There is good news and bad news for Roku fans. The bad news is that the Roku 3 is HDMI-only, which limits its usefulness with older lash-ups that do not have any HDMI. In contrast, the original Roku 2 XD has component video, composite video, S-Video, and left and right channel sound coming out from two RCA jacks. Plus it has HDMI.
HDMI-only is fine for people putting together their first home entertainment system but is a fail for legacy systems. If you have the right back-end gear though, this little box is a winner.
Now the good news. Roku has dramatically revamped its user interface. The way you can glide from service to service and even within a service has improved, and is head and shoulders above the competition. I’m told that older Roku boxes with the right internals can even upgrade to the new UI. (Upgrade immediately if you can.)
Besides being the most versatile UI I’ve seen, there is a search feature on the front page that allows you to do universal searches for any content you want. If you want to watch Transformers it will search Netflix, Blockbuster, and Amazon Prime video, and list the price if there is one. You will often find two services offering the content for the same price, one in HD and the other not. Very nice.
And, of course, Roku has an amazing amount of content coming in from every which way. It now allows Time Warner Cable and Dish Network customers to access the entire offering.
Recently I was discussing the future of Roku with CEO Anthony Wood and I asked about a major weakness: lack of a Slingbox player. The market for this is not huge, but I personally need this capability and both the Western Digital’s WD TV Live Hub and D-Link’s Boxee Box incorporate players. Roku, fortunately, is in discussions to add this feature.
Roku is the pioneer in this space and the company expects to see an unbundling of various services currently only available on cable and satellite as packages. However, there is so much money made with these bundles that Wood does not think this will happen anytime soon. In the meantime, Netflix and the other streaming services will be stealing business.
If you have enough bandwidth—and you probably do—you should get a Roku box. I specifically asked about bandwidth requirements and currently the litany for streaming HD content is around 3Mbps. With new codecs being developed for 4K TV, this is expected to drop to about 1.5Mbps. In other words, unless you are on dial-up, you can stream HD directly to the TV via one of these little boxes. All of them have powerful Wi-Fi connectivity built in and with a price tag ranging from $49 to $99, they are very affordable.
By John C. Dvorak, PCMag