As we’d previously reported, the new Roku 3 has indeed launched with a refreshed UI and audio-capable remote control. The 3 takes over the Roku 2 XS‘s top slot in their lineup, running a competitive $100. In fact, the Roku 2 XS is no longer present in the company’s model comparison chart. Like its predecessor, the Roku 3 remote incorporates Hillcrest Labs Wii-esque motion control capabilities for gaming purposes – such as Angry Birds Space. But, the ways in which the remote communicate are new to Roku’s set-top box line. In place of Bluetooth, Roku is now using WiFi Direct – a similar and possibly ascendent technology that we’ve been tracking and potentially one piece of the Roku Miracast puzzle. Another remote innovation is the inclusion of an audio jacks (and pair of bundled Roku-purple earbuds) for “private listening.” The way I understand it, inserting a headset (theirs or yours) into the remote will redirect audio output from television to the handheld, with volume controlled via rocker buttons. It’s an innovative feature, but probably not one that would be appreciated in our household – especially given the duplicity of Roku and tablet apps/channels.
On the hardware front, as Roku’s high-end model, they’ve decided to do away with analog and standard def connectivity options… leaving a sole HDMI jack to handle both video and audio transmission duties. And, speaking of transmission, both Ethernet and dual-band 802.11n are provided for connectivity. We’re told this is the most powerful Roku ever… although the company didn’t get into component details, so we’ll circle back once someone cracks one open. Aesthetically, the Roku 3 is certainly the most beautiful one yet and they’ve come such a long way from the original single-channel Netflix box sourced from off-the-shelf parts. While we can’t say for certain, we suspect that Bould Design was once again tapped to move the product forward. But, beyond visual design, this Roku model is also somewhat heavier to prevent HDMI cables from pulling it across the television stand. And, perhaps, to inspire a higher quality feel.
The most notable update, really, is the introduction of the long promised and possibly overdue interface refresh. And the best way to get a feel for it is via CNET’s review and their embedded Roku 3 video below. While the homescreens are very attractive, seem quite sprightly, and better utilize screen real estate to more efficiently browse and view channels… it all still seems somewhat flat beyond maybe some box art and optional color schemes. Compared to, say, the smartphone-esque widgets, customizable background imagery, and topical homescreens of the WD TV Play. Also beefed up is cross platform search and truly the key to happiness in an over-the-top future. Well, maybe after playlists and subscriptions. Related, some of our favorite channels like Amazon Instant and VEVO are present and Roku provides exponentially more channels the competition (at 750+), yet YouTube remains missing in action. As to why, the jury is out. But I’d be willing to bet it’ll show up this year. How could it not? And, at the end of the day, Roku (plus Plex) is still one of the most versatile streamers at any price point.