Looking at the spec sheet, the Roku 2 XS is now the best Netflix player when it comes to audio and video quality. Like the Playstation3, it’s the only other Netflix box that can offer 1080P video. Also, it supports Dolby Digital Plus surround sound as well as closed captioning. It also bests the Playstation3 when it comes to audio given there are reports of the PS3 down-mixing Dolby Digital Plus to regular Dolby Digital (which still sounds good but not as good).
|Roku 2 Opening Netflix screen|
Note, there are some caveats attached to the Roku 2′s spectacular Netflix powers. In particular,
- To take advantage of Dolby surround sound, you need to have an HDMI-equipped receiver. Unlike its predecessor the Roku XDS, the Roku 2 does not include a digital optical audio port. If you don’t want to upgrade your receiver, the Apple TV and Western Digital Live Plus are good Netflix alternatives to the Roku 2. Both have optical audio ports and provide Netflix surround sound.
- You need to have a receiver that can decode Dolby Digital Plus. Not all HDMI receivers can decode Dolby Digital Plus which is different than Dolby Digital.
- There’s currently an issue that makes the video on the Roku 2 appear too dark. It’s most noticeable in dark scenes. Essentially, the Roku 2 is sending out a color signal for a PC monitor as opposed to a regular HDTV. The details of the issue are outlined here. One potential workaround is to configure your HDTV to expect a PC source. After experimenting on our Samsung LCD, the best option to compensate was changing the HDMI Black Level from “Low” to “Normal” (Thanks dr99). While an improvement, it didn’t appear to fix the issue 100%. We contacted Roku about this and they are aware of the issue and expect it to be fixed “very soon”. As soon as it’s resolved, we’ll post an update here. Update: This issue has been fixed.
- The interface: This is a matter of opinion but I prefer the Netflix interface on either the Apple TV or the devices that have the old HTML5 interface (most 2011 Blu-ray players). I do like that the Roku’s interface subscribes to the KISS philosophy (Keep It Simple!)
Despite all this, the Roku 2 provides a lot of value at a great price point. If you have a receiver with HDMI and Dolby Digital Plus, it’s the best Netflix streamer out there. It’s only $99 and it gives you access to a wide variety of streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Instant, EPIX, and Hulu Plus among many others. There’s an expectation that VUDU is also coming to the Roku 2 given that previous generation Rokus are sold at Walmart, VUDU’s parent company.
No word on when the Roku 2 will appear at Walmart. Update: The Roku 2 should be on Walmart’s shelves sometime in October.
While the Roku 2 takes over two minutes to start-up, it only consumes 2 watts of power and it has a very small footprint. The folks at Roku recommend that you just keep it plugged in. In comparison, the Playstation3 consumes over 180 watts! Also, once started, the Roku 2 has one of the fastest Netflix start-up times we’ve seen, only taking 5 to 6 seconds to start-up (only the Apple TV starts as fast).
If you’re someone who just wants things to work, it may be a good idea to wait a little while to purchase the Roku 2 since its just been released. Besides the color issue, there are some minor quirks we encountered. None of them appear to be show stoppers and we’re confident the Roku team will get them fixed shortly. I have to add that the Roku team was very responsive to any issues that came up during testing. That, along with their transparency with their customers on the Roku forum, gives one confidence in the product. When the next update comes out for the Roku 2, we’ll post an update.
Despite my UI preferences, the Roku 2 XS is destined to become my primary Netflix device given its audio and video capabilities (the Roku XDS already is my device of choice for Amazon Instant). Before that happens, the color issue will need to be resolved and I will have to invest in a new receiver. Yep, it’s going to be a journey.
Update: A new Roku firmware release addresses some of the issues cited here.
|Selecting Audio Track and Subtitles|
|TV Series Title Screen|
|Episode List for TV Series|