Roku 2 XS Review

Dave Zatz —  July 23, 2011

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The original Roku media streamer launched back in the spring of 2008 as the “Netflix Player,” piping online video to the television. In fact, the product was spun off from Netflix itself when Roku founder and CEO Anthony Wood returned homewith his Netflix project team and funding in tow. Since then, Netflix streaming has landed on dozens of connected devices, while Roku, Inc abandoned all prior product lines to bet the farm on the economically priced Roku Streaming Player. Now decked out with tons of video and audio “channels,” Roku’s fourth rev – the Roku 2 Streaming Player – has launched.

Hardware

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Roku 2 hardware is by far the most elegant they’ve ever produced… and how far its appearance has evolved from off-the-shelf components and generic look seen in the first generation Roku Netflix Player. The Roku 2 is quite compact and, in fact, will fit in the palm your hand. It doesn’t feel quite as solid as Apple TV, but it features a smaller footprint, more rounded corners, and clocks in slightly taller. But, at the end of the day, while Roku’s outward appearance may help move units in Best Buy, it’s the technological capabilities that folks should be interested in. And the Roku 2 line comes in three flavors

roku-2-models

The Roku 2 HD ($60), XD ($80), and XS ($100) all feature a new “blazing fast GPU”, high definition video playback, 802.11n, and Bluetooth. All units also include a microSD slot, which is how Roku will help customers overcome their ongoing “channel” memory limitation. Unfortunately, when it comes to connectivity, Roku has presumably made some cost cutting decisions resulting in the loss of component cable support, Ethernet (except the XS), and dual band wireless. Given my initial experiences with the new XS, this is unfortunate… as my wireless connection has dropped several times. And my prior XDS currently shows better wireless reception, picking up five networks whereas the XS only sees two. The higher end XS model incorporates USB support and bundles a new RF Bluetooth remote for gameplay, in additional to typical Channel navigation.

Gaming Remote

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A significant hardware change from prior generations of Roku media streamers is the inclusion of that RF Bluetooth remote bundled with the Roku 2 XS. Not only do the directional buttons serve as a gamepad, along with requisite A/B buttons, the remote integrated some sort of gyroscopic, accelerometer, nuclear fusion functionality to provide “motion” control. In action, it’s eerily similar to Nintendo’s iconic Wiimote – minus the sensor bar. Unfortunately, this motion control is (currently?) limited to gameplay and doesn’t extend to the general Roku 2 interface. Related, I’ve confirmed the XS has retained it’s IR capabilities as it can be controlled by prior generation Roku remotes. Which is surely good news for those of you utilizing universal remotes. In terms of feel, the back of the remote has a matte finish and an ergonomic indentation, while the front features a glossy look. Weight and balance are fine, although I’d have preferred a slightly slimmer build and rounder edges on the top surface.

It’s my understanding that both the Roku 2 HD and XD models can be upgraded to support the gaming capabilities of the Roku 2 XS… once the gaming remote is offered as a $29 accessory down the road.

Software

The Roku interface is relatively unchanged. Yet, there are visual enhancements throughout that potentially foreshadow a significantly richer experience on the horizon. Owners of earlier Roku hardware will immediately notice the animated 3D logo at boot, new vertical scrolling and updated graphics within the Settings menu, and just a sharper look all around. Of course, the main draw of Roku is their numerous “Channels” of content – which should hit 300 this year. Yet, as we all know, quantity doesn’t equal quality. And we’re still in need of a better way to display and filter premium content. Roku’s original launch partner Netflix has seen a significant channel update to now include support for 1080p video, 5.1 Dobly Digital Plus audio, and subtitles. Suggesting apps like UFC, that have had live streaming issues, may continue to see improvement based upon Roku’s refreshed hardware platform.

Gaming

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Roku clearly intends to expand their footprint by offering casual gaming apps, in conjunction with the new RF Bluetooth remote. And they’ve launched with a heavyweight from the mobile space in bringing Angry Birds to the big screen for the first time. Unfortunately, it’s the only currently available premium game… and without taking upon yourself to expand storage with a microSD card, the Roku 2 lineup only provides enough storage for 4 titles. Beyond that, I’m pleasantly surprised with the execution and, given one child’s reaction, they may be onto something. Although Roku will never separate me, or my Kinect-addicted niece and nephew, from the Xbox 360.

