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Roku Announces Roku 3, with Improved UI and Remote Audio Jack

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Roku will announce the Roku 3 tomorrow, the fourth generation of the popular set-top box. Unlike with previous generations, Roku is only announcing a single product this time, not a line. The Roku 3 replaces the high-end Roku 2 XS and lists for $99.99. At launch, it's only available online (from Roku.com, Amazon, and other sites), but it will see retail distribution in April 2013.

The Roku 3's design is similar to the previous generation, but with a more compact, rounded appearance. It includes an HDMI port and USB port, as before, but this time something is missing: there's no composite port so it won't work with older televisions that lack an HDMI port.

Roku has made some important additions under the hood, including a Broadcom dual-core A9 processor. Roku is also boosting Wi-Fi performance with a 2x2 dual-band Wi-Fi chip. Buyers can expect better wireless range with less interference, Roku says.

The Roku 3's remote looks like the motion control gaming remote that came with the Roku 2 XS, but it now includes an audio jack and volume controls for that jack. This lets viewers plug in standard headphones and not disturb others in the house. The audio jack's volume controls don't change the television volume, so the TV will be at the same audio level when the headphones are unplugged. Audio is sent to the remote uncompressed via Wi-Fi. The box includes a pair of in-ear headphones with passive noise isolation.

With this release, Roku introduces user interface improvements that should make finding channels and shows or movies far easier. The platform now has around 750 channels, adding news channels at a rate of about 1 per day. To help viewers locate channels or content, the Roku 3 includes a side-scrolling interface that both surfaces more options and helps people understand where they are in the menu system. The goal is to make it easier to explore by maintaining a similar context through all the screens. The interface includes a large font size, so that people can comfortably read menus from the couch.

Customers also now have the option of changing the overall look of the interface. Roku is introducing themes with this release, with five themes available.

At launch, the new user interface will only be available on the Roku 3, but it will roll out to older devices in April via software updates.

While this release is impressive, it won't satisfy every Roku wish list. Roku doesn't offer gesture controls, since it lacks a camera, and it can't function as a Slingbox receiver, as new Netgear and WD devices can. 

Roku 3 Screen

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