Roku 2: The Best Netflix Player?

August 31, 2011
By

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.

Title Screen
Selecting Audio Track and Subtitles
TV Series Title Screen
Episode List for TV Series
Netflix Search


Related Posts:
Roku 2: Unbox and Setup
What’s the Best Netflix Player?
Best 2011 Blu-ray Player for Netflix
Netflix Ends Embargo on 1080P

Tags: Netflix, Roku

10 Responses to Roku 2: The Best Netflix Player?

  1. The Hub on September 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Robyn,

    The Roku 2 is an officially sanctioned Netflix device for closed captioning. However, Netflix has not kept that page you're referring to up to date. I don't think any of the manufacturers could make an end-around Netflix on something like that.

    I figured out a couple of weeks ago there are about 1,830 captioned movies & TV shows from Netflix streaming. One note of caution, some titles say they are closed captioned but they really aren't.  An example is Brothers & Sisters Season 4 Ep 1. Says its closed captioned, but it isn't.

  2. Robyn on September 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I remain confused as to whether the Roku 2 is an officially sanctioned device to receive and show Netflix Closed Caption.  It’s not listed on the NF web site in the device list.

    Also, do you have any sense of how many shows and movies even have CC on Netflix’s streaming?  We watch a fair number of British shows and could use the CC to decipher what is being said!

    • The Hub on September 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      Robyn,

      The Roku 2 is an officially sanctioned Netflix device for closed captioning. However, Netflix has not kept that page you’re referring to up to date. I don’t think any of the manufacturers could make an end-around Netflix on something like that.

      I figured out a couple of weeks ago there are about 1,830 captioned movies & TV shows from Netflix streaming. One note of caution, some titles say they are closed captioned but they really aren’t.  An example is Brothers & Sisters Season 4 Ep 1. Says its closed captioned, but it isn’t.

  3. alkalitta on September 9, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    looks like the older ones just more exspensive

  4. alkalitta on September 9, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    looks like the older ones just more exspensive

  5. Timo on September 25, 2011 at 7:41 am

    We have a gen 1 Roku and are using it over WiFi. We bought the deluxe model that supposedly offers better WiFi capabilities. It repeatedly starts and stops to reload Netflix videos. Some days it's simply bad (every 15 minutes or so) but other days it's horrible –every couple of minutes– so that we just give up watching. ** Yet we can stream Netflix video directly to an iPad over the same WiFi, in the same location in the room as the Roku, without interruption! ** Is  Roku's WiFi buggy? Or does Roku relay the Netflix stream over some intermediary server that's oversubscribed? What causes such problems? P.S. We cannot connect the Roku by wire because it's not near our cable modem.

  6. Timo on September 25, 2011 at 7:41 am

    We have a gen 1 Roku and are using it over WiFi. We bought the deluxe model that supposedly offers better WiFi capabilities. It repeatedly starts and stops to reload Netflix videos. Some days it’s simply bad (every 15 minutes or so) but other days it’s horrible –every couple of minutes– so that we just give up watching. ** Yet we can stream Netflix video directly to an iPad over the same WiFi, in the same location in the room as the Roku, without interruption! ** Is  Roku’s WiFi buggy? Or does Roku relay the Netflix stream over some intermediary server that’s oversubscribed? What causes such problems? P.S. We cannot connect the Roku by wire because it’s not near our cable modem.

    • The Hub on September 26, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      Is it the Roku XDS? There are a lot of potential causes to a problem like this. When you encounter problems like this, it’s best to go through the process of elimination. Some things to try:

      Do you have the buffering with other channels like Amazon? If it’s just Netflix, you could remove the channel and readd it.

      Try to temporarily hook up the Roku to your router to see if it’s wireless.

      Make sure all other wireless devices on your network and turned off and see if you still have the problem.

      If also fails, you could try resetting the Roku back to its factory settings (you will have to set up Netflix again and it will upgrade itself). You would be surprised to see how many problems that solves.

  7. The Hub on September 26, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Is it the Roku XDS? There are a lot of potential causes to a problem like this. When you encounter problems like this, it's best to go through the process of elimination. Some things to try:

    Do you have the buffering with other channels like Amazon? If it's just Netflix, you could remove the channel and readd it.

    Try to temporarily hook up the Roku to your router to see if it's wireless.

    Make sure all other wireless devices on your network and turned off and see if you still have the problem.

    If also fails, you could try resetting the Roku back to its factory settings (you will have to set up Netflix again and it will upgrade itself). You would be surprised to see how many problems that solves.

  8. Carol Lee on January 13, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I have purchased a Roku2XD in order to have captions. It does not have captions on any British show on Netflix. How can I get captions on British shows?

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