I admit I am a bit biased when it comes to Roku. I was the first on my block, maybe my hood, to have Roku, back when smart TV was just catching on, and the industry was still grappling with what to call this ilk of device — set top box, streaming TV, video-on-demand — you get the picture. I told anyone who would listen about my cool new little Roku XS, which from what I can figure is now called Roku 2 ($69.99), with some adaptions.
Then I learned you could get Roku 3, which features earbuds that you can plug into the remote control for private listening. I was sold. Roku 3 ($currently priced at $89.99) was the perfect solution to my problem of having to turn up the TV loud enough that I could hear it over the noise of my elliptical trainer in my bedroom. Now when I worked out, I did not have to hear my family and even my neighbors complain about the loud TV. Then I added the new Roku 2 to the TV in my guest room.
So now that I have the good, better, best models, I can compare them. Roku 1 comes standard with composite cables just in case your TV doesn’t have HDMI. For full HD, you’ll need HDMI though. While you get all the features of the other Rokus, the 1 does not have the headphone jack for earbuds.
Roku 2 has all of the above, plus the headphone jack. It also has pre-set buttons on the remote for four of the most popular channels — M-Go, Amazon, Netflix and Blockbuster. Perhaps it was my TV or settings, but when I hooked up 2, it was not as clear a picture as with 3 on my 39″ HD flatscreen. I ended up putting the 2 on a smaller HD 26″ flatscreen where it looked just fine.
Roku 3, touted as the fasted Roku, has an HDMI output but no RCA jack connectors, so you must have a modern TV with HDMI. Roku 3 also does not have the pre-set buttons on the remote, which I happen to like better, as its cleaner; and really I only regularly watch Amazon and Netflix of those pre-set channels, and the buttons seem like a bit of commercialism to me. the 3 has an Ethernet port as well as a USB and MicroSD slot, so you can add personal media, expand storage and go cabled if you do not have Wi-Fi to connect to. I have found this handy when wireless streaming is spotty and the show is constantly interrupted by the annoying “loading” message. When I switch from wireless to the Ethernet connection the signal seems to be more consistent.
All Roku models carry over 2,000 channels with over 200,000 movies and TV episodes; plus music, news, sports and more. they are all about the same in their pocket-flask size, except for the Roku streaming stick ($49.99), which is ideal for mounted TVs since it can be hidden behind the TV when plugged into an HDMI imput; but it lacks the headphone jack.
Over the years Roku has continued to improve the layout of the screens and setting and search features. I still get excited when I see the little personified Roku logo dance around when the unit is first fired up. As someone who refused to pay high cable subscription fees, Roku is a great alternative. Though many of the premium channels has a fee, i.e., Netflix is $7.99 per month, and come still require a cable or Direct TV subscription,like HBO Go or Showtime Anytime, I still feel like i have more control over having to pay for a multitude of channels I don’t want.
I did freak out to think that if my remote crashed I was SOL, because there is no way to turn on or operate the Roku box on the unit itself. But I discovered the Roku app, and now I have it loaded on my iPhone 6 and a couple tablets, so I will never be without an remote.
Now every TV in my house has a Roku, which is great, and also not so great. My hope is that Roku will develop a unit that can replicate so I do not need a receiver in every room. Also, thought it seems it is often the fault of the channel and not the streaming device, I am looking forward to the day when programs stream without “loading” breaks. Ok Roku, I am tapping my foot like the logo-man. Lets see what you got next.