As a Netflix streaming video fan, I’ve picked up every version of the Roku (streaming video / audio) box that’s been released. I upgraded to the Roku 3 this year and consider it one of the best consumer tech buys out there.
Why do I love the Roku 3? Read on…
- Inexpensive: The Roku 3 is normally priced at $99.99 — today it’s even cheaper at $10 off (89.99)
- Fast: When I sit down to watch streaming video, I don’t want to watch the buffering symbol… I want to watch the movie! Roku 3 is fast, fast, fast. Very little buffering and steaming video / audio loads quickly.
- Great video quality: Roku 3 is designed for use only with HDTVs and the video quality is gorgeous. Of course, the video source needs to be good quality, too.
- Roku offers numerous streaming video sources (most are free): I love Amazon Prime Instant Video and have found Roku to be the easiest way to watch these movies and TV shows on my TV. Best of all? Roku is constantly adding new channels. Here are my Roku 3 channels:
- Netflix (subscription)
- hulu plus (subscription — sign up for free trial)
- Amazon instant video (subscription / paid)
- Roku Newscaster (news from several different sources)
- soma fm (internet radio)
- tuneine (radio)
- classical tv
- WSJ live
- MIT unofficial OpenCourseware
- NASA (which I used to watch the recent spacewalks)
- Amazon cloud player (for my Amazon tunes)
- Smithsonian channel
- CNN International
- Nowhere TV
- indieflix (Indie films)
- Radio Paradise
- Congressional video stream (by Sunlight Foundation)
- Supreme Court audio stream (by Sunlight Foundation)
- University of California’s uctv.tv
- Russia Today Europe (news)
- CNBC RT (real-time)
- MHz networks
- AOL On
- Film Movement (award winning Indie films)
- Youtube (currently only available on Roku 3)
Frankly, Roku offers so many channels that I use Roku Guide to keep up with new additions.
Aside from my smartphone and TiVo Roamio Pro, the Roku 3 is the gadget I use most often. At less than $100, it’s a steal. If you’ve never bought a Roku box and have an HDTV, I’d say go for it! If you have an earlier Roku box, I still say go for it… the speed improvements are significant enough to make it worthwhile.
I’ve had the Roku 2 XD since its release last year and have generally enjoyed it. My only complaint: Not sure if it’s due to the user interface, CPU, or remote, but sometimes it felt really laggy. Click, lag… display. Click, lag…. display. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So, when I learned the Roku 3 had been released (thanks, zatznotfunny!), I was curious. Here’s how Roku is marketing the Roku 3 and my point-by-point observations:
- So much fun: I mainly use my Roku box to watch Netflix, Amazon streaming, and TED talks, so of course it’s fun! For me, this goes without saying 😉
- Amazing interface: The Roku user interface has been updated and is now easier to use (especially if you use a lot of channels). Instead of a film-strip like interface, it’s now a grid.
- Powerful remote: The Roku 3 remote includes a headphone port to allow private listening. Also, instead of using bluetooth connectivity to control the roku box (as previous roku models have), the Roku 3 remote uses WiFi Direct to eliminate Bluetooth coexistence issues.
- Awesome app: I confess, I haven’t used the smartphone app yet. I hereby relinquish my geek cred 😉
- Serious performance: As noted above, I’ve always loved Roku (and have owned each generation released), but had in the past found it laggy during navigation and starting video playback. Now: WHOA, lagginess is no longer a problem with the Roku 3! I’m so pleased by the faster performance.
- Totally simple: Yep, Roku boxes are wonderfully simple to set up. Unlike some tech that is cool once finally set-up but can be a nightmare getting there, no such issues with Roku. For that reason, I think Roku boxes are the perfect gift.
- You won’t be able to just plug it into your older Roku box’s AC adapter: The box itself requires a different power adapter (higher voltage and shaped differently than that used by previous models).
