By: HDTV Professor
Roku is one of the original TV-streaming devices and even as it continues to compete against Apple, Amazon, and Google, in our opinion, Roku still comes out on top. The Roku 3 (new for 2015) has a few extra features that provides a tangible convenience over its predecessors and other TV-streaming devices. For example, this newer model bundles a remote with voice control, a headphone jack for private listening, one-touch app buttons and interactive games with motion control.
While the new version boasts faster speed than the Roku 2, that claim isn’t entirely true. The cheaper Roku 2 is just as quick and doesn’t offer as many games as let’s say, the Fire TV, but video output supports 1080p (which few other devices can claim), so you can enjoy your shows and movies at full HD quality experience.
At the end of the day, the Roku 3 is extremely fast and switching between apps is flat out seamless. Starting up is quick as well and dual-band network support allows for crisp streaming. This newest version has received a nice update to its software. Once you delve inside, you’ll notice a difference in the UI (assuming you’ve used Roku before, of course). Instead of the old horizontal layout where scrolling could be a tad annoying, you now have a grid of icons — think Windows 8 or Xbox One. The new layout also allows you to see a majority of your apps at a glance and put the ones you use the most in preferred slots. Another thing we liked about the new layout was the ad space: it’s far enough out of the way that it really isn’t distracting.
Roku’s #1 mission has been to ensure users can find their favorite programs easy and without issue. This new updated UI does just that. With over 200 content sources in its Channel Store, and a few more on their private channels that anyone can create, there are plenty of apps to choose from.
As far as app structure, they are nearly the same. A few apps like Spotify and Amazon have changed in their design. Also, with some apps you can hit down on the d-pad and see picture quality and other information but other apps won’t allow that. It isn’t a selling point, though, but some people may find it useful.
One of the best perks of the Roku 3 is the access to Sling TV. Sling TV is an app that gives you access to live television on ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, AMC, and others. Those who sign up using Roku 3 get a $50 discount, which depending on your service with Sling, is basically two months or more for free.
Lastly, the streaming quality is superb, assuming you have a good internet connection. 1080p allows you to view media in beautiful HD which can’t be said of some of the other TV-streaming devices. As long as you have the internet speed, you will get top quality streaming.
Features – All About the Remote
From a design standpoint, the Roku 3 box is still standard. It’s a tiny, black box that will sit silently, not judging you for binge-watching hours of Daredevil. But the new updates to the remote are what’s fun.
While the remote is bigger than you would expect, it’s size comes with extra features than before. From a design standpoint, it looks outdated and not as sleek as it should be, but it feels natural in the hand and the buttons are easy to use, which is all that matters.
The remote has Wi-Fi Direct so it doesn’t need a straight line-of-site to operate. Just point and shoot anywhere and you can fire up the Roku 3. The back button has been replaced with a search button. If you got used to that back button on the older Roku’s, it could take some time to get used to this.
There is a headphone jack located in the side of the remote for private listening. Perfect for those moments where you simply can’t stop watching TV but don’t want to wake anyone up. The volume controls are for the headphones only and will not control the television or Roku 3 itself.
When it comes to quick-casting apps, the remote has Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, and Rdio build in. Just push the button and the app comes up. Why it has Rdio, we aren’t sure. It’s not an app that’s widely used so justifying the idea of putting it on the remote is confusing.
The Roku 3 also comes with a MicroSD storage expansion slot to increase the capacity of the player, which seems to be limited to a small 512Mb. You can use the cards to load up some games and even store movies on it. The system supports MP4 and MKV files.
A tiny microphone in the side of the remote allows you to verbally search for your shows. This is a fantastic feature, especially since typing in a show can take more time than we choose to admit. You can also download the Roku app for your Apple or Android device and simply skip using the remote and control everything from your smart device.
At the end of the day, the Roku 3 takes the best of those Rokus before it and adds a few more exciting and usable features. We could easily recommend it as one of the best TV-streaming devices on the market. The updates to the UI give you a fresh and cleaner look to the start-up screen and the added microphone to the remote makes it easier to browse for TV shows and movies.
From a design standpoint, nothing stands out but the device does what it’s supposed to and that is what’s important. Small things like the Rdio button and small storage space could be done away with, but luckily Roku saw fit to add a way to increase the storage with an external MicroSD expansion slot. Compared to other players, the price tag also seems punishing, but in usability and experience, you won’t go wrong with the Roku 3.