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Geek Gifts 2011: Roku 2 XS delivers streaming video and Angry Birds

The Roku 2 XS streaming video player delivers on everything it promises at an inexpensive price and does it with minimal frustration to users.

The Roku 2 XS streaming video player continues the fine tradition of Roku players reviewed in past Geek Gift Guides. A Roku player delivers on everything it promises at an inexpensive price and does it with minimal frustration to users of the product - that is one of the best compliments you can give to any product, whether it is geek-friendly or not.

Specifications

  • Product: Roku 2 XS
  • Company: Roku Inc.
  • Dimensions:
    • Size - 3.3 x 3.3 x 0.9 inches, Weight - 3 ounces
  • Networking:
    • 802.11n Wi-Fi (b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA and WPA2 support, 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, Bluetooth version 3.0 (currently enabled for use with Roku game remote only)
  • Video Outputs:
    • 480i (over composite video), 480p (over HDMI), 720p (over HDMI), 1080p (over HDMI)
  • Video Modes:
    • 1080p High Definition (HD), 720p High Definition (HD), 16:9 anamorphic / 4:3 standard
  • Audio Output:
    • Analog stereo (mini-jack to left/right/composite video RCA), Digital over HDMI (5.1 surround sound pass-through)
  • Storage Expansion:
    • microSD card slot for additional game and channel storage
  • Remote Control:
    • Roku Bluetooth game remote (with motion sensing for playing games)
    • Streaming player includes IR. Compatible with various universal remotes
  • Price: $99.99

What I like

  • Simple: One of the Roku's major selling points is its absolute simplicity. All you have to do is plug in one end of a cable into the TV and the other end into the Roku, hook up the power cord, and then answer a few questions and you are ready to stream video.
  • Small: The Roku 2 XS is about 1/3 smaller than the first generation Roku player, which makes it very unobtrusive.
  • Digital: If you use HDMI cables, the video and audio signals remain digital and you can take advantage of HD and surround sound. This is pretty remarkable considering the diminutive size of the Roku 2 XS.
  • It just works: When I reviewed the original Roku one of the highlights was the fact that it just plain worked. The Roku 2 XS does not deviate from this characteristic - it does exactly what it says it will do and it does it well.
  • New technology: The Roku 2 XS has some new technology inside it that makes the interface a little snappier. It also has technology that gives the device the capability to play games, see USB devices, and access microSD storage. The remote uses Bluetooth technology to track its orientation, allowing the remote to be used as a pointer similar to a Wii controller. (Bill Detwiler will tell us more in his Cracking Open Photo Gallery.)

What I don't like

  • Content selection: There is really only one problem that I can find with the Roku 2 XS, but it is really a function of the times we live in - very little new content streams. The number and type of channels available with this version of the Roku streaming device is more or less the same as the Roku last year. I was expecting the addition of major new channels and new content access, but that has not materialized. It is the one thing that Roku management needs to address.
  • Angry Birds: Okay, I confess, I do not like the Angry Birds game. To me, Angry Birds is the Windows Solitaire of 2011. It is not really a game, it is a mindless distraction. If you are considering the purchase of a Roku 2 XS, Angry Birds should not be construed to be a positive attribute. And, even though I don't care much for the game, I can tell you that Angry Birds is likely more mindlessly pleasurable on a tablet.

Competitors

Bottom line

The Roku 2 XS is a perfect example of an electronic multimedia device that just does what it advertises it will do - stream HD-level multimedia content. It is easy to install, set up, and use. Now, if the folks at Roku can just get a few more content providers to join the team, we would be approaching geek nirvana.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ****
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: ****

From the TechRepublic Teardown Gallery

For more reviews of tech gadgets, gizmos, games, and books, download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2011.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

3 comments
Slayer_
Slayer_

Where does it stream from?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I recently dropped the DVD portion of my Netflix subscription to go all streaming. How much do you use streaming? Is the DVD on the way out?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Netflix is the most well known, but there is also the TWIT network, Revision 3, Amazon, Hulu, and a bunch of other lesser known independent content producers.