Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp
Ads by Google

Electronics can be evil. A short time ago I wrote an article about using the Xbox 360 as a media center. I concluded that it wasn’t the best choice Using Your Xbox 360 As A Media Center - Is It Worthwhile? [Opinion] Using Your Xbox 360 As A Media Center - Is It Worthwhile? [Opinion] About two years ago I decided to "cut the cord" on my television service. Or to be more precise, I decided to switch cords - moving my entertainment needs from my cable to my Internet... Read More . Sensing my betrayal, the 360 promptly kicked the bucket, leaving me without the Netflix I craved.

Rather than replace the 360, I decided buy to a competing media center, the Roku. My verdict on it can be summed up with “It’s awesome!” Why is it awesome? Let me explain.

It’s Affordable

Although I occasionally play Xbox 360 games, most of my gaming continues to be on the PC. The death of my 360 left me staring in the face of a $299 bill for a brand new one with the same sub-par interface and the same game support. I simply couldn’t justify spending that much money again.

The Roku, on the other hand, is affordable. I purchased the Roku 2 XS, which is the most expensive and feature-filled version available today. The price at my local retail store was $99.99. You can spend even less if you don’t want the motion-tracking remote functionality and Ethernet port of the XS.

At that price the Roku is almost expendable. It’s disappointing when a $300 Xbox 360 kicks the bucket and is intimidating to replace it, but if the Roku breaks, it won’t be a big deal.

Ads by Google

It’s Tiny

I’m guessing that the “XS” in my Roku’s name stands for “extra small.” I expected it to be a lot smaller than my Xbox 360, but I wasn’t prepared for just how tiny the device is. At 3.3 inches by 3.3 inches, this media center is just slightly larger than a hockey puck.

It’s so small, in fact, that you can place it almost anywhere. If you stick some Velcro to it, and another strip to your TV, you can easily hang it off the back of your television.

It’s Quiet

The processor in the Roku XS is Broadcom’s BCM2835 system-on-a-chip, which is the same one used by the Raspberry Pi Raspberry Pi - A Credit-Card Sized ARM Computer - Yours For Only $25 Raspberry Pi - A Credit-Card Sized ARM Computer - Yours For Only $25 Something big has been brewing in the university town of Cambridge, UK. For the past year a team of academics, businessmen, lecturers and programmers have been making final amendments to a very exciting project indeed.... Read More . It’s an ARM processor, and not a particularly powerful one at that. Power use is low, which means heat generation is low, which means no fans are required. Listening to an Xbox 360 whirr in the background for years will give you a healthy respect for silence.

An optical drives and mechanical hard drives can be sources of noise in media centers, but Roku doesn’t have an optical drive and uses flash memory. There’s nothing inside it that moves, which means it makes absolutely no noise.

It’s Easy To Use

Setting up the Roku couldn’t be easier. There are only a few options to select, all of which are blatantly obvious, and then a registration process that you’ll need to complete on a computer. It takes five minutes, and you’re set.

The interface isn’t as visually stimulating as what you’ll find on some other media centers, but it makes up for any aesthetic shortcomings with simplicity. Everything is arranged in a tile format that you navigate using the remote’s D-pad. Transitions from item to item are smooth and “channels” (such as Netflix and Hulu) open in just a few seconds.

The Xbox 360’s interface Impressions Of The XBox Live Winter Dashboard Update Impressions Of The XBox Live Winter Dashboard Update The latest update to the Xbox system has been released, bringing tighter integration with Kinect and voice control, a shiny new Metro look, and a slew of new media capabilities (with more promised in the... Read More is hopelessly far behind the refinement of the Roku, the Playstation 3 is far more confusing, and Western Digital’s media center is much less intuitive (just compare the remotes for each device).

It Has Great Content Support

It’s easy to obtain some content on almost any media center, but many are lacking at least one or two popular options. The Xbox 360 will provide you with Netflix and Hulu Plus, but not Amazon. The same goes for Western Digital’s media center, and then there’s Apple TV, which doesn’t even include Hulu Plus.