Angry Birds graphics and gameplay on Roku seem quite similar to my limited iPhone and Android app experiences. Using the directional pad, you can zoom in and out (up and down) or shift the level left or right (using the respective buttons). To launch your birds at their piggy targets, hold down the OK button and physically manipulate the remote to set the projectile’s direction… then let go of the OK button to fire. Check out a video demo here.

Local Media Playback

Native local media playback, via USB-connected drives or network connections, continues to be a Roku pain point. For some. While the new Roku hardware seems more capable, the are no significant updates to local media playback at this time – suggesting “channels” remain Roku’s top priority. So the technically savvy with significant local content should look to Boxee or the WDTV Live Plus to handle a broad range of containers, codecs, bitrates, and resolutions… in addition to solid online content partners of their own.

Buying Advice

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At $60, the Roku 2 HD is a solid upgrade over its predecessor and, by far, provides the cheapest and easiest way to bring Netflix instant streaming to any television. Cheap enough that you might even buy several to sprinkle throughout your home. All the additional free channels, including Pandora, Facebook, and Chow, are gravy. And if you happen to be a fan of various pro sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS) and are willing to pay their for their respective subscriptions, the Roku HD is a no brainer to beam over-the-top video content. Assuming you can look past the missing Ethernet and component connectivity.

Now the Roku 2 XD ($80) ups the resolution of the HD from 720p to 1080p. And that’s it. However, there’s not enough 1080p content currently available to bother with at this time… especially as we’ve yet to see a solid qualitative analysis of the extremely limited offerings. So I’d say skip this model entirely. In fact, Roku, Inc should have done the same.

At the high end, we have the Roku 2 XS ($100) – which folks may want to look at closely if they need Ethernet connectivity and hold out hope for additional USB media support. Of course, Roku’s primary pitch at this tier is casual gaming along with the impressive little “motion” RF Bluetooth remote control. Currently, the only available game is Angry Birds (free!)… but Roku hopes to have “dramatically” more games available by Christmas, offered “in the $5 range.” If that appeals to you, in addition to all the other streaming channels, and Roku delivers as promised, the XS is a good buy. However, at this price point there are several other compelling options including the $99 Apple TV and a number of connected Blu-ray players. Not to mention those aforementioned local media limitations, which could push someone towards towards the WDTV Live Plus.

57 responses to Roku 2 XS Review

  1. Great review Dave. Is the Amazon client updated at all?

  2. As much as I enjoyed their simply packaging, I can only imagine how thrilled Best Buy is by the more descriptive and colorful packaging. Thanks for including that shot as well. Did they include some sort of model comparison chart on the packaging as well or is it on the consumer to know the differences when they get to the store?

  3. The Hub, I’ll check.

    Jeff, The simple cardboard packaging is only used for roku.com sales. The prior Roku XD (still) on sale at Best Buy features “real” packaging similar to this. Unfortunately, you make a good point – there’s no chart on this box comparing the various models. AND Best Buy will only be stocking XD and XS models – I suppose it’ll be up to the customer to know or figure it out by reading the details (on the box or online).

  4. As far as local media goes, you can use Roku with PlayOn or a couple other apps to turn your PC into a media center from which you can stream pretty much anything. I’ve had very good success with this combo, although PlayOn isn’t free software.

    PlayOn also allows you to stream all your Hulu content (not just Hulu+) since it’s technically playing on your computer. It gets a little choppy sometimes but it’s still pretty cool not to be limited to the Hulu+ app.

  5. Do you see any reason to upgrade from an earlier Roku model?

    I have an XR HD and it works perfectly well for what it does (except that 1080p support doesn’t work correctly with my Sony TV). I don’t particularly care about gaming on a Roku and I have a PS3 which can already stream Netflix in 1080p with 5.1 audio and subtitles. So at least for me, I don’t really see the need to upgrade.

  6. Morac, if you’re not interested in the gaming and can continue to live without Netflix subtitles, there’s little compelling reason to upgrade at this time. Down the road if the UI sees a massive overhaul or they land higher quality 1080p content like Vudu on the new platform, it’d be worth reevaluating.

