supports 1080p/720p output where the $59 base Roku 2 only does 720p. The two least expensive models are also compatible with the motion gaming controller.

Unfortunately the latest Roku models still require a good deal of initial setup. So much so that it takes a good 15 minutes to hook up the box, download the latest update, register the Roku online, then select and install the channels. This amount of slow and boring setup certainly kills the buzz of a new toy.

Roku streamers have never played friendly with local media servers or shares. You can’t watch downloaded content over a local network on a Roku device. The new XS model does feature a USB port and some content can be played back from a flash drive — just not bitrate-rich MKV files. The XS officially supports just H.264 MP4, AAC, MP3, JPG, and PNG.

Roku has always been about adding new content to their devices and so casual games have probably been in the works for some time. The $100 XS model ships with a Bluetooth remote that looks like a Wii Remote. Along with the standard media playback controls, the remote features a 4 way navigational pad and A/B buttons. The Wii Remote comparison is more than just looks. For better or worse, it works just like a Wii Remote complete with the shaky on-screen pointing finger.

But it works. Hold the OK button, virtually pull back on the Angry Bird’s slingshot and let ’em fly.

Angry Birds is currently the only game available on the platform so hopefully you haven’t already played through it on your iPhone or Android phone. Roku promises more games are in the works but said games are Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Rio. Presumably, at least since the company built the gaming platform, more titles are on the way but until that happens, buy the Roku 2 for the media capabilities rather than the promise of gaming.

The latest Roku works like the previous Roku. That’s a good thing. The company added new features, shrunk the device to a ridiculous size, and kept the price the same. These models show the company is far from complacent despite stiff competition from Apple TV, the Boxee Box and all the rest. The lack of local network playback is probably a deal breaker for many, though. Look to the Boxee Box or WD TV if you need local and Internet streaming. I’ve always felt that Roku devices are the best general consumer media streamer and that’s even more true now with the casual motion gaming. Highly recommended (if you don’t want/need to play local files)

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