The Roku 3, the latest version of Roku's media streaming device, gets an impressive speed improvement that will appeal to new users.
But existing owners of Roku devices may want to skip upgrading to the new one unless speed is a priority.
The Roku's new media streaming box sells for $99 and replaces the Roku 2 XS, a model of the same price with essentially the same features. Like its predecessor, the Roku 3 is capable of streaming full 1080p HD video and has a motion control for use with games like Angry Birds.
But the Roku 3 also comes with a more powerful processor and redesigned user interface -- two things that combine to provide a faster viewing experience. When users scroll through their channels, search for content or simply move around the interface, the Roku 3 responds immediately. The experience is now more akin to using a smartphone or tablet than the clunky and slow interfaces found on Internet-connected smart TVs.
Another new and useful feature to Roku's flagship device that neither rival Apple TV nor other Roku devices possess is a private listening mode. The Roku 3's remote control has a headphone jack that users can plug into to direct sound solely to themselves. This, of course, is helpful to users who might be up watching TV while their partner has fallen asleep or other situations where silence is needed.
The feature worked perfectly. As soon as I plugged in, the Roku 3 stopped directing its sound to the TV's speakers and immediately began filtering it toward me through the remote. Roku throws in some neat purple earbuds along with the Roku 3 that work just fine, but users who want a robust sound may want to use different headphones.
As for the box itself, the Roku 3 looks different than its predecessor, but for all intent and purposes they are about the same. The Roku 3 has a more round design, and although it is ever so slightly wider and taller than the Roku 2 XS, it'll take up about the same amount of space wherever users keep it.
As far as content, the Roku 3 has access to the more than 750 channels like other Roku devices, including HBO GO and Amazon Instant Video, two channels not found on the Apple TV. However, the Roku 3 doesn't have YouTube, which is a pretty big hole the company should fill.
Although users can stream video to the Roku 3 straight from other devices the way they can over AirPlay on Apple TV, there are other ways to get non-Internet content onto the device. Users can plug in USB drives or microSD cards to the Roku 3 to play more content.
All in all, the Roku 3 is excellent choice for new users, but if you already have the Roku 2 XS, there's really not much reason to upgrade to the new model.
[For the record, 5:48 p.m. March 16: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the Apple TV does not have a YouTube app.]