Apple TV vs. Roku 2: Tiny boxes stream big views
BY ROBERT EVATT World Staff Writer
Sunday, March 17, 2013
3/17/13 at 6:39 AM
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When it comes to devices that are designed for streaming, there are a number of choices. But here I'll focus on two - Apple TV and Roku 2 XS.
Setup: If you were expecting something the size of a DVD player or a receiver, think again. The Apple TV, which sells for around $100, is maybe the size of three or four square coasters stacked on top of each other.
Because it is tiny, there's a limited number of connections on the back. One HDMI and USB connection each are all you'll get, though there's also a jack for optical audio if you've got that. If you've got an older TV that doesn't have any HDMI connections, you're out of luck.
The Apple TV also has an ethernet port, but unless you've got your TV in the same room as your router, a wireless network will make life a lot easier.
Setup is a breeze. You'll need an Apple ID, but beyond that it's just a matter of connecting to a wired or wireless network.
What you'll watch: Once it's activated, Apple TV will let you play all the music and video you've got on iTunes on your TV. You'll need to have your iTunes device on the same wireless network as your Apple TV to have access to everything you've loaded up, and anything you've bought directly from Apple will show up on Apple TV regardless, thanks to iCloud.
If you've got a Mac, you'll be able to stream anything that's on the computer screen onto Apple TV via AirPlay. It's a great bonus, but it only works if you've got a Mac.
It's easy to surf through Apple TV's icon-based menu with the ultra-simple remote control. Naturally the device places iTunes front and center, with options to buy music, movies and TV shows from the service. You can pay a one-time fee to buy movies or shows, or you can rent movies.
Apple TV comes loaded with a few streaming apps - Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Wall Street Journal Live - and a few sports apps. Yet there are no options to download more apps, which is baffling considering Apple more or less invented the app store.
In fact, the tight Apple integration is the device's greatest strength and weakness. If you're already strongly invested in Apple's ecosystem, Apple TV is a great tool to pump all of it onto your TV. But if you're not happy sticking with what Apple has to offer, Apple TV may feel limiting.
Roku 2 XS
Setup: Roku sells a variety of streaming boxes with an increasing amount of features. I was able to test the 2 XS, which gives you extras like a USB port, an ethernet port and Wii-style motion controls in the remote for use with games like Angry Birds.
The 2 XS, like all current Roku boxes, is downright tiny - think a deck of playing cards, only square. In addition to the ports above, the boxes have a Micro SD card for showing picture and video files, an HDMI port and a tiny port for a three-plug composite cable. Because the port is proprietary, there's no way to use a five-plug component cable, though it's still nice to give the HDMI-deprived an option.
Roku's setup is fairly easy, though the process involves going onto a separate device with Internet access, creating a Roku account with your credit card number, and then authenticating the device. Roku's ads say the device doesn't need a PC, and that's true once it's authenticated, but you'll need one to get it running.
What you'll watch: You'll be able to scroll horizontally through a line of different channels like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, Crackle and others.
The best part about Roku is the ability to download more than 700 channels and counting. Want to stream from the Smithsonian? British TV? Anime? War movies? Classic horror? It's all there. I even blundered into a channel specifically for education in Seattle.
You won't be lacking for content with Roku, and unlike Apple TV, you aren't locked into a specific service. Still, that freedom comes with a price.
There's no option to rent or buy titles from an online service run by Roku, so you'll have to either be a member of one of the premium services or be willing to settle for what the more niche channels have available. In my brief time with both boxes, Apple TV seemed to offer more new, big-name movies and shows than Roku, though Roku gave me plenty more free options.
Apple TV and Roku are charming and user-friendly products, and their sizes make them easy to add to any crowded entertainment center.
And even though streaming services are standard-issue with increasing numbers of TVs, Blu-ray players and other machines, Apple TV and Roku offer a deeper pool of content than any other device without a monthly fee.
Original Print Headline: Tiny boxes for big views
Robert Evatt 918-581-8447