Looking to turn a plain-Jane television into an Internet TV? The new Roku 3 flagship streamer ($100) has an updated user interface that should make finding movies and TV shows easier, plus a new motion-sensing remote control with a built-in headphone jack for private listening. And the device's more powerful processor will provide faster browsing and navigation, the company claims.
The new Roku is hitting a market that's crowded with standalone streaming media players. In addition to Apple TV are several new players that use the Google TV platform—we recently did a head-to-head shootout between the Sony NSZ-GS7 and the Vizio Co-Star—plus new models from Western Digital and Boxee.
We've been favorably impressed with several of Roku's earlier offerings, finding that the Roku platform is among the best we've seen among standalone media players.
One thing we've liked about Roku is its broad selection of content, including access to movies and TV shows from services including Amazon, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu, and now, Blockbuster On Demand. It also has several sports channels (MLB.TV Premium, NBA Game Time, and NHL GameCenter Live), plus one of the widest assortments of music channels and services, including Amazon Cloud Player, iHeartRadio, MOG, Pandora, Slacker, and Spotify. The company says users now have access to more than 750 channels of movies, TV shows, sports, music, and casual games.
According to Roku, the new interface is more intuitive, with improved access to all the channels. One feature is "one-stop" search, a comprehensive search capability that should make finding shows and movies easier. But owners of older Roku boxes don't get left out in the cold: The new interface will also be rolled out as a software update to all current Roku devices, including the Roku LT, Roku HD (model 2500R), Roku 2 HD, Roku 2 XD, Roku 2 XS, and the Roku Streaming Stick,.
For more information, see our streaming video & movie rental buying guide.
A unique feature of the Roku 3 is the built-in headphone jack on its remote control: Using the included in-ear headphones, you can watch a show or movie without disturbing someone else in the same room. The remote's motion-sensing technology can be used with games such as Angry Birds Space that are optimized for it. For those, like me, who prefer to use a smart phone or tablet as a player remote control, Roku also offers a free downloadable app for iOS and Android portable devices.
Like most players we've tested, the Roku 3 supports 1080p video, and it can pass through 5.1- and 7.1-channel sound to an A/V receiver via HDMI. The player comes with built-in dual-band wireless for connecting to a home network. It also has an Ethernet jack for wired connection, a USB port for playing media stored on a flash drive, plus a microSD slot for storing additional games and channels.
The Roku 3 will initially be available via Roku's website and Amazon.com, though it will make its way to other retailers in April. We're looking forward to getting the Roku 3 into our new streaming-media lab for thorough testing.
—James K. Willcox