Roku arguably makes the best living room streaming players, but it’s been a while since the firm has updated these devices. That changes—sort of—this week with updated versions of the existing Roku 3 and Roku 2 devices, both of which now offer better performance and additional functionality. And the new Roku 3 adds voice search, matching a similar feature on Amazon’s players.
We have three Roku devices in our home, and the now-previous-generation Roku 3 is the living room entertainment device we use the most often (aside, possibly, from the FIOS cable box, though it’s a close call). In addition to the Roku 3, we have a Roku 2 in the finished part of the cellar and a Roku Streaming Stick on the TV in front of my elliptical trainer. In each case, Netflix is the service of choice, though each is also configured with Google Play Video, Amazon and a few other apps, none of which are used regularly.
The Roku 3 we’re using is two years old, and given the sudden influx of similar devices—especially Amazon Fire TV, but also including the “streaming stick” phenomenon kicked off by Chromecast, but also including Roku’s own stick and the Amazon Fire TV Stick—I have been wondering why Roku hasn’t issued any updates. (And of course Apple hasn’t updated its also-excellent Apple TV for even longer.)
The weirdest part about today’s announcement is that Roku is sticking with the Roku 3 and Roku 2 branding for the new devices, with each now just bearing a “new for 2015” subtitle. The Roku 1 and Roku Streaming Stick round out the model lineup.
So what’s changed?
First, the new Roku 2 and Roku 3 both get updated remote controls, and like the version that’s supplied with Roku Streaming Stick, each now bears branded buttons for Netflix, Amazon, Rdio and Hulu, which should help streamline things for those using these popular services. (Many people think of their Roku as their “Netflix box,” so this makes some sense.) The Roku 3 remote includes, as before, a headphone jack for private listening.
The Roku 3 and Roku 2 devices themselves look unchanged from the previous generation. As before, each is simplicity itself, with ports for power, HDMI-out, microSD (for media) and Ethernet on the back (dual-band Wi-Fi is built-in of course), and USB on the side for adding a media device (USB flash drive or hard drive).
But there are some big changes with this year’s devices. Some are of course on the inside, and some come in the form of new software services.
For the first time, the Roku 3 and Roku 2 share the same processor and offer equal performance. (It’s unclear whether/if the Roku 3 hardware was updated; I don’t believe that it was.) Now, Roku differentiates from its less costly sibling by offering that headphone-capable remote, which is also a “point anywhere” remote, motion control for games (where you use the remote like a game controller), and a new feature called voice search.
Voice search is exactly what it sounds like, and it appears to work much like the similar feature on Amazon Fire TV: Just press the dedicated voice search button on the remote (which replaces the search button on this version of the remote) and speak your search. On Amazon, this works quite effectively.
Roku 3 and Roku 2 also support a number of other new and enhanced features, including:
Roku Feed. New for 2015, feature lets you know when current-run movies will be available to stream and on which services.
Device mirroring. This isn’t new, but you can “share videos, photos, web pages and more from compatible devices,” meaning you can use Miracast to stream content from your devices to your HDTV.
Roku Search. As before, you can search across top channels (Netflix, Hulu, Vevo, others) by title, actor, or director, a nice differentiator from Apple TV and Amazon’s devices. That is, you don’t have to launch each channel in turn and search just on one service.
Pricing remains the same. The new Roku 3 is available now for $99.99 and the new Roku 2 is available now for $69.99, both from the Roku web site. (I’d stick to this site rather than, say, Amazon, at least for now since you’ll likely get the old models elsewhere for a short time.)
I assume existing Roku devices will get a system update to enable at least some new features—like Roku Feed—but checking my own Rokus this morning, I don’t see one.