Don Clark, reporting from CES:

That means making Roku’s home screen and content navigation system central to managing users’ interactions with all video content, removing what Wood describes as all the complicated settings, menus and features that characterize most Internet-connected TVs. There is also a simplified remote control Roku designs that has 20 buttons, which Wood estimates is half the number on traditional remotes.

Yes, Roku TVs can still get conventional programming from sources like cable services. “It does have a tuner,” Wood says. “We would like to get rid of it, but retailers don’t think they can sell them without it.”

We’ll see what actually ships, but I like a lot of the thinking here. Simplified menus and remotes are key. And there (unfortunately) there still needs to be a way to do traditional cable content as well, but that should just be another app.

Roku has always done a good job as a set-top box, but now they’re moving further up the stack. Beating Apple and others to such a move, of course.


The new Roku 3 has one more feature up its sleeve and it’s a neat one: private listening mode. Plug in a pair of headphones to the remote’s headphone jack and you can listen to whatever’s playing on your Roku. 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. Another smart feature: the headphone volume leaves the TV volume unaffected, so cranking it up in private listening mode won’t blast the room when you pop out the headphones.

That’s a clever idea.

I’ve been a fan of the previous generation Roku. But honestly, I had mainly been using it because of the HBO Go integration. Now that you can AirPlay HBO Go from iOS devices (and it’s apparently coming to the Apple TV itself soon), the Roku gets a lot less use. 

It’s shocking that this new version of the Roku still doesn’t have YouTube support. And if/when Apple TV can run apps… Still cool to see this thing alive and kicking.

Austin Carr for Fast Company looks back at the project that started as “The Netflix Player” but was eventually spun out into the Roku box/company:

It was December 2007, and the device was just weeks away from launching. Yet after all the years and resources and talent invested in the project (a team of roughly 20 had been working on it around the clock, from ironing out the industrial design and user interface to taking trips to Foxconn to finalize production details), Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was having serious second thoughts. The problem? Hastings realized that if Netflix shipped its own hardware, it would complicate potential partnerships with other hardware makers. “Reed said to me one day, ‘I want to be able to call Steve Jobs and talk to him about putting Netflix on Apple TV,’” recalls one high-level source. “‘But if I’m making my own hardware, Steve’s not going to take my call.’”

In hindsight, good call.


But ultimately, Wood says, “It was totally the right decision. Licensing [digital content] has been hugely successful for Netflix. [The Netflix Player] would’ve created tension with partners, and increasingly decisions would come up where Netflix would have to decide, ‘Should we make decisions based on what’s best for licensing, or what’s best for our own hardware?’”

Sounds eerily similar to the dilemmas that both Google (with Motorola) and Microsoft (with Surface) now face, no?

This is interesting, a new Roku box that’s not a box at all, it’s a stick — essentially a thumb drive. Yes, that’s insanely small for a set top box but perhaps more importantly, it doesn’t require a power cord.

This is possible thanks to MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) which is integrated into newer HDMI ports. This also allows you to control the Roku with your standard TV controller. 

Imagine a cable box that worked like this? Instead of a gigantic, overheating piece of shitty plastic, it could be a tiny stick that you pop into the side of your TV. DVR capabilities might be an issue, but that’s all moving to the cloud anyway. 

Sadly, unless you go to Best Buy (and who wants to do that anymore?) to pick up an Insignia TV, you’ll have to wait until the fall to buy one of these bad boys. Too bad, Roku could use it now.