Roku 2 review

Roku's redesigned middle child is back and faster than ever

Roku 2 review
Great Value

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Like I stated earlier, it's difficult to complain about the 2015 hardware refresh. Overall, the performance is snappy and sharp, and recent additions to the home screen add considerable value rather than take anything away.

In terms of loading times, gone are the days of 10 or 15-second waiting screens. You'll hop between one channel to the next in a matter of seconds. And while content takes a second or two to populate, I never felt like I was waiting around, twiddling my thumbs like I would with the original Roku 2.

Roku 2 review

Assuming your service provider pumps you with enough bandwidth, the Roku 2 can provide video resolutions up to 1080p. While not all content will come in a native 1080p signal, the unit does a great job upscaling. It can't parse 4K streams, however, but this leaves Roku room to explore UHD in the yet-unannounced Roku 4.

The only feature that really should've been here is the built-in mic that comes inside the Roku 3's remote. Sure, you can pick up your phone and tablet to access the dedicated Roku app, but having the function built straight into the remote would save us a lot of trouble.

Roku app

In addition to the standard remote is the Roku app. This handy companion for iOS and Android devices allows you to navigate the Roku interface while the box is streaming a show or film. Just make sure your device is running at least iOS 6.0 or Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

On it, you'll be able to launch apps remotely, add and remove channels from your home screen and search for content here in lieu of a remote with a built-in mic. It also works as a remote when the IR controller is out of arm's reach.

It's supplemental, certainly, rather than essential to the experience, but it's something I was glad to have when I was restlessly looking for something new to watch.

Roku Feed and Movies Coming Soon

Roku Feed and Movies Coming Soon are two new features the company rolled out in April to help you to track down your favorite new films.

It's simple to setup and quite helpful once you've parsed the 40-or-so films in the Movies Coming Soon section of the home page. Add a film to your Roku Feed using the asterisk button, and your Roku will keep you up to date on which services the movie is on and how much it costs on each.

It's slightly barebones at the moment, with only a few dozen trackable movies. It's something that I expect to grow with the system, however, and will be a neat feature once it matures down the road.

Roku 2 vs. Roku 3

At one time, the difference between the Roku 2 and its older brother was cut and dry. You could expect faster performance and better load times from the latter, along with the ability to play games and stream in 1080p.

Thankfully, the long-overdue 2015 version of the Roku 2 shook up the lopsided contest.

A faster processor closed the performance gap between the two systems, and while it still isn't video game-ready, the Roku 2 no longer suffers from longer load times.

The big draw to the Roku 3 is the premium remote with a built-in mic and headphone jack, as well as its ability to play motion-control games, like Angry Birds.

Roku 2 review

If you're just in the market for streaming video, the Roku 2 is the cost-saving solution you've been looking for.

Roku 2 vs. Roku Streaming Stick

Besides the obvious difference in size and form factor, the Roku 2 has plenty of awesome silicon inside that blows away the Streaming Stick in terms of performance. You'll notice that the Roku 2 not only loads channels faster, but doesn't have as much problem holding a stream, thanks to its rear ethernet port.

Both the Roku 2 and Streaming Stick come with a remote, however, and both work with the dedicated iOS and Android app.

Roku Streaming stick

Finally, while the Roku 2 plugs into your TV via an HDMI cable, the Roku Stick interfaces directly with the TV via HDMI and draws power from a small micro-USB port on its rear.

Because the price difference is minimal (only about $20 or £10) it's probably in your best interest to shell out a bit more to get the faster, more capable model.

Final verdict

The Roku 2 sits in a privileged position. It may not be the company's pick for the best streaming box (that honor belongs to the Roku 3), but the new-and-improved Roku 2 is easily the better value. It benefits from the same 2,000-channel-rich, agnostic platform, an improved processor and a functional, if only mediocre, remote.

Not caring about the promotion or survival of any given channel has liberated Roku to create a more egalitarian box. As a result, Roku's movie and TV offering are some of the most expansive on the market, boasting more channels and apps than any other platform.

The new Roku 2 is easily one of the best devices the purple-loving company has given us to date. And while it's not blemish free (but really, what is?), it's hard to complain much when the result is a better product with updated specs and an unchanged price tag. Whether you've yet to pick up a streaming set-top box or are in for an upgrade, now's the time - and this is a fine place to start.

Nick Pino

Nick Pino is Managing Editor, TV and AV for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. Previously, he was the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar, covering TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's also written for GamesRadar+, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.