You’re no longer beholden to cable companies if you want a broad range of television options. Thanks to streaming devices like Roku, it’s never been easier to cut the cord. And once you do, you’ll never look back.
Offering thousands of channels, including unofficial ones, to entice viewers Roku offers the widest range of options in streaming. If you’re curious about Roku, which one of its many products is right for your needs, or how it stacks up to the competition, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about Roku.
What is Roku?
Roku is a digital media player that allows you to stream video, music, and entertainment content. Think of Roku as a DVD player you never have to put a disc in. Roku comes in many different forms, from set-top boxes to TV sets with the service built into them. What all Roku devices have in common, however, is the ability to give you access to a host of the biggest content providers on the planet.
With Roku, you can stream Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, HBO, Hulu Live TV, Spotify, MLB, and more from the comfort of your home sofa without needing to pay for a cable package. Roku is the ideal media center for viewers who don’t want to have to buy a video game console to watch digital content. It’s affordable, versatile, and easy to use.
How does Roku work?
Roku requires an internet connection. Once you connect the device to one of your TV’s HDMI ports, Roku will walk you through setting up your internet connection and creating a Roku profile. Every Roku device comes with a remote that you use to navigate through menus and select programming. When you first start using Roku, you’ll find the service comes preloaded with some of the most traditional services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. But there’s plenty more to discover. Roku has more than 3,000 available channels that you can connect to from the Roku channel store. To find new channels, go to the main menu, and select “Streaming Channels.” From there you can search for channels by category, from 4K content to the top free channels. Some channels, like Netflix and Hulu, require you to have a subscription, but there are free options like Crackle that offer ad-supported programming.
Roku makes cord-cutting easy. If you’re looking to replicate your cable service without a visit from a scheduled technician and a long-term contract, Roku is an ideal for live TV streaming through services that include Sling TV, Hulu Live TV, CBS All Access, FuboTV, YouTube and Philo. There are also a ton of budget options. For $4.99, you can also add Acorn TV, a streaming service that specializes in British drama and comedy, and then there’s Crackle, a free ad-supported option for movies and TV.
Every Roku model can log into hotel Wi-Fi connections, even when they have a complicated Wi-Fi system, which comes in handy for frequent travelers. Roku’s remote is simple, but that’s part of the charm. Your grandparents can pick up a Roku remote and quickly figure it out. You can also easily use the Kodi media player with Roku.
It is important to note that not all Roku devices are created equal. To serve a broad range of needs Roku offers many different models, from simple, cheap dongles to more expensive set-top boxes that provide features like 4K Ultra HD video.
Which Roku device is right for you?
Roku has updated its complete lineup, fixing many of the problems that have plagued previous versions of the device. Featuring across the board upgrades, Roku has laid the foundation for their future with these new devices. Here’s what you need to know.
Roku Express is the most basic form of Roku, offering 1080p HD streaming in a cheap and easy package. At $29.99, the Roku Express is the cheapest way to jump into the world of streaming. It comes with Roku’s simple remote, meaning it doesn’t have the ability to control your TV volume. It also means you’ll need to use an included connector for the remote to work. However, every Roku device can be connected to using the Roku app, allowing for private listening over headphones on your mobile device.
The Roku Express got a refresh in Roku’s last product update. Each model is now five times more powerful than before, fixing the annoying issues older users experienced with sluggish navigation. Using the Express is a fast, peppy experience, whether you’re browsing with the included remote or the service’s app. You’re still limited to a max 1080p output, but as far as budget streaming devices go, Roku Express cannot be beaten.
At $39.99, the Roku Premiere is officially the cheapest and easiest way to make the jump into 4K. Offering HD, 4K, and HDR all in one budget package, along with thousands of streaming channels, the Roku Premiere is a budget beast. Each model comes with a simple remote that controls the device. Unlike the Roku Stick, the Premiere and Express’ simple remote requires must be in the line of sight of the Roku device to work. Users can also control their Roku using the handy mobile phone app.
In our tests with the Roku Premiere, we found the device lightning fast and responsive. Most importantly, its 4K experience is stunning, from the crystal clear picture to Roku’s easy set-up process. While its 802.11bgn single-band wireless network isn’t the fastest on the market, we found it offered more than enough power to stream in 4K. The Roku Streaming Stick+ is still the best device in the Roku family, but the Premiere makes a compelling argument.
Roku Streaming Stick+
In the world of Roku the Streaming Stick+, is what Goldilocks would refer to as “just right.” Offering a compelling mix of simplicity, power, and features the Streaming Stick+ is the best device in the Roku family. This $49.99 wonder is the perfect streaming stick for the future, especially if you have plans for upgrading your TV. Supporting HD, 4K, and HDR video, the Streaming Stick+ packs a remarkable amount of power into the tiny portable package. Simply plug this HDMI stick into the back of your TV, turn it on, and get started.
Each device comes with the Roku voice remote, offering voice commands along with power and volume control. Rather than juggle multiple remotes, the Roku Streaming Stick+ voice remote can take over as your main TV hub if you want. In addition, the Streaming Stick+ has an advanced wireless receiver that gives you four times the range, making it perfect for game rooms away from the router. Or, more importantly, hotel rooms.
We were able to test a Streaming Stick+ unit for a few weeks, and it’s easily the best Roku experience we’ve had yet. Navigating the menus is fast and easy, even when it comes to entering login information with the remote. If you prefer to use a keyboard it also supports the Roku mobile app. Voice search is a treat, putting your favorite shows just a few words away. Trust us, it’s worth paying the extra $10 over the Roku Premiere. Beyond the point anywhere Bluetooth voice remote, the low profile of the Steaming Stick+ keeps your entertainment system looking uncluttered. Pay a little more and get the best.
