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Roku 2 XS teardown analysis: Smaller device hides significant hardware changes

A new processing platform and consolidated USB/Ethernet controller let the tiny Roku 2 XS deliver 1080p video and run apps like Angry Birds.

In July, 2011, Roku revamped its line of streaming media players with the Roku 2 HD, XD, and XS. The new Roku boxes are smaller and have a more-rounded design and a glossy exterior.

The HD model provides video playback at 720p, while the XD and XS support 1080p. All Roku 2 players have built-in Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n connectivity, but the XS also has Ethernet and USB ports. The XS version comes with a motion-control remote (needed to play games, such as Angry Birds).

As of this writing, the Roku 2 HD is $59.99 (US), the XD is $79.99 and the XS is $99.99. The motion remote is included with the XS, but HD and XD will soon be able to purchase the remote for $29. The Roku 2 XS weighs 3.0 ounces and measures 3.3" x 3.3" x 0.9". This is significantly smaller than the Roku XDS which measures 4.9 x 4.9 x 1.2 inches and weighs 7.2 ounces.

I cracked open the Roku XDS in January, and was interested to see the tech packed into the new player's smaller case. What I found, a new processing platform and consolidated USB/Ethernet chip, was an interesting surprise.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Roku 2 XS

Cracking Open observations

  1. Easy open case and standard screws: The Roku 2 XS's case has two halves, held together with four Torx T6 screws. The screws are hidden under the rubber pad on the base, but you can easily remove the pad without damaging the pad or base. The motion control gaming remote is held together with a single Phillips #0 screw.
  2. Single circuit board: Both the Roku 2 XS and motion control remote have a single PCB.
  3. Same amount of storage as Roku XDS: The Roku 2 XS has 256MB of storage thanks to a Hynix HY27UF082G2B NAND Flash chip. This is the same amount of storage provided by the older Roku XDS' Samsung K9F2G08U0B NAND Flash chip.
  4. Same amount of RAM as the Roku XDS, but fewer chips: A single Samsung K4P2G324EC-AGC1 LPDDR2 RAM chip gives the Roku 2 XS 256MB of RAM. The Roku XDS also has 256MB of RAM, but the older box uses four Samsung K4H510838G-LCCC DDR DRAM chips to achieve the same result.
  5. Consolidated USB and Ethernet controller: Roku stuck with SMSC for USB and Ethernet support, but the company was able to use a single SMSC LAN9512-JZX chip instead of the Roku XDS' SMSC LAN8710A and SMSC USB2512A chips.
  6. No dedicated video/audio chips: The Roku XDS used both the Trident Microsystems / NXP Semiconductors PNX8935 multi-format source decoder and NXP Semiconductors TDA9981A HDMI transmitter to deliver HD video/audio playback. In contrast, the Roku 2 XS appears to combine the Broadcom BCM4336 and SMSC LAN9512 chips into a processing platform that handles video/audio playback and central processing functions. Broadcom doesn't list specific information about the BCM4336 on its website, but from the chip markings and its position on the PCB, it appears to be a combination Wi-Fi chip and application processor.

Internal hardware

The following hardware components were visible on our Roku 2 XS's main PCB:

The motion control game remote had the following chips:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

16 comments
wrcousert
wrcousert

The Raspberry PI at $35 would make a great alternative to any Roku device. Not only can it stream video, but it can run Android and Linux as well.

lambertandrus
lambertandrus

the processor is UNDER the samsung memory, not combined with the wifi chip. It is probably similar to the TI processor used in a beagleboard, which has built in hardware video decoding.

tomhat9
tomhat9

I have been using a HTPC and the integrated streaming services built into my Sony Blu-ray player and they've been great. What I love about the Roku2 is the portability. Moving it from my kids play area to my bedroom is like moving my phone and charger from one room to the other, and it works with my newer and older televisions. The Roku 2 interface isn't as nice as the one on my Blu-ray player, but navigation is still really easy. The only thing I wish they did was make an off button. The standby thing is ok and I get that it can get updates when you aren't using it. I know it uses very little power, but still it would be a nice option.

