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Eye on Demand | July 26, 2017

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Roku 3 Review (For US On-Demand Services)

Roku 3 Review (For US On-Demand Services)

Review Overview

Value For Money
8
User Interface
7
Availability and Quality of Services
8
7.7

Best choice for American VOD

Looking for a tiny set-top box that won’t cost the earth, is low in power consumption, tiny in size, and yet will cover some of the widest range of American on-demand services available? Then maybe what you need is the Roku 3 under your television. If access to the best in US on-demand TV is your goal, it is just possible you won’t need to look any further than this adorable little black box.

The Roku 3 puck may be tiny in physical size, but it has quickly become one of the benchmarks within the on-demand world, especially in the US where you will find the largest range of channels and services available for the device.

Unlike most other platforms out in the marketplace, Roku have custom firmware installed for Roku devices in each separate country. This means that not only are a different selection of channels available, but also the device’s feature-set may vary. For this reason, this particular review will concentrate on the US model, built for American television services.

Historically, the first Roku box started off as little more than a Netflix Player, so there is no doubt that Netflix is still well represented on this platform. These days however, more than 750 channels exist within the Roku ecosystem, including Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, PBS, Crackle and plenty more. The fact that Roku’s channel lineup are very American-centric, makes this almost the perfect platform for US television streaming. Although this was designed for use only within the United States, there is no reason why this cannot be enjoyed where you live, as long as you have a good broadband connection and a compatible SmartDNS service.

 


  • Roku front

    The US Roku platform comes in no less than 5 different models (if you include the Streaming Stick), with the Roku 3 reviewed here acting as the flagship. Roku provide a pretty fair comparison chart explaining the various differences, but outside of the feature set, it should also be pointed out that the latest Roku 3 box is also the fastest and most responsive.

    The new Roku 3 takes up a miniscule footprint 3.5 x 3.5 x 1 inches (or 89 x 89 x 25.4 mm in real terms) and weighs only 5 ounces (142g) meaning this curved little box can sit almost anywhere. In fact, if you are happy enough to use the supplied remote, you don’t even need the device within line of sight. In fact, various mounts exist that allow you to hide the Roku directly behind your television.

    All this upgrade of technology aside though, there is one slight disadvantage – the new Roku 3 only supports HDMI out. Unlike the earlier models, there is no analogue composite output, so older televisions that don’t sport HDMI inputs are out of luck. If this is important to you, either go for an earlier model or upgrade your television – keep in mind that composite connections do not support HD.

    Roku Connections

    Connections on the rear and side are pretty straight forward as shown above. The USB port can be used to connect an external hard drive or other storage device, but you will need an additional channel installed before you can access it. The Ethernet port is 10/100, but before anyone starts complaining that it isn’t 1000base-T, it’s not like you will have those download streams just yet. If WiFi is your sort of thing, this little box packs a 802.11 dual-band (2.4GHz & 5GHz a/b/g/n compatible) antenna with WEP, WPA, and WPA2 support .

    Audio makes use of the digital HDMI connection (7.1 and 5.1 surround pass through) and power consumption is typically less than 3.5W when streaming HD video and significantly less when idle. Roku claim about the same as a nightlight, but fail to explain if that is one which uses LED technology or otherwise. In any case, it was too small for my power meter to register.

    Roku Remote

    Getting back to that remote control though, there are a few nifty surprises here. First impressions don’t offer a great deal of appreciation, besides it’s light and pleasant handling. However. the wrist strap at the bottom may give a little away here as this is also a motion-controller for playing games. I personally wasn’t blown away by this feature, but then again, I didn’t buy this device for gaming. I did find it a little disappointing I couldn’t find any television services that made use of this motion control though, as that would have been quite interesting.

    The reason this remote can work well as a motion-controller is due to it’s use of Wi-Fi Direct rather than traditional infrared methods. This means you don’t have to be in line-of-sight to operate the remote, or even in the same room for that matter, and it is using the WiFi Direct connection that permits the Roku box from hiding out of sight completely. But don’t worry, if you are big fans of programmable remotes like Logitech’s Harmony Touch as I am, the good old IR system will still work fine.

