There are as many as seven different brands of streaming video boxes. Costing around $99, available in the market as of date. However, the most popular as well as the best selling ones are Roku and Apple TV. Every time either Roku or Apple brings about a significant update, consumers find it confusing as to which one will provide the best value for their money. Though there are several Roku models, the scope of this article will be to compare Roku 2 XS with Apple TV. Whereas Apple TV has sold more than six million devices, Roku has been able to sell in excess of three million boxes as of date.
Both Apple TV and Roku come with features that include HDMI out. An Ethernet jack, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a simple power cord and 1080p video and 5.1 surround sound support.
Apple TV – 0.9 x 3.9 x 3.9 inches/6 watts
Roku 2 XS – 0.9 x 3.3 x 3.3 inches/2 watts
Both companies offer a 90-day warranty. The warranty can be extended for one more year by paying $29 and $15 to Apple and Roku, respectively.
In terms of hardware, both the boxes are similar, but there are a couple of compatibility differences. These are as follows:
Apple TV: It can be hooked up to a new TV which has built-in HDMI. But not to an older TV without HDMI. A micro USB port cannot be used for playing back content through a USB device. Apple uses it for servicing the box.
This box has an optical audio port which can be used by people who want to listen to audio content more than video content.
Roku 2 XS: It can also be hooked on to a new TV that comes with built-in HDMI. In addition, this box supports older TVs, providing 480i video quality through composite video. This box also incorporates a mini-jack which extends support for analog stereo.
Roku’s USB port supports playing back MP4 and MKV content from USB devices and the box also consists of a slot for microSD card that can be used for channel storage and additional games.
Installing the Box
It is easy to set up both the boxes. Though it takes slightly longer to set up Roku’s device. As the user has to visit their website and provide personal information, including credit card details.
Apple does not seek credit card details. It takes around 10 minutes to set up the box. In terms of Wi-Fi strength, both the boxes are more or less similar.
Apple’s and Roku’s remote controls are very responsive and work very well even from a distance of 30 feet. Whereas Rouku uses AAA batteries in their remotes, Apple uses CR2032 or BR2032 batteries that watches have. Roku’s remote uses Bluetooth technology for motion sensing which is helpful when playing games.
The Bluetooth supports instant replay. A feature that enables the user to skip back in increments of 10 seconds. When the video is playing without the need to re-buffer the stream.
The remote provided by Apple is much thinner and smaller compared to that of Roku. But the latter’s remote has some additional buttons that offer the convenience of usage.
Apart from the remotes that come with the boxes. You can download applications which allow the users’ iPhone/iPad to control Apple TV or Roku 2 XS.
Apple TV: supports content from Hulu Plus, Netflix, MLB.TV, NBA, NHL GameCenter, YouTube, and Flickr. Content can be purchased or rented from iTunes as well. Though this box also provides support for some of the free Internet content from WSJ, Revision3, and others, it is lumped up under the heading of Podcast.
Many people may not see it. Further, shows have to be bought at $2.99 and those who wish to have XMBC support will have to get it done with some amount of difficulty. Apple TV does not have SDK and also does not run any applications on the box.
Roku 2 XS: offers Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HBO GO, MLB.TV, Epix, NHL GameCenter, Major League Soccer, NBA, UFC TV, FOX News, CNBC, NBC News, TED, Pandora, AOL HD, Crackle and Flickr. The box also supports PLEX.
With a listing of public content channels exceeding 250 in numbers in their website and an open SDK, Roku has many content partners working with them. In addition, users can browse through hundreds of private channels and if they know the correct code these channels can be added to the box. However, Roku does not support YouTube.
It is important at this juncture to be aware that both Apple TV and Roku are not DLNA compliant and do not have a built-in web browser.
Roku’s user interface is not as polished as that of the Apple TV, but is simple, easily navigated and customized for channel layout.Apple TV provides a great browsing experience for the user for selecting TV shows and movies in iTunes.
Though the interfaces of both Apple TV and Roku 2 XS look different, in terms of performance both are equally good.
Apart from streaming content, Roku 2 XS permits the user to play about 30 games, including the popular Angry Birds. Roku’s remote doubles up as a video gaming remote. Roku offers a limited edition version of a red console for those users who are really into Angry Birds.
For those who already have Apple devices such as the iPhone, iPad or Mac, it may make sense to choose the Apple TV. This is because all the devices can work together well.
However, they will have to compromise on content choices.
Movies that the user buys from iTunes through Apple TV will be stored in the cloud. It can be downloaded to the iPhone or the iPad.
Further, by making use of the Airplay technology of Apple, videos being watched on any Apple device may be moved in real time to Apple TV.
Though the Airplay technology supports streaming of third-party content, if the app provider enables the functionality, it does not permit playback of DVD images from the user’s computer.
Many people are not aware that Roku 2 XS allows users to play back content from their local computer. However, it is not as simple as Apple’s solution and the feature is not built into Roku’s device.
By installing a third-party channel such as Roksbox or making use of PlayOn or PLEX on Roku, the users can convert their computers into media servers that can stream pictures, movies and music to the Roku device.
Roku 2 XS does not playback content from iTunes.
Both Roku 2 XS and Apple TV do not allow users to do away with their cable TV packages as they do not have internal drives, DVR functionality, and capability to pick live TV signals through an antenna.
Summarizing, the choice as to which box to buy, Roku 2 XS or Apple TV, will depend on a number of aspects such as the user’s taste, type of content the user wants, how he/she wants to watch the content, whether the content will be bought or rented, etc.