Roku 3 review

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In November 2011, Julie and I reviewed two models of the Roku 2 (see related posts for link).  I’ve been using my Roku 2 in my living room since then, and I had an older Roku in my bedroom.  The bedroom TV has no cable hookup, so I relied on my Roku and my Apple TV for programming.  A few weeks ago, I saw the announcement that Time Warner Cable would be making their programming available through Roku, so you could stream their live programming to a TV without needing a TWC set-top box.  This was exactly what I needed.  As soon as I saw that the TWC channel was available on Roku, I tried to install it.  I had no luck, because the bedroom Roku was too old.  I decided buying a new Roku 3, which does support the TWC programming, was cheaper than paying to have a new outlet installed and then paying rent for a cable box and for a remote, so I placed my order at Amazon.  I didn’t have long to wait, because I had my new Roku 3 overnighted.

Click any image for an enlarged view.

roku-3-2The Roku 3 is a small, shiny, black plastic box.  There are no buttons on the front, but there is a dim white indicator light to show when it is streaming to your TV.  It measures 3.5″ X 3.5″ X 1″ and weighs only 5 ounces – not that the weight matters, since you won’t be toting it around.  It’s branded with a “3” on top, a grosgrain ribbon with the Roku name on the side, and the Roku 3 label on the front.

The Roku 3 has no power button.  It’s always on and always connected, so it’s ready to stream when you’re ready to watch.  Roku says it draws less power than a nightlight, and it will automatically find and download software updates as they become available.

Just like the Roku 2 models that Julie and I reviewed, the Roku 3 has access to all the programming offered by Roku – Netflix, Hulu Plus, Disney, HBO Go, and a multitude of other channels, including the TWC content.  Much of the setup and use of the Roku 3 is very similar to that of the older models, too.

roku-3-3The back has a power jack and a reset button on the leftmost side.  The Roku 3 has built-in dual-band WiFi b/g/n capability, but you can also wire it to your router using the Ethernet jack.  Unlike earlier Roku models, you can only use an HDMI cable to connect to your TV, so it won’t work with anything but HD TVs.  There’s also a microSD slot on the back that’s used to expand the storage capacity for Roku channels and games; it cannot be used to provide multimedia content.

You’ll need a broadband internet connection with a speed of at least 1.5 Mbps (such as mid-level DSL).

roku-3-4The USB port on one side does allow you to input your own content from supported USB drives.  You can find a list of the supported file types in the tech specifications image that’s found later in this review.  You must first install the Roku USB Media Player channel before you can play any content from USB sources.  I don’t really have any files that I want to stream through the Roku – I use my Apple TV for that – so I haven’t loaded the app or tried the USB.

roku-3-7Here you can see how small the Roku 3 is compared to the newest generation Apple TV it’s sitting on and the Orb Audio Booster amp it’s sitting beside.

roku-3-12These are the technical specifications for the Roku 3 and its remote control.

roku-3-5The Roku 3 comes with a power adapter, batteries for the remote, and a small user’s guide.  You’ll notice you do not receive an HDMI cable with the Roku 3.  I just used a $10 HDMI cable I bought from Amazon a couple of years ago when I got the old Roku.

roku-3-8The remote included with the Roku 3 is an enhanced, Bluetooth model.  As you would expect, it has buttons to control the playback of streaming content.  It is also used as a gaming controller for games such as Angry Birds, which is included for free with the purchase of the Roku 3.  It has “motion-sensing technology” inside that allows you to control game play, like the remotes for the Wii my daughter has.  It has an adjustable wrist strap to prevent you from throwing it through the TV screen during a spirited game.  The A/B buttons at the bottom are for gaming.

Just a note about the games:  I don’t think these Roku games are going to satisfy any hard-core gamers.  But as I said in the Roku 2 review, it might be good for grandparents to have when their grandkids come to visit.

roku-3-9roku-3-10This remote has a feature I’ve never seen on a remote control before.  One side of the remote has a headphone jack.  When you plug in headphones, the TV sound is automatically muted.  The other side has volume buttons to adjust the sound level for the headphones.  You’ll be able to listen to TV without disturbing the other people in the room.

roku-3-6Just in case you don’t already own some, Roku includes a pair of earphones.  You get three different sets of ear tips to get the best fit for your ears.  These aren’t going to win any awards, but they are adequate for listening to TV.