Roku has what I consider the holy trinity of streaming video content – Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon. If you subscribe to all of these you’ll have access to an insane amount of media content for about $20 a month.

In addition to this, you have access to a lot of other options that provide smaller amounts of content. Most of them probably won’t be up your alley, but you may find one or two that interest you. I like the Giant Bomb channel, for example.

It Provides Excellent Image Quality

When I bought the Roku, I did so with some skepticism about its image quality. I knew it was small and that it used an ARM processor that’s not particularly powerful. Could it really display 1080p smoothly?

Yes, it can. Having set up the device, I immediately logged in to Netflix and played one of my favorite HD movies, Serenity. I skipped to the end, where a beautiful space battle takes place. This scene not only looks amazing in HD but is also shot at a blistering pace. Any skipped frames or performance issues will be apparent.

The Roku didn’t have trouble keeping up. Plasma blasts and missiles flew smoothly across the screen in all their HD glory. I am sure that a videophile could find artifacts or other issues, but to my average eye there were no disruptions in quality or any skipped frames.


Like any device, the Roku isn’t perfect. Though it now includes some games, such as Angry Birds Play the Angry Birds Game in Your Browser Right Now, For Free Play the Angry Birds Game in Your Browser Right Now, For Free Are you too productive working on your computer? Good news! Angry Birds is now available on every computer, so you'll never actually work again. Or, at least, never be able to. That's right, the infamously... Read More , the experience is jerky and the remote doesn’t work well as a game controller. The games that don’t rely on motion control are better.

Another downfall is limited support for video formats. If the ability to play video files off an external drive is important to you, take a look at Western Digital’s player instead.

These gripes are minor, however, and easily redeemed by the price. If you want to own a media center for streaming online video the Roku is the default recommendation. Subscribing to all three major content providers (Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon) will satisfy all but the most hardcore couch potato at a price that significantly undercuts a premium cable subscription.

  1. Haleene
    April 3, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    I have my PC hooked up to my TV, it is essentially a big monitor and it does more then all of the so called pluses of Roku.
    You can do all your PC emails, doc, accounting, and get HULU and NETFLIX on it too.
    I am disabled and a senior, and darn if I see the need for this.
    By the way I live 17 miles from town and have no playing problems. It really depends on how good your PC is and the server you have. I am limited to just one server out here, and they are well known for crappy service (Frontier) and I am at the end of the line, so once in a while it will run slow, but 90% of the time I have no problem.

    If I could get someone to get my elect. turner for my home outdoor antenna hooked up One of my busy grandkids) I can also get all my home channels without paying for them, like you do with cable type systems.
    For $24. a month I get HULU and NETFLIX streaming and I have all the TV I could possible want, I still have game access, and can get local channels on the internet, along with many of the ones you get on the cable type too.
    I live alone so setting by my PC to watch TV is easy, or switching to the internet during commercials etc... it’s right there, but I can also go sit back on the recliner and remote control it from there.

  2. sachiny009
    September 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Seems i can replace my cable with something even better......

  3. lemscabuhat
    August 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I live in Mexico and with TelMex I get a maximum download speed of 5mbs.

    I LOVE MY ROKU!!!!!

    I use it with GetUSAWebsites.TV (Access code 732) They're different in that they only jump in when the geo check is done, but the rest of the time it's a direct connection NOT going through a proxy. The result is that I ALWAYS get a HD signal awesome video on Netflix, and Hulu. I hate other services where too many users bog down the server, and the quality goes up and down. (Mostly down and skipping!) Grrrrr....

    I think GetUSAWebsites approach is superior, and am VERY happy.

    My local friend has only a 1.7mbs download speed, and they are using it with their Roku and they love it too.

    GetUSAWebsites has 2 plans. Basic is $4.99 and Deluxe is $7.99 a month. I seriously couldn't live without it!

