Roku has updated the guide for this new generation of players -- now all the channels are shown on a grid rather than as a single banner across the centre of the screen. It's a small change, but a big improvement in usability, especially if you've got a lot of channels installed on the player.
What's more, you can now easily rearrange the order of the channels by tapping the star button on the remote and then using the direction controls to reposition the channel in the grid. Again, something that was missing from the older players, but a really welcome addition here.
The guide still doesn't look as attractive or as sophisticated as that on the Apple TV, but it is much faster than the older models guides due to the Roku 3's dual-core processor.
The Roku 3 has tonnes of content available for you to stream from the net -- but much of it is rubbish. The onboard channel store is padded out with lots of obscure apps such as Marengo (all cats, all the time!) and War Games with Historic Miniatures (everyone's got to have a hobby, I suppose).
When it comes to premium channels, it supports BBC iPlayer, Demand5, Sky News, Netflix and Now TV. The latter two are subscription services, so you have to pay to access them. Netflix doesn't need an introduction, but Now TV may not be familiar to many people. It's Sky's Internet service that provides on-demand access to the Sky Movies catalogue of films for a monthly fee, or Sky Sports channels at a daily charge.
Sky is now a major backer of Roku, which is why Now TV has been added to this box. The Now TV service is easy to use and nicely presented, but the quality of the video streams is quite poor, especially for the live sports broadcasts. Plus on the Roku 3, Now TV doesn't support HD streaming for the on-demand movies yet.
The Netflix app is also very easy to use and looks pretty much identical to the app you'll find on most of today's smart TVs. The only slight issue is that Roku hasn't updated it to support user profiles, whereas this feature has been added to most other platforms including the apps on the PS3 and Samsung and Panasonic TVs.
There are some other interesting apps, such as Cackle (free old movies), Picasa and Vevo, as well as CNET (cough). The Facebook app, however, is next to useless -- it only shows photos and videos, not status updates. There are also weird omissions -- no YouTube channel, for example. The biggest issue though, is that 4oD and ITV player aren't supported (they are accessible on Samsung's smart Blu-ray players and Sony's PS3 console) and Roku hasn't included a Lovefilm channel, even though it supports Amazon Instant, the US equivalent (Amazon owns Lovefilm).
This model does come with the full version of Angry Birds Space. It looks great and is really fun to play with the motion remote, which you use to set the angle of the catapult, before hitting OK to fire your angry avian friend. There are other games available in the channel store, but none of them as good as the Angry Bird titles -- Angry Birds and Angry Birds HD are also available to buy in the Channel Store.
The Roku 2XS that I tested a while back was quite sluggish to use. Apps were slow to load and the graphics were very workmanlike. It was nowhere near as slick and speedy as the Apple TV. The Roku 3 closes that gap considerably. Its dual-core processor means that it's much more responsive to use and apps launch far quicker. For example, with both BBC iPlayer and Netflix it took just 5 seconds to get from the main menu to the app being fully launched and ready to play video.
The TV guide now moves at a speedier pace too, making it a more satisfying box to use, even if the graphical presentation of the menus still isn't on a par with the Apple TV, or the interface for streaming services on consoles such as Sony's PS3.
There are still some drawbacks, however. The Roku 3 doesn't support downmixing of surround sound to stereo, so if you try playing a movie with an AC3 or DTS soundtrack from a USB drive directly to your TV you'll be met with silence on the audio front.
The box is much speedier than older Roku models, but you still have to use Plex for streaming over a home network.
What's more, although its format support has improved -- it'll now play MKVs via USB, for example -- it still struggles with some other file formats and doesn't have native support for DLNA network media streaming. You can install the Plex channel to enable streaming, but you'll need a PC turned on all the time and running the Plex server software to get it to work. Other streaming media players allow you to stream from networked hard drives without the need for a server in-between.
The Roku 3 improves on the older Roku players mainly because it's much speedier to use and has a slicker interface. It's still nowhere near as attractive a proposition in the UK as it is in the US though. It's much cheaper in the States and supports many more premium services. Priced at £100 and lacking support for the likes of Lovefilm, 4oD and ITV player, it just doesn't seem worth the money here.
Our advice would be to consider a smart Blu-ray player, such as the similarly priced Samsung BD-F6500 instead, or the slightly more expensive Sony PS3. Both of these support more premium catch-up TV services and movie on-demand apps. Alternatively, if you don't need Netflix check out the Sky Now TV box. It's basically a cut down Roku player, with the Netflix channel removed, but it's yours for just £10 from Sky.