It would be nice if they had a switch that could allow sound to go to both the remote and the TV, too.  My dad had trouble hearing the TV well enough to understand it, and he’d blast the rest of us out of the room when he cranked up the volume.  If the sound could go to both the TV and the remote at once, he could have used the earphones so he could hear better at lower volumes, and the rest of us could have still heard the show.  Maybe next iteration…

Before you begin setting up the Roku, you’ll need to create an account at Roku’s website.  You’ll need to enter credit card information to create the account.  Most Roku channels are free to install, but some channels are not.  Of course, some channels, like Netflix and Hulu Plus, are free to install, but you’ll need a subscription to those services to actually watch their content on the Roku.

I already have a Roku account, so I was ready to get started.  You are walked through a series of setup screens requiring you to sign in to your Roku account, select and join a network, and then you’ll get the latest software updates.  You’ll be entering network names and other information from one of those on-screen keyboards, so you can expect a lot of scrolling around and selecting letters.  You’ll also need a computer to get a code from Roku that will activate your Roku box.    All this went without a hitch, and I was connected in no time.

roku-3-11Several channels, and the free Angry Birds game, will be automatically added to the Roku during setup, and you’ll be able to go to the Channel Store to find more channels.  I was able to find and add the TWC channel, as you can see from my list of channels in the above image.  This screen is different than the ones I’m used to seeing with my older Roku boxes.  The old horizontal scrolling list has been replaced with a grid arrangement of channels.  It’s much nicer to use.

I’ve used my Roku box for several hours since installing it.  I’ve used it exclusively for watching the TWC channel, since I already have authorized my Apple TV for my Netflix and Hulu Plus channels.  Only three times have I seen it pause for buffering, and the longest pause was about 3-5 seconds.  We do have high-speed Road Runner service, and the speeds greatly exceed the minimum requirement.  My TV is only 720p, but the image is perfect.  (I selected the 720p output in the Roku’s settings.)  I didn’t notice any pixelation while watching.

I’m very happy with the Roku 3.  It’s so nice to have access to my cable programming in my bedroom now, without the expense of having a new cable outlet installed and paying rental fees for another cable box.  The video is sharp and the sound is clear.  I’ve had almost no pauses for buffering using the WiFi connection, and I can always wire it up if I decide I need to do that.  It will pay for itself in no time because I didn’t have to pay Time Warner an installation fee for a new outlet or monthly rental fees.

I plan to do a separate review of the Time Warner channel soon.

 

Product Information

Price:$99.99
Manufacturer:Roku
Requirements:
  • HD television with HDMI input
  • Broadband internet connection with a speed of at least 1.5 Mbps
Pros:
  • Installation was quick and easy
  • Variety of programming available
  • Built-in dual-band wireless
  • Can stream 1080p video
  • Works with Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and other subscription services
  • Allows access to Time Warner Cable channels without requiring a cable box or a cable outlet
  • Can play simple games with the enhanced remote (may require purchase of games)
  • USB port allows you to play your own content
Cons:
  • Limited formats supported for your own content
  • No HDMI cable included
Posted in: Audio, Video, TV Gear, Reviews

{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Elizabeth Rodriguez March 14, 2013, 11:38 am

    I can’t wait to try this! I am still loving my Boxee Box (because of it’s interface) at the moment, so when that dies, I’ll probably switch to Roku 3 :)

  • John March 14, 2013, 1:22 pm

    How does the 3’s faster processor compare to the 2? Is there any discernable difference?

  • Janet Cloninger March 14, 2013, 1:33 pm

    @John I haven’t noticed any difference. Both have worked extremely well for me.

  • John March 14, 2013, 7:19 pm

    Thanks for the reply, Janet. I just got a 2 XS on the cheap and was wondering if the 3 was worth the extra cost. I think I’ll stick with the 2. Thanks again!