- It’s heavier: This is a good thing. Now, the cables hooked to the back of the box no longer weight it down — my Roku 2 HD was normally suspended in air (unintentionally) because it was so light and the cables only weighed down the back.
- Great theme selection: I’m normally not keen on themes included in tech gadgets. However, the new interface offers a selection of very attractive themes that really do add to the Roku menu experience.
The great theme selection seems to be server driven — you select the theme and within a few seconds it displays on your box. Why do I think it’s server-driven? Well, I initially selected the lovely Daydream theme. Then, yesterday, I decided to check out the other themes — they are all indeed very nice. The only problem is when I tried to re-select Daydream from the theme list (after using the Decaf theme), the following error message displayed:
Having become quite fond of the Daydream theme (which is somewhat Paperland-esque), I even did a factory reset on the Roku 3 to try to re-select the Daydream theme. Nope, still got the error above. I contacted Roku chat support, and the very helpful Roku support rep confirmed that he wasn’t able to select the Daydream theme, either. Clearly, this is a non-critical early adopter issue — I submitted a problem ticket and am hopeful Roku will have the lovely Daydream theme available again soon.
Edited 3/11/2013: My Roku technical support experience was excellent. The tech folks I chatted with were very helpful and the theme issue was resolved this morning.
So, is the Roku 3 worth the upgrade?
Yes. The faster performance offered by the Roku 3 makes it a better box than its predecessors.
One caveat: If you’re happy with a previous Roku box and are just interested in the new user interface, just be patient — apparently the new UI will be rolled out to older boxes soon.
If any questions about the Roku 3, feel free to leave a comment.
I’ve used Hulu since it came out and love how it lets me catch up on recent episodes I’ve missed. However, it doesn’t help when I’ve found a show I like and want to catch up on a larger back catalogue of episodes:
- Comcast pay per view sometimes only lists 4 – 5 recent episodes (like Hulu)
- Often Netflix has the series available for streaming, but not every season
- For seasons / episodes not available on Comcast pay per view or Netflix, I’d wind up going to iTunes or Amazon Video on Demand (VoD). Unfortunately, that approach can get expensive quickly.
I happened across an article yesterday that mentioned Hulu Plus recently had a price drop from $9.99 to $7.99. That price drop coupled with the week-long free trial convinced me to give Hulu Plus a shot.
Getting set up was easy. I entered my info onto the Hulu Plus web page and then added Hulu Plus as a channel on my Roku XR box. Roku directed me to a web page to activate my Hulu Plus subscription on that box, and I was able to start watching TV instantly.
If you don’t have a Roku box, there are other devices you can use to watch Hulu Plus, including iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and several other listed here.
From what I’ve seen so far, the biggest benefits to Hulu Plus are:
- HD quality streaming (vs SD quality offered by the free Hulu subscription). Picture quality is very good, especially considering my Roku box is connected wirelessly to my router.
- Large back catalogues for many shows, and in many cases, the full back catalogue (all episodes for all seasons)
And here are the downsides that I’ve noticed so far:
- Not all U.S. TV series are available via Hulu Plus. My recent favorite, Sons of Anarchy, is nowhere to be found. But series such as The Office (both US & UK versions) are available, and there’s enough variety that I’ve been able to watch shows that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
- Unlike Hulu, Hulu Plus lists only TV series. You won’t find movies listed in the Hulu Plus catalogue. EDIT: Actually, the previous sentence is incorrect — there are both TV series and movies available for viewing on Hulu Plus.
For me, being able to catch up on back catalogues of interesting TV series is worth $7.99/month and I’ll continue to pay for Hulu Plus after my trial ends.
Interested? Use this referral code for a free 2-week (vs only 1 week) trial: http://hulu.com/r/VD6hSw (Updated: Sorry, all the referral codes have now been used)
Posted in amazon, media, television
Tagged catalog, catalogue, episodes, hulu, hulu plus, iPad, iphone, ipod touch, roku, seasons, series, tv