Roku LT review
We liked the Roku 2 XS, but we didn't absolutely love it. Things have moved on a bit though, and the company offered us the chance to look at its LT model. It's technically a little less hardcore than the 2 XS, but it costs half as much - about £50 - as the more sophisticated model.
So, what can the LT do, and how does it justify its existence. We hooked it up to our TV to find out, and we have to admit that the results ended up surprising us.
The Roku looks like an oddly shaped hockey puck. It's small and very light, and the LT has very few sockets. There's just a power input, HDMI and standard definition output. On this model there's no Ethernet or USB socket.
You get a small and simple remote control in the box too, and there are Roku apps for phones that give you control of the devices. The remote here uses infrared, which is a slight change from the XS, which is an RF system, and has a motion system that allows you to play games and such. To be honest, we've never used that system, and the LT remote is smaller and lighter as a result.
As far as the aesthetics of the device go, that's pretty much it. The the LT remains a handsome looking device, and it's very, very small.
Its real strength is online video
The best thing about all the Roku boxes is the easy access to online video. If you've ever enjoyed an online video podcast from, say, Revision3 or TWiT then there's stacks of informative, interesting and funny video online to enjoy. To see it on a Roku, someone has to have built what's called a "channel" for it, but there are loads of them.
There is also more premium content. In the UK, for example, we get BBC iPlayer and Now TV. As you might expect, iPlayer is the standard system you see everywhere. It looks the same and works the same as on almost any other device. It's good, and effective and we like it.
Now TV is a premium offering from Sky. It allows you to watch a selection of newish movies each month. The selection changes regularly too, and these are often really good titles. This service will suit you if you like to just sit down, and watch a random movie without really knowing what it's all about.
As you would expect, Netflix is here too, and it's utterly glorious. We love most of the Netflix apps we've tried. They always work really well, and the content behind the scenes is solid too. Netflix is currently spending hundreds of billions of dollars to show its own unique content, so it's well worth the modest subscription fee, if you ask us.
It's not just video though, because there's also a Spotify app now which allows you to access the massive Spotify music library. We don't usually listen to music on our TV, but if you're pottering about doing something else, it might be quite nice to have it play some of your favourite tracks.
There are some grumbles here though, because there's no Demand 5, no 4oD and no ITV player, so while the BBC is sorted, the others don't have any apps. This might well be a problem with how they operate their services, but as an end user it's frustrating, especially as so few media boxes support every single one of these services.
The Roku wasn't ever really designed to stream media on your home network. It's a small, simple piece of kit and its hardware video and audio decoding is a little limited. When we reviewed the XS, there were two Plex apps, only one of which was official. We'd suggest getting the official one, as it looks great, and in our tests works really well.
If you don't know what Plex is, we should explain. It is usually available in two parts. First, there's the server side. This is the most important, as it handles the video library as well as transcoding. It needs to sit on a PC or NAS - a high-powered one - in order to work properly. Plex is more than a server though, because it's also able to transcode video to formats that the requesting client can understand.
So, if Plex doesn't want 1080p video, the server can downscale it to 720p. It's an enormously flexible system, but it requires some grunt to work properly. We run it on a Core i7 machine, so it's fine, but laptops might struggle.
It's a beautiful system though, and if you have a lot of video from TV shows to movies, it makes browsing through them an absolute joy.
Very low power
One of the things that did annoy us about the XS is that you can't turn it off. There's just no button, so short of yanking the power cable off - a viable option - or using a smart, power-saving plug to detect when you're not using it, there's really no way to stop it using power.
That said, even when it's on, and streaming 720p video, it's only using two Watts, which is probably the most modest consumption of any device of its kind. While we think things should be fitted with an off switch, we can handle the fact that this device uses very little power.
One of the things we learnt about the Roku 2 XS was that while it was very good on a wired network, its built-in wireless was a bit shaky. Despite indicating that our wireless signal was very strong, the box would buffer for very long periods on Netflix or Plex streaming.
The LT has fixed this entirely. It's not just about it needing to move less data, it's just much, much faster at everything. We opened Netflix videos, and where on the XS we'd have to wait minutes, within seconds the LT was showing us the goods. And with Plex, we couldn't stream anything over Wi-Fi on the XS, but the LT works a charm.
Of course, with no Ethernet socket, it's just as well that the LT has good wireless skills, it would be in a lot of trouble.
Why wouldn't you buy the Roku LT? Well, you wouldn't if you don't have internet access and you probably wouldn't bother if you didn't have a TV. But everyone else should at least give it a healthy dose of consideration.
If you have Netflix, it's almost a must for using on a second TV, and the Plex streaming means that home media nuts will have a field day. And for TVs that don't do 1080p it's ideal. But the newly fixed Wi-Fi means that the box itself is less frustrating that the XS, and half the price.
Seriously, are you still reading. You should be throwing your credit card at the screen and be shouting "shut up and take my money" by now.