    Discussions on the remote doesn’t end there. Included in the box are a pair of purple ear-buds that connect directly to the remote, although any headphones will actually do. Yes, the remote will stream audio from your Roku box straight to your ears. This may be more useful than at first thought, after-all, it is perfect for watching television late at night in a place where others are trying to sleep, to listen to music while walking around (though walls within your house can have a detrimental effects on the audio quality), those hard of hearing or even preventing painful children’s shows from driving you insane.

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18169″]

  • Channels Roku

    Roku currently claims over 750 channels are available for installation. Whether that includes channels from other regions which are not available is not entirely clear, but it certainly includes private channels which are easy to install, but not found in their official channel library – easy that is, if you know where to look and what the installation code is.

    But don’t let that number impress you too much. Like any television service that offers a broad range of channels, apps or widgets, most are either specialist which won’t interest the average person whilst a great deal could also be politely described as rubbish.

    Still, don’t feel too disheartened right yet, amongst them all are some real gems, and by this I really mean it.

    Of course, nothing about Roku could begin without the Netflix channel, since this box was originally marketed simply as a Netflix player. But you will also find a fantastic Hulu Plus player as well, along with Vudu, Amazon Prime and a pile more. Even PBS has a great catch-up channel available, though sadly most other US OTA services seem to be missing.

    Private channels can often reveal real beauties, such as the USTVNOW (code=ustvnow) and NimbleTV (code=nimbletv), which you can easily add by visiting the Roku website to enter the code then performing a system update on your Roku box – allowing you access to a wide range of live (yes live) US channels. Private channels haven’t been officially approved by Roku, but that doesn’t mean they don’t offer many great services.

    Just don’t think the BBC Private channel is the real iPlayer. The full BBC iPlayer is available on the UK Roku box, but not one from another region, and there is no way to side-load it on, private channels or otherwise. The BBC private channel is simply a news feed, which can also be accessed by the much more interesting Nowhere TV (code=H9DWC). If you want the full BBC iPlayer, you will have to purchase a UK Roku box from Great Britain, and find a VPN or SmartDNS service that supports it.

    As well as the notable OTA US channels missing (ABC, CBS, NBC etc), Roku also fail to include a basic YouTube channel, although there are other ways to access this, such as through Plex.

    Likewise, Roku is not famed for its ability to access content from your home network, although some channels can help with this, with again Plex headlining – though do keep in mind that Plex, as good as it is, does require a server located on another device in your network (Computer, NAS etc) and if you want to make use of the television channels within Plex (such as the BBC), you will need this server to be powerful enough to transcode on the fly.

    (In order to configure Roku and access it’s content outside the US, a fully compatible SmartDNS service and appropriate router is required)

    There are plenty of Roku channels available, but to read up on how some performed, you can check out earlier reviews below.

    Note: It seems Netflix may be forcing Google’s DNS servers on their Roku app. This means outside of the US, people who use Smart DNS to access Netflix may experience problems. The solution to getting around this is the same as for accessing Chromecast streams outside of their regions, by bypassing Google’s DNS servers at the router level. A guide can be found here.

    NetflixHuluCrackle

     

     

     

    PBS USTVNOWCrunchyroll button

     

     

    VuduSling TVA&E

     

     

    AmazonPrimeFoxNowHistory

     

     

    Lifetime

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18169″]


  • Roku UI
    Roku recently began rolling out significant changes to their user interface, improving access to installed channels, whilst improving the overall feel. Of course, these changes do not automatically roll out to Roku’s channel line-up as many of them rely on 3rd party developers. But at least Roku’s own interface is basic, but attractive in design.

    Channels themselves tend to look a bit dated however, including the flagship Netflix one. Netflix, like many channels, make use of basic Roku conventions which although are functional, tend to lack depth and design. This isn’t always the case however, with Hulu’s recently updated channel being an excellent example, sporting a modern and fresh UI.

    One of the best thought out features of Roku is its global search option. Here, Roku will search multiple channels for content you are looking for, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, VUDU or HBO GO. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include any of the other channels, so if you were searching for say, America Revealed, it would list the older episodes available from Amazon Instant Video, but not the current ones over on PBS. It doesn’t always work either, which quite frankly is a bit disappointing. One of my first searches, for the Hulu television series “The Librarians”, failed to turn up, even though it was available on Hulu. This unreliability will not doubt cause issues and should be taken into account, but when it does work it’s great. Films or television shows that are found, will list the available sources, including from channels not yet installed, and if they are available, and if you have a subscription or willing to pay-on-demand, clicking the link will take you directly to the content.

