Roku 3 review
The Roku 3 distinguishes itself from the competition with a couple of innovative features found on its remote control. The remote incorporates a Wii-like motion sensor that allows you to play games by wafting the device around. It works well enough with the bundled Angry Birds Space, although other big-name titles are conspicuously absent from the Roku’s games store. (See also: Chromecast review.)
The second, more beneficial feature of the remote control is a headphone jack, allowing you to plug in a pair of headphones (a low-rent in-ear set are provided in the box) and watch movies or listen to music without disturbing others in the room or sleeping upstairs.
The sound – which is transmitted via Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth – is a little thin and prone to distortion when there’s a loud explosion or blast of music, even when using an expensive pair of Sennheiser headphones, but it’s fine for a late-night Netflix session.
Roku’s channel selection compares favourably to the Apple TV for a British audience, including BBC iPlayer, Sky Now, 4oD, ITV and Demand 5, as well as big-name online services such as YouTube, Netflix and Spotify for free.
Many channels stream in 1080p and video quality is generally excellent, although we did occasionally notice a mismatch between the picture and audio, which was irritating – it’s something we’ve never noticed on Apple TV.
Streaming media over the home network was less successful. Our attempts to stream 1080p videos using the Plex app and media server software installed on our PC ended in outright failure, although music and photos fared fine. It was the same story using the Roku app for Android, where 1080p video became horribly distorted in playback, although it worked fine using the iOS app. (See also: Now TV review.)
The Roku 3 has a microSD slot that can be used to expand the internal storage, but not for media playback. You can play media locally via the USB port, however. It spat the dummy at very high bitrate 60 fps 1080p video, but was fine with 24 fps footage, although be warned: the Roku 3 won’t automatically convert an AC3 or DTS soundtrack to stereo, leaving you with no audio if you don’t feed to a suitably equipped decoder such as in an AV receiver.
The Roku 3 interface is perfectly straightforward, and we like the option to change the look of the interface with free skins. You’ll need to keep another computer or tablet at hand for the setup procedure, which requires online registration and the handing over of your credit card details, even if you have no intention of paying for apps, which is disappointing. Setup was painless, although only when we delved into settings did we notice it hadn’t automatically detected our 1080p screen, and was instead running at 720p. Read: Apple TV vs Chromecast comparison review: Should i buy Apple TV or Chromecast?
Roku 3 review: verdict
A premium player with a superior feature set to every other device in this round-up. The wireless headphones are a particular boon for family households and the UK content selection is superb, although we experienced lipsync issues and network media playback is too unreliable.
See our original Roku 3 review on the next page >>
Although the Roku 3 is now available in the UK, the firm has refreshed its entire line-up by introducing the Roku 1 and Roku 2. Therefore, we're not able to compare this new model to the older Roku 2 XS.
The box itself is just as small and discrete as ever and has a new rounded design; we prefer the straight edges of the older model but this doesn't matter much.
If you don't know what Roku is all about then it's an internet media streamer which lets you watch online content on your TV, or a monitor. There are more than 450 channels to choose from and while most are free the big names are Netflix, BBC iPlayer Sky Now TV, Crackle, Demand 5 and Spotify.
You're rarely going to get the full selection but nevertheless, 4OD and ITV Player are both missing. So bare this in mind. You'll also need to pay for some of the channels, namely Netflix and Sky Now TV.
If you're just after Sky, BBC and Demand 5 content then the Sky Now TV box is a steal at £9.99.
The Roku 3 only has an HDMI port for connecting to your TV or a PC monitor, the AV port (mini-jack to left/right/composite video RCA) has been dropped and Roku doesn't even include an HDMI cable in the box which is a shame.
Setting up the box is fairly easy using the built-in dual-band Wi-Fi or its physical Ethernet port. You'll need to create a Roku account online and type in a code shown on your TV to activate the box.
Once you're setup there's nothing left to do but choose what channels you want and get streaming.
The faster processor in the Roku 3 means the interface is zippier than ever with almost no lag at all and we noticed no problems during streaming at all.
The remote control works seamlessly and doesn't even need to have line of sight to the Roku 3 box since it doesn't use the traditional infrared method. Roku has added a headphone port and volume buttons so you can listen privately through headphones - a potentially handy feature.
Roku also has free apps available for iOS and Android if you want to control the device that way.
As well as the faster processor and Ethernet port, the Roku 3 has other exclusive features which you won't find on the cheaper models. It's got motion control for games like Angry Birds and a microSD card slot, although this is only for expanding storage rather than viewing content on it.
If none of these features sound essential then you can save a few quid. The Roku 2 is £20 cheaper and still has dual-band Wi-Fi and a headphone jack in the remote for private listening. If you're not even bothered about those features, the Roku 1 is another £20 cheaper.
Roku 3: Specs
- dual-band Wi-Fi
- Remote control
- dual-band Wi-Fi
- Remote control
The Roku 3 is a premium player with a superior feature set to rivals. The wireless headphones are a boon and the UK content selection is superb, although we experienced lip-synch issues and network media playback is too unreliable.