I bought the Roku 3 in the USA while on vacation, and tried it out for a week at my parent's house before returning it to Wal-mart. I would like to offer my honest pros and cons about the unit.
Pros: Very fast and smooth -- best out there in terms of speed. Headset feature is great, and may make it a must-buy if you need this feature. Solid unit. Instant-on is nice (see cons). More channels than you'll know what to do with (actually, you'll end up ignoring them -- see cons). Smooth and clean playback on Netflix and other apps. Useful apps include Netflix, Amazon, PBS and PBS Kids, Fox News, NBC News as a few examples (but past that, not many others are useful -- keep reading).
Cons: Netflix menu is old, outdated, and in serious need of updating. We own the cheap (and sometimes unreliable) RCA player, and it's now our go-to for the family room again, because the Roku Netflix menu is really poor, has no Netflix Kids option, and doesn't show much on the screen. The competition all use menus that can be updated by Netflix, but Roku hasn't updated theirs in gosh knows how long. They're still stuck on text options for episodes, while even the RCA shows stillframe clips from each episode. This is a big deal to my 4 year-old, who loves picking which episode she wants, based on the pics. Also, the Roku Netflix menu does not allow automatic advance (another big deal for kids). Really, Roku was "the king" for quite a while, but it seems that king needs to do some serious updating on the Netflix side. So if you're buying for Netflix -- look elsewhere!
Missing Youtube is a MASSIVE hole (YT offers many shows for free you'd otherwise pay for using Roku apps), BUT the TWONKY app allows it to work with your phone. Although nice, the main page interface is more about filling half of your screen with an ad, NOT proving you with a better overall interface. Fancy new search feature isn't what it's billed to be... in fact, it is generally geared toward billed content, and didn't find the "free" search items in my apps hardly ever -- even when listed directly on the free apps I'd downloaded. Instant-on is nice, but eats watts even when not in use, which adds up over time (no way to turn it off). Virtually all of the "free" channels are useless, and contain garbage blog content or 1940's B-movie junk that few care about (many apps offer barely a few of these garbage movies, along with an up-sell to subscribe). Apps by some companies, like Disney, are nothing more than a few short snippets of shows with an opportunity to buy the channel.
I am glad I bought this at Wal-Mart! I returned my Roku 3 and ordered a refurb Roxu XS online because the Roku 3's wall adapter is 110v only. The older XS is 110/220v capable. I was somewhat disappointed in the content. For all of the hype about 500+ channels, what you end up with these days is about 490 worthless channels of sample b-movies and home-made blog videos out there as carrots, followed by asking you to pay money to see more. In all seriousness, many of these channels offered as few as 3 snippets or actual full episodes of very old content while asking you to buy the channel!
For one, I like to watch network news shows that I missed (CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC), and it seems like the networks have gone out of their way to delete or dilute previously-provided apps which allow you to watch past news content. Really, the more useful things left in terms of news content are Fox News, NBC, and maybe PBS. Obviously, the networks have really come to view devices by Roku, WDLive, Google TV, Netgear, D-Link, RCA streamer, etc., as big competitors. You are left with having to get paid-for content via Hulu Plus or wherever. The remaining free network apps (and there are very few) will post some older/delayed video content as an something of a station-promoting afterthought. Gone are the days when we had multiple apps from the different news/network channels that were worth watching. I noticed CNN international does not work.
I've actually found that using my tablet, hooked-up to my TV via HDMI connection, provides me MUCH more access to apps and video content from such network sources and programming (note that GoogleTV also gets blocked, so a tablet with full app store access is the way to go -- GoogleTV is too restricted). You can get a lot of free channels from the USTV app, for example. And as mentioned, because Roku does not support Youtube (and don't plan on it EVER being supported, despite claims), you are missing-out on freebees and entire series of shows that people upload. I find Youtube to be worth more than the endless wave of useless up-sell apps Roku has.
I will also say that reviews from sites like CNET, hinting that the cheaper Roku 720p model is a better overall value, are very true. If you must get a Roku, and don't need to spend $100, spend just over $50 and get the cheapest. Same content, and barely perceptible jump in quality. The much-touted new menu/search features in the Roku 3 are not about making your life easier -- they're about pushing ads and paid content on you. With that said, the cheaper Roku's are being switched to this menu system soon anyway.
So my advice: I've learned that I've better off with a tablet and the Google Play store (not Google TV, which is too restricted) for more useful content. Run a tablet to your TV via HDMI, or go with a cheaper competitor that's actually full 1080p. If you really want a set-top box for streaming shows, then go with a cheaper refurb XS or basic Roku HD, or a full 1080p competitor for 1/2 to 2/3 the price of the Roku 3. You won't be missing-out on anything in terms of the 500+ up-sell and content-starved apps offered by Roku's channel store. If you want overall ease of use family to watch paid services like Netflix, then go Roku.
One final note -- it has become obvious to me that Roku is employing the use of companies that write scores of positive reviews of their units, and scores of negative reviews trashing the competition (my wife's previous job in the make-up industry hired companies to do this sort of thing, so I know all about how it works). Their favorite sites to do this on include Amazon and Wal-mart. I encourage you to look past this and try something cheaper. I also encourage you to buy your unit (Roku or otherwise) from a retailer like Target or Wal-mart, which have liberal return policies. Buy the Roku and a competitor or two and just return the ones you don't want. I think you'll find that the Roku doesn't live up to the hype (and you'll miss Youtube's content, unless you try another brand). Remember, you can always return the units if they don't work. So that gives you no other reason NOT to try the competition, enjoy better 1080p quality for less, and have Youtube.
So that's my honest advice ... buy a few of these from different competitors and return what you don't like. Give them at least a week of honest use before doing so. Also, compare them against simply plugging-in a tablet via HDMI. Depending on your desired use, you might be surprised by the outcome of what you decide to keep.
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