By Alexandra Burlacu | Mar 06, 2013 08:17 AM EST
Roku is upping its game in the streaming boxes' battle for the living room, introducing its newest flagship model: the $99 Roku 3.
The new streaming-video box seems to target the $99 Apple TV in particular. The new version addresses many of Roku's earlier shortcomings, as it comes with an overhauled interface, revamped design, faster processor and other enhancements. Roku does, however, maintain its whopping content selection of more than 700 channels. Moreover, Roku goes the extra mile with a new practical feature: a private listening mode that allows consumers to plug in headphones to the remote.
The new version comes to replace the Roku 2 XS model that originally debuted back in 2011. Meanwhile, the $50 Roku LT, the $60 Roku HD, the $80 Roku 2 XD and the $100 Roky Streaming Stick will still be available in the product line, and a software update in April will add the updated user interface (UI) of the Roku 3.
The new user interface is the biggest change the Roku 3 sports. First of all, it now displays nine channels at once, a great improvement compared to the old interface that displayed only five channels. The new UI also reveals three more channels with every click, thus allowing users to browse through all channels in a shorter amount of time.
Roku's Channel Store no longer pushes users to an entirely separate interface, but is now integrated into the main menu. A persistent menu bar on the left allows users to select categories, which makes it easier and faster to find a specific channel.
In terms of design, the new Roku 3 does not look radically different compared to existing Roku boxes. Its size is roughly the same as the Roku LT model, but it sports a glossier finish and rounded edges. Roku also made the new unit heavier to give the impression of higher build quality. The Roku 2 XS, for instance, weighed three ounces, while the new model comes in at five ounces. Roku also added some nonskid rubber on the bottom of the unit to keep it from sliding.
Under the hood, the Roku 3 now packs a faster, more powerful chip, which allegedly makes the box five times faster than the Roku 2 XS. The faster processor currently allows users to navigate through menus and load apps faster, but in the future the Roku 3's superior hardware will likely support more demanding games or video apps exclusively available to the new unit.
The faster chip, however, does not bring YouTube support to the Roku box. The lack of a YouTube channel continues to be a drawback for Roku, especially considering that virtually every rival device supports YouTube.
Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, sports some upgrades as well, as the Roku 3 now has dual-band Wi-Fi, a feature Roku fans requested time and time again. Otherwise, the Roku 3's connectivity brings little surprise. The back panel, now more compact, features an Ethernet port, HDMI output, a micro SD slot and a power plug. A USB port on the side allows for some media playback (limited), but the new model lacks the standard-def AV output. Another drawback compared to the Apple TV is that the Roku 3 still requires an external AC adapter, as it doesn't have an integrated power supply.
The new private listening mode now allows users to plug in a pair of headphones to the remote's headphone jack to listen to whatever is playing on Roku. Plugging in the headphones will automatically mute the TV, and users can adjust the headphone volume using the volume rocker on the right side of the remote. Adjusting the headphone volume will not affect the TV volume. Roku 3 also comes with a pair of earbuds included in the box.
Leaving the private listening feature aside, the new remote resembles the Streaming Stick's clicker. It uses Wi-Fi Direct, which means that users can send commands even if they don't point the remote directly at the box. According to Roku, Wi-Fi Direct doesn't draw more power than Bluetooth, so the battery life should be similar to that of the Roku 2 XS.
Price & Availability
The new Roku 3 is coming to retail stores in April, but is available now for $99 from Amazon, Roku's online store and other online retailers. Check out the video for more information and to see the new Roku 3 in action.
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