  7. “…and dropping dual band wireless. Given my initial experiences with the new XS, this is unfortunate… as my wireless connection has dropped several times.”

    Can I finally get some love from Dave for my repeated assertion that 5ghz radio is essential for high-functioning unwired teevee streaming?

  8. Great review Dave.

    I’m just wondering, what software version + build number are on the Roku 2?

    Thanks!

  9. He-Man, Upon first boot, it downloaded an update and rebooted. My first attempts to link the box to my account failed and after another reboot, it seemed to have possibly updated once again. I’m currently holding steady at software version 4.1, build 1250. But hopefully a few other updates are in the pipeline, given the sporadic WiFi issues requiring a manual reconnect and Angry Birds did crash the XS once. Not to mention I can’t actually delete Angry Birds – I had wanted to reinstall it to see the tutorial again, but was unable to remove the app (and know of no way to reset Angry Birds).

  10. Dave, what do you recommend for current Roku 1 owners? Would it be worth “upgrading” for the games and other potential, such as the Netflix channel enhancements. Might other channels add additional features?

  11. I like the smaller size, but man is that big “XS” annoying. I don’t need big logos on my devices to remind me what they are.

  12. Hi Dave thanks for the review but still didnt get enough info.
    I want the XS model and big stuff i am looking. Does Roku 2 have parental control, Off and on Search thing, how does the subtitles look like, what firmwire is it on right now, Did the channels change or add new ones. Can you add more photos
    i have a little sister and i dont her to use the search thing.

  13. Rich, unless the updated Netflix channel or Angry Birds app interest you, I think it’s safe to sit tight until such a time when there’s something to encourage you to make a move.

    noor, I’m going to post a follow up story in a day or three covering some additional stuff. However, as far as the new Netflix app goes and subtitles I have a few pictures here:

    http://www.zatznotfunny.com/2011-07/rokus-new-netflix-app-does-5-1-audio-subtitles/

    As far as software, I posted that above – currently running version 4.1, build 1250.

    I’m not aware of Roku having parental controls, however you can force any channel/app additions to require a PIN (or just paid ones) to restrict access. What sort of search are you referring to? And is it specific to Netflix or all of Roku? Also, what sorts of pics are you looking for? I did include 17…. (20 if you count the Netflix post).

  14. Dave,
    Nice review!
    Do you know of a chart that compares both the functionality of various media streamers along with channels available for each device?

  15. Another thing to consider is the reason I went with the XS model. I keep all devices inside storage, so my TV is floating. The only IR remote I’ll use is for my TV. I can now own a Roku because of the XS remote.

  16. I’m really angry at the exclusion of component outputs…While I do have 1 hdtv, and it’s jacks are already occupied, I can’t afford to replace perfectly functioning CRTs with new flatscreens in each room of the house. Why cut out potential customers by making equipment not functional with existing televisions? Makes no sense….

  17. Still no VuDu…. But to give readers a more complete picture, you should investigate their so-called support. It is a marvel of non- responsiveness by design. The earlier model XDS was a clever product, it sounds like this new model benefits from cost-cutting measures. 0h, right Angry Birds. I liked the original Roku XDS very much. I did not like the smell of burning plastic every time it was operating. Went through three players with the same problem and after two weeks of non-existent support, returned all three to Amazon for a refund. Currently playing with a couple different blu ray players that contain streaming suites. If Roku improved its customer service and technical support it would be a world beater. As it is, buy with the expectation that there is no one at the company to talk to if you have an issue. Bill Hart, New York

  18. Thanks for the review. I had one question. Is the dc power supply only 110-120 or does it work with 220-230? As I travel overseas and have a VPN I was wondering if the Roku 2 could be used outside the US?

  19. gear, there’s not many good comparisons I’ve come across. Most are incomplete and/or wrong, and the content providers can change. Roku probably has the most, but they’re not all good. And YouTube is a glaring omission, compared to much of the competition. We’ll see if they choose to pay Google’s licensing fee or carry on without it.

    Bill, I’ve owned every generation of Roku player and only had reason to call tech support once. It was shortly after the very first unit launched and I wanted to understand the networking to get it going in the hotel I was passing through. They didn’t have the answer I was looking for, but I recall finding the rep kind and helpful. As far as having three different units with the same problem, and given no moving parts, I’d wonder what you were plugging it into.

