Roku 3: New $99 model has new design, private viewing mode


Roku's newest player is designed to be easier to use, with grid-like interfaces for the menus and a headphone jack in the remote for private viewing. (Courtesy of Roku/Courtesy of Roku)
March 6, 2013

Roku’s latest set-top box, the Roku 3, is built to be faster, better-looking and easier to use than its predecessors, but the company has stayed true to the general aesthetics of its device.

It’s clear from just looking at the $99.99 box that the company wasn’t going for a radical redesign. There’s no hint that Roku is looking to try out new tricks such as adding voice or motion controls.

Instead, the company’s made a series of smaller changes aimed solely at making the device easy for anyone to use. For example, the menu screens are laid out in a grid pattern rather than in a single row, to make it easier for users with lots of channels on their devices to find what they need.

There are several other small tweaks to the way the whole system flows to cut down on small but potentially irritating problems users have run into when looking for something to watch. Roku has integrated search into many of its menus rather than having it as a separate app, for example, and has also changed its designs to make sure users always know how they got a particular menu or how far they are through a scrolling list.

Existing Roku owners will also get access to the software update in April.

The company has added a useful hardware feature that’s particularly good for night owls: a headphone jack in the remote control so that one person can watch video without disturbing the rest of the house. In private listening mode, users can control the volume and other functions straight from the devices’ remote. Roku has included a pair of earbuds with each Roku 3 in its signature purple hue, though any standard pair of headphones should work.

The box also has all the ports included on previous models: an Ethernet port, HDMI output, micro SD care and, of course, a place for the power cord.

As for what you can watch on the Roku 3, the company now offers over 750 channels, including Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video, and playback is very smooth. There are a few noticeable holes in its content — namely, that there’s no app from Google’s YouTube.

The company has been aggressive about adding channels to its library, as it looks to take on competing devices such as the Apple TV and the library of content Microsoft can serve up through the Xbox.

Roku announced late Tuesday that it was officially launching a channel in partnership with Time Warner Cable, TWC TV. The channel is avilable to Time Warner Cable subscribers for free, giving them a way to watch over 300 cable channels through Roku even on sets that don’t have a cable box.

The Roku 3 is on sale Wednesday through Amazon, Roku’s Web site and the Web sites of retailers such as Best Buy. It will hit store shelves in April.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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