Streaming media mavens have a compelling new choice in the just-announced Roku 3, the latest addition to Roku’s line of popular set-top boxes. Like its predecessors, the Roku 3 will grant users access to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video on Demand, but this new $99 unit will provide a more attractive UI and a remote control with a built-in headphone jack for private viewing.
While the current version of Roku’s interface orients your channel lineup in a single row horizontally, the new model sports a 3 x 3 tiled layout, which allows you to scroll through and find content much faster than before. You can now access search, which lets you query all available programming on your device, from the main menu, saving you from having to scroll through all of your channels.
The Settings button, which was previously its own channel, will now be constantly visible and accessible via a button in the upper right-hand corner of the UI. The new UI will ship with Roku 3 tomorrow and be available as a downloadable update for all other Roku devices sometime next month.
Feature-wise, the Roku 3 is nearly identical to the Roku 2 XS it replaces, with 1080p HD output, a motion control remote for playing games, dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, an Ethernet port and both USB and microSD connections for viewing offline content. Like all previous Rokus, the Roku 3 has access to more than 750 channels of content, including HBO Go, Hulu Plus EPIX and Netflix.
The Roku 3′s only new hardware feature is the 3.5mm audio jack you’ll find on the side of its remote. Simply plug in a pair of headphones (Roku includes one) and the audio that your TV was emitting will begin playing through the headphones seamlessly. This allows you to get your “Breaking Bad” fix while sparing others from what you’re watching.
When you unplug the headphones, the audio goes back to playing through your TV while maintaining the volume level you had set before you plugged them in. So even if you crank the headphone volume to the max on the remote, no one will be subjected to a thundering surprise when they’re unplugged. When we plugged in headphones, sound quality was strong and flipping back and forth between TV and headphones for the audio source was seamless.
The Roku 3 will go on sale March 7thand retail for $99.99, replacing the current model in that price rage; the Roku 2 XS. We’ll be getting our mitts on a 3 soon, so stay tuned for a full review.