Netflix in 1080p with multi-channel audio alone wasn't going to cut it with consumers. Roku realized this and decided to make the Roku 2 a casual gaming machine with a gestural remote control. It is not clear whether there is a market for such a feature. However, Netgear, with their NTV 200, is also promoting their Netflix streamer as a casual gaming box. Before analyzing this move further, let us take a look at how casual gaming works in the Roku 2 XS.

As covered in an earlier section, the Roku 2 XS has a gestural remote control similar to the Nintendo's Wii. It communicates with the main unit through Bluetooth. Angry Birds from Rovio is undoubtedly a crowd puller. It has also been heavily promoted by Roku. The Roku version is a slightly modified build with respect to the user interface. Without doubt, the TV version is as engaging as the smartphone / tablet versions. However, the gestural remote control, despite being optimized for the slinging action, does need some getting used to. After protracted sessions, everyone in my family preferred the versions on the Android smartphones and the HP Touchpad to the Roku version.

What about other games? The Roku channel store has the usual card and word games and also a version of Minesweeper. Unfortunately, many of these games aren't free (most of them are priced at $0.99). Roku helpfully provides star ratings for all the channels, which probably gives some sort of inkling to the potential purchaser as to how good the game is. I tried a word game (Hogoword Lite), but found moving across the on-screen keyboard with the remote very cumbersome (The D-Pad keys are not responsive to rapid pressing). The same problem of the key presses not being registered fast enough also exists in the Minesweeper-clone (Kaboom). The interface in most games is nothing home to write about. You can find more reviews of many of the Roku channels (including games) here. The selection and quality of the games on the Roku 2 is not great, but this will probably improve as more games are introduced.

There is, however, another perspective we need to consider. Casual gaming on the big screen is relatively new. With console games, we have multiplayer capabilities (either through the network or local). The flourishing PSN and XBox Live communities stand as testimony to the success of console gaming. On the other hand, the meteoric rise of casual gaming has coincided with the advent of smartphones and tablets. Note that such games are inherently targeted towards single players. Roku, on the other hand, is a family device. Watching someone play Angry Birds or Kaboom is probably not an exciting thing. One might suggest multiplayer games on the Roku 2 XS, but there isn't a big enough selection to choose from. The multiplayer games will also require a second game remote and that runs up another $30 (admittedly, with a 2 GB microSD card in tow).

I am not quite sure that casual gaming is going to take off in a big manner on the TV screen. Yes, it is a nice to have feature. But, is it worth enough to stand on its own? We doubt it. Instead of devoting resources to such add-ons, more pressing needs of the consumers should be taken care of. A case in point is robust local media support.

Roku 2 (and the upcoming NTV 200 from Netgear) face challenges from the slew of Android based media players in the market. Not many have started shipping in the US yet, but we can spot a few in action on YouTube. For example, the TizzBird media player can run Angry Birds too (I am sure the experience will not be as good as the Roku 2, but the point is that there are far more games available on Android compared to what is on Roku right now).

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  • quiksilvr - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    There is no point getting the XS if it's usb media playback capability is so poor. I'm not playing online with this thing so the wireless would do just fine. Might as well save $20 and get the $79 one. Reply
  • bobsmith1492 - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    This looked like a nice product until it said you have to give them your credit card. No thanks, not interested. Not a chance. Reply
  • fic2 - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    I agree. I stopped reading at that point. Reply
  • Hauk - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    I'm in the market for a streaming device; no chance with the credit card requirement. Like the other guy said, I stopped reading at that point. Reply
  • slick121 - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    Wow the local playback is not good at all. The ATV2+XBMC still seems to be the best local streaming solution. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    "and is expected to cost lower than the Roku 2 HD"
    Isn't it "expected to cost less than"? Otherwise, good review. Though I don't care much for media players like that. Full blown HTPC all the way for me! :D
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    Fixed, along with numerous other typos and grammatical errors. Thanks. Reply
  • racerx_is_alive - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    I noticed that they had a couple new software revisions out since last year, and most of the criticisms in your initial review were of the software, either stability/compatibility bugs or the software.

    I was just wondering if these fixes have made the difference in turning it from a "wait and watch" recommendation to something a little more positive.
    Reply
  • racerx_is_alive - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    oops- or of the web browser. Redundant phrase is redundant. Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    We have been waiting for the HD audio dropout bug to be fixed. So, for local media, it still remains wait and watch.

    For online streaming, well, the Roku 2 has a better UI compared to the Boxee Box (no unnecessary distractions in the interface). But, technology wise, if online streaming is all you need and you are not put off by the price, the Boxee Box is worth the purchase.
    Reply

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