If you’re like me, you consume a lot of content. While I rely heavily on my PVR to watch around 6 hours of TV each week, the rest of the content I consume is digital. I typically use my phone or tablet to watch YouTube after work, or pop open my laptop for some Netflix before bed. The thing is, none of these devices compare to the experience of watching on a 50″ television. And because I don’t have a Smart TV, I’m stuck in this limbo where I have no good way to consume digital content on the best screen in the house. Until now. Enter the Roku 3. This $100 box fixes all of that. And while there are a lot of options for digital media boxes, I think the Roku 3 is one of the best.
The Roku 3 is a digital media box that connects to your TV via HDMI to broadcast Netflix, YouTube, games, and more in full 1080P on the best screen and sound system in your home. The box itself is a sleek square box, with rounded corners. The included remote matches nicely, with a consistent look and feel. Unlike the Western Digital media box I’ve used in the past, Roku understands design. Throughout the unboxing and setup process, there are a number of surprise and delight moments that made me really excited to dive into the software.
The box itself is made to work with a variety of homes, with built in dual-band wireless, ethernet, USB, and Micro SD card port. The included remote forgoes infrared, meaning you can point it anywhere, even if the view of your Roku 3 is obstructed by a coffee table like mine was. My favourite part of the remote is the fact that it features a headphone jack to wireless stream the Roku’s audio to the remote. This is an incredible feature for anyone who doesn’t want to wake their roommate or spouse during a late-night Netflix binge. I’m a fan. The remote could be slightly improved in layout. The enter button is located below the four-way directional pad, and I found this awkward to use and hard to get used to, given most remotes have the enter/select button in the middle where your finger rests. The remote also has a microphone for wireless voice search, but I found this hit-or-miss. Oftentimes the box struggled to understand what I was saying, even in a quiet room, and the voice search functionality did not work within apps like Crackle or Netflix like you would expect it to.
The software and user interface on the box itself is top notch. Animations during boot and menu navigation make the box feel premium, while the hundreds of apps available for download mean you’ll be able to find pretty much ever piece of content you want to watch. Though I could easily access many of the same apps through my Xbox 360 or PlayStation 4, I found the Roku to be both more easy to use and faster to get to my content. The box is quick and snappy for all operations, and only froze on me 2 times during my 3 week testing period.
For me, the top two feature of the Roku 3 is the way it supports personal media through both streaming and USB or SD cards. I have a large library of personal photos and videos on my computer, and I was able to share these easily with the Roku box to display on my television in full HD with ease. I found the available Plex app to be incredible for this, streaming 1080P video to my TV with no lag or buffering whatsoever. When I wanted to share a file to the Roku over USB, it was easy as well, though I should note that the official USB media player app must be downloaded from the Roku store and is a bit bare-bones compared to the Xbox 360’s. In my tests, I found the Roku 3 was able to stream a variety of file types like MP4 and MKV without any problems.
For added versatility, the Roku 3 can also be controlled by an iOS, Android, or Windows Phone device through the Roku app. The app even supports streaming photos and videos off a mobile device to the TV, which I found to work well. Roku recently released Miracast support in beta, allowing Android users to ‘cast’ their device’s screen to the TV. Though I was excited about this feature, I found it to only work 10% of the time. I’ll let it slip though, as the feature is in beta, but I hope it improves in the future.
Overall, the Roku 3 is an incredible device for people who don’t have a smart TV and want to experience their digital content on the best screen in their home. The setup and menus are incredible simply, and it had a bit of Apple magic to it. With a price point of just over $100 Canadian, I’d highly recommend buying it. If you’re looking for a box that will support 4K video, Roku recently unveiled the Roku 4, which is identical to the Roku 3, but supports 4K.