- Great for streaming Netflix and other popular services to a TV
- Flexibility with private channels
- Compact design blends in with any home entertainment center
- Headphone jack on remote is a unique feature
- Not much of an improvement of the Roku 2 XD
- Gaming is currently underwhelming
Quick TakeThe Roku 3 is a great device for easy access to streaming content. It essentially makes a dumb HDTV a smart TV. While Roku 2 XD owners might not find it that much of an upgrade, everyone else should take a look.
The Roku 3 set-top box gives users a resource to watch streaming content, especially for those without a cable subscription or smart TV. It provides the functionality of an internet-enabled TV with access to more than 750 channels, including services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora, and Spotify. It even features games like Angry Birds, which can be played with the dedicated remote using motion control.
The Roku 3 design is a vast improvement from the original and second-generation Rokus, which resembled a small cable box. But it’s more or less similar to other current Roku offerings, which includes the Roku LT, Roku HD, and Roku 2 XD. The Roku 3 is just a bit smaller, measuring 3.5 x 3.5 x 1-inches and weighing .31 pounds. It’s actually reminiscent of the second and third generation Apple TV models.
Its compact size makes it easy to blend into any entertainment center, but it has a plastic build that feels a bit cheap. The remote is also plastic and features navigation buttons as well as A and B trigger buttons that can be used for gaming. The remote works well to navigate the menu, but it would be nice to have the select or OK button in the center of the arrows, rather than below.
Using the compatible app for iOS and Android makes it easier to navigate through menus and is a bit more intuitive. After downloading the app, it can automatically sync up to the Roku as long as both are on the same network, otherwise the user can enter the IP address of the set-top box.
One interesting design feature of the remote control is the headphone jack, which uses Wi-Fi Direct to let users listen to the programming via the dedicated volume control on the remote that only affects the headphone volume. It’s a very specific feature, which no other streaming set top box offers, and it suits very particular needs that not everyone will have. It could come in handy for roommates, couples when one wants to sleep and the other wants to watch TV at night, parents up late at night with a baby, or if using the streaming music programs offered through Roku 3. It’s a feature that will make some wonder how they ever lived without it, while others may never find a need for it.
Setup is easy out of the box: just plug it in and hook it up to the HDMI port on an HDTV and it’s basically ready to go. Users without a pre-existing Roku account will need to sign up online before they can do much with the device. With an account, users can start adding channels and streaming content directly from the Roku website or the device itself.
In addition to the streaming-content channels, users can play ACC and MP3 audio files, and MP4 and MKV video files from a USB, which is a pretty limited selection of file formats. Video outputs include 480p, 720p, and 1080p, and the Roku 3 is only compatible with HDTVs via an HDMI connection. The other Roku models will work with “virtually any TV,” according to the company, as they support the older composite and stereo audio cable connections.Users can expand storage via the microSD card slot, which allows room for more channels and games.
Roku offers a large range of channels, and more can be added online, even if they are not offered directly through the service. The updated interface lets users search for TV shows and movies across all channels; for example, a search for “Beverly Hills Cop” will reveal which subscription services currently offer the title, plus how much Amazon, Vudu, and others are charging to digitally rent the flick.
The updated search function is great and something other services do not offer. It lets users avoid having to go into multiple channels on the Roku to see if each one offers the program they are searching for. With other streaming devices like Apple TV, users have to go into each service individually to see if Hulu Plus, Vudu, iTunes, or Netflix has the show or movie they want to watch, rent, or buy. It’s especially useful considering the vast amount of channels offered by Roku, and users won’t be disappointed after paying for something that could have been watched through one of their subscription services.
The updated interface is easier to navigate and it is certainly improved from the old format, with a sleeker design that uses tiles and menus, which are similar to the Apple TV menu. This updated interface is available on Roku LT, Roku HD, Roku 2 HD, Roku 2 XS, and the Roku Streaming Stick; so users won’t need to upgrade their device to get the updated menu design. The old UI might pop up in some channels that haven’t updated to the latest software yet, but mostly all the big name services, like Netflix and Hulu Plus, have done so at the time of this writing.
According to the company, Roku 3 is the most “powerful, responsive streaming box we’ve ever built.” It has an always-on feature, which is supposed enable fast response and quick load times. That said, TechnologyGuide experienced issues when navigating Netflix and experienced delays in loading popular programming during testing. It happened more than once during testing, and the problem was mostly related to the Roku device losing its Wi-Fi signal, albeit it being located next to the router. At the same time, the Apple TV connected to the same network, did not lose its connection.
Navigating the UI was fast and responsive, as long as it didn’t rely on a Wi-Fi connection; trying to load programming within any of the channels became problematic when the connection would unknowingly drop off. It occurred most often when the Roku had been sitting idle for long periods of time, or after streaming a show on Netflix or Hulu and then attempting to load the following episode. When the connection remained solid, there were no issues loading and scrolling through programming.
Read on to page 2 of the Roku 3 review for a rundown on the streaming content and gaming features.
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