Roku 2 XS Review : Streaming Videos and Casual Gaming on the Big Screenby Ganesh T S on September 30, 2011 11:59 AM EST
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).