rlramirez77
rlramirez77

I wonder if the Broadcom chip is a Snapdragon core with some custom silicon. Others have noted how these small form factor streaming boxes resemble iOS and Android phones from a HW perspective, but also in terms of SW-driven capability as well. Anyway, keep up the good work...

loidab
loidab

I have the older xds and the new 2 xs. I have cut the cord completely, and enjoy many of the british shows. I have Amazon, Netflix and Hulu Plus -- no cable tv required. I download stuff like True Blood from usenet and play it using the built in usb media player. Finally a product worth having!

techrepublic.com
techrepublic.com

I built a MythTV (www.mythtv.org) system a couple of years ago. Kind of like Tivo on steroids on crack. (We used to have 5 Tivos.) My Myth system has 6TB of disk, 7 tuners recording at the same time. 600 DVDs and 1,000 hrs of HD TV on the disks. I bought a Roku2 XS last week. Nobody (0 out of 5) in the family likes it. The interface sucks, Most of the shows we watch were unavailable or from prior seasons. Most of the movies were old or uninteresting. You can't skip forward or backward easily. You can 'fast forward' or 'rewind' but then you have to guess when to press play -- the image doesn't update until you press play. The remote only has 14 buttons and it won't control the volume on the TV so you have to have at least 2 remotes at hand. There goes the WAF unless you have a Logitech Harmony (best investment ever) or similar 'universal' remote. But then, you've lost the Bluetooth feature of the Roku remote. With Myth, you can skip forward or backward in little (30 second) or big (10 minute) steps. If you don't like those intervals, you can change them. With Roku you have to sit through the commercials whereas Myth automatically strips them out. All you see is the progress bar showing you skipped 3:46 (or whatever) for a couple of seconds. Paying for individual episodes with 5 different viewing interests and schedules would be a nightmare and way more expensive than cable. We record about 100 hours of TV a week. (We don't actually watch all of it but it's nice to have 60 Minutes or SNL, or Letterman on hand just in case something really interesting happens.) Each 'channel' implements their own interface. Netflix presents movies in a grid. Revision3 presents their episodes in a ribbon. I wanted to watch episode 56 of HD Nation. The current episode is 106 or so. I had to press 'right arrow' 50 times to get to the episode! I had to stop in the middle, so I'll have to do it again. The biggest difference is 'you have to go find your content' instead of 'my content is waiting for me.' Do you want to remember that Breaking Bad is on channel X and Dexter is on Y or do you just want them waiting in a queue for you? Do you want to choose from thousands of movies you may find interesting or from hundreds you've already chosen? If you're considering Roku or any streamer, you should check out MythTV. All it takes is a free download (Mythbuntu is my favorite flavor) and a spare PC to get started. Everybody talks about 'cutting the cable cord' and streaming everything from the net. Maybe someday, but not today.

techrepublic
techrepublic

All the TVs I've seen with integrated media players/content streamers have all been poorly implemented. I've witnessed jerky playback, unsupported media and a complete lack of forward thinking. I've been a huge fan of the XBMC player for years and I think this is the way to go. Also LG have begun implementing the Plex play into newer TVs.

dsimpson
dsimpson

I agree, I see TV manufactures either going directly to content providers or on the other hand team up with Roku to integrate their OS into a HDTV.

