The Roku 2 box is very clear on what it supports:

  • H.264 (MP4, MOV and MKV containers)
  • WMV9 (ASF, WMV)
  • MP3
  • AAC
  • AC3 (MP4, MKV, MOV passthrough)
  • DTS (MKV passthrough)
  • JPG
  • PNG

Given the above list, I loaded up our latest test suite on an NTFS formatted USB3 SSD, expecting to spend some time evaluating the local media playback capabilities. The Roku USB Media Player channel was installed and the USB drive was promptly recognized. Out of curiousity, I went to the Help section. As of firmware version 4.1 build 1275, the supported file types dialog box only listed the following:

  • MP4 (H.264)
  • AAC, MP3
  • PNG, JPG
  • AC3 passthrough in MP4s

Out of our 57 test streams, only 3 streams were recognized. The first one was an MP4 file with H.264 video and AAC audio. Selecting the video resulted in a blank screen. The SoC just couldn't support the 9 reference frame L 5.0 H.264 clip. Kudos to Roku for not crashing the box. The second one was actually a 240p M4V extension file, and it played back without any issues. The third file to be recognized was a 1080p60 MP4 file from a Sanyo camcorder. The clip played back without any artifacting, but it seemed to drop every alternate frame, and the panning appeared very staggered. I believe that the SoC supports only upto 1080p30 video, and Roku must be appreciated for trying to decode the video at that frame rate.

Considering the above test results, I can only say that the Roku 2 XS is almost useless for local media playback. I have seen people solve these type of media compatibility issues in two ways. The first one is to try to re-encode the content to fit in with the players' restrictions. Unfortunately, my opinion is that it is often better in terms of time and money to just invest in a different player that doesn't force you to re-encode your existing content.

Many devices with restrictive file format / codec compatibility make up for their shortcomings by advertising DLNA certifications. Roku 2, unfortunately, is not DLNA certified also. (The fact that DLNA is cause for many a consumer's disappointment is a story for another day.) However, for users running the Plex Media Server on their PCs, a private channel (Plex) can be used to play back the media. Roku 2 seems to require a specific fix in the server program. I didn't have much luck with this app with respect to the few random MKVs and AVIs that I tried, but users seem to be reporting a little bit of success in the above linked thread. That said, the media server needs to transcode to H.264 for the Roku 2 to understand the stream.

Personally, I think it is best if all media files reside on a low power NAS / file server. Transcoding is an overhead that is best avoided. There are a number of cheap local media streamers that get the job done better than the Roku 2 when it comes to playback without transcoding.

Users on AVSForum have also complained about wrong color levels being output (0 - 255 instead of 16 - 235). Roku has acknowledged this issue and promised a fix in the next firmware release.

Miscellaneous Channels Final Words
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  • ganeshts - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    No, not really.. there are lots of limitations wrt the browser in the Revue and it is not a very great experience. I would suggest just using a laptop for your purpose (maybe a old one repurposed as HTPC, or just build a HTPC -- it is very easy to get satisfied wrt online media with HTPCs.. It is codec configuration which is the most difficult part of the HTPC experience) Reply
  • danjw - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    I know the last generation of Roku worked with Amazon Prime, does this one? I have been using my current Roku for that. Reply
  • ganeshts - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    Yes, it has Amazon VoD... Reply
  • blahsaysblah - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    You're all missing the biggest downside of Roku. You should read the EULA. The fine print says they collect and use your viewing habits. They see everything you watch in Netflix,...

    I got the Roku XD when it first came out. Then some random article pointed that out... Threw it in the trash after i verified it myself.

    Thats why its so cheap. They make money off selling your viewing habits. Good thing the new version enforces linking a credit card to the box.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Saturday, October 01, 2011 - link

    :) I saw that myself in the Wireshark traces (they even reach out to their servers when you start playing Angry Birds).. Then, I realized there are no popular online streamers which don't do that.. Boxee Box does something similar too.. Reply
  • Samus - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    if SoC's cost so little ($25) why do smartphones still cost $400? all they add is a screen, single-cell battery and some NAND. Reply
  • Cali3350 - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    Well, the Screen, battery and NAND (and much more ram) easily cost into the hundreds. Add the Radio, camera et all and you add up. Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    This SoC was probably built for the sub-$100 'smartphones' for the developing markets (it has only ARM11 as the main processor, while the $400 smartphones probably have Cortex-A8 or Cortex-A9s). Since Mediatek and other Taiwanese companies have the sub-$100 smartphone market covered, Broadcom probably had to shop this SoC around for other applications like the Roku 2.. Broadcom PR wasn't very forthcoming with info about this SoC.. Reply
  • Bownce - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    How's it compare to "WD TV Live +"? i've concluded that WD doesn't put enough advertising dollars into the review stream since it seems to be ignored in spite of supporting so many different file formats for local/LAN streaming. No on-line gaming, but the media formats it supports without transcoding still seems to dwarf other options. Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    WDTV Live + is very good, except for some minor issues with DTS-HD audio streams (no bitstreaming) and some splitter bugs. We covered it in these review pieces:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3830/wd-tv-live-plus...

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3990/western-digital...
    Reply

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