    TIgerT, component is going away. Some of that is price or size savings, but there’s also an industry movement afoot due to piracy concerns. The consumer doesn’t’ always come first… and we can’t be trusted. In fact, you’ll find many new Blu-ray players and upcoming cable boxes will be dropping component or reducing output to just 540p.

    Peter, the HD and XD use a different AC adapter than the XS. But my XS adapter says 100 – 240. I scanned the box quickly and didn’t see anything specific to range.

  20. i think you left off a very big change between one and two, no optical audio output….

  21. Dave –
    yes, you can remove Angry Birds, in home screen press Info button on the game and then select “remove”. I was able to add it later from the Games category in the Channels Store – seems interesting that the way it gets loaded is different from other channels, takes long time and shows progress bar. I am thinking it’s written in completely different way that all the other channels (they use BrighScript, home-grown BASIC dialect).

  22. Thanks for the review!

    I was going to buy a Roku2 device for handling my http://www.rdio.com/ music (only Sonos and Roku2 currently supported :( and before pressing the “buy” button, it struck me: is there a Web Interface to control the device or must the TV interface be used? Any help appreciated!

  23. Nas, nope I could not delete from my personal channel dashboard method you mentioned, nor could I delete the app via the Channel store interface. I kept receiving error messages that the action couldn’t be completed. i’ve noticed some other quirks as well, related to remote responsiveness or channel launching (Amazon in particular) and network connectivity. I assume some builds will go out over the next few weeks to tighten things up. While it’s not the first Roku, it’s a substantial hardware platform change for them.

    Jean-Luc, yeah you’d need a TV connected at least to get things rolling. I’ve read of folks utilizing tiny monitors to turn the Roku into a music hub of sorts. Also the DVPiPhone app provided some pretty advanced interaction, but it doesn’t work with Roku 2. Not sure if this is accidental or if developers are being frozen out as rumor has it Roku’s working on their own apps.

  24. Any ides of Roku 2 XS will help with the problems in streaming in HD? My Roku 1’s are not able to give audio without drop out when we use the HD settings. We are hard wired and using HDMI high speed cables. We were going to switch to component cables but are concerned about spending the money if that will not help. Also, don’t want to buy the cables of the Roku 2’s do not use them if we do upgrade. Please help

  25. Woot is offering a refurbed Roku HD for $40. What are the plusses/minuses of buying that vs spending the extra $20 for a new Roku 2 HD?

    Also, what kind of speed do I need from my wf-fi to consistently stream 720P content? If I can’t get HD most of the time, I might as well upgrade my BD player to one that streams and get some powerline adapters for wired networking…right?

  26. lori, does audio drop out on ALL channels streaming ALL resolutions or is it a specific channel/resolution? Do you have another cable or TV you could hook the Roku up for verification?

    jrmutley, The Woot refurb is not the last generation Roku (2010), but the one before it (2009). $40 is a good deal, but I generally prefer to buy the latest generation product (2011) and would probably spend $20 for the new Roku 2 HD.

  27. Dave,
    my own “Remote for Roku” app works just fine with Roku2. Not to push my own stuff, so should work DVPRemote – try refreshing the list of remotes there. Maybe you have one of the two most common problems encountered (described on AppStore page of my app).
    The WiFi remote apps won’t work inside “Angry Birds” because paired bluetooth remote is required – also Roku does not provide information how/if motion info can be injected by network – this may or may not be in upcoming SDK 4, on which i was told there is no ETA

  28. Nope doesn’t work with DVPRemote, and I don’t think I’m the only one with probs. Hoping to do some debugging with Phil tonight, but he may have received his new player and beat to me assistance. Granted, I do have a somewhat unique network… But glad to hear yours is working. Do you make any mods, or just out of the box it was a go?

  29. I just ordered my XS today and as a limited TV watcher I hope to replace digital cable. This is the wave of the future and I see products like this making cable companies think twice about their rates vs what they offer their customers. They’ll have to start making some changes to compete and that’s how we all win. It wasn’t long ago we were carrying 5lb boomboxes and now have mp3 players the size of a quarter. This is how we advance. I love the free market.