wchang13
wchang13

A big reason for me why I went with the Roku is that it works with all streaming services out there now and its a simple firmware update to enable others. This is thing how do any of us know in the near future if Netflix, Blockbuster or Walmart's streaming service will be around especially since Walmarts Digital Music store is being shutdown. Until your HDTV's and Blu-ray players get updates for new streaming services regularly I'll stick with the Roku. You also need to mention that the Roku has more options via web channels than any other streaming player.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Inside the Roku 2 XS is a 3" x 3" printed circuit board with a handful of ICs and connector ports. You can see that internal hardware in my Roku 2 XS cracking open gallery (http://www.techrepublic.com/photos/cracking-open-the-roku-2-xs/6274959). As television manufacturers build similar, if not identical, hardware into their sets, I can't help but wonder if Roku will remain relevant? Sure, plenty of people still have sets that can't stream video content, but that will change. Then, it becomes a question of who has the best content options. There again, television manufactures will either offer their own service or partner with the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Walmart, Apple, Hulu, etc. Many TV manufacturers already have. If streaming media support is just another feature of every TV, where does that leave Roku?

YouCanDoItAgain
YouCanDoItAgain

It's called Package-on-Package (PoP). Mixed logic-memory stacking - logic (CPU) package on the bottom, memory package on top. The processor is a Broadcom BCM2835 (700MHz ARM11). The Broadcom BCM4336 is only for wifi. Raspberry Pi is releasing a PCB with the BCM2835 and RAM, which is configured as a PoP.

Freetime000
Freetime000

You are obviously a geek with a superiority complex that spent way more time than the average home tv watcher has to build your Myth setup. The roku is about simplicty. Quick and efficient, and already built. I have a Media Center / TVR PC myself but the family can't use it well and I spend too much time constantly tweaking. The Roku is pretty much plug and watch. As for content, if your tastes are onyl for modern programming then you are missing a lot fo great content. Some of the best movies and TV ever made are "older". Watching them again is like visiting an old friend. I find a lot of modern television lacking and it's reality packed or drama rich offerings are depressing and negative. Having access to thousands of options new and old is great for the whole family. If you have to have the latest seasons available instantly then yeah it's not for you but if you're already a year behind like me then it works out great. My kids can watch their favorit cartoons over and over and over!

rlramirez77
rlramirez77

You made a few good points, but your review of the Roku 2 is a bit flawed. First, with regard to TV shows, Netflix and Amazon VoD do not include commercials. True, there is a cost of these services, monthly or PPV respectively, but the shows are commercial free. As for Movie content, it depends on what you like and perhaps how recent the releases need to be for one to be satisfied. The content is not great yet, but in just the last 6 months, it has improved a great deal and will continue to do so now that for Netflix at least, streaming is out-growing and out-selling DVD rentals. Amazon has also shown a commitment to at least giving this a go. All signs are that this is just the beginning of things to come, but the main reason more has not already happened is the owners of the content themselves are trying to get the most money for what they have. In some cases these franchises will be cash cows for years to come - the original content on USA networks is a good example. This is where Cable + Myth is hard to beat right now. As for the comment about the remote, you missed the fact that the FF and RW buttons actually skip by 8 titles, though I think its a % increment based on the total, so in your example of finding episode 56, using the FF button (and holding it if you really have a ways to go) would have navigated you there pretty quickly, versus the right arrow key. Finding content vs. knowing where you already have it or 'channel surfing' in cable, is not what streaming is, so that's a fair comment about a difference that does take some getting used to, but most Roku users don't seem to mind the adjustment. You are also correct that a Roku-wide content search for what you want would be better than searching 1 service at a time or remembering where something is. While there doesn't seem to be any technical limitation per se, I am familiar enough with all the streaming devices to say this is pretty-much the status quo and Roku is no better or worse here. Lastly, as for cutting the cord, plenty have done it. Again, it's a personal view sort of thing and your comment is not at all off base, but for folks that do not watch a lot of TV anyway for one reason or another, or prefer a certain genre like anime for example, streaming is just fine now. Russ

wilback
wilback

You make a good point about new TVs having the equivalent of a Roku built-in. What's odd is that this box deliberately turns it's back on many legacy TVs. It's all HDMI based. There's only HDMI video output, not component. And there's no separate digital sound output. I was going to get one, but I can't use it with my current legacy HDTV and A/V receiver.