Editors' note, April 22, 2015: As of now in the US and May 2015 in the UK, the Roku 2 reviewed below has been replaced by an all-new version, also called the Roku 2. The new version performs much faster, includes an Ethernet port and has a few other minor improvements, but it now lacks the old version's point-anywhere Wi-Fi remote with headphone jack, as well as its analog outputs.Check out the full review for more details.
All of the information in the following review applies to the older 2013 Roku 2, not the new 2015 Roku 2.
Here's the pitch for the Roku 2: it has nearly everything you love about the Roku 3, including the remote with a headphone jack, for $20 cheaper.
It's a tempting offer. You don't get geek-friendly extras like the SD card slot, Ethernet jack, or the USB port, but those seldom-used features aren't worth the extra money for most buyers. The Roku 2's remote doesn't have a built-in motion-sensing or gaming buttons like the Roku 3's remote does, but there's not much gaming to be had on the Roku, aside from the occasional Angry Birds session. The Roku 2 even one-ups the Roku 3 by including analog video jacks, making it compatible with older, analog TVs.
The real drawback to the Roku 2 is speed. The Roku 2 lacks the superfast processor of the Roku 3 and, while the difference isn't huge, it is noticeable. Zipping through menus has a subtle lag, although it's not that bothersome, especially if you haven't been spoiled by the Roku 3. I tended to notice it the most when using the cross-platform search feature, with the Roku 2 stuttering a bit as I zipped around the onscreen keyboard to enter text.
The Roku 3's superior speed may also increase its longevity. Roku has been particularly excellent about continually updating its boxes years after they're released, and the Roku 3's more powerful processor makes it more likely your box will stay snappy several software updates into the future.
With the difference in cost being just $20, we think those advantages are enough that most buyers should spend the extra on the Roku 3. Roku owners tend to use their boxes a lot, so the Roku 3's extra peppiness will make your streaming sessions just a little more satisfying. But if you're on a tight budget or aren't picky about having a blazing fast box, there's no denying the Roku 2 is a great streaming-media box and an excellent value, especially since it includes the headphone-jack-toting remote.
For a deep dive on the full Roku experience, check out CNET's full review of the Roku 3. Below is a breakdown of Roku's full product line.
Roku LT ($50): 720p video, HDMI and analog video outputs, available only at online retailers
Roku 1 ($60): adds 1080p video
Roku 2 ($80): adds Wi-Fi Direct remote with headphone jack, dual-band Wi-Fi
Roku 3 ($100): adds dual-core processor, motion control remote, Ethernet jack, USB port, SD card slot; no analog video jacks