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MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player
Considering that it sells for less than $100 online, the new Roku 3 is a worthy investment for anyone looking to enjoy all the wonders of online entertainment from the comfort of the living room couch.
Pros
  • Headphone jack in remote
  • Access to hundreds of streaming channels
  • Fast and easy to use
Cons
  • No obvious power button
  • Local media app not pre-installed
  • On-screen keyboard is still frustrating
8.5Overall Score

The deceptively simple notion of “watching TV” has continued to change dramatically over the years. We started with only a few select channels in black and white, quickly progressing to all sorts of network television, local stations and special interest channels. These days, so much of “watching TV” has nothing to do with traditional TV at all, since it is delivered in streaming format over the Internet. If you don’t have a smart TV (or even if you do), you might consider adding the new Roku 3 to your home theater to best tap into this increasingly impressive range of content.

The Smarter Way to Stream?

MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player

Roku has been a part of this Internet streaming revolution for some time now and the Roku 3 isn’t exactly “new” in this regard. It has been upgraded for 2015, however, getting a number of boosted features and functions that elevate it above its predecessors.

At its core, the Roku 3 is a particularly small set top box that connects to the Internet — either via WiFi or via the wired Ethernet port on the back — granting you access to 1400+ streaming channels in Canada and over 2000 channels in the United States. These “streaming channels” include better known names like Netflix and YouTube (both of which have dedicated buttons on the remote control), as well as several more niche offerings.

New and Improved Roku 3

MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player

There are several reasons why you might consider the Roku 3 over some of the other streaming devices both in the Roku portfolio and from competitors. New in the 2015 version are features like Roku Search and Roku Feed, the former of which lets you look for movies, actors, and so on across multiple streaming channels. I didn’t find much use for these two features personally, but you might.

Since this is meant to be more of the flagship level offering in the Roku family, the Roku 3 comes with several more notable features too. The remote control, for instance, doesn’t use infrared as it offers two-way communication. You can use voice search via the remote, for instance, as well as use it as a motion controller in compatible games. If you prefer, you can use the mobile app to convert your smartphone or tablet into a Roku remote too.

MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player

For my part, as I mentioned in the Father’s Day Gift Guide last month, the single greatest feature in the Roku 3 is the headphone jack located on the remote. When you use the included headphones (or any other headphones for that matter), the sound is automatically muted on your TV (or home theater speakers). The audio then comes through the headphones, which is perfect for watching videos at night when everyone else in the house is sleeping. It’s seamless and it’s awesome.

Setup and Configuration

MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player

In the not too distant past, I reviewed a few media players from companies like ASUS, Western Digital and AIOS. For the most part, these boxes were designed to play content from a USB drive, though some had additional features and functions. With all of these boxes, aside from connecting to my home network (if necessary) and plugging in the cables, there was no real “setup” process involved. Such is not the case with the Roku 3.

To use the Roku 3, you must first set up a Roku account. It’s easiest to do this through a web browser on your computer. This involves providing your name and such, as well as payment information. This is because some of the streaming channels and other content (like screensavers) need to be purchased to work on the Roku. There aren’t a lot of hoops, but there are hoops to jump through. Aside from that, it’s just a matter of network connection and plugging in the HDMI.

Adding Channels and Daily Use

MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player

Aside from the usual pains of trying to “type” on an on-screen keyboard (which you thankfully don’t have to do too often unless you’re looking for something specific), the user interface with the Roku 3 is clean, attractive and intuitive. The menus are designed in a hierarchal, nested fashion. What this means is you can press the OK button or the right arrow to move into the next level.

MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player

In order to watch any of the “channels” on the Roku, you do need to add them first. You can browse through the different categories and install these channels individually. This can also be done through the web browser. For each channel, you can read the description and see the rating. Once they are in your collection, you can press the “star” button to re-arrange the channels.

One curiosity that I found was that none of the default channels that came pre-installed on the Roku 3 were for the purpose of playing personal media files, either locally via the USB port or over your home network. I had to look for and install that “channel” myself. This should have been included by default. A minor inconvenience, but a notable one.

The interface for most of the channels is roughly identical to what you’d experience through other smart streaming players and smart TVs. If you’ve ever watched Netflix, Twitch or YouTube in a similar environment, you’ll feel at home here.

MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player

The Roku Search feature described earlier works quite well, but it is currently limited to a handful of channels. Shown above is the results page after I did a search for Arnold Schwarzenegger. It lists all of the movies where he is credited and, in this particular situation, all of the movies are available (only) on Netflix.

MEGATechie Third Time’s the Charm or MEGATechie Three’s a Crowd?

MEGATech Reviews: Roku 3 (2015) Streaming Media Player

Considering that so many of us already have smart TVs with all sorts of smart functionality, it can be difficult to make the argument for buying a separate “smart” streaming media player like the Roku 3. But then you see some of the added value that this little black box provides, like access to more streaming channels, plus the awesome headphone jack.

Even though I find it odd that the Roku 3 seemingly lacks a proper power button (it just goes into standby when not in use), considering that it sells for less than $100 online, it’s a worthy investment for anyone looking to enjoy all the wonders of online entertainment from the comfort and convenience of the living room… complete with (some) voice control and simple games.


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