Do you want an easy way to get iPlayer and Netflix on your TV? If so, you might want to consider the Roku 3 -- the top of the range model in Roku's new collection of tiny Internet set-top boxes that bring online video on-demand services to your TV.
As this is the high-end model, it also comes with a Nintendo Wii-style motion-controller that you use to play the included Angry Birds Space game on your telly. The Roku 3 is very popular in the US due to its low price and strong support for catch up TV and movie on-demand services.
It costs $99 (£61) in the US but it's £100 in the UK -- and the range of services supported here is less impressive. You can get almost the same, bar the crucial Netflix support, from the Sky Now TV box for just £10, including delivery. So is it worth buying?
Design and connections
Like previous Roku models, the Roku 3 is very petite, measuring just 89mm square -- and it's had a design update. The distinctive Roku clothes-tag logo is still attached to the left hand side, but the top now has a slight indent and the sides bulge outwards so it looks like a squashed Apple TV. Unlike Apple's streamer, the Roku 3 uses an external power supply, so the overall design is not quite as neat.
As there's no fan, it is completely silent, which is ideal if you want to use it in a bedroom. It does get a little warm to the touch, but never gets excessively hot. Like the other models in Roku's range there's no off switch so it's permanently on, but it draws very little power, especially when it's not actively streaming content.
When it comes to inputs and outputs, the USB port is on the right hand side of the player and the power socket, HDMI port and Ethernet socket and are all neatly positioned on the rear. Naturally Wi-Fi is built in and the Roku 3 supports dual-band wireless so it can work with the newer 5GHz frequency.
This means if you've got a newer router you should benefit form a more robust wireless connection, with less glitches when streaming video. The player also has a microSD card slot hidden under the HDMI port. This can't be used for storing media, but instead allows you to up the onboard storage space for apps.
The Roku 3 has no analogue video output, so it can't be used with older TV sets without an HDMI port. It also lacks an optical audio out, so surround sound can only be output to HDMI AV receivers. The HDMI port can output video at 1080p though, unlike the Roku 2 LT and Now TV box (based on Roku hardware), which are both limited to 720p output.
Roku has cleverly placed the headphone jack on the remote control rather than the main unit. It's a brilliant idea and handy if you want to watch a film at night without disturbing your other half. When you plug in the headphones, audio on the TV is muted and you control the volume via buttons on the edge of the remote. Unplug the headphones and the volume returns to normal.
The wireless range of the remote is extremely good too and it remains in sync with the video, which isn't an easy technical feat -- the remote communicates with the player via Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth. Thankfully, the Roku 3 also has an IR receiver built-in, so you can use it with universal remotes, such as Logitech's Harmony series, if you want.
The supplied remote is small and very comfortable to hold thanks to its round back. There's a wrist loop at the bottom to stop it flying out of your hand when you're using the motion-sensing features to play the Angry Birds Space game, but the player's main menus are all controlled via the direction pad at the top -- not via motion.
You zip around the menus primarily using a combination of the direction pad and the OK, home and back buttons. The remote does have a few other buttons, including transport controls, but as you can fast forward and rewind videos in most apps using the direction pad, I found I hardly used them.
Setting it up
Setup should be pretty easy and straightforward, but sadly that wasn't the case for me, as it just wouldn't connect to my Virgin Media SuperHub2 router. The SuperHub2 may have its issues, but Virgin Media is the second largest broadband supplier in the UK so Roku should really have tested its product with Virgin's routers. Internet forums show that's clearly not the case, as this issue is very common and affects the older, original Virgin SuperHub too.
Luckily there is a way around it, but you have to enter the engineering menu on the Roku (press Home x 5, FF, Play, RW, Play, FF) and then select 'Disable network pings'.
But you still have a few more hoops to jump through. The Roku connects to the Internet, checks for any software updates and installs them automatically if they're available. It then reboots and displays a code on the screen. You have to make a note of this code, log on to the Roku website, enter the code and create an account before you can use the player.
It's slightly awkward and long winded, especially as you have to hand over payment details to create an account -- either a credit card or Paypal account. You don't actually have to pay any charges, but if you don't enter a payment method you can't use the device.
Once you're past this point you're asked to select the apps -- or channels, as Roku calls them -- that you want to install on your player. When you've made your choices they're automatically downloaded to the Roku. You can also add more channels later either on the Roku 3 itself or using this online interface.