  30. Dave –
    no, did not have to tinker with anything. Roku is on wifi. See if the app still works with Roku1 and if not, let’s take a guess recent iOS security update have broken it – remove and reinstall it. Bring your problem to Roku forums, chances are i will forget checking on this blog thread

  31. There’s some confirmation that DVPRemote works with the Roku 2, so this could be an issue on my end. As far as the security update, let’s just say I’m an iOS developer… Anyway, thanks for offering to troubleshoot. I’ll play some more later and also will take a look at your app at some point.

  32. Nathan Hoover July 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Not offering wired access except on the highest end model is strange. But what stops me from considering this is the lack of an optical audio output. My original “Netflix Player” is going strong – works very well at 720. I can live with it just fine.

  33. Purchased the new Roku 2 DX for Netflix closed captioning mainly. Experiencing numerous drop-offs and
    “loading please wait” messages. On most occasions the movie never returns on it’s own. I’ve worked with Netflix once (no help at all) and Roku (several times) to resolve the problem. I’ve tried everything under the sun, to no avail. Regretfully, I guess I’ll have to return the unit to Best Buy.

  34. Oh, you develop for iOS and know something about 4.3.4 update breaking apps? Pray tell, i had 1 user complain my app stopped working after installing 4.3.4 and fixed itself after reinstalling – but i could not find anywhere info on what Apple broke with 4.3.4 (i dont use pdf nor jailbroken features).

  35. Jerry is right.. I just bought Roku 2 ( I bought Roku 1 two days before Roku 2 was released and returned it today to get Roku 2)..I will wait for a couple of days to see if it persists and will have to return it.. Roku 1 was better in terms of connectivity..

  36. Had to return my Roku 2 XS. Someone in QA should have tested these things more before they hit market. Multiple issues with the XS just rebooting itself during a movie in multiple channels. Support board has many others with same issues. If you are still game I would let them mature a little and not be a non paid beta tester. Im going to see about an apple tv with xbmc and see if thats the ticket.

  37. Same problems with the rebooting. This is such bull!

  38. So does it play regular tv channels like MTV, ESPN, CW, USA? If not, how do you watch the shows that are on those channels?

  39. I bought the $100.00 Roku unit this past Christmas after seeing it on Hulu Plus that I streamed from my computer. Now I’m seeing this Roku 2 unit and it’s new gaming remote. I get the games on my Roku, but I don’t have the gaming remote. Do I have to buy another new Roku(2) in order to get the gaming remote, or is it going to be available at an accessory price to the owners of an older Roku? I’m on a fixed income and I’m not in a position to keep upgrading! I love my Roku – it’s the greatest thing I’ve found in decades! Please don’t tell me I have to upgrade to a new one just to get the gaming remote. I have a grandson whose wanting the remote very much!

    Thank you.

  40. bejis, the Roku 2 has upgraded processing power and Bluetooth – both of which are required for the gaming and remote. So your current Roku cannot handle games.

  41. Am hooking up Roku2 xs and discovered that the Roku1’s additional cable kit (required to hook up component TV) has a differently wired component cable, or rather, the Roku2 xs component cable which comes with the Roku2 xs is either wired wrongly or the Roku2 xs is wired wrongly.
    -More, later.

  42. Nino, The Roku 2 doesn’t provide component output. HDMI or composite only. Composite sends low def over the yellow RCA plug with stereo sound over the red and white cables. As you can see in some of the comments above, there are those who take issue with this design consideration.

  43. We have the Roku 1, the model with supposedly beefed up WiFi capability. We use WiFi because the Roku and our TV are in the family room but the Comcast router is in my home office. It is maddening to try to watch anything on Netflix because of the repeated interruptions while the Roku is reloading. This happens every few minutes, and sometimes it requires several retries. Yet we can stream Netflix content directly to an iPad over WiFi not a foot away from the Roku without having to reload the stream. I would be interested to learn how the Netflix content gets to our device. Does it go through a Roku relay server? Or does the Roku establish a direct link between Netflix streaming servers and the device? Why does it work on the iPad and not on the Roku?

  44. We had the same problem with “loading – please wait”. After several e-mails back and forth with Roku, they finally confessed that you need an Internet connection that is at least 3.5Mbbs download speed (mine measures 2.9Mbbs). They should state this in their advertising.

