Roku 3 review

The Roku 3 is still one of the best media-streaming devices, with its chief aim to make any dumb TV smart. It's been updated for 2015 to include an enhanced remote with quick access to popular apps Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, rdio and Google Play, and there's an improved UI that lets you follow films, actors and more, and search for the content you want across all the installed apps.

Find out about the new Roku Express and Streaming Stick+.

The Roku 3 distinguishes itself from the competition with a couple of innovative features found on its remote control. It works seamlessly and doesn't even need to have line of sight to the box since it doesn't use the traditional infrared method. 

The remote incorporates a Wii-like motion sensor that allows you to play games by wafting the device around. It works well enough with the bundled Angry Birds Space, although other big-name titles are conspicuously absent from the Roku’s games store.

The second, more beneficial feature of the remote control is a headphone jack, allowing you to plug in a pair of headphones (a low-rent in-ear set are provided in the box) and watch movies or listen to music without disturbing others in the room or sleeping upstairs.

The sound – which is transmitted via Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth – is a little thin and prone to distortion when there’s a loud explosion or blast of music, even when using an expensive pair of Sennheiser headphones, but it’s fine for a late-night Netflix session.

Roku 3

Roku's channel selection compares favourably to the Apple TV for a British audience, including BBC iPlayer, Sky Now TV, All 4, ITV and Demand 5, as well as big-name online services such as YouTube, Netflix, Google Play and Spotify.

The firm has at long last added Amazon Prime Video meaning there's very little the box doesn't support in terms of big names.

If you're just after Sky, BBC and Demand 5 content then check out the Sky Now TV box.

Many channels stream in 1080p and video quality is generally excellent, although we did occasionally notice a mismatch between the picture and audio, which was irritating – it’s something we’ve never noticed on Apple TV.   

Streaming media over the home network was less successful. Our attempts to stream 1080p videos using the Plex app and media server software installed on our PC ended in outright failure, although music and photos fared fine.

It was the same story using the Roku app for Android, where 1080p video became horribly distorted in playback, although it worked fine using the iOS app.

The Roku 3 has a microSD slot that can be used to expand the internal storage, but not for media playback. You can play media locally via the USB port, however.

It spat the dummy at very high bitrate 60 fps 1080p video, but was fine with 24 fps footage, although be warned: the Roku 3 won’t automatically convert an AC3 or DTS soundtrack to stereo, leaving you with no audio if you don’t feed to a suitably equipped decoder such as in an AV receiver.

Roku 3 interface

The Roku 3 interface is perfectly straightforward, and we like the option to change the look of the interface with free skins. The faster processor in the Roku 3 means the interface is zippier than ever with almost no lag at all and we noticed no problems during streaming at all.

You’ll need to keep another computer or tablet at hand for the setup procedure, which requires online registration and the handing over of your credit card details, even if you have no intention of paying for apps, which is disappointing.

Setup was painless, although only when we delved into settings did we notice it hadn’t automatically detected our 1080p screen, and was instead running at 720p. 

The Roku 3 only has an HDMI port for connecting to your TV or a PC monitor, the AV port (mini-jack to left/right/composite video RCA) has been dropped and Roku doesn't even include an HDMI cable in the box which is a shame.

Read: Apple TV vs Chromecast comparison review: Should i buy Apple TV or Chromecast?

Roku 3: Specs

  • 1080p media streaming
  • HDMI
  • dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Remote control with headphone jack and motion sensor
  • microSD card slot
  • Ethernet
  • USB
  • 1080p media streaming
  • HDMI
  • dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Remote control with headphone jack and motion sensor
  • microSD card slot
  • Ethernet
  • USB

SHOULD I BUY ROKU 3?

The Roku 3 is a premium player with a superior feature set to rivals. The headphones socket in the remote is a boon and the UK content selection is superb, although we experienced lip-sync issues and network media playback is too unreliable.