8 April 2013


 School of Roku

The internet: a wondrous playground of fabulous entertainment and follies. These days there is a hell of a lot of content on that there net, to be viewed and enjoyed to your heart’s content. Trouble is, no matter how ‘hi-def’ things get on the web, you’re still usually stuck having to watch it on your laptop or tablet’s small screen, leaving your super cool flat screen TV sitting lonely in the corner of the living room. Why can’t you get all the pleasures of the internet on the big screen?

Well, obviously, now you can. Yay!

Simply put, imagine an Apple TV device, but without the often limiting constraints of iTunes. Here at The Test Pit we’re not massive fans of the imposing spreadsheet that is iTunes, so hearing about the American company Roku and their range of streaming media players was a breath of fresh air. Still relatively new in the UK, we got to grips with one of the two currently available models – the Roku 2 XS. We tore open the box and got straight to it.

Inside the cardboard prison you shall find the unit itself (which is about the size of the well-established Apple TV, sitting comfortably in your palm), an ergonomic and curvy remote control, the power lead, a composite A/V cable (which is a bit pointless considering the unit’s ability to connect via HDMI) and all the documentation. Plugging in is a simple job and our TV found the Roku easily. What’s more, the included remote connects with Bluetooth and not line-of-sight infra-red.

Set up was also easy, although it is necessary to create an account with Roku and give your credit card details. We know that can often be off-putting – but remember you had to do the same with Apple’s iTunes. Fortunately Roku won’t charge you a penny to get going, and the details must be added purely in case you want to purchase extra content and channels. Again, don’t worry as you’ll always be asked (and re-asked) if you want to buy anything.

BBC iPlayer looking good
Once up and running, you’ll be presented with a nice and slick menu screen that displays all the channels, games and web content that are available to you. Most are free, such the BBC’s iPlayer, some require subscription, such as Netflix, and others are pay channels like the content from Sky. Happily included with the Roku 2 XS (but not the cheaper, less powerful Roku LT) is a full version of Angry Birds, which, when controlled with the Wii-like remote, is a lot of fun and a very different experience to playing it on your phone.

Streaming from the web is a pleasurable experience, with the remote and player responding quickly to commands. For fans of technical details, here are some numbers:

Yes, it comes with batteries for the remote! WIN!
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

Obviously the quality and rate of play will depend on your WiFi network to which the Roku connects. For those concerned theirs might not be good enough, or those who want to guarantee speed, the XS comes with an Ethernet port for wired streaming. Very handy. Oh, and what’s this…? A USB port?

Yes. The Roku 2 XS will also connect to an external flash or hard drive, and play any content it can find there. Here we had a bit of a problem. When we first connected our media hard drive, with a terabyte of films and TV shows, the Roku took around 15 minutes to find it and then proceeded to inform us it could only identify less than a third of the media. We tried several times, but each time it came up short. We were hoping for a combination streamer/media player, but it seems the Roku is first and foremost for internet content, with the USB port being added seemingly as an afterthought.

As an alternative (and much cheaper) way to have an Apple TV, without having to have an Apple TV, the Roku could be for you. Although the level and depth of content isn’t as big as iTunes, we found that the Roku was worth the price just for full-screen access to the iPlayer and to enjoy our Netflix account. For that alone with give the XS a mighty thumbs up and high (def) five!

Around £99 depending where you buy.

Visit www.roku.com/uk

Click the image above to get yours from Play.com

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