  4. nahid saleem
    July 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I love roku. I also watched a review about evo tv from amkette which runs on a Android Gingerbread and has an amazing interface. But yeah this shows what we can expect in future. Probably a Siri that controls your house.

  5. RokuPlayer
    April 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks for your kind words, Matt! We're thrilled to hear that you're enjoying your Roku 2 XS. Have you tried Plex yet?

  6. Enrique
    April 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    I recently bought a ROKU, so far very happy with it.
    I agree with BenN, I didn't like to have to have to give my credit card number "just in case".
    And I feel that I'm missing a lot of video opportunities by not having access to YouTube.
    Other than that, it's a great tiny piece of equipment.

    • RokuPlayer
      April 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      Hi Ben, so glad to hear that you're happy with your Roku! Thanks for your feedback. Check out the Plex channel for YouTube access and the ability to stream your personal media library - you'll find it in the Roku Channel Store.

    • RokuPlayer
      April 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm

      Apologies for the name switch in our reply below, Enrique! Clearly it's time for more coffee. :)

  7. Chris Hoffman
    April 7, 2012 at 5:52 am

    The Roku looks amazing, but it's one of those things that's US-only.

    Even if you import a Roku to Canada somehow, it won't work with a Canadian Netflix account.

    Although, now that I look, it's apparently on the verge of launching in Canada and the UK. That's pretty cool, although the lack of legitimate services up here will hamstring it.

    • Joe
      April 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      Uhhhhh, my Roku works fine with my Canadian Netflix account. To get US content, I just switch over to my other router with a VPN in the US and watch.

      • Chris Hoffman
        April 8, 2012 at 2:36 am

        Really? I've read it doesn't work -- obviously I didn't buy a Roku to test it out. Thanks for the information, though!

        And sure, a VPN would work -- but at that point, it becomes a pain and a little less legitiamte, so it's not really for me.

  8. ben b
    April 7, 2012 at 12:07 am

    by the sounds of it it is a amazing bit of kit and i would look in to getting one if someone can tell me if its worth getting it with the fewer services we get in the uk

    • Dan
      April 8, 2012 at 8:57 am

      I bought one in the UK last week (from Tesco) and it's fine. Netflix, Crackle, iPlayer and a few of the other services are ready out of the starting gate and I'm pestering Lovefilm to provide support. No Youtube is a pain but I gather that's a Roku issue, not a country-based one

  9. Garey Boone
    April 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    I personally like my htpc but suggested a roku box to my parents and they seem to like it, It's definitely a great way to break in a noob into the streaming world.It's very cost effective and I might keep one around in case my htpc blows up.Just got to make sure your not going over your bandwidth caps if you have them.

  10. BenN
    April 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I am strongly opinionated on the Roku. I wanted it to be awesome. It was so close. The 2 areas they failed at were didn't even need to be part of the product.

    First the good- it does what it says it does, and does it well. It provides a simple interface to quality streaming content.

    The Bad. The company lies about their setup. 3 Easy steps is what they claim everywhere. Once you get the product a 4th step magically appears in the setup book. Credit Card is required (or paypal)! They require your credit card in case you want to purchase something later. To me this is insanely stupid. Giving your credit card to every vendor you may purchase something from in the future so they can store another copy of your private financial data on another server somewhere with who-knows-what kind of security. So the fact that they lie about the set up and hide the fact that the hardware is worthless without this is one bad point. The second is the extra step based around this. Since you are required to register and give them your financial information you need a PC to set up an account. Not only is this extra hardware but extra time.

    It may only be a 10 minute setup but 8 minutes of it is to give them your credit card information (which they don't need they just want) and give them your email. They also don't need an email except to send you newsletters or in case they have to email and tell you your credit card info has been stolen.

    But so I don't sound too negative I will repeat, it does work and it works well. If you don't mind giving out private info for no reason then it is almost perfect.

    Although I wonder, for $100 bucks can't you get a DVD player that does all the same stuff (plus play DVDs) with a better remote and doesn't require private information?

