We have reviewed the Roku devices before, and the last major hardware refresh (if you discount the MHL-equipped streaming stick) was the Roku 2 XS which we evaluated in detail back in September 2011. Engadget spied some FCC filings early last month, and to no one's surprise, the Roku 3 was officially launched yesterday at the $99 price point.

We could write multiple paragraphs about the new features touted by Roku in the new hardware, but felt it would be simpler to present the plus and minus points of the Roku 3 in a point-wise fashion:

Positives:

  • Faster CPU for a better user experience. Users are no longer bundled with the same SoC that is part of the Raspberry Pi. We are still looking into details of the new SoC, and have good reason to believe that it is Broadcom's.
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi support, enabling consumers to use the relatively interference-free 5 GHz band for wireless streaming
  • Miracast-capable internal hardware
  • Updated user interface to go with the increased number of channels
  • Innovative headphone jack in the remote to enable users to enjoy Roku channels without disturbing others in the room
  • Smaller physical dimensions compared to Roku 2

Areas to Improve:

  • Miracast support will only be available later this year
  • No official YouTube channel yet
  • Very basic local media streaming support
  • Pushes hard for credit card information to be on file before allowing usage of device

Roku was one of the first companies to come out with a streaming set top box for the general consumer and it has managed to move a large number of devices over the last few years, thanks to its pioneer status and marketing budget. However, the truth is that devices like the WDTV Live and WDTV Play from Western Digital provide all the major streaming channels and also integrate very good local media support at a similar / lower price point compared to the Roku boxes. At the lower end, I have also seen Netgear's streaming devices such as the NTV200 and the NeoTV Max 300 SL provide a large number of streaming channels. The latter also integrates a useful differentiating feature in the form of Wi-Di support. 

The Roku 3 refresh is interesting, but seems to lack any particularly exciting feature. What do readers think? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

Source: Roku

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  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    Well, they aren't available in mainland Europe from what I can tell (they are in the UK though). So I'm not really interested. :D Still looking forward to the review and the capabilities of the SoC. :) Reply
  • Ken_C - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    My question is whether Netflix will stream 5.1 or 7.1 to any of these devices--actually, what's the cheapest device that will support 5.1 streaming? And does it matter what device you use as far as the video quality from Netflix? Reply
  • clarkn0va - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    I have a Roku 2 XD and Dolby Digital Plus is an option for most titles. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    As clarkn0va mentioned, they support Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 for titles that offer it. It also supports Netflix's Super HD, though the Super HD tag doesn't show on the info screen yet. Reply
  • apertotes - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    That is a deal breaker for me. I know about PLEX, but that requieres a computer powered on all the time. I just want simple direct streaming from my NAS to my screen. I guess ROKU is not for me. Reply
  • rgladiator - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    Plex does have servers that will run on some NAS devices. Synology NAS's have them. Also there is a "pay" channel called RokxBox that can pull music, video, and pictures from any NAS with a web server. It has a 30 day free trial and costs a one time fee of $12.50 to use it beyond that. Reply
  • apertotes - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    Yes, but my NAS is a patriot one, without all those fancy Synology features. Nevertheless, that RokxBox channel certainly seems interesting. Thanks for your input! Reply
  • MrX8503 - Friday, March 08, 2013 - link

    I use WDTV Live to stream straight to my HDTV from my NAS. Nothing extra needed. Reply
  • TheJian - Friday, March 08, 2013 - link

    But they only have ~25 channels or so. Roku comes with more TV than you could ever watch for FREE. Add a lifetime Playon lic (we got ours for $40) and anything your PC can play then streams to tv via playon channel on roku.
    https://www.playon.tv/
    There is a TON of free TV on there. Almost all cable channels etc have content, like ABC, NBC, WB, CBS, PBS, History Channel, AE, etc..History channel has the first 5 seasons of Ice Road Truckers etc..
    http://www.history.com/videos
    Just check out the amount of content on just that one channel.
    All the major networks have free episodes (usually every week). There aren't many shows on history channel that are not in full seasons (they don't show the current season, just older, but it adds every year). Pawn Stars and American Pickers & Top Gear are just about the only things that are not covered in full seasons but probably because those sell in volumes on amazon etc on discs. Top Shot (s1-s4) etc etc all on there. Tons of National Geographic & A&E and more.

    If you're a pure streamer of your own collection WD is better. But if you like tons of TV, documentaries, military shows, cartoons (kids stuff), comedy channel and other stuff not on netflix, hulu, amazon etc then roku+playon is awesome. Not to mention the 600+ channels you can get just through roku itself (private channels - er, uh, not legal sometimes also...LOL). Add plex for streaming and most stuff is covered. Nothing extra may be needed to stream from your nas to WD but you GET nothing but that vs. the huge amount of stuff on roku. You can literally watch news in 1/2 dozen or more languages on roku. I don't need that, but I suppose if you're russian, german, spanish, israeli, arabic etc you may want some news in your language.

    My only complaint, is my parents (nor I) can't watch training stuff from Lynda/Total training or anything in flash/mov. I'm hoping Roku3 adds those and I'll be totally satisfied. I don't have time to waste converting crap, and plex/vlc (and our bluray players) gets it to my tv anyway. I'd just like it to be easier and just play them from the get go on flash drives. Miracast and Youtube will also be big additions. Roku announce youtube is being added shortly as they're sealing the deal with Google now. But again I get youtube on bluray already, but I'd like to not have to switch back and forth.
    Reply
  • RaiderJ - Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - link

    Do any of the Western Digital boxes have dual-band wifi support built-in? That's pretty much required to stream local media from my server without skipping. Reply

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