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Roku 3: Same size, sleeker look

The Roku 3 doesn't look radically different from the existing Roku boxes. It's about the same size as a Roku LT, although it has a more striking look with a glossier finish and nicely rounded edges.

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Overhauled user interface

The biggest change with Roku 3 is the new interface. I had a chance to give it a test-drive at a private demo with Roku in New York and it's a huge improvement.

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More channels in sight

The first thing you'll notice is you can see nine channels at once, compared with just five in the old interface. The new layout also reveals three more channels with every click, which lets you zip through all your channels in a fraction of the time.

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New Channel Store, too

Roku's Channel Store is also now integrated right into the main menu, instead of pushing you to an entirely separate interface, which took forever on the old Roku boxes.

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Persistent menu bar

There's a persistent menu bar on the left for selecting categories, which makes it much quicker to find the channel you're looking for.

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Roku search

Roku's search functionality also gets a prime position in the left-hand menu.

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Themes

New in the Roku 3 is the option to choose different themes for the background and user interface elements.

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Heavier puck

Roku also purposefully added weight to the Roku 3, which comes in at 5 ounces, as compared with the 3-ounce Roku 2 XS. That extra heft gives the perception of higher build quality, but it also has the real-world benefit of keeping the Roku 3 planted even with heavy HDMI cables hanging off the back.

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Nonskid bottom

There's also some nonskid rubber on the bottom to help keep the box from sliding on a tabletop.

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Minimalist port selection

The rest of the Roku 3's connectivity will look familiar. The back panel is more compact than ever, with an Ethernet port, HDMI output, microSD slot, and power plug. Wireless connectivity has been upgraded, too, with the Roku 3 sporting dual-band Wi-Fi, which has long been on the wish list of Roku fans.

Noticeably missing is the standard-def AV output that was included on the Roku 2 XS; you'll need to get a Roku LT, Roku HD, or Roku 2 XD if you want analog compatibility.

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USB on the side

There's also a USB port on the side, which can be used for limited digital-media playback.

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Private-listening mode

The new Roku 3 has one more feature up its sleeve and it's a neat one: private-listening mode. Plug a pair of headphones into the remote's headphone jack and you can listen to whatever's playing on your Roku.

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Volume rocker on the right

Plugging in the headphones also automatically mutes your TV, and headphone volume can be adjusted using the rocker on the right side of the remote.

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Included Roku-styled earbuds

Roku is even including a pair of earbuds in the box with the Roku 3, which should encourage new buyers to give the feature a shot.

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Built-in wireless headphone mode

It's essentially a makeshift wireless-headphones solution, but I think it's a feature that will get regular use.

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Familiar to Roku fans

Aside from the private-listening feature, the new remote is most similar to the Streaming Stick's clicker.

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Works via Wi-Fi Direct

It operates using Wi-Fi Direct, which means you don't need to point the remote at the box to send commands. And Roku says Wi-Fi Direct is no more power-hungry than Bluetooth, so you should get similar battery life to the remote included with the Roku 2 XS.

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AC adapter required

My only real complaint about the Roku 3's design is it still requires an external AC adapter, unlike the Apple TV, with its sleeker integrated power supply.

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Roku 3: Available today for $99

The Roku 3 is available today for $99 from Amazon and Roku's online store, and it's coming to retail stores in April.

So far, the new Roku 3 feels like a very polished update to a series of streaming boxes that were already excellent. I'll be testing the new box and updated interface over the next few days with two main questions on my mind: Is it better than the Apple TV? And is it worth spending the extra on the Roku 3 compared with the $50 Roku LT?

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