Roku revamped the low and mid range of its Linux-based streaming media player line with new features and a curvier design, and announced a content partnership with M-Go. The new $50 to $80 models offer several new functions including a headphone jack and WiFi Direct on the remote, but the product line still lacks built-in capabilities for playing YouTube videos or streaming media from LAN shares
The new Roku players share the same rounded design and some of the same features as the top-of-the-line, $110 Roku 3, which received strong reviews when it was released earlier this year. The new Roku devices also borrow the Roku 3′s two-dimensional interface, which adds a left-hand menu instead of relying on a single menu layer.
Roku’s 2013 player lineup, remote headphones
(click images to enlarge)
The Roku LT is now the only device limited to 720p video. The Roku 1, which replaces the Roku XD, joins the Roku 2 and 3 in providing 1080p. Otherwise the Roku LT and 1 devices are identical (see comparison table farther below).
The Roku 2, which fills the slot previously occupied by the Roku HD, received the biggest upgrade. Although it apparently lacks the Roku 3′s dual-core processor (as usual, Roku is vague on internal specs), it does gain some cool features introduced on the Roku 3′s remote. These include dual-band WiFi, as well as WiFi Direct technology for operation without line of sight. The remote also includes a potentially relationship-saving headphone jack.
Otherwise the devices offer essentially the same technology of their forebears. Like the Roku 3, the Roku LT and 1 models stream video at a cool 3.5 Watts, although the Roku 2 jumps to 4.0 Watts. None of the devices offer the Roku 3′s microSD, 10/100 Ethernet, and USB connections, nor are their remotes equipped with motion control and gaming buttons. One advantage for users with older TV gear not found on the Roku 3 is that they provide analog audio and video outputs as well as HDMI audio out.
Key specifications of the new Roku LT, 1, 2 and previously released Roku 3 players are tabulated below.
|Roku LT||Roku 1||Roku 2||Roku 3|
|Composite A/V out||yes||no|
|Audio on remote||no||yes|
|WiFi type||Single-band 802.11b/g/n||Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n|
|Gaming support on remote||no||yes|
|Dimensions||3.7 x 3.7 x 1.2 in.||3.5 x 3.5 x 1.0 in.|
|Weight||3.5 oz||4.5 oz||5.0 oz|
|less than 3W||less than 4W|
|Power, standby||less than 1W|
|Operating system||customized embedded Linux|
Still no YouTube!
Despite the Roku players’ ubiquity and vast array of easily-used TV formatted channels, the product line is frequently criticized for its lack of several highly-desired capabilities. These include:
- YouTube videos — a third-party solution is available from PlayOn, but using it requires a PC or Mac to be turned-on and running a companion subscription-based PlayOn server app.
- LAN media streaming — although Roku doesn’t include functions for streaming media from local network shares, such as DLNA, SAMBA, and AFP, several third-party Roku channels offer network streaming capabilities; however, they require companion mediaserver apps to be running on a PC or Mac, and tend not to support popular filesharing protocols.
- Screen mirroring — Apple TV’s AirPlay beaming and screen mirroring functions continue to be killer features, and so far no other devices have managed to provide equivalent capabilities, despite several recently-introduced HDMI stick-style streaming adapters such as the Plair and Chromecast gadgets.
Upper row: Original Roku; 2nd-generation Roku
Lower row: Roku Streaming Stick; 2013 Roku series
(click thumbnails for larger images)
Media partnership earns a button
Roku also announced a partnership with M-Go to bring their thousands of movie titles and TV shows to the Roku boxes. M-Go’s monthly tab is billed through the normal Roku bill, without additional setup required, and includes some fall-premiering shows, including “Brooklyn 9-9.” Additionally, a dedicated M-Go button will be included on the Roku LT, 1, and 2 remotes.
M-Go joins over 1,000 Roku channels, with offerings including Netflix, HuluPlus, HBO Go, Amazon Instant Video, and Pandora. Rokum which continues to thrive despite competition from an onslaught of newcomers, including numerous Linux and Android players, is one of the most successful embedded Linux products of all time.
The new Roku LT, Roku 1, and Roku 2 streaming players are now available for pre-order and will ship and become available in retail stores in October. Prices are $50, $60, and $80 respectively. More information may be found at the Roku product page. Roku also offers the $110 Roku 3, and the $100 Roku Streaming Stick HDMI dongle.
–by Eric Brown, with additional reporting by Rick Lehrbaum.