I don’t mind telling you I have three Roku boxes in my house. That’s not me being boastful; it’s me revealing how much I love Roku boxes.
The new $99.99 Roku 3 takes the place of the Roku 2 XS as the high-end model in the line, and it’s without a doubt the company’s best box yet. But questions remain: Is it worth the extra cash, and does it beat the Apple TV at its own media-streaming game?
For the uninitiated, a Roku box plugs into one of your TV’s HDMI ports, then serves up nearly every video and audio service known to man: Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Netflix, Pandora, Slacker, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Vudu, and literally hundreds of others. An Apple TV does much the same thing, with two key advantages: It lets you stream content (photos, music, games, etc.) straight from your iPhone or iPad, and it has a YouTube channel–something Roku continues to lack. (There is, thankfully, a third-party workaround, but it requires some extra setup.)
However, Roku offers a lot more channels (Apple TV doesn’t support Amazon, Vudu, or any music services to speak of), and the Roku 3 has a few new features that push it ahead of the pack.
First and foremost, a marriage-saver: the Roku 3’s remote has a headphone jack, thus allowing late-night TV watchers to listen without disturbing their spouses. It even comes with a pair of matching earbuds. Needless to say, this would also come in very handy for folks who are hard of hearing: They can enjoy shows and movies without running the TV speakers at full blast.
Because that remote operates via Bluetooth, it doesn’t require a direct line of sight to the box–meaning you can tuck the latter behind your TV or into some other inconspicuous spot. Plus, it’s a motion-sensing remote that lets you play a handful of games on your TV, most notably Angry Birds Space (which is included).
The Roku 3 also includes a faster processor than its predecessors, meaning menus and services load more quickly. And a new interface makes for much easier navigation, though it’s worth noting that Roku 2 boxes will get that same interface via a software update due next month.
Another perk: dual-band Wi-Fi, which should translate to faster, more reliable streaming over wireless networks. You can also plug an Ethernet cable into the Roku 3; it’s the only model to offer that option.
The Roku 2 XS was already a great product, and the Roku 3 is even better. Indeed, I’ll go so far as to say it’s the best media streamer you can buy, and the headphone-friendly remote makes it worth the extra few bucks over the next-in-line Roku 2 XD.
The Apple TV remains a good choice for those heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem (iPhones, iPads, iTunes, etc.), but for everyone else, nothing beats the Roku 3.