For an easy, effective and inexpensive way to get streaming video and other media from the web to your living-room TV, reviewers say the Roku 2 XS likely is the best choice. One big reason is the vast lineup of content partners -- more than 400 at last look, which beats all comers by a good margin. Content partners include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, Pandora, Facebook and more. Sports fans can catch streaming feeds of out-of-market NHL hockey and NBA basketball games. And the list goes on.
Setup and use are easy, though some users complain that things could be more streamlined; you need to sign up and maintain subscriptions with most streaming video providers separately. Picture quality is generally complimented. Connectivity is good, including support for older TVs. Wi-Fi is built in, and the Roku 2 XS also allows for an Ethernet link to your home network. A USB port lets you view your own files via Roku, though file format support is limited, and streaming from a networked PC or other device isn't natively supported. The ability to play basic video games, along with a Wii-like motion controller, has been added. While the library isn't extensive, the ever-popular Angry Birds is included free, with others available at around $5 each.
The step-down Roku 2 XD (*Est. $80) removes the motion controller, Ethernet connectivity and USB port, but delivers similar performance otherwise. The next step down player, the Roku 2 HD (*Est. $60), is similar to the Roku 2 XS but limits resolution to 720p. That's not as big of a deal as it sounds, experts say, because the picture improvement offered by 1080p from those providers that support it isn't readily obvious to most viewers. Roku also offers the Roku LT (*Est. $50), which removes support for gaming altogether, but is otherwise similar to the Roku 2 HD. While most critics give Roku the edge, Apple TV (*Est. $100) could be a compelling alternative for those who make extensive use of iTunes, which the Roku player doesn't support. Those more interested in streaming their own content than getting it from the Internet might also want to consider the Western Digital WD TV Live Hub media server (*Est. $200), which includes a built-in 100 TB hard drive, or the WD TV Live (*Est. $100), which does not.
The best sites to read opinions about the Roku 2 XS include CNET, PCMag.com, Wired and ZatzNotFunny.com. User reviews are plentiful at Amazon.com and Roku.com.
CNET gives the Roku 2 XS its Editors' Choice award in this comprehensive review that includes other members of the Roku 2 digital media player family. Content is king; its lineup of content providers puts it ahead of anything else at this price. The lack of local streaming support and the fact that the best content requires separate paid subscriptions are negatives.
Review: Review: Roku 2 XS, John P. Falcone and David Carnoy, Aug. 15, 2011
2. Zatz Not Funny!
Dave Zatz weighs in with a long report on the Roku 2 series, including the 2 XS. He says that for those who need Ethernet connectivity or like casual gaming, the Roku 2 XS is a good buy that delivers what it promises. However, he notes that other choices at the same price, including Apple TV and connected Blu-ray players, deserve a look, as well.
Review: The Roku 2 Review, Dave Zatz, July 23, 2011
Will Greenwald seems a bit ambivalent about the Roku 2. On one hand, he says that despite its large content library and added gaming features, the Roku 2 XS seems less useful than its predecessors. On the other hand, he admits that the content, easy setup and ease of use "make it an appealing set-top box for users with particular tastes and those with limited technical ability."
Review: Roku 2 XS, Will Greenwald, Aug. 11, 2011
In Wired's rating scheme, the Roku 2 XS rises to the status of "very good, but not quite great." Limited file support and lengthy setup times detract from a digital media player that delivers more than other options at its price.
Review: New Roku Streaming Box Gets Smaller, Angrier, Bryan Gardiner, Aug. 15, 2011
More than 1,000 owners review the Roku 2 XS digital media player at Amazon.com. While many are completely or mostly satisfied, a significant number have large or small complaints to make. Issues with Wi-Fi connectivity and box stability lead the list of negatives.
Review: Roku 2 XS Streaming Player 1080, Contributors to Amazon.com
Owner reviews here are plentiful -- more than 18,000 weigh in, and 88 percent say they'd recommend a Roku 2 XS digital media player to a friend. Those who are happy cite easy setup and use, as well as good picture quality. Some, however, have stability issues or challenges in setting up or using their Roku 2 XS.
Review: Roku Customer Reviews, Contributors to Roku.com