  45. The “loading-please wait” problem is a product killer. It never resolves once it appears. Calling Roku doesn’t help. It is interesting Jack they told you it was download speed. You got more out of them than I did. But my download speed is well beyond 3.5, and I still have the problem.
    I cannot recommend this product because you are left uncertain as to whether you will get to watch the movie or not. The previous generation Roku is still available, I recommend it.

  46. I ‘ve a very strange issue with roku2 XS . It works great first time after the reboot but not 2nd time,no matter , what content I play (Netflix,Amazon, anything ) …
    I even replaced my device 2nd also is the same issue,it can’t be router/network too, as I tried with Ethernet too.

  47. What kind of review is this????????? There are Pro’s and Cons to every product. The author of this article should write something other than what we can learn from the Roku website. Like the interference from other 2.4ghz devices. I tried this thing and either it sucks or Comcast does. Either way I returned the product.

  48. It’s the kind of review that graciously provides you a forum to express yourself and further discuss the product – positive or negative. But I suspect you failed to read the entire article, as I quite clearly indicate experiencing connectivity issues and make note of Roku’s local media playback shortcomings.

  49. Actually, just on a note if anyone’s interested, the Roku 2 XD DOES have the ethernet port.

  50. I’m mainly interested in having the ability to add subtitles when using Netflix. None of the reviews say very much about it. Also, does the component video cable input still exist on the 2 HD? Can I use the cable from my Roku 1?

  51. How many free indian channels are free on ROKU 2 XS ?

  52. Right now there’s new Roku 2 XS Angry Birds Limited Edition. Of course it does all the things you know and love (Netflix, Hulu Plus, yada yada), but it’s RED and features world’s most furious fowl on its hood! Includes FREE full version of Angry Birds game. You can save 10 bucks on Roku 2 XS and XD if you visit this website http://www.rokuxdsstreamingplayers.com

  53. Hey Guys and Girls,

    How do I get sub-titles when streaming to ROKU 2 XD from NETFLIX? Can I do this?

  54. ROKU 2 was a dismal experience for me.
    First it seems their sign up system is not compatible with the iPad Safari browser… Would not establish a link to Paypal. The cursed had to create my account over the phone the next day.

    Then I could watch only a portion of a Crackle movie. It gave me black screen first, then wait for a commercial to load another 30 seconds… No progress bar… Finally a 10 second commercial.

    The movie played for several minutes before it crashed. Cus rep said my internet was too slow for ROKU. I loaded the crackle APP on my iPad and was watching the same movie in less than 5 seconds.

    Oh, the remote hung twice while cus rep was online with me too. Remove the battery cover and press it’s own reset button… Just before driving the 60 miles back to Walmart for the return. 120 miles round trip.

  55. Reading all these comments, I find myself wondering just exactly what device you folks are using. My wife and I found nothing but ancient TV shows and movies which had dropped into Public Domain, or we found a hundred billion channels all in East Indian! Roku DOES NOT access YouTube, free Hulu, MotionEmpire, Googlevideo, Blinkx, Kalimbavidz, Gorillavids, or ANY streaming site which can be accessed in a millisecond on a regular computer. You want decent programming? In English, maybe? Pay, pay, pay, pay, pay! Just like cable!

    Oh, and when we tried to set up a Hulu Plus account, they wouldn’t take my credit card – odd, indeed, since Roku had no problems taking my money. Same deal with Netflix.
    It took less than one week to realize we had bought something which belonged in my cat’s litterbox. We lost 25 bucks in return shipping.
    Expensive lesson.
    DO NOT BUY ROKU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  56. I agree with BentEars. We purchased a Roku with high hopes. I am unable to use Netflex streaming unless I upgrade from my current contract. I don’t feel like doing that. Unable to stream Hulu. The offerings are NOT anything I am interested in. Most everything is pay per view; hell, it would cost about as much as basic cable if I paid for what I want to watch..might as well keep basic cable and not have to contend with “buffering” issues because as Support tells me, my bandwidth will not support Roku. Sick of it. Back it goes. It sucks. Oh, also, if you want an hdmi cable, it is NOT included. I asked Support why and was told because, “most people to not have HDTV’s in USA.” I beg to differ, but oh well…no matter…as I said, back it goes to Walmart. What a bunch of HYPE!!!!