Roku 2 XS review
The Roku 2 XS lets you stream media from the internet direct to your TV, turning your last-generation LCD or CRT TV into a next-gen Smart TV. You connect it to your TV using either the HDMI or composite outputs, with HDMI being essential if you want to view your media in 720p or 1080p. The Roku 2 XS has built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi as well as a 100Mbit Ethernet port, which means you don’t have to trail even more wires around your TV stand. Unfortunately, the Roku's light frame meant the weight of the HDMI cable sometimes made it rise off the TV stand.
Media streamers need an excellent user interface if they’re to be a pleasure to use, and the Roku 2 XS’s is fantastic. Its animations are smooth and fluid, and its control system is self-explanatory and easy to use. It consists of a series of options that scroll across the screen. If you select an option, you’re presented with another horizontally-scrolling list. This keeps the interface simple and consistent throughout.
When you first connect the Roku 2 XS, you’re guided through a delightfully simple setup process that takes minutes to complete, but you'll need an internet-connected computer to activate the unit. You also have to provide payment details before you can use the streamer, so that you can make purchases from the unit’s Channel Store. We’d much prefer to enter payment information from within the system as and when we download new channels, rather than have to straight away.
Once set up, you can easily change settings and download new channels from the Channel Store, such as Netflix, iPlayer and Crackle. You can also download games, and you get the highly addictive Angry Birds for free, but sadly not the HD version. The quality of the picture depends to a large extent on that of the channel being streamed, but some channels such as iPlayer HD looked fantastic. There’s a decent number of channels from which to choose, but the selection is very much focused on US viewers rather than UK. As an example, you can’t get 4oD or ITV Player, but you can get Fox News. Some channels must be bought, some require a subscription and some, such as the excellent Crackle film channel, are free. For example, you can have the You Don't Know Jack comedy channel for a one-off payment of £2.99 or Netflix for £5.99 a month.
You can also play media from a locally connected USB flash drive or hard disk, but your choice of file type is limited to just MP3, AAC, MP4, MKV, JPG and PNG. Annoyingly, the Roku 2 XS doesn’t stream media to or from a network-based PC out of the box - you have to use an app such as Plex or Roku. These are both free, but you need to install a server on your PC to stream the media, so they won't work with a NAS.
The Roku 2 XS is a cute, well-designed and easy-to-use media streamer. It’s also compact enough to take away with you so that you can enjoy your media subscriptions on the move, but its inability to stream media over UPnP or DLNA is disappointing. It's a good way to upgrade your TV to a Smart TV, but we think you're better off with the Western Digital WD TV Live, which has better file format support as well as support for iPlayer and Netflix and is currently just £73.