This review concentrates on the most advanced product by Roku, the popular single use HTPC. It looks at performance improvements against its predecessor. For a full general article on Roku as a product including key
features, services abilities and history please see the Roku article found on our site. Before booting a Roku for the first time I recommend you create a profile at Roku.com.
Faster Stronger and more Stable
The Roku 3 is the finest product this company has released to date. Roku 3 has a duel core processor which added stability to its operating system and increased the start up speeds for all of its functions and apps, called channels in the Roku world. I own the Roku XS and approached the new entry wondering what had been done to improve the user experience. The increase in speed and overall performance was evident from the start.
YouTube And DIAL Support
The Roku 3 is currently the only model that can access the new official YouTube channel. The streaming service has long been coveted by Roku owners and is a welcome addition to those who own the device. The Roku 3 also supports DIAL, a protocol that allows services such as YouTube and Netflix to be launched from a computer, smartphone or tablet and beamed to the Roku for viewing. This is a popular feature on Google’s Chromecast.
Roku updated its firmware (across its product line) which added an on demand TV and movie service to its main menu. The movie and TV service is M-Go, a recent entry in to the on demand market. The service offers numerous recent movies and next day viewing of a majority of TV shows. It’s new news option is a helpful AOL based video news feed. While it is not extensive and in depth users can quickly see the headline stories of the day in numerous categories including news, entertainment technology and more. The Roku 3 loads all of these options splendidly. Once one video in the news section is viewed the service will move to the next story in line providing a broadcast TV type of experience. If you are skeptical about trying yet another movie service M-Go is giving two tittle rentals for free. Along with the new services also comes a beautiful new Netflix interface with many new features including a more interactive search better use of screen space.
The Roku 3 booted in just over a minute fresh out of the box. The set up questions and basic instructions took another minute or two. Next the Roku quickly imported every single one of my channels which was 73. This took no more than three minutes and just like that it was ready to go. New users will not need to do this step because they will not have a library of channels yet.
The first thing I noticed when I loaded a movie from Netflix was that it started quickly and clearly.
Because of buffering, a problem caused when programs load too slowly due to internet speed issues. Netflix selections on older models could take between 15-18 seconds to load. The video would begin to play but it just looked blurry almost like I was using an old-fashioned antenna before it began to flow smoothly. This problem has been eliminated with the new model. Buffering if any lasted just a few seconds.
In order to utilize Plex on a Roku Box the device must transcode a signal from a media server on another computer. This app requires a great deal of muscle for it to be fully utilized and it does so wonderfully. Using my laptop based server I was able to load and use both official and unofficial apps. TV programs and movies loaded in full 720P, which is the maximum viewing level on the Roku Plex app. The maximum loading time for any of the TV and movie selections was in 30 seconds. Plex’s other dedicated apps loaded instantly.
PlayOn like Plex requires the Roku to locate a server from a computer. Again using my laptop based server I loaded PlayOn. The program and menus loaded quickly. Its Hulu app burst on to my HD screen as did the many official and private apps. Roku 3 essentially performed as though the apps were native to the box itself as opposed to operating from the remote server. TV Shows and movies loaded quickly and clearly.
A nice new addition to Roku’s lineup that came along with the Roku 3 is Big Fish Games. Roku already offers a lot of casual games but Big Fish Games gives Roku users many new options. The games are broken up into categories like the picture games, simulation games and puzzle games. Basically the same sorts of things a lot of smart phones offer. The games utilize Roku 3’s Wii like controller functionality. The games are not free but new users get a seven day free preview of the service which allows for unlimited downloads of games with a minimal monthly bill.
The Roku 3 also comes with a comfortable little set of ear buds along with different sized ear pieces which can be used for private listening. Once the ear plugs are inserted in to the controllers audio jack the audio is directed to the headphones instead of the television speakers which is a great option for those who either don’t want to disturb others or want to tune out those around. That option will work anywhere within Wi-Fi range. This can be helpful if you just want to listen to music around the house through Pandora, Tune In Radio or any other music app you may crave while knocking out some chores. The ear buds are not exclusive to Roku products and can also be used in any other device. If you do not have need for private listening enjoy a spare pair of ear buds for your phone or MP3 player.
The Roku 3 works with Roku’s Mobile app for IOS and Android. Users who have smart phones and tablets may choose to utilize these free apps. The app provides users with an on screen keyboard which can simplify searches, a quick channel launch option and the popular feature “Play On Roku” which is not to be confused with the separate app “PlayOn”. Play On Roku allows Roku users to display digital pictures and movies stored locally on their mobile devices through their TV’s. Keep in mind though that Roku’s Mobile app must be used in concert with the product itself. It is not a mobile portal that allows users to access Roku based content on the go.
I always recommend that a streaming device be wired and with an Ethernet cable and not wireless. This will give you the fastest connection possible which is exactly what you want when you’re streaming in media. If you pick up this device power it up, plug in the Ethernet cord, and have fun. Roku makes it very easy to enjoy this experience.