  • Janet Cloninger March 15, 2013, 8:16 am

    @John You’re welcome! I was very happy with the old Roku I had and wouldn’t have changed it if it could receive the Time Warner channel. And the one I had in the bedroom was older than the Roku 2 model you got.

  • Lee March 15, 2013, 11:35 am

    you may not be aware of this but if you have computers on the same network as your roku, (and if you have multimedia on it) you can stream multimedia from your computer to your tv.

  • Janet Cloninger March 15, 2013, 12:22 pm

    @Lee I believe you have to install a special channel to stream from your computers, right? Does that work with all models of the Roku?

  • Mark Rosengarten March 15, 2013, 4:42 pm

    My newish Roku 2 stopped responding to my wireless network. It recognized it but cannot log into it. So I hooked it up the the TV in my bedroom with a network cable. i have the original Roku on my old tube TV in the basement and it still works like a champ.

  • Rob Tillotson March 15, 2013, 8:47 pm

    @Janet I believe there are several different options for a local streaming channel (using DLNA etc.), but the one I would recommend is Plex. It requires that you install its server somewhere on your local network, but then it supports clients on just about every platform (Roku, Android, iOS, desktops, GoogleTV, you name it), as well as remote streaming and lots of other nice features for a home media center.

  • Janet Cloninger March 15, 2013, 9:43 pm

    Thanks for the info, Rob. Plex is the one I had seen mentioned.

  • aphoid April 10, 2013, 11:21 am

    Janet, it would be nice if you could look at the Netflix and Hulu apps as well. I know that different Netflix apps on different hardware have different interfaces and capabilities. For example, Netflix on my Apple TV is much different from that on my TiVo Series3.

    Thanks, alan

  • Brenda July 17, 2013, 12:40 pm

    What speed is your internet connection?

  • Janet Cloninger July 18, 2013, 1:05 am

    @Brenda We have 30Mbps service from Time Warner Cable.

  • John R. Klobas September 20, 2013, 5:14 pm

    I have an older Sony HD Tv. with no HDMI inputs. We do have both an LG and a Sony player wired to the Sony Tv. Is it possible to play the roku either through the Mac computer or through the LG or Sony (wireless) players? Or is there an adapter to go from HDMI to the audio-RGB connection on the Sony?

  • j December 6, 2013, 8:47 pm

    I have a real ‘beginner’ question. I do not have a wireless router. No wi-fi in the house. When I read about using a wired router, do they mean my DSL modem? Or do I need a wired router in addition to my modem? I understand I will need both an HDMI cable and an ethernet cable. Thanks.

  • John January 21, 2014, 12:08 am

    Janet – well we made the big move and “cut the cable” by cancelling DirecTV. Honestly, the only thing I miss is the ability to pause live TV and the 2 hockey channels I used to get. We have both a Roku 2 XS and a Roku 3 and for anyone curious about the 2, I’ve found 3 significant differences. There are likely others, but these are the ones I’ve noticed. The 2 XS and 3 both feel pretty snappy but the 3 does seem more stable. I’ve had more crashes on my 2 XS than the 3. The 3 also reboots at least 2x faster. The 3 also has the capability to connect to the 5 GHz band on my WiFi router while the 2 XS can only connect to the 2.4 GHz band. Finally, the biggest difference for use between the 2 XS and the 3 is the Netflix channel. Profiles are not supported on the 2 XS so I end up using the generic default profile. This is a little clunky since all my other devices (phone, tablet, Roku 3 and PS3) all support custom user profiles. This difference alone would be reason enough to choose the 3 over the 2 XS. I’m still enjoying both and use them everyday.

  • Janet Cloninger January 21, 2014, 12:48 am

    I’m glad things are working out well for you, John! I haven’t cut the cable, because we moved into a new condo where cable vision fees are rolled into the HOA dues each month. If I’m paying for it anyway, you bet I’m going to use it! Of course, those streaming boxes come in handy for watching Netflix and other programming.

  • Judy king July 14, 2014, 5:19 pm

    Does the roku 3 work without having a tv that streams. Our tv is 10 years old but we have uverse .

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 14, 2014, 6:52 pm

    @Judy The Roku just needs a video connection to your TV through an HDMI cable and a WiFi connection to the internet.

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