    It is possibly the simplicity of Roku’s UI that makes it so appealing. It is quite frankly, impossible to get lost – well, unless you start installing every channel that could possibly exist. But keep things down to a respectable level and this is one of the most pleasant, if basic user interfaces around.

    At the time of writing, not all of Roku’s lineup currently make use of their new UI, with only the US Roku 3 and Roku 2 models participating, with some of the earlier Roku pucks may never see the new line-up due to hardware restrictions.

    (In order to configure Roku and access it’s content outside the US, a fully compatible SmartDNS service and appropriate router is required)

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18169″]

  • It is rather important to point out that any Roku3 box bought in the US, is made especially for the US market and without a few tweaks and a compatible DNS service, will NOT work in other countries.

    All that said, the tweaks are not that complicated to perform, and once done, this should work a treat wherever you are in the world.

    What you will need:

    • A router where you can change the DNS setting (Roku boxes have limited Network settings)
    • A compatible DNS provider that works both at the configuration stage, and with the required channels. We have tested both Smart DNS services from OverPlay and Unblock-US.
    • Before your Roku box arrives, DO NOT be tempted to create your Roku account. For the installation process to work, you should follow these steps exactly.

     

     

    The power supply that comes with the Roku box is NOT the modern multi-country version often found with laptops, phones and Apple devices. It is ONLY designed to work in US sockets, at 110V. Attempting to plug this into sockets in other countries, especially those that provide 240V could result in fire. Do not modify the Roku power adapter but instead purchase a local one from a reputable source – they are not expensive and this could save your life!

    If Roku boxes are sold in your own country, do not be tempted to purchase them for accessing US television. The firmware is different, and it is not an easy process to change. The best solution is to purchase a Roku box from the US.

    Relax… it’s a lot easier than the red box may indicate – just follow the instructions, and for piece of mind, buy from a reputable source just in case you do need to return the device.

     

    There are plenty of online stores in the US where you can purchase a Roku box. For those interested in purchasing via Amazon, If you use one of the two links below, you will be directed to the official Amazon link for Roku and support Eye on Demand at the same time.

    (Note: It doesn’t matter where you buy the Roku, but to set it up as a US Roku, you must follow these steps if outside of the US)

    Flag US SmallTo purchase from Amazon UK, check the latest Amazon deals here.

     

     

    Flag UK Small

    For those in the UK, click here to order the Roku box from Amazon.co.uk.

     

     

    The above Amazon stores should be able to deliver a Roku box to your country. However, if you live in Germany, Italy or Australia, we do NOT recommend you purchase a local Roku box if you want to access US or UK content, as the firmware may not be compatible. 

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device is supported by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18169″]

  • Alternatives to Roku:

    Apple TV: Both set-top boxes don’t actually look too far apart, but inside they are quite different beasts.

    Whereas the Roku box has long since accepted 3rd party channels, this has not yet been made available for the Apple TV, despite the hardware and software pretty much supporting it. On the surface, this gives a massive advantage to Roku.

    The Apple TV has a (very) limited choice of apps available, which includes Netflix and Hulu, but no Vudu or Amazon Instant Video (though of course it includes the very popular iTunes). You do get YouTube however, which is missing from Roku.

    But what the Apple TV lacks in built-in apps, it makes up for with AirPlay. AirPlay, when developers do it right, can provide one of the most amazing user interfaces available for streaming television, especially when coupled with the larger iPad screen. Essentially, you can use your hand-held device as the ultimate remote, scrolling and swiping through on-demand and catch-up content, to stream to your television via the Apple TV. What makes this so attractive is that so much content is possible this way. The full BBC iPlayer or ITV Player from Britain, RTE and TV3 from Ireland, ABC iView and SBS from Australia etc as well as using the normal Hulu Plus and Netflix apps on the actual ATV. This is something the Roku box simply can not do – but you will need to invest in an additional iOS device if you don’t already have one.

    Generally speaking, the Apple TV goes for around US$100, but unlike the Roku device, can easily be bought in any country and switched to the US store.

    Apple TV small

     

  • Like any other device, every now and again things can go a little wrong with the Roku box. Thankfully, the folks at Roku have brought it upon themselves to provide a few secret tricks to help get things to work again.

    Disclaimer: Some of these tricks are backdoor maintenance menus that were not designed for the end-user in mind. We recommend taking care when fiddling with some of these, as there always is the possibility of bricking your little black puck. As you can expect, Eye on-Demand takes no responsibility for your actions here.

    Setting video quality to manual.

    Normally the Roku device lets each app determine what the fastest bitrate will be, but if you are experiencing buffering issues, you can set a limit manually.

    Press: (Home 5x) (Rew 3x) (FFW 2x)

    Settings 1 through 9 varies the maximum bitrate. Try setting to 3.5Mbps if you are having buffering issues.

    1. Automatic
    2. 3.5Mbps
    3. 2.5Mbps
    4. 2.0Mbps
    5. 1.5Mbps
    6. 1.0Mbps
    7. 0.6Mbps
    8. 0.3Mbps
    9. Enable/Disable Playback Debugging

    Full Factory Reset.

    If you plan on selling your box, or if you have major issues with it, a full factory reset may be needed. This will completely reset your Roku to as it was when it left the factory floor. All settings will be lost.

    1. Remove all cables except for power.
    2. Using a paperclip, hold the reset button on the back of the Roku box for 15-20 seconds.
    3. Reinstate all cables.
    4. Follow the set-up procedure as when the box was new.

    Debug Options.

    Press: (Home 5x) (FFW 3x) (REW 2x)

    Handy for the following options:

    • An alternative factory reset for clearing channels and settings.
    • Cycle through channel store server.
    • Cycle software update server.
    • Update software to latest version.
    • Enable/Disable debug logging (This requires Developer mode to be on).

    Check Installed OS Version.

    Press (Home 3x) (Up 2x) (Left 1x) (Right 1x) (Left 1x) (Right 1x) (Left 1x)

    Software version and installed channels will be shown.

    Toggling Developer mode.

    Press (Home 3x) (Up 2x) (Right 1x) (Left 1x) (Right 1x) (Left 1x) (Right 1x)

    This enables logging and switches on developer mode.

     



  • If your main wish is access to American television services, and you are not interested in on-demand or catch-up so much from other countries, this tiny and inexpensive device is one of the best ways to watch streaming internet TV.

    For less than US$100 you can have a full 1080p capable, highly responsive platform to access some of the best of American on-demand services.

    With almost any service review here at Eye on-Demand, if there is a compatible Roku channel, it is almost always one of the best ways to access that service. So what are you waiting for?

    Well, for a start, this little box will only work with US channels. This may be of absolutely no consequence to many people, but there will be some out there hoping to also gain access to services from other countries. Unlike some other devices (Apple’s iOS or a slightly hacked Samsung E-series Smart TV or Blu-Ray player) there is absolutely no way to mix and match with apps or widgets from different countries.

    But then again, for the price this great little box goes for, you may also be able to purchase different devices for different countries.

    What makes it great for streaming television?

    • Possibly the best and easiest to use UI for US services.
    • Covers many of the important on-demand services.
    • Fast and responsive UI (Roku 3).
    • Combined search function (great idea)
    • Tiny and uses very little power.
    • Great price.

    What it’s not so good for.

    • Only good for US channels, no region swapping possible.
    • US version must be shipped from the US.
    • No advanced network settings, so if you require a DNS service, this must be configured in your router. (though that has many other advantages)
    • Channels often seem quite dated in appearance.

    Technical Specifications:

    • 802.11 dual-band (2.4GHz & 5GHz a/b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA, and WPA2 support.
    • 10/100 Base-T Ethernet.
    • Video output: 720p or 1080p.
    • Digital over HDMI (7.1 and 5.1 surround pass through).
    • microSD card slot for additional game and channel storage.
    • Roku 3 enhanced remote with headphone jack and motion-control (uses Wi-Fi Direct).
    • Streaming player includes IR receiver (compatible with various universal remotes).
    • Power consumption less than 3.5W (typical) when streaming HD video.
    • Power Input: 12V – 1A power adapter (May require separate adapter/power supply when used outside the US).
    • USB Video Formats: Video: MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264).
    • USB Audio Formats: Audio: AAC, MP3.
    • USB Image Formats: JPG, PNG.
    • Size: 3.5 x 3.5 x 1 inches (or 89 x 89 x 25.4 mm in real terms).
    • Weight: 5 ounces (142grams)

    Log:

    14.06.2013: Review published. Score: 7.7 – Best choice for American VOD.

    02.08.2013: Updated to include Crunchyroll channel link.

    17.02.2015: Updated with new services, tips and tricks.

     

     

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Comments

  1. Graeme

    Hello again, ..so this or the new Roku 3 has an internet input but it has no advantage over streaming wirelessly, you mean? I was hoping it might solve my problems of occasional wifi dropouts on BBC Iplayer streaming…

    • Hi Graeme, good to see you again! The new Roku3 does have improved Wi-Fi over the older models (Dual band a/b/g/n as vrs single band b/g/n) but that does not mean your Wi-Fi dropouts will be cured. The only way to really solve this is to go Ethernet. I re-wired our home for this exact reason. Though, you could try powerline adapters which “may” offer a solution. They use Ethernet from the Roku3 to an adapter in the power socket, which has another adapter next to the router. Better in full houses than apartments though. Oh, you will need a UK bought Roku3 to access the BBC iPlayer, an American one would not work.

  2. Graeme

    Yes I have devolo plugs already and that is why I wanted to see if I cd link up the Roku via the ethernet cable to the plug and onwards with an HDMI cable to the TV. But I have to buy the Roku in say Amazon uk you mean? And then put in the Overplay DNS onto the Roku or the router? By the way, since the ios7 update last week I can watch Zattoo or Filmon for around fifteen minutes and then get switched off and the DNS settings go back to the original ones! It simultaneously screws the BBC Iplayer app too!

    • It doesn’t matter where in the UK you buy the Roku, but it must be a UK one. The US or Canadian one has different firmware and there is no way to put the BBC iPlayer on it. One disadvantage of the Roku boxes is that you can’t change the DNS setting. The way to get around this is making the change on your Router. Advantage: All devices within your network will work through the Smart DNS. Disadvantage: Not all routers allow this. A better option maybe something like the Samsung BD-F6500 Blu-Ray player. It has far more UK services (BBC iPlayer, 4oD, ITV Player and Demand 5) has Ethernet connection, ability to set up DNS internally and is even slightly cheaper then the Roku 3 box. Plus of course, it plays those out-dated physical disks.
      I’ve not had any problems at all with Zattoo on iOS7. I use it all the time and it works fine. I have seen a few odd bugs with iOS7, such as AirPlay mirroring on my iPad being a bit sluggish at times. But then again, I have been using the DNS set up in my router. I’ll check it out over then next few weeks with the DNS within the iPad itself.

  3. Graeme

    Many thanks as always for the advice. Helpful indeed. SO with the Samsung, or with any of these devices that get the Iplayer or ITV player, etc, I assume streaming is not possible, only catch up right? And, again,l one needs to buy, say from the UK Amazon not the Spain/German one?

    • None of these UK services offer live streaming of their channels on the Samsung apps, that’s correct. It is only catchup. Video quality varies with the BBC and 4oD being excellent and ITV or Demand 5 being below average. (Demand 5 also has some tendency to be touchy and doesn’t always work for some people)

      You can buy the Samsung Blu-Ray or TVs in your local country and switch to the UK app store using the method I describe on my site (How-To), but keep in mind the lower end models may not include all of the UK services. From what I can gather, the cheapest model that has them all for Blu-Rays is the BD-F6500 (F-series).

      I always recommend to buy local for the Samsung models, in case there are issues, it is easier to send it back within the first couple of weeks.

      The ability to change to the UK app store, and access to ALL of the UK’s main services is only easily possible for Samsung devices (as far as I know).

      One thing I always warn people of. Changing the app store and accessing from abroad using a Smart DNS service works great now, but it can not always be certain that Samsung or one of the services like the BBC change things dramatically that it stops. As unlikely as it may seem that this could happen to a normal FTA television service, it is still a risk – that said, it currently works great.

  4. Graeme

    Jo, I decided to take my life in my hands and change the DNS on the router. I did (Where it says “DNS” and not where it says “DHCP Settings”. The DNS shows the Overplay ones, BUT anything connected to the router STILL shows the old DNS numbers! SO I still have to revert to putting in the Overplay DNS for each wireless device I have connected. Am I doing summat wrong? Whne I reboot in the morning the router has saved the DNSs for sure. But Should I have rebooted the ROUTER as well?