Netflix is undoubtedly the most widely used streaming service in the US. Most of the consumers looking to purchase the Roku 2 are probably looking for just a Netflix streamer. Keeping this in mind, we have a whole section devoted to the Netflix streaming experience.

Roku 2 was introduced with some Netflix streaming improvements that finally brought it on par with the PS3 experience. To recount:

  • Roku 2 XS and XD support 1080p Netflix streaming for selected titles
  • Roku 2 supports Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 channel audio bitstreaming for selected Netflix titles.
  • Roku 2 supports subtitles for selected Netflix titles

The gallery below has some screenshots of the Netflix app in action:

An important feature of the Netflix app is the adaptive bitrate streaming aspect. In layman's terms, the app seamlessly shifts to a lower bitrate stream if it recognizes that the bandwidth available is not enough to sustain the current playback bitrate. In a similar manner, it moves on to a higher quality stream as soon as the device is provided with more bandwidth.

I set up an interesting system to test the effectiveness of this scheme. Using an ASRock CoreHT 252B, I connected the wired Ethernet port of the Roku 2 to the PC, which was acting as a router. This port was bridged with the PC's wireless connection to enable access to the Internet for the Roku 2 XS. Wireshark was used to track the network characteristics of the Roku 2. NetBalancer Pro was also used to artificially limit the available bandwidth for the wired Ethernet port (and by extension, the Roku 2).

Our Netflix test stream was the 41 minute long documentary, National Geographic: Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West. I was connected to the Internet with a Comcast 20 Mbps plan, and in the first experiment, I made sure to give the Roku 2 unfettered access to all the available bandwidth. In the other experiments, I set the available bandwidth at 6 Mbps, 3 Mbps and 1 Mbps respectively. The graphs with the instantaneous data rates from WireShark are presented below.

Back in June, DSLReports indicated that the 1080p streams with 5.1 audio came in at 4.8 Mbps for the video and 384 kbps for the audio. Sure enough, we see that the default and 6 Mbps graphs show values around that mark. The anomalous value of the average bit rate (and by extension, amount of data downloaded) in the default graph are due to inaccuracies in the start and stop timestamps for bandwidth measurement. The intent of the graphs is to convey that adaptive bitrate streaming works, and indicate the bitrate which a consumer might end up with depending on their connection speed.

How low can one throttle the bandwidth before the app gives up? One might expect the multichannel audio to give way to a stereo version first, but, even at 384 kbps, the audio continued to remain at 5.1. Instead, the video quality took a very big hit. Somewhere around 384 kbps, the app entered a prolonged 'Loading' screen. After 5 minutes of waiting, I removed the throttling. As the last three bandwidth graphs from NetBalancer in the gallery below show, the app takes a good 3 - 4 minutes to move from the lowest quality stream to the highest quality stream once the bandwidth restrictions are lifted.

The Netflix app is not really user friendly, and I did find many discrepancies between the PC version and the Roku 2 version. For example, the 23.976 short movie presents a host of language and subtitle options on the PC as well as the Boxee Box. On the Roku 2 XS, I could get only English options for both audio and subtitles, and the playback refresh rate was not at 23.976 Hz. All in all, it is not the perfect Netflix experience, but one can't complain too much because this is the only sub-5W streamer that can do both 1080p and 5.1 channel audio from Netflix.

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  • arswihart - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    You need to know about the MyMedia local streaming channel, which lets you watch your videos on any Roku device by installing the channel and running a small server program on your home computer. Quality is excellent, as expected, you can get the highest quality the Roku is capable of and speed will be better than anything because it's on your home network, not over the internet. It also plays music and displays photos. The only significant downside for video is that you do often need to re-encode to one of the supported formats, but that's to be expected: http://forums.roku.com/viewtopic.php?t=25955 Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    The approach seems very similar to the one taken by Plex (which I already mentioned in the review). Plex seems to transcode, but MyMedia doesn't seem to (as far as I can see). Roku 2's native support is abysmal (No MPEG-2 / MPEG-4 / DivX / XVid support? Almost all SD media is in one of those codecs).

    If you have the necessity to play local media, I suggest getting a cheap Seagate media player or Patriot Box Office (often found for < $50 on the deal sites). I would never recommend transcoding and/or re-encoding of existing content.
    Reply
  • arswihart - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    Can't say I disagree, but if you have a Roku and you want to use it for local media, it is probably the best available solution, and it works great if you have your videos in the right format. You can automate the pre-transcoding by setting up Handbrake to convert every video file that shows up in a designated folder:
    http://forums.roku.com/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=36...
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    The specifics in that thread are for the previous generation Roku. Current generation doesn't support MKVs yet. But, yes, definitely a helpful link for users of the previous generation Rokus. Reply
  • AmdInside - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    I've owned the Roku2 and returned it simply because the OS is slow, especially if you try to launch a Netflix 1080p video. I really wanted to like it and sell my ATV2 but alas, this product while offering more features, just isn't as well polished as the ATV2. Reply
  • RamarC - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    I know a roku or dedicated streamer will be better overall, but is a good bluray with dlna a good alternative for most folks? Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    My belief is that any single device solution will always end up with a bad user experience in one department or the other. Good Blu-ray with DLNA will have bad experience with respect to local media playback. (Rudimentary DLNA profile support would imply that a majority of the user's media is rendered unsupported). Reply
  • Aditya369 - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    Considering both of them are available at similar price, How does it compare with revue. Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    Revue doesn't have the special gaming remote or 1080p/DD+5.1 Netflix , but it has a host of other features.. In the end, it is going to be horses for courses.. The device I would recommend depends on the end user's usage scenario. If 1080p/DD+5.1 Netflix and casual gaming are not in your radar (i.e, just ordinary 720p Netflix will cut it for you), there is no need go with the Roku 2. Reply
  • Aditya369 - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    Thanks for feedback. I do not have setup up for DD+5.1. Will it possible to do everything on revue browser (like on laptop). Can it will play all the video content on internet. Reply

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