The future is in streaming and that is even more evident with the new Roku 3. I can boldly start by saying that the Roku 3 is the best streaming box on the market today. Period.Yes, Apple fanboys, it is even better than your beloved Apple TV.
As soon as you take the Roku 3 out of the box, you’ll notice that it has an updated yet simple design similar to the last generation models. There’s an indicator light on the front panel. On the back, you have power, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, reset button and a microSD card slot. There is a single USB 2.0 port on the side. The differences become apparent once you turn it on. That’s when you’ll immediately notice that it is a vast improvement over past generations. The new interface and faster processor made it feel quicker and more responsive. Roku claims that it’s five times faster than that of the Roku 2 XS. I believe it.
The first time you use the new user interface, you’ll notice that the menus shifts back and forth pretty quickly. You’ll also notice that most channels take only a few seconds to load. The new interface also supports skins, and comes with five different choices to make the menus look slightly different (you’re not stuck with the plain purple). While the new interface is currently exclusive to Roku 3, all current generation Roku boxes (Roku LT, Roku HD, Roku 2 XD, Roku 2 XS, and Roku Streaming Stick) will eventually get the new user interface via a software update.
More than 750 channels are supported on the Roku 3, including many popular options such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Tune In, Amazon Cloud Player, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, and Vudu (but no CinemaNow), which is hundreds more than any competing streaming boxes (cough, cough Apple TV). Sadly, it still does not provide a YouTube channel. Nevertheless, whatever your media tastes, there is probably a channel for it available. And yes, you can still play Angry Birds on it.
Roku’s new remote has a built-in headphone jack that lets you listen without disturbing others. The remote also works via WiFi Direct, rather than using standard infrared or Bluetooth. This basically means you don’t have to point the remote at the box. Additionally, you can control the Roku 3 with your iOS or Android device with the free Roku app, available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play. The Play On Roku feature in the Roku app, lets you push music and photos stored on your mobile device directly to your TV very similar to Airplay. Unfortunately, that is where the similarities end because you can’t stream movies or mirror displays from your mobile devices.
Some may argue that the Apple TV is better choice than the Roku especially with the AirPlay functionality. There is no argument that using Airplay with an Apple TV is a elegant yet simple solution. No other digital ecosystem lets you stream music, photos, and videos stored on your iOS devices or newer MacBooks with little effort. However, if you don’t own any Apple products or not deeply tied into the Apple ecosystem, then it is useless.
The one downside to the Roku 3 is that it is not great at organizing and playing back large libraries of personal digital media that you may have stored locally. Plugging a storage device into the USB port on the side lets you play a few digital media file formats: mp4 and mkv for video, aac and mp3 for music, and jpg and png for images. This is an area where the WD TV Live Hub outshines the Roku for some people (plus it has CinemaNow and YouTube).
With its superior selection of streaming services, the Roku 3 is the best, most versatile, and most usable set-top box on the market at this time. If you’re not an Apple user or don’t have much need for AirPlay, the Roku 3 is the only streaming box to consider purchasing.