Roku 3 review
Excellent user interface and playback from USB drives make this a fantastic media streamer, though the range of online services supported could be better
Review Date: 9 Oct 2013
Price when reviewed: £100
Reviewed By: Andrew Unsworth
The Roku 3 streams video and music from the internet direct to your TV. You can choose from many different types of content, from catch-up TV via BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 to live news via Sky News and special interest programmes about alien abductions and Thai cooking. If you have a subscription to Netflix or Sky’s Now TV you can use the Roku 3 to watch your films and sports too.
BOX OF TRICKS
The Roku 3 is an evolution of the Roku 2 XS, and is the flagship model in Roku’s new range of media streamers. Like the Roku 2 XS, the Roku 3 has a Fast Ethernet port, a Micro SD card slot and a USB port, but it loses the A/V output. This means that you’ll only be able to use the Roku 3 with HD TVs. Should you wish, you can use the USB port to play music, videos and photos from USB drives.
Predictably, it’s as easy to set up the Roku 3 as it was the Roku 2 XS. You simply connect the device to your TV with an HDMI cable, plug it in and switch it on. However, you must have a smartphone, tablet or computer handy, as you must go to the Roku website, create a Roku account and link the device with your account. To link the device, you must enter a short four-letter code shown on your TV into the Roku website. As soon as you’ve done that, your Roku device bursts into life and downloads your channels. You can then set the output resolution of your device, although you can only choose between 720p and Full HD 1080p.
Once set up, you can add more channels to your Roku in the channel store. The available channels are split into categories to make it easier to browse for something that interests you. Many of the channels are free, but there are also a good many that require subscriptions, such as Netflix movie streaming service, or a one-off payment, such as the Pac-Man and Galaga games.
Annoyingly, services that require subscriptions are frequently listed as free, and you must click through to the channel description and check that it doesn’t say “may require additional fees” at the bottom left of the screen to be sure that it really is free. However, it’s easy to remove channels, so don’t worry about cluttering up your channel list.
We were massive fans of the Roku 2 XS’s user interface, and the Roku 3 builds on the great design by having a scrollable natural language menu on the left-hand side of the screen and a matrix of tiles that you can move through on the right-hand side of the screen. You use the left-hand list is used to move through categories and options such as Special Interest and Settings, while the tiles represent channels. The graphics used by the Roku 3 are very high quality, the animations are slick and incredibly smooth and the user interface is a breeze to navigate. However, it’s a shame there’s no search function.
It’s possible to organise your channels, so that you can, for example, have a block of movie channels, a block of catch-up TV channels and a block of games. All you have to do is press the asterisk button on the remote control and select “Move channel”. You can then place wherever you want.
The image quality of the channels varies. BBC iPlayer looks great, for example, especially if you select HD, whereas the Thai Food channel can suffer badly from compression artefacting. Even so, the Thai Food channel is still watchable and you can easily follow the recipes prepared by the chefs.
BRILLIANT YET REMOTE
Another neat feature of the Roku 3 is the headphone socket built into the remote control. This means you don’t have to sit next to your Roku 3 to listen to media. Even better, plugging your headphones into the remote control mutes your TV. This means you can listen to music or watch films on a big TV without disturbing other people in your house. Unplug the headphones and your TV will output sound again.
The remote control is a motion controller, just like the Roku 2 XS’s remote control, and works just like a Wiimote. This makes it an ideal controller for games such as Angry Birds.
As mentioned earlier, you can play media from a USB drive, but file format support is limited. The Roku 3 only plays the MKV and MP4 video formats, and you can only view GIF, JPEG and PNG images. However, its audio format support was much better, and it played MP3, FLAC, AAC, WAV and WMA files. Sadly, it can’t stream media from other devices on your network such as a PC or NAS unit, but you can add the Plex channel and use a Plex server on your PC to stream media from that computer.
The Roku 3 is even better than the Roku 2 XS. We complained that the Roku 2 XS didn’t have enough UK-oriented TV channels, and that situation has improved greatly with the inclusion of Now TV, Sky News and Demand 5. The addition of 4oD and ITV Player would make the Roku 3 near-perfect as a catch-up TV device; while the continuing lack of LoveFilm support will force its subscribers to look elsewhere. If that doesn't put you off, and you want a fantastic media streamer then look no further than the Roku 3.
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