    • RokuPlayer
      April 9, 2012 at 10:40 pm

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for your feedback. Sorry you were disappointed in the setup experience- we would have been happy to help you with alternate options. If you encounter any further issues or have questions/comments about your Roku experience, please feel free to let us know at therevolution(at) Happy streaming!

      • Ben N
        June 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm

        Is there an official explanation why your advertising does not match your instructions and why you do not disclose the required credit card information? Your ads and product description on amazon do not match the true description- to me that sets off huge red flags about a company.

        From your amazon ad-
        "What you need - A TV, High-speed Internet, A wireless router"

      • Ben N
        June 27, 2012 at 6:04 pm

        And also the Amazon ad boldly displays 3 easy steps. The instruction booklet shows the same 3 steps plus a 4th. Roku clearly made a decision to hide that information from potential buyers.

        Again- big red flags about a company so eager to hide and trick their customers. Then you want me to send you my credit card information... that Nigerian prince at least gives me more compelling reasons.

        Perhaps if did contact you there would be some work around you could provide but I don't want work around. If I buy a toaster it should make toast, I shouldn't have to give my CC info to the toaster maker to hold onto in case I want to buy bread from them in the future.

        Asking for CC info just in case there is a future purchase is an odd policy at best, a dishonest one when you don't disclose it. To each there own but I don't want every company I may purchase from in the future to hold onto a copy of my credit card and I don't want to have to call customer service just to get my product to do what it claims to do out-of-the-box.

    • Franklin
      June 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      Ben has to be over the age of 50. Who doesn't already have at least 2 desktops or laptops in their home already??? Hell even a modern smartphone can act as a PC.
      Go buy a DVD player then. Also try building your DVD collection and let me know how much that costs you in the end. Besides who actually owns physical media anymore???
      Get with the times bro

      • Ben N
        June 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm

        I have been called the oldest 30 year old in the world.

        I have two desktops(one for the sole purpose of HTPC), a netbook, a slate and an android tablet. That is kind of my point though. With all these options why go with something that can only stream a couple of sites? My HTPC can not only stream, netflix and amazon but can also stream hulu, which the roku I have can't. My PC can also download torrents and go to any website The Internet has to offer, the roku can't. It runs the Kylo browser. My PC can play DVDs- I don't own a collection but will get them from Red Box sometimes. I also borrow from friends sometimes.

        I suppose I could buy a DVD player to put right next to my roku player (actually already have that) but it seems to make more sense to buy a DVD player that can stream than a streaming device that can't play DVDs.

        If all you want is something that streams from a limited number of sites and nothing more then the roku does it. If you might want to play games, stream from other sites, play DVDs... then either get something better or buy a game device, dvd player, cd player, mp3 player and a roku for every room!

  11. Brian
    April 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    How does it compare to the Logitech Revue? I am getting tired of the extremely buggy software on the revue. I love the features but the hardware is poor and the software is atrocious. I find my self trying to trick the unit do do what I want more often than using it for entertainment.

    • Matt Smith
      April 6, 2012 at 10:24 pm

      The Roku is not an Internet TV device. It's meant to provide you with access to specific services. There's a very large list of services available beyond the basic Netflix/Amazon/Hulu trio. So if you do not really use the Tv-as-a-web-browser features of the Revue, you'll like the Roku.

  12. zyzzyva57
    April 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    I cut cable over a year ago and have never looked back
    Got sick of paying for channels I never watched, e.g., ESPN and religious channels
    I have used Roku for about 6 months, and Roku is awesome
    Simple to use, the K.I.S.S. style of Google
    Constantly adding new paid and FREE services
    Roku, Hulu basic, media web site (e.g., the History Channel) and podcasts give me more than I can watch in a lifetime
    Roku does the heavy lifting for a lot of this
    By the way, I am not a paid spokesman for Roku, but I rave when a service does what it says

    • RokuPlayer
      April 9, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      We're so glad you're getting the most out of your Roku! Thanks very much for your support. :)

      • john
        June 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm

        how do you get hulu basic?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *