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Eye on Demand | May 24, 2017

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Roku 3 Review (For UK On-Demand Services)

Roku 3 Review (For UK On-Demand Services)

Review Overview

Value For Money
8
User Interface
7
Availability And Quality Of Services
6
7

Fantastic!

Looking for a tiny set-top box that won’t cost the earth, is low in power consumption, and yet will cover many of the main UK catch-up and on-demand services? Then maybe what you need is the Roku 3 under your television. It doesn’t quite tick all the big boxes yet, but what it does do, it does really well.

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 UK and 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 UK model, built for British television services – if you are interested in US services, even within Britain, you will need to purchase an American imported model.

Historically, the first Roku box started off in the US as little more than a Netflix Player, so there is no doubt that Netflix is still well represented on this platform. These days however, a great number of channels exist within the UK Roku ecosystem in addition to Netflix, including the BBC iPlayer, BBC News, Sky’s Now TV, Sky Store, 4oD, Demand 5, YouTube, Vevo, Spotify and plenty more. The standard channel lineup on a Roku bought from the UK makes this almost the perfect platform for UK television streaming.

You may have noticed a couple of glaring omissions in the above list. First of all is the absence of the ITV Player. This is the last of the four big UK catch-up services to represent itself on the platform and although there has been no direct confirmation, it is expected to arrive this year as ITV have announced upcoming support for the Roku clone, the Now TV box. Amazon Prime Instant Video is also missing from this platform, but the fact it already exists on the American version could suggest an inclusion sometime in the future as well.

Although the UK Roku is marketed for use only within the United Kingdom, there is no reason why this cannot be enjoyed wherever you live, as long as you have a good broadband connection, use a compatible SmartDNS service (possibly also with a dynamic DNS service), have use of an appropriate router, and follow these guidelines.

Eye on-a-Deal! Right now (at the time of this update: 17th August 2015) the Roku 3 is available at an incredible deal with more than 50% off PLUS 3 months Now TV Entertainment! This is a saving of £71, with the Roku 3 available for less than 24hours at Amazon UK for £49.99! To grab this before the deal is over, click here to head to Amazon UK Now!

 


  • Roku front

    The UK Roku platform comes in no less than 4 different models, 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, most responsive and has the widest range of apps. (Some channels such as 4oD are not available on the Roku 1 and 2 models at the time of publication)

    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=”19173″]

  • Services

    Many of the channels, apps or widgets available on the UK Roku 3 are either specialist channels of little interest to the average person and many could also be politely described as rubbish, just as with any television service offering a broad range of channels.

    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 in the US simply as a Netflix player. But you will also find the fantastic BBC iPlayer, BBC News, Sky’s Now TV, Sky Store, 4oD, Demand 5, YouTube, Vevo, Spotify and plenty more.

    It’s worth pointing out here that the BBC iPlayer channel on the UK Roku 3 provides a full catchup service, but like their other set-top-box versions, no live TV feeds.

    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.

    A good place to start looking for private channels is the catchy sounding mkxVstream website, but there are a few other sources as well.

    Many TV streams you judge to be missing from your Roku might be accessible via the Plex channel. Also, Roku boxes are not famed for their ability to access content from your home network and you might also wish to use Plex to play back your network based television shows and movies – though do keep in mind that as good as it is, Plex requires a server located on another device on your network (computer, NAS, etc.) and if you want to make use of any television channels within Plex, you will need this server to be powerful enough to transcode on the fly.

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

    NetflixUSTVNOW Crackle

     

     

    BBC iPlayer4oDDemand5

     

     

    Now TVFilmOn

     

     

     

     

     

     

    (In order to configure your Roku and access its content outside the UK, a fully compatible SmartDNS service (possibly with also a dynamic DNS service) and an appropriate router is required)

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

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]


  • Roku UK channels

    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 improve 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, depending on if they use the basic template Roku provides developers (e.g. USTVNow) or if they use their own UI, such as Netflix, BBC’s iPlayer etc. Most of the main UK services tend to employ their own custom interfaces, which generally speaking is a positive thing, but don’t be too shocked if you come across a major company that still uses nothing more than the most basic of designs.

    It could be the very 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 makes use of their new UI and some of the earlier Roku pucks may never see the new line-up due to hardware restrictions.

    (In order to configure Roku and access its content outside the UK, a fully compatible SmartDNS service (possibly also with a dynamic DNS service) and an appropriate router is required)

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

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

  • It is rather important to point out that any Roku 3 box bought outside the UK will have been produced especially for the source country and will NOT deliver the British television services offered to UK Roku customers. However, a Roku 3 bought from the UK can be encouraged to work in any country in the world just as it would in the UK by implementing the following tweaks that are not all that complicated to perform and, once done, will work a treat wherever you are.

    What you will need:

    • A Roku box bought from the UK (Amazon UK have some great deals and will generally deliver to your country)
    • A physical adapter to convert the 3 pins of the Roku UK in-plug power supply for your local AC sockets or a locally-sourced power supply delivering 6VDC 2A with the correct size of DC output plug (see warning below).

    • A router in which 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. (Overplay & Unblock-US have been tested for this purpose)

    The power supply that comes with the UK Roku box is NOT a modern multi-country version with several pin-adapters and a 110-240VAC supply rating often found with other devices. It is ONLY designed to work with UK 3-pin sockets delivering 230VAC. You will either have to provide an adapter or locally purchased equivalent powers supply.

    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. I recommend Amazon, as they have an excellent return policy in case things go wrong.

    For everything to work properly, you must follow these steps exactly: first arrange for a DNS service and possibly also a dynamic DNS service, then create an account at Roku.co.uk and only then proceed to the How to set up a UK Roku installation process.

    Purchasing

    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 UK Roku, you must follow these steps if outside of the UK)

    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=”19173″]

  • 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, but no BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5, ITV Player, Now TV or pretty much anything UK based.

    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 £100, but unlike the Roku device, can easily be bought in any country and switched to the UK region.

    Apple TV small

     

    Sky’s Now TV Box: There is an almost identical, but far cheaper alternative to the Roku Box, and that is Sky’s Now TV. This tiny white puck is pretty much the same size as the Roku box and in fact, is a rebranded Roku LT clone with a custom UI, but costs a fraction of the price at an amazing £10 including UK delivery.

    With this box you will get access to the BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5, Now TV and more with no requirement of a Sky subscription for the FTA catch-up channels. So why spend an extra £100 for the Roku 3? Well, there are a couple of catches.

    For a start, there are a lot fewer channels. Sky curate the selection and deliberately omit anything they may see as direct competition, so this means even Netflix is missing and you can’t add private channels.

    Secondly, the box is based on a Roku LT, a much older platform which doesn’t have the horsepower the Roku 3 possesses, so the user interface is slightly sluggish and limited to 720p HD. Finally, there is no Ethernet connection, only WiFi, which may not bother everyone, but if you have WiFi problems in your home, streaming video through it may not be the easiest thing to do.

    Sky Now Featured

  • 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 on-demand or catch-up British television services and you are not interested in content from other countries, this tiny, inexpensive device is one of the best ways to watch UK IPTV.

    For around £110 you can have a full 1080p-capable, highly responsive platform to access some of the best of the UK on-demand services.

    For almost any service review here at Eye-on-Demand, if there is a compatible Roku channel, it is often 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 UK 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.

    It is also missing at least two major services, the ITV Player and Amazon Prime Instant Video, but hopefully those will both arrive on the platform soon.

    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 UK on-demand & catchup services (no live UK streams except from Sky & ITV Player).
    • Covers all 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 UK channels, no region swapping possible.
    • UK version must be shipped from the UK.
    • 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 sometimes 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: 6VDC  2A power adapter with a 3.5 x 1.4 mm DC plug. When outside the UK, you will probably require a physical AC plug adapter to convert the UK 3-pin AC plug to suit your sockets, or you might prefer to source a replacement power supply locally . (Be aware that the US Roku 3 uses 12VDC with the same 3.5 x 1.4 mm plug!!)
    • 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:

    27.02.2014: Review published. Score: 7.7 – Best choice for American VOD. Score: 7 – Fantastic.

    17.02.2014: Added Tips & Tricks plus new services.

     

    Many thanks to AncientBrit for help with this review!

     

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Comments

  1. Fred Phoesh

    Without Amazon Prime, this box is just AVERAGE. You said, “but the fact it already exists on the American version could suggest an inclusion sometime in the future as well.”
    That’s proved to be untrue. Amazon want to hog their video services to themselves, despite being a paying customer, they want to stick it to me and force me to buy one of their proprietary boxes too. One less Amazon Prime customer coming up…