Roku 3 review
As anyone who's used a Roku device in the past can tell you, the design of the Roku 3 is so similar to what's come before you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Compared to its competition, this pebble-sized streamer is smaller than both the Amazon Fire TV and the Google Nexus Player, although it is thicker than both. Still, it's certainly small enough to hide away in your AV cabinet or tuck behind your TV if you'd rather not have its plastic curves on show for all to see.
Like many other streamers, the Roku 3 uses the internet to pull music, films and TV shows via on-demand services direct to your TV. Roku's selection of content is pleasingly varied and you can access catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, along with Sky News and even special interest programming about Thai cooking and alien abductions – if that's your thing. You can also make use of your Netflix or Now TV subscription via Roku 3.
Over the years and various iterations of Roku devices, such as the Roku Streaming Stick, the catalogue of available channels and apps for Roku's products has grown impressively. When I initially reviewed the Roku 3, one complaint I had was the lack of UK catch-up services ITV Hub and All4. Thankfully these services have now been added and my concerns have melted away.
Box of Tricks
Ultimately, 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 microSD 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. Navigating the channels list on the Roku website does allow you to search, however you can't remotely install new channels to your Roku device itself, negative the usefulness somewhat.
The Roku store also includes Plex, which makes accessing your own content from a local computer or NAS an easy process. The Plex channel on Roku right now isn't quite as nice to look at as on rival devices, such as the Google Nexus Player, but it is perfectly functional and constantly being improved.
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.
Roku also updated its boxes with universal search, so you can look for television shows, films, actors or directors across different Roku channels. This made it significantly easier to find content to watch. Roku has said it will continue to add more services to its search. Roku Feed was also added where you could follow specific movies to easily get updates on when it becomes available to rent or stream on different services, as well as any price updates.
In terms of catch-up services you might expect, Roku boxes have all of the bases covered. There's BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5 and All 4, so all of the terrestrial channels. You also have Netflix for subscription-based video-on-demand. Recently, Amazon Video was added, so you have access to Amazon Instant Video if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber. This means that Roku boxes have all of the popular services available.
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.
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. Impressively the range on the remote, which uses Bluetooth, is around 20m so you could feasibly use the remote to continue listening to audio even when you leave the room. Useful to listen to the football commentary or music while you doing the washing up, for example.
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. You also have the option of using the Roku app on your smartphone or tablet to control your box.
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. You can stream from a DLNA media server using the Roku Media Player, and 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. Since then the addition of ITV Player and All4 have made the Roku 3 as near-perfect a catch-up TV device as you'll currently find. If that doesn't put you off, and you want a fantastic media streamer then look no further than the Roku 3.
|Media Streamer type||internet streaming device|
|Audio MP3 playback||Yes|
|Audio WMA playback||Yes|
|Audio WMA-DRM playback||No|
|Audio AAC playback||Yes|
|Audio Protected AAC playback||No|
|Audio OGG playback||No|
|Audio WAV playback||Yes|
|Audio Audible playback||No|
|Other audio formats||none|
|Other video formats||H.264|
|Image BMP support||No|
|Image JPEG support||Yes|
|Image TIFF support||No|
|Wired network ports||1x 10/100|
|Wireless networking support||Yes|
|Minijack line outputs||0|
|Minijack headphone outputs||1|
|Stereo phono outputs||0|
|Coaxial S/PDIF outputs||0|
|Optical S/PDIF outputs||0|
|Total SCART sockets||0|
|Other connectors||USB, microSDHC|
|Power consumption standby||N/A|
|Power consumption on||2W|
|Warranty||one year RTB|