December 26, 2019

Roku Express 3930R

I "cut the cord" (well, canceled my Dish account when TV Japan jumped to DirecTV at almost twice the cost) eighteen months ago. Sure, you could pay me to sign up for DirecTV (DirecTV has the best full-fledged Japanese language package), but short of that unlikely event, I'll stick with streaming. My technology of choice is the Roku platform.

Any set-top box I use must work with an inexpensive programmable or pre-programmed IR remote (a feature that rules out the Fire TV). I have no plans of getting a television with higher than 1080p resolution anytime soon, so for the last year and a half I had been using a Roku Express 3900X.

It was not without glitches. The 3900X always reported Wi-Fi signal strength as "Poor" (-80 dBm) even when a Wi-Fi analyzer next to it never dropped below -50 dBm on a clear channel (full signal strength). When testing the connection, the Roku often reported there was no connection at all. Strangely enough, this didn't seem to affect actual performance.

I might have seen more problems crop up at native resolutions higher than 720p. Subsequent firmware updates didn't help, so the glitch was likely in the hardware. At the time, similar complaints showed up in tech forums, so it wasn't just me. The common conclusion was a manufacturing defect with the antenna.

But it hobbled along well enough to keep using for the past eighteen months. Still, while I usually forswear upgrading a device that more or less works simply for the sake of upgrading, when the new Roku Express 3930R went on sale, I figured it was worth paying $24.99 to answer the question.

Well, whatever the glitch was, it's fixed. The 3930R consistently reports an "Excellent" Wi-Fi signal at -40 dBm. That's loud and clear.

I described the 3900X as half the size of a pack of playing cards. The 3930R is a bit smaller and squarer, with the edges rounded rather like a computer mouse. It's a more aesthetically pleasing design, though it's so small it's hard to even notice except when the little blue power light is on.

I like the simplicity of Roku's "Windows 8" style interface. Nine icons fit on the home screen so that's what I limit my options to. For me, a big advantage of streaming is leaving behind the "traditional" MVPD model (Multichannel Video Programming Distributor) and its endlessly scrolling program guides, not replicating the same old with a virtual MVPD.

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