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Multimedia & VoIP Reviews

Roku 3 with remote and headphones

At a Glance
Product Roku 3 (Model 4200R) [Website]
Summary Roku's new top-of-line streamer with dual-band Wi-Fi, faster CPU and fancier remote
Pros • Largest number of available channels of any media streamer
• Dual-band Wi-Fi
• Improved search
• Updated Bluetooth remote supports headphones (included) for private listening while viewing
Cons • Limited file support for playing files on USB
• No DLNA support
• Supports only HDMI-capable TVs. No legacy TV support

Introduction

Updated 3/28/2013: Corrected remote, HBO GO errors

Announced in early March, Roku’s latest media streamer, the Roku3, assumes the top-of-the line title from the Roku 2XS that it replaces. Not only does the Roku 3 break out of the traditional square form factor with a new, more rounded “hockey puck” style, it adds an improved search feature, dual band wireless support, headphone built into the Bluetooth wireless remote for private listening and upgrades the processor to a Broadcom dual-core A9 chip.

We first reviewed the Roku 2XS in a head-to-head comparison with the Western Digital WD TV Live. We also compared the Roku 2XS with the NETGEAR NeoTV MAX here. Since we’ve covered many of the Roku’s features in several reviews, for this review, I’ll just focus on the new features of the Roku 3.

First, let’s review the Roku product lineup. The chart below shows the current models in the Roku product line. The Roku 2XS, previously in the product line at $99.99, has been replaced by the Roku 3 at the same price. It’s always nice when the new model adds more features than the one that it replaces.

Roku Product Line Comparison

Roku Product Line Comparison
Updated 3/28/2013

Note that compared to the next less-expensive model, the Roku 2XD, the Roku 3 has a 5 GHz Wi-Fi Direct based Bluetooth remote with a headphone jack (ear buds included) with motion control for games, dual-band wireless, a wired Ethernet port a USB port and a micro SD card slot. Note that since the new remote isn't Bluetooth based, it can't be used on older Rokus and vice-versa.

The Roku 2XS also had a similar Bluetooth remote control that you could use for games, but it lacked the headphone jack. Similarly, the 2XS supported 1080P video and had an Ethernet port and both a USB port and a micro SD card slot. However, the 2XS did not include dual band wireless support.

The image below shows the rear panel for both the Roku 2XS and the Roku 3. Comparing the two, you’ll undoubtedly spot that the Roku 3 does not support legacy TVs with an AV jack – the Roku 3 only supports HDMI.

Roku 3 (L) and Roku 2XS (R) rear panel comparison

Roku 3 (L) and Roku 2XS (R) rear panel comparison

The Roku 3 is slightly larger than the Roku 2XS, but due to its rounded form factor, it appears to be slightly smaller. It does, however, weigh a bit more. The Roku 3 weighs in at 4.9 oz (139g) as compared to the 3.2 ox (90g) for the Roku 2XS. This additional weight seems to help it say in place somewhat better than the 2XS. Thick cables, such as HDMI cables, can make a light device difficult to position. And, of course, there’s the matter of perception. Some people might equate a heavier product with better build quality.

Setup

Setup is fairly straightforward. All you need to do is connect an HDMI cable (not supplied) from the Roku 3 to your HDTV and plug the Roku in. I also used the Ethernet port for my network connection, but you can also do setup via wireless. The Roku 3 boots and first checks for firmware updates and automatically downloads and installs them.

Though you don’t need a computer to use the Roku 3, you will need a computer to set up a free Roku account and to activate it. Once activated, you have access to the Roku Channel Store. As a side note, since I already had a Roku account that I setup for the Roku 2XS that I used in a previous review, the Roku 3 downloaded the channels that I had added to the Roku 2XS. It does not, however, automatically authenticate these channels. You'll need to repeat that process for each one.

Roku 3 Activation

Roku 3 Activation

The Roku 3 arrives configured with a fairly small set of core channels. You can add channels from Roku's Channel Store using either the Roku 3 user interface or from your Roku account on your computer. There are over 700 channels available on the Channel Store. Channels are arranged in 15 categories (not including Featured, New, Most Watched and Featured Paid) and include both paid and free channels. Of course, some channels, such as Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, HBO, etc.,require separate paid subcriptions.

The screenshot below shows a portion of the Movies & TV category using a computer and web browser. It shows the channels you already have installed, and gives you an option to add other channels.

Roku Channel Store accessed with a computer-based browser

Roku Channel Store accessed with a computer-based browser

Here's how the Channel Store looks on the TV Screen:

Channel Store UI using the Roku 3

Channel Store UI using the Roku 3

Chanel activation is done using one of two methods: user name/password; or activation code. Netflix and Pandora, for example, require that you activate your device using your account credentials (user name – typically an email address – and password). Other channels, including Hulu, Picasa, and Phanfare use the activation code method similar to the device activation shown above.

The Roku 3 presents you with a 5-8 character code, and directs you to go to a website on your computer. You type in the code, and within a few moments, your device is activated. Frankly, though it requires the use of a computer, I prefer the activation code method because you don’t have to input anything on the Roku using the onscreen keyboard and the remote.

As noted, I initially used a wired Ethernet connection. I also wanted to try the wireless option, but was unable to connect to my wireless router either on 5 GHz or 2.4 GHz. Nor could I connect to my AP located in another room. Roku offers 90 days of free phone support, so I thought I’d give that a try. After working through some troubleshooting steps, they suggested a power cycle. That seemed to fix the problem.

The takeaways: 1. Following a firmware upgrade, be sure to power cycle your unit. 2. Phone-based tech support answered more quickly than the online chat support and resolved the issue. For some reason, my chat session disconnected before the problem was resolved.

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