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Roku 3 review: Voice search is worth shouting about

Michael Brown | May 19, 2015
Roku probably didn't need to redesign the Roku 3 to stay on top of the market, but I'm glad it did. I do wish Roku's marketing team had given the new box a new name, so as not to confuse consumers, but what do I know about marketing. If you're shopping for a media streamer, this is the one to buy--it has a number of features Roku's less-expensive models don't.

Roku probably didn't need to redesign the Roku 3 to stay on top of the market, but I'm glad it did. I do wish Roku's marketing team had  given the new box a new name, so as not to confuse consumers, but what do I know about marketing. If you're shopping for a media streamer, this is the one to buy — it has a number of features Roku's less-expensive models don't.

The Roku 3 is deceptively small for its size, measuring just 3.5 inches square. HDMI is its only audio/video output, so this isn't the box to buy if you're connecting to an old-school TV. The player outputs video in either 720p or 1080p, and it can pass through either 5.1 or 7.1 channels of digital audio (Dolby Digital Plus or DTS). You can connect the box to your Wi-Fi network (it has an onboard dual-band 802.11b/g/n adapter), but it also has a hardwired Ethernet port for those who have the luxury of having an Ethernet drop next to their TV. I love wireless routers, and the Roku had no problem connecting to my Linksys WRT1900AC even though the streamer was in my difficult-to-penetrate home theater, but nothing's more reliable than a hardwired connection.

The Roku 3 provides access to every important online service, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Vudu, HBO Go, Showtime Anytime, Google Play Movies & TV, Fandor, Sling TV, and many hundreds of other channels (Roku claims 2000-plus; I did not count them). Some channels require subscriptions or pay-per-view fees, but many others are completely free. If you can't find something to watch on a Roku, you're just not into movies or TV.

The Roku 3's remote control is the just the right size for you to reach all the most important buttons with a bend of your thumb. An indent on the back for your index finger helps ensure a good grip. The "home" button takes you back to the smartly laid-out user interface from anywhere, and the "back" button reverses course if you've drilled in deep.

Awesome voice search

The most important button is the one labeled with a magnifying glass. Press it once and the UI will display the familiar alpha-numeric grid that people love to hate. Hold it down, however, and you'll activate the Roku 3's fantastic voice-search feature. Speak into the remote's microphone and it will quickly find what you're looking for. I found the voice recognition to be fast, accurate, and supremely convenient — with one exception. No matter how many times I told it to find the creepy horror film The Babadook, it failed every time. (It did manage to find Bubba Ho-Tep, though.)

 

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