Sometimes a device gets even better when it loses a few frills, especially if it becomes even more affordable in the bargain. The Roku 3 stood as our Editors’ Choice media hub because of its low price, huge selection of online services and channels, an intuitive menu system, and the option to listen to what you’re watching through a headphone jack on the remote control. The Roku 2 keeps all of these handy features and still supports full 1080p HD. It only loses the motion-sensing remote control for games and an Ethernet port, neither of which are must-have features. And at $79.99 (direct) it’s $20 less expensive, making it our new Editors’ Choice.
Almost physically identical to the Roku 3, the Roku 3 is a small, square, black plastic puck measuring 3.7 inches on each side and standing 1.2 inches tall. It weighs just 3.5 ounces, so particularly heavy HDMI cables can potentially throw the little player off-balance and lift it up. It has no buttons and only one indicator light on the front. The back panel only holds HDMI and composite outputs and the power connector. The lower price tag and composite video output come at the cost of an Ethernet connector; you need to use the Roku 2′s integrated dual-band (802.11a/b/g/n) Wi-Fi to take it online.
The remote is also similar, though it lacks the motion controls and video game support of the Roku 3′s remote. That means you’ll have to turn to another electronic device to play Angry Birds. It’s a small, slightly curved wand with a prominent direction pad, standard playback and menu navigation buttons, and dedicated service buttons for Netflix, M-GO, Hulu Plus, and Blockbuster. It connects to the Roku 2 via Wi-Fi Direct rather than infrared, so you don’t need to point it directly at the box.
The left side of the remote features a 3.5mm jack for headphones , which was one of the most welcome new features on the Roku 3. (Volume control is on the right.) You get a cheap-sounding pair of earbuds in the box, but you can use any pair of headphones with a standard 3.5mm connector. Plugging in the headphones automatically mutes the HDTV audio, which enables private listening. It’s a useful feature we’ve not seen elsewhere.
You can also control the box with the Roku app for Android and iOS. It turns your smartphone or tablet into a remote control, and lets you stream local media to the Roku 2. This is a nice alternative to the Apple TV and AirPlay, especially if you have an Android smartphone.
Like the Roku 3, the Roku 2 currently uses a panel- and tile-based layout that displays information on the screen in a much more dense, but accessible way than previous Roku menu systems. It’s a simple, functional interface that shows more than a dozen icons for channels, movies, and shows at once. It’s easy to set up, with a few on-screen prompts to configure the Roku 2′s Wi-Fi and a short code to enter on Roku’s website to sync it with your Roku account and manage your channels.
Roku’s Channel Store offers more than 1,000 free and for-pay online services and apps, including the aforementioned Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Blockbuster streaming services (each with their own dedicated button on the remote). There are hundreds more services available, including on-demand options for major television networks, news portals, sports portals, and more targeted services like CrunchyRoll (Anime) and Midnight Pulp (horror and exploitation films).
The extremely useful Search function polls Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video-on-Demand, Vudu, and several other services, listing the various ways the movie you want to watch is available. However, the main menu focuses mostly on M-GO, a Vudu-like on-demand service that integrates into the Movies and TV Shows sections in the Roku 2′s main menu. Fortunately, those are the only places where M-GO is forced upon your attention. Expect to spend much, much more time in the Search and Channel menus than the M-GO-heavy, curated Movies and TV Shows menus.
If you want a simple way to watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, and other online services on your HDTV, the Roku 2 is the most affordable and functional one out there. It’s $20 less than the Roku 3, and the few things you lose stepping down to the Roku 2 are worth parting with for the price break. For $80 it brings together all of your most commonly used online media services, lets you search for your favorite movies and shows through many of them, and offers an impressive selection of more than 1,000 specialized and general interest content channels on top of that. This slightly more affordable, streamlined media hub unseats the Roku 3 as our Editors’ Choice with its lower price tag and equally as compelling feature set. If you really want to save money and only want to watch Netflix, YouTube, and a handful of other services, the Google Chromecast can be had for $35. You’ll have to give up the tons of channels and support for streaming media from your smartphone or tablet, though.
|Online Content Services||Roku Channel Store|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc