Roku 2 (2015) review:

Faster Roku 2 masters the streaming universe

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he Roku Channel Store offers more than 2000 apps. David Katzmaier/CNET

Still more apps than anyone: Although pretty much every streaming device can access every major app, Roku still offers more apps than any other platform--more than 2,000 by its reckoning. I didn't count them up myself.

Yes, hundreds of those apps are for local churches, local TV news and small content providers with niche appeal. But that's fine, because Roku has nearly all of the mass market entertainment bases covered. You'll find pretty much everything big beyond the Starz, PlayStation Vue, and local file playback favorite Kodi.

Check out the full, updated list of major apps available by platform here.

Unlike the old Roku 2, the 2015 Roku 2 has the updated version of the Netflix app, the one that supports profiles for different users on the same account, as well as the latest YouTube app. It does lack the latest interface for a few apps, however, including Amazon Instant Video and HBO Go.

Meanwhile Roku's selection of minor and niche apps is second to none. You can get lost for hours browsing the channel store for esoterica, and can often discover some real gems, like the National Geographic Kids app my daughter convinced me to subscribe to.

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Roku makes finding new apps relatively easy, although there is a sort of firehose effect. A new addition to the software is a search window just for channels in the channel store; as always, you can also find apps from Roku's main search window.

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More ways to browse: Roku is also the best at presenting TV shows and movies across the different services. In addition to the "Follow" feature, which allows you to tag shows, films and even actors and receive notifications for when they're available to stream, there's a new feature available to all Roku devices with the latest software update. It shows the most popular TV shows and movies across all of the services Roku searches, updated four times a day. It's a great way to find new things to watch, although I do wish there were a "Show only stuff I can watch for free" option.

For more details and comparisons between the various platforms, check out my Roku 3 review.

Feature breakdown

Streaming devices (and sticks) are mature enough that even the most basic ones will give you pretty much everything you need. But the boxes have some advantages over the sticks, especially in terms of connectivity.

If you'd rather connect via wired Ethernet than Wi-Fi -- something I do at home because it's simply more stable even though I have a great Wi-Fi router -- get a box and not a stick. If you have an older AV receiver that lacks HDMI inputs, you may want to go with a non-Roku device (not the Nexus) to get an optical digital audio output.

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The new Roku 2 (top) gets Ethernet, but loses the analog outputs now found only on the Roku 1 (bottom). Sarah Tew / CNET

All of the platforms offer dedicated apps for Android and iOS (with the exception of Google, which doesn't have an iOS version). All offer voice search and the ability to type in searches via text, and all are handy for when your physical remote goes missing. That's right: you can get voice search on your Roku 2 (and Roku 1 and Stick) using the app. I do like Roku's app best among the three, mainly because it offers the Play On Roku screen mirroring function to send photos and music to the box.

Full-fledged screen mirroring has been added to the new Roku 2, but it's more limited than on Apple TV (with AirPlay) or the Nexus Player (with the Cast feature). You still need to have an Android 4.2.2 or higher device or a PC running Windows 8.1 or higher to get full mirroring. The feature works very well in my experience. Roku 3 and the Roku Streaming Stick also support mirroring. Check out our full how-to for more.

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In the past Roku fell short of other players in its handling of local media from the network, but that's all changed. The basic Roku Media Player app works well for getting music, photo and video files on-screen, and if you want more robust support, Plex is available on Roku too. If you're a serious media hoarder, however, the Nvidia Shield is a better bet than Roku.

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The Roku 2 box will work with a headphone-capable Roku remote. Sarah Tew / CNET

Replacement remote options

One unique thing about the Roku 2 is that you can buy an older Roku remote separately if you want to get the headphone jack and volume control. They cost about $30.

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I was able to successfully pair the Roku 2 with all of the legacy "Roku enhanced remotes" that I tried, including the original remotes for both old and new Roku 3s, the old Roku 2 and the Roku Streaming Stick. All of the remotes' original functionality was preserved: the headphone jacks with volume control worked properly, muting the sound when I plugged in my headphones, and I no longer had to aim the clicker at the box.

Voice searches from the Roku 3 remote using the Roku 2 box also worked exactly like they did on the actual Roku 3. Unlike Amazon Fire TV however, Roku doesn't yet sell the voice-enabled Roku 3 remote separately.

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The verdict: Roku 2 is a great value, but the new Stick is an even better one

The other streaming platforms have a few advantages over Roku, especially if you care about gaming, need captive portal access or must have an exclusive app. And if you're all in with Apple's or Amazon's ecosystem, you'll probably be happier sticking with one of those devices.

Roku vs. Apple TV vs. Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV vs. Android TV: Which streamer should you buy?

For almost everyone else, Roku's platform is the best. The main question is which Roku to buy. You can definitely save some money with an older Roku like the Roku 1, but I think its worth paying a bit more for a faster Roku. Since the new Stick is just as fast as the Roku 2 and Roku 3, and costs less, it's my favorite Roku. But if you want Ethernet, and don't care about the Roku 3's fancy remote, the Roku 2 is the best buy of the bunch.

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