Pros:
• Remote with headphone jack
• Wide variety of premium content
• Easy to setup and user friendly interface

Cons:
• Limited file support


With the growing popularity of newer, feature-packed Smart TVs with catch up TV, games and other entertainment options; it’s easy to feel tempted to move away from older LCD or LED TVs.

While many may consider taking the plunge and upgrading, media players like Roku’s $99 (£99 GBP) top of the range Roku 3 can be a way to bridge the gap without spending a fortune.

With so many bells & whistles on Roku’s new and updated flagship model, we took a look at it to find out what it can do for your TV experience.

Design & Connectivity

Roku_3

Measuring 89 x 89 x 25mm and weighing as little as 170g, the Roku 3 has a small, stylish and subtle design. Its simple glossy black exterior gives the Roku box a minimal presence and allows it to blend in well to almost any TV setup; a nice perk if you don’t want any additional clutter lying around.

You can even keep the Roku 3 stashed behind your TV or inside your media cabinet, since the remote and main box don’t need a clear line of sight to communicate either.

Connectivity

Roku provides a number of options for its media-hungry users with the ability to stream via the Roku app, a Micro SD card slot and a USB port (on the side of the box). I found those connectivity options to be a big perk, since it means you don’t need to rely solely on the Roku’s content library.

Roku_3_Remote

Motion Control Remote

The motion controlled remote is a fantastic piece of hardware with few, well laid out buttons and motion sensors that allow you to play games such as Angry Birds without having to use any other kit.

It also features a very useful headphone jack — simply plug in a pair of headphones (supplied by Roku) and it automatically disables the sound on your TV; leaving you free to indulge in late night movie sessions without disturbing the rest of the house.

iOS & Android App

One of my favourite features on the Roku 3 was the ability to stream content from my devices on to the TV. Using the dedicated Roku app, you’re able to stream music, photos and video seamlessly — and to top it off, you can stream YouTube content from your device too.

The Roku app also works well as an alternative remote control. You’re able to access your existing channels, add more from the Roku store and even use your device’s on-screen keyboard if you want to speed things up.

Update (16/09/14): There is now also a Roku app available for Windows Phone users too. You can read more about it on Roku’s blog here.

Setup

Setting up your Roku 3 is an easy and swift process. Once you connect your Roku to a power source and hook it up to your TV via HDMI cable, you’ll also need to connect to your network via Wi-Fi or the ethernet port at the back of the Roku box.

Once you’re successfully connected to your home network you’ll be prompted to validate your device. That just involves creating a dedicated Roku account (if you don’t have one already) and entering your payment information in case you ever decide to subscribe to any paid services. All in all, the entire process takes around 5 minutes and is pretty painless.

Editor’s Note: Wireless setup is painless in most cases, but if you’re struggling with connecting the Roku 3 to your Wi-Fi network, here’s what you can do to fix it.

Content & User Experience

Roku-3-channels

When it comes to content selection, there are plenty of channels available including the popular Netflix, Spotify, HBO, Hulu and Amazon instant video (US customers). For UK users specifically, you’ll get options like BBC iPlayer and Sky’s NOW TV too.

Update (16/09/14): Roku has since added 4oD, ITV and BBC Sports channels, giving UK customers a lot more free content to choose from.

As you begin to browse Roku’s content library, it’s clear that the more popular & worthwhile channels like Netflix require a paid subscription to use — increasing the cost of using the Roku if you want to get the most out of it. That didn’t come as much of a surprise in itself, but I did hope to see a wider variety of free good quality content.

Fortunately, the introduction of YouTube in late 2013 solved that and added a lot more user value to the Roku. Factor in the ability to directly stream content to the Roku via your device, and it starts to look a lot more promising.

Games

Angry Birds in particular made good use of the motion controller, was fun to play and added a different dimension to what you can do with the Roku 3. Still, the problem (yet again) was that many of the other games on offer had to be paid for, and in all honesty there weren’t many compelling or impressive titles anyway.

Performance & User Experience

Packed with a new and improved user interface along with a faster processor, the experience of surfing the Roku 3’s menus feels seamless, fluid and intuitive; even for the most non-technical person.

When you decide on what you want to watch, it smoothly handles media up to 1080p (full HD) and works well under wired or wireless networks; although you can expect the occasional buffer if your Wi-Fi connection isn’t the best.

Whilst the USB connectivity was one of my favourite features, things quickly became frustrating when I couldn’t find the content from my external hard drive anywhere on the Roku 3’s menus. After a little digging around (thanks Google), I found out out that you need to add the Roku Media Channel to your Roku before you can access your drive — a channel that the Roku 3 really should have by default.

Moving on from that, I then faced issues with file format compatibility. Although the Roku 3 was compatible with common image and audio file formats, it only supports MKV and MP4 video formats. In theory that should accommodate most of your watching needs, however you’ll find that many MKV videos use AC3 audio, and since the Roku is unable to support that it runs the movie with no sound. All in all, it was very ‘hit and miss’ in this department which makes using your own content tricky.

Going from physical connectivity to streaming, I found that using the iOS & Android apps to stream content was very convenient and it performed seamlessly. If you’d prefer to stream content from your home server or computer instead, you can by adding the PLEX Channel to your Roku and downloading the PLEX server software on to your computer.

Update (16/09/14): Roku recently launched an update that significantly improved the performance of the Netflix channel, helping it to load almost immediately. The entire app now navigates and loads almost instantaneously.

Roku 3: The Bottom line

Although I was initially excited about the connectivity options available on the Roku, the file compatibility issues (especially video) became too common and made it frustrating to use.

Whilst the range of free content isn’t the most compelling, the ability to stream your own media and the introduction of YouTube compensates for that. The main value for Roku users however is going to be in the premium content; with channels like Netflix and Spotify for example.

A UK customer may find more value in an entry-level alternative like Sky’s NOW TV box instead, but all in all, if you’re looking for a selection of premium channels and can overlook the file compatibility issues; then the Roku 3 is going to be a great way to upgrade your TV experience at home.

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Joseph Silva

A major gaming enthusiast and very possibly addicted to coffee, Joseph mainly covers the world of gaming and computer hardware here at Let's Talk Tech. Connect with him over on Google+.