It’s been a big year for Roku.
Since releasing the Roku 3 in Spring 2013, and re-vamping the rest of the model line last fall, Roku has been on a tear. They’ve picked up a huge chunk of market share, surpassing Apple in streaming player usage for the second year running. While only 25% of households in the U.S. have a streaming media player, almost half of those use Roku players, compare to only 1 in 4 who use an Apple TV.
The Roku 2 is the “middle-kid” of the Roku line, but don’t let that fool you. It pairs the lower price-point of the Roku 1 and Streaming Stick with some of the cooler innovations of the Roku 3 to make one surprisingly easy to use streaming device.
The Roku Lineup
One of Roku’s strengths is that they don’t try to make one streaming player be the answer for everyone. In Spring 2013, Roku started to re-vamp their model lineup by releasing their top of the line media hub – the Roku 3. Later that fall, Roku simplified their naming system by retiring the Roku HD, Roku LT and the Roku 2 XD. In their place was the Roku 1 and Roku 2.
Simple is better.
Today, they have four distinct Roku models – each with a distinct purpose:
- Roku Streaming Stick – The smallest model, about the size of the Chromecast or MK802IV. It offers the same Roku interface in a form factor that’s easy to take with you when you’re on the go. It replaced the Roku LT, only in a much smaller unit.
- Roku 1 – The entry level streaming hub. It offers Wi-Fi connectivity, HDMI and Composite (Red\White\Yellow) inputs and 1080p playback. Faster processor than the Streaming Stick.
- Roku 2 – The Roku 2 adds a headphone jack on the remote, and dual-band wireless for better streaming performance. Same processor as the Roku 1.
- Roku 3 – Top-of-the-line. 50% faster processor than the Roku 1 or Roku 2. HDMI input only, and a motion control remote for gaming.
One of the major enhancements they made to the Roku lineup last fall was increasing the processor performance in every model, across the board. So even the current Roku 2 will perform better than the older Roku 2 HD, XD or XS models.
The Roku 2 includes the essentials – the multi-function remote control, power supply and composite video connections, or, as I like to call it, the Red\White\Yellow cable. An HDMI cable will give you the best picture quality, but you’ll have to supply that yourself. You’ll also find a quick start guide, but, honestly, the Roku 2 is so easy to setup, you probably won’t need it. The Roku 2’s mission is to keep streaming TV simple so that everyone can feel comfortable with it. You’ll see that in every aspect of this media player.
The Roku 2 Remote
One of the most intuitive new features on the remote is the addition of a headphone jack on the side. Back in my younger days of working in a consumer electronics store, we would get a lot of customers come in looking for wireless headphones. They wanted to be able to watch TV in the bedroom and not disturb their spouse, or have their volume be louder if they were hard of hearing. Wireless headphones are nice, but finding ones that connect to your TV can get pretty pricey. Roku solved that by enabling you to attach headphones to something that’s going to be in your hand anyway – the remote control. Makes you wonder why other manufacturers haven’t picked up on it too, eh?
The remote itself is simple. It doesn’t have a lot of buttons that you won’t use. Every button is something that you’ll end up using on a regular basis. The possible exception to this is the four channel shortcut buttons on the bottom of the remote. They give you a quick way to launch Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, M-Go or Blockbuster Now. Chances are you won’t have all four of these services. You probably have at least one of them, so it’s not a total loss. I am a bit curious why Blockbuster is included, but not Hulu Plus. But, in all seriousness, that is the biggest complaint I have about the remote, so I guess it’s more of a head-scratcher than a complaint.
One other neat thing – the remote is Wi-Fi, not Infrared. This means you don’t have to try to aim it at a little sensor on the box. Perfect if you want a more clean, streamlined look to your entertainment center.
Roku feels your pain (and mine). Enter the Roku mobile app – for Android, iPhones, and even Windows Phones. Like the physical remote, the Roku Mobile App is simple to use. The on-screen display mimics the way the physical remote looks and feels. If you want a bit more flexibility, it also gives you a full-color view of your My Channels so you can quickly select the channel you’re looking for. Finally, you can do a full text search or browse the Channel Store. Android and iOS versions will also let you cast photos, videos or music stored on your phone to your Roku 2.
Roku keeps the simplicity theme going during the setup process.I mentioned before that you probably won’t need the Quick Start guide because the Roku 2 is that easy to set up. Simply plug in the Composite or HDMI cable to your TV. We always recommend using HDMI for the best resolution – especially if you have an HD TV. The Red\White\Yellow composite cable will only give you standard definition which will look pretty bad on a big screen TV. Once you’ve got the Roku connected to your TV, it’s time to plug in the power.
The Roku 2 connects to your network via a dual-band Wi-Fi. If you’ve got a newer dual-band router, it’ll be able to take advantage of the increased speed and connectivity. Any available networks will show up automatically. Once connected to your network, the Roku 2 will automatically download any system updates to be sure you always have the latest versions. The last piece of the setup is to link your Roku player to your Roku account by entering the code on your TV online at roku.com\link.
It’s important to note that, unlike some of the older versions of the Roku 2, there is no wired Ethernet port anymore. If you need to use a wired connection, or if you just don’t want to use Wi-Fi, you’ll need to look at the Roku 3 instead.
All of the new Roku models have the same interface, which is a good thing. The slick, new interface was launched with the Roku 3 last spring, but was made available to existing models as a free update. The Roku 2, being one of the newer models, came with it right from the factory.
The home screen offers a simplified text menu on the left side and large, full color icons on the right side. Again, Roku keeps the menu as simple as it needs to be, but not too simple to be useless. Users can browse their My Channels list, add another channel through the Channel Store, Search for a particular movie or TV show, or change the system settings. Think of the right side of the screen as the sub-menu. Whatever is highlighted on the left will enable different options on the right.
During testing, I asked some non-technical users to play around with the Roku and see how easy it would be to use on a daily basis. These users, which included my 75 year old mother, quickly found their way around the system. Everyone who used it commented that the Roku 2 was simple to pick up the remote and find what they want to watch. If Roku can make a streaming device as powerful as this, and still keep it simple enough for my mother to use, they’ve got their hands on a good thing.
Roku 2 Review: The Verdict
Here’s the bottom line: The Roku 2 is ridiculously easy to use. After you turn on your TV you can be watching one of your favorite shows in just a few clicks. The video quality is excellent and the menu system is simple and easy to understand.
It may sound like the Roku 2 is the perfect streaming media player. In a lot of ways, it is. It may not have the motion control remote of the Roku 3, or the Amazon Fire TV’s voice search. But when it comes right down to it, those are “extras.” The main reason why we want a streaming media player is to watch TV and movies. In that aspect, the Roku 2 is quite simply an amazing device.