Despite owning several Apple products spanning more than 25 years, I’ve never owned an Apple TV, but not because it isn’t a great product. It’s because of my Roku HD, a streaming content player priced significantly lower, with a vastly superior selection of channels. Recently Roku released an even better device, the third generation Roku 3, touted as the fastest and most powerful streaming player to date and living up to the hype.
With more than 750 entertainment channels from the Roku Channel Store, Roku 3 gives users more choices than ever before. Equipped with the all-new Roku interface, Roku 3 also features new games such as Angry Bird Space, which utilizes the remote’s new motion-sensing technology, along with popular music channels such as Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio, in addition to the Facebook channel, allowing users to view pictures and videos from friends or their Timeline.
Unfortunately, Roku has not yet added You Tube to its ever-expanding list of third-party channels and its Facebook channel needs more options, but Roku 3, said to be up to five times faster than its previous players, is the best yet for consumers aching to cut the proverbial cord from bloated cable TV expenses or simply for a multitude of programming options. It’s important to note Roku 3 is only compatible with HDTVs with an HDMI port, so owners of older television sets can only use Roku’s more moderately priced streaming devices. While Roku 3 won’t eliminate my cable service just yet, it may convince others to do so and hopefully impact the monopolistic practices of cable companies escalating its prices. There is no monthly fee to access much of Roku’s content but users can also access premium channels like Netflix, MLB.TV and Amazon Instant Video via paid subscription.
Opening the package, there are only a few items to become acquainted with: the lightweight Roku 3 player, an enhanced remote control with headphone jack for private listening, headphones, power adapter, two AA batteries and four-step instruction guide. One important item not included with the package is an HDMI cable, yet can be easily purchased from major electronics retailers or online sites like Amazon and Monoprice.
Like its predecessors, the Roku 3 is incredibly easy to install and most users can get it up and running within minutes. Simply connect the HDMI cable to the device, power up the remote after inserting the batteries and power the Roku player by connecting the power adapter to an electrical outlet. Using a wireless connection for this review, the Roku 3 easily located my network connection. The last step is to create a Roku account online or for those already with an account, just follow the guided instructions on the television screen.
Once enabled, Roku 3 is clearly faster than my Roku HD, connects far more efficiently with my wireless network and the new interface operates much more seamlessly. I still like the Roku HD but occasionally the sometimes clunky device would lose its connection, forcing me to wait unnecessarily or return to cable TV. One item noticeably absent from the Roku HD remote are the Netflix, Pandora and Crackle buttons although any channel can be found via the Home button. Experimenting with the new motion sensing capabilities of the remote takes some understanding and as more games are added, can only gain more attention, resulting in more purchases on streaming devices and premium channels.
Those without an HDTV can still consider Roku’s other products: Roku LT, Roku HD and Roku 2 XD. All current generation devices are eligible for the free software update released earlier this month featuring the new Roku interface and because there’s no power button on any Roku device, the update may already be installed. Still, more than 75 percent of all U.S. homes own an HDTV and that figure will only get larger.
At $99, the new Roku 3 is unquestionably the best streaming player on the market today. While Apple TV with its similar pricetag remains a great option, Roku is the most open platform for third party developers, resulting in an even larger selection of channels. At this current rate, the day when more consumers finally cut the cord in protest of cable television, with its hundreds of unused channels and unwarranted price increases, might happen much sooner. When that happens, I can be certain to ditch my own cable box.