The Wonder of Tech is excited to welcome guest author Dennis Restauro who writes for the tech blog Grounded Reason. Dennis shares his review of Roku 3, his choice as the best streaming device for TV shows and movies.
With the ability to watch movies and television shows online, many of you may be interested in devices that instead stream those shows directly to your living room television. With numerous options available, deciding on the streaming device that’s right for you may be overwhelming.
Two years, ago my family decided to drop our cable subscription and stream 100% of our television entertainment. Over that time I’ve taken a look at many streaming devices. Today I want to share with you why I think the offerings from Roku are solid choices whether you want to save money on cable, or just extend your TV viewing options.
Current Price: between $79 and $99 USD
The Roku 3 interface is extremely user-friendly and feels more responsive than other streaming devices currently available. Roku 3 also boasts over 1800 channels (also referred to as apps). At last count Amazon Fire TV had 833 channels available and Apple TV offered only 50.
The included remote control contains a built in headphone jack. When headphones are plugged into the remote, Roku 3 mutes the TV allowing viewers to watch without disturbing others in the room.
Smart Phone Mirroring
Roku also employs its Miracast technology, allowing users to mirror compatible mobile device displays. This enables the user to display their phone’s screen on a larger television screen. While the picture quality is lacking, this provides a means to watch content on TV that isn’t natively available on the Roku 3.
Miracast is new, and still needs some time to develop. Fortunately, the functionality can be upgraded via updates downloaded to the Roku device, eliminating the need to purchase a new model.
Ultimately, the function that sets Roku apart is its universal search capability. This allows you to search all the content available in various channels for a specific show.
For example, if you want to know if the hit show “NCIS” is available, Roku can search all available channels to find it. Amazon Fire TV, while offering voice activated search, limits the content search to its own store. Apple TV does as well. Search on the Roku 3 stands in stark contrast to the search capability on those devices.
Easy Install and Setup
Any television with an HDMI input can use the Roku 3. Unfortunately the HDMI cable will need to be purchased separately as it is not included. Once connected, the onscreen guide walks users through the setup with ease.
The device connects to the Internet either by Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable. A USB port is available on the side of the Roku 3 for connecting to content files stored on an external hard drive. This will allow for user videos and photos to be displayed on the television.
The Roku 3 even contains a micro SD slot expanding the memory of the device. The majority of users will never need to use it, but having the option available could come in handy.
Weighing in at around 3 ounces, this little workhorse is a very well rounded device that offers tons of TV and movie content.
Roku Streaming Stick
Current Price: between $39 and $49 USD
The Roku Streaming Stick is a trimmed down version of the Roku 3. It’s the size of a thumb drive, and simply plugs into your television’s HDMI port. As with the Roku 3, the intuitive guide simplifies setting up the device.
The Streaming Stick has the same channel capabilities of the Roku 3 (including Miracast), and a remote is included. Unfortunately, it lacks the headphone functionality of the Roku 3’s remote.
The Streaming Stick only connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi, as there is simply no room for an Ethernet port on the device. Furthermore, the device is a bit sluggish as channels take a little more time to load in comparison to other streaming devices.
Considering these shortcomings, the Roku Streaming Stick remains a decent value at half the price of the Roku 3. Google’s Chromecast flaunts better price point at around $35 dollars. However, the Chromecast lacks a remote or channels, requiring the use of a tablet or smartphone to “cast” content to the television.
The Amazon Fire Stick also costs less than the Roku Streaming Stick, and equals the Roku Streaming Stick in most functions. Nonetheless, the lack of a universal search feature on the Fire TV is a noticeable difference. The choice between them will come down the value one puts in Roku’s universal search.
Roku Content within the US
As previously stated, Roku owners in the US will have over 1,800 available channels to choose from. This includes the major players: Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video. While those require subscriptions, there are plenty of free channels to watch such as Crackle, PBS, and the Smithsonian Channel.
Roku also has done an admirable job of acquiring sports content. With a subscription, NBA League Pass and NHL Game Center provide as much out-of-market basketball and hockey one can watch.
For more information on what’s available within the U.S. check online at roku.com/whats-on.
Roku Content Outside the US
Roku was originally designed to function with content providers within the U.S. Content providers differ from country to country. Therefore, Roku’s universal search function is unavailable to non-US consumers.
Outside the U.S, Roku supports content in the UK, Ireland, and Canada. Much of what is available on Roku is dependent on the content providers and in which countries their content is currently available. For instance, Netflix is available in all of these countries. However, Amazon has currently not made its content available outside of the United States.
Here’s a breakdown of the content currently available in countries supported by Roku:
Canada – Netflix is the main attraction in the Great White North. Canadian users will also realize the value in the channels Plex and Playon which offer a whole host of media options.
Below is a sampling of what’s available to Canadian Roku owners:
• NHL GameCenter LIVE
• MLS LIVE
• MLB.TV Premium
• Family TV
• Cartoon Club
• Sky News and CNN
Of course, some of those channels require a subscription. For full details on what’s available in Canada, please check roku.com/ca/whats-on.
UK/Ireland – Aside from Netflix, Roku provides access to channels such as:
• NOW TV
• Sky Sports
• Demand 4
• BBC iPlayer
• BBC Sport
This is just a sample of the content available within the UK and Ireland. For a full list of channels available in those countries check roku.com/uk/whats-on.
The Future of Roku
With interest in watching TV and movie content over the Internet growing, and billions of potential customers available around the world, Roku and its competitors will continue to expand its international reach. This will depend on content providers also expanding into various international markets. Thus far, Roku has closely followed Netflix in expanding into international markets.
Within the last year, Netflix has expanded to Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. I would expect Roku to be eyeing those countries for expanding its international reach.
If you’re looking for an easy way to stream video content from the internet to your television, both the Roku 3 and Streaming Stick perform that task well while offering oodles of content to enjoy.
About the Author
Dennis Restauro runs the tech website Grounded Reason where he writes about cable TV alternatives and how technology can better our daily lives. Visit him at Grounded Reason or follow him on Twitter @Grounded Reason.
Roku Images used in this article are courtesy of Roku.
Earth image courtesy of Foca.tk
Carolyn is currently away from the Internet so can’t stream any media. She will return on January 5 with more Wonder of Tech articles for you to enjoy!