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Christmas Gift Guide

Roku has three new boxes out in the UK, all primed and ready to add tonnes of smart functions to your TV for under £100. The Roku 3 has been out in the US for some time, but the Roku 1 and Roku 2 share its classy little chassis and are brand new. All three are simple and easy to use, and support 1080p video.

Let's start with the cheapest. The Roku 1 is £59, has a single-core processor, wimpy 1 by 1 Wi-Fi, and no headphones. It does 1080p video though, via HDMI, and has all the video channels -- nearly 500 of them in the UK, and including big hitters such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Sky's Now TV.

The Roku 2 is more expensive at £79, benefitting from more robust 2 by 2 Wi-Fi, and its remote control has a headphone socket so you can easily watch TV in silence. It's powered by the same single-core chip. Both the 1 and 2 have composite output for really old TVs, which the 3 doesn't have room for.

Stepping up another £20 is the top of the range Roku 3 at £99. Proudly dual-core, it also adds an Ethernet socket and gaming functionality. The 3 is new to the UK, having been available for some time in the US, where our colleagues at CNET.com praised its "lightning-fast performance", and concluded it was "the best streaming-video box yet".

Design

They're sleek, unobtrusive little chaps, all with the same pebble-like shape and palm size. They come with an equally smooth remote, with comfy, easy to find buttons. The Roku 3's remote has A and B buttons for gaming, and Wii-like motion control abilities.

The remotes for the 2 and 3 both have headphone jacks, with decent purple earphones included. When you plug in headphones, it mutes the TV, and the volume control on the Roku remote controls the headphones. Pull them out, and the TV returns to its previous volume.

Fast apps

I had a play with the dual-core Roku 3 and it was indeed very smooth. Apps were fast to start -- iPlayer came up in a couple of seconds, much faster than my Samsung smart TV at home. As well as the main video apps you'd expect, there's handy stuff like (cough) CNET, Spotify, Dropbox, Sky News, Flixster, Facebook and Plex, which lets you stream video from other devices over the Internet.

Gaming is very limited. There's only a handful of games, with the ubiquitous Angry Birds much the most compelling -- its on-screen buttons are customised to look like the buttons on the remote. Even so, it's £2.49, which seems steep considering it's free almost everywhere.

Roku also has apps for iOS and Android (out today) that let you control the menu and stream photos, music and video from your phone or tablet.

But Now TV is only £10

My initial impression is they're good products at reasonable prices, but why would you pay even that much when the Sky Now TV box is just £10? The Now TV box is built by Roku and has iPlayer, after all.

Roku offers much more, including pay-monthly services such as Netflix, which Sky obviously doesn't want on its own-brand box. Nevertheless, Sky's subsidised price makes it much more compelling, at least on the surface. A full review may reveal Roku's boxes are better long-term propositions.

The new Roku 1, 2 and 3 are all available to order today and will be in the shops next week. Let me know what you think down in the comments, or on Facebook.

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The Roku 2 and 3 come with headphones, which handily pop into the remote, so you can watch TV in silence.
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The remote is smooth and easy to use. Those two buttons are for gaming on the Roku 3.
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The remote controls the headphone volume when they're plugged in, and the TV when they're not.
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All three boxes are tiny wee things.
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The Roku 3 has HDMI out and Ethernet in, while the 2 and 1 swap Ethernet for composite out, for older tellies.
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Here's the Roku 2, which is £79.
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And the Roku 1, a mere £59. Note it doesn't have a headphone jack.
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