Monday, December 24

Roku 2 XS: Big upgrade

Some readers may recall I'm a longtime Roku owner -- I turned my family on to them the first Christmas the original model was on sale, I picked up a Roku XD a year or two later, and finally this month I upgaded to the Roku 2 XS.

I didn't need WiFi vs. Ethernet as I already have both options, and both work well. I was on the fence until I learned that my long-desired Amazon Cloud Player was only available on Roku 2 models with more recent firmware than my Roku XD, so the audio capabilities of the Roku 2 XS are a nice plus. 1080p vs. 720p resolution is of course a big bonus too, especially now that Comcast appears to have stopped shaping my streaming video traffic to the point of serious stream downgrades (think Web 1.0 pre-Flash pre-broadband video).

The new device is nice. It boots faster, it has a MicroSD card slot to increase memory/storage capacity -- older models like my XD have trouble handling a large number of channels. The interface itself is snappier, noticeably more responsive. The Instant Replay feature performs much better, much quicker, much less likely to pause due to a need to buffer when you hit it three or four times in quick succession. I have a 2 GB MicroSD card in the slot, I'm not certain what the max capacity is, or where the threshold of real benefits is reached for the unit vs. memory card size.

Perhaps most importantly, the Roku 2 XS does not have the completely random and intermittent audio cut-out problems I experience with the Roku XD. I had blamed my low-end Onkyo network receiver for this, as others have seen similar issues with the same Onkyo receiver model, but eventually I determined the audio issue only seemed to arise on the Roku input. Since going to the 2 XS, I have had no audio cut-out issues at all, over several days of heavy, near-constant streaming. The cut-out problem would happen repeatedly over the course of any given day, sometimes clumped together in very annoying bunches, so several days of no cut-out is a huge improvement for sure.

One improvement I was hoping for but am not seeing is in terms of overall system stability. These Roku media hubs seem to have a tendency, particularly after lengthy/heavy use, but sometimes also not long after a fresh reboot and a period of no use, to occasionally stop responding to remote input reliably, after which they freeze, and eventually reboot. This has happened once in the four days or so I've had the Roku 2 XS online. It would be nice if at least it were to happen less frequently than my Roku XD crashes, but that remains to be seen.

The new remote is nice, packed with better networking gear (no line of sight required anymore) and stuff like gyros and accelerometers. It's a heavy remote, and I have to wonder how long batteries are going to last. It's also something of a usabiltiy fail: in the semi-dark or dark of a TV viewing room, it's difficult to orient the remote in the dark, because it's overly symmetrical. The cord that designates the "bottom" is invisible in the dark and no use at all. A simple upgrade to the case design would make this a rockin' little accessory.

Game offerings seem to remain pretty limited. I played me some Angry Birds. It might be good for drunks at parties ... safer than the XBOX 360 with the Kinect going after the party gets started perhaps.

Finally, Amazon Cloud Player channel on Roku: freakin' sweet, and about dang time! I love having my entire music collection available without having to explicitly download it through a PC to my DLNA-capable QNAP NAS device. That being said, I will continue to, and recommend other Amazon MP3/Amazon Cloud Player customers do the same, download my entire collection to local physical media, just in case Amazon ever does something funky with my cloud collection, or something bad happens to the Internet.