The Roku Ultra has become the odd man out of the Roku family. At $99.99, it’s one of the most expensive mid-tier streaming devices on the market, and most users will have to ask themselves if its unique features are worth the $50 premium. For the most part, Roku Ultra is the same box the company previously sold. It handles HD, 4K, and HDR with ease. There have, however, been some changes, including the removal of the optical audio output. The Ultra still has its charms, especially if you need a media center, thanks to its USB and microSD ports. By plugging in a hard drive or mircoSD, Roku Ultra can play your personal digital media library from a wide range of supported video and audio formats.
If you’re someone who always loses your remotes, Roku Ultra might be ideal. Roku Ultra’s remote includes a speaker, which can be activated from the Ultra box itself. Just press a button, and your remote will beep until it’s in your hands. Your remote can also now control the volume and power of your TV. While every Roku device gets Private Listening through the Roku app, the Ultra’s remote includes a headphone jack so you can watch in privacy without using your phone. Each Roku Ultra includes a set of Premium JBL headphones to get you started with private listening. Finally, the Ultra is rounded out by an ethernet port. This comes in handy for streaming 4K movies if you don’t have a particularly fast Wi-Fi router.
If there’s one truly killer feature of the Roku Ultra it’s the programmable remote. Beyond the “find my remote” feature, this remote has programmable shortcut buttons, a feature Roku has obscenely not brought to every device. This lets you set the channel buttons on your remote to whatever you want, unlike traditional Roku remotes that come with preset channel options. Those presets can get incredibly annoying, especially when one of them is stuck to a service that’s dead (like PlayStation Vue). Is it enough to justify paying $99 for a streaming player? The answer will depend on your budget and how easily annoyed you are. This is an incredible device, there’s just an equally great less expensive option.
Best channels on Roku
There are countless channels available on Roku, but many of them require additional subscriptions. Heck if you know where to look there’s even adult content. Here are five favorites from across the whole service. If you’d like to explore further you can find the best of the rest here.
Thanks to its $39.99 4K Roku Premiere device, Roku is one of the best devices to take advantage of Disney Plus. The service has an extensive collection of incredible 4K movies and series, from the MCU to the Disney Vault. No one helps you enjoy Ultra HD Disney for less than Roku.
Roku makes enjoying Amazon Prime Video almost easier than Amazon’s own Fire devices. If you’re already a Prime member, you’ll have access to Amazon’s full library of movies, Amazon originals, documentaries on Amazon Prime, 4K Ultra HD movies, and what’s new on Amazon each month.
No matter what flavor of Hulu you pick, from Hulu Live TV, basic streaming, or the Disney Plus/Hulu/ESPN+ bundle, all options offer a wealth of great movies, shows, documentaries, anime, and the must-see Hulu originals. Hulu Live TV is also a popular way of watching live TV online.
When you’re living cheap Crackle is your best friend. This free service offers a host of great ad-supported movies and TV shows that rotate every month. While the ad-breaks can sometimes get a little annoying you can’t beat the free price. Make sure to check out their original content like Get Shorty as well.
Live TV streaming on Roku
Sling TV packages start at just $30 per month, setting this a le cart streaming TV service apart from the pack in the streaming TV wars. Offering flexible packages of channels that make sure you won’t pay through the nose to get your favorites, Sling TV is one of the best deals around.
Recently, YouTube TV raised its price to $64.99 per month, so the fact that we’re still recommending it should tell you how good it is. This 85+ channel package includes ESPN, Comedy Central, and the big three news networks waiting for you, along with a host of your favorites. But the killer features is its unlimited cloud DVR for up to six users, letting big TV-loving families each save their favorite shows without hassle. You’ll pay a lot for YouTube TV, but you’ll see the value.
Living in the middle of Sling TV and YouTube TV’s pricing is Hulu Live TV. For $54.99 per month, this package offers 60+ channels, including the big three news networks, ESPN, A&E, and more. Along with live TV, users also get access to the basic streaming Hulu package. That means Hulu technically has the largest on-demand library of any streaming TV service. $54.99 is still a lot of money, but if you look at it as two services in one, that will soften the blow.
How Roku stacks up against the competition
Amazon Fire TV Stick vs. Roku
If you just want a basic streaming device, Roku Express is your best bet. At $29.99, it handles HD, comes with a great remote, and can be controlled with the Roku app. However, if you’re intrigued by the idea of voice controls, Amazon comes on top. At $39.99, Amazon Fire Stick is the biggest competition Roku Stick has at the moment. Amazon’s streaming stick works the same as Roku’s but comes with an Alexa voice remote that allows you to pull up content without needing to search for it. When it comes to 4K, however, Roku has a slight advantage. While Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K and Roku’s Streaming Stick+ each cost $49.99, Roku’s 4K Premiere is just $39.99, though it doesn’t come with a voice remote. However, Roku offers more streaming channels than Amazon does. These are both incredible streaming plateforms, but Roku squeeks out the advantage. .
Chromecast vs. Roku
In the battle of Roku and Google’s Chromecast, Roku is undefeated. A Chromecast starts at $35 while offering the same features as the $29.99 Roku Express. Actually, that’s not accurate, since the Chromecast doesn’t come with a remote. Chromecast’s 4K option, the Ultra, costs the same as a Roku Streaming Stick+ and, again, it doesn’t come with a remote. At any price point, there are better options than the Chromecast.
Apple TV vs. Roku
Apple TV and Roku have both recently gone through hardware updates, with the Roku being the clear winner for all but the most ardent Apple disciples. The base-level Apple TV will set you back $149 but finally brings 4K to the device. The problem is you can get a 4K Roku starting at $39.99, with the top of the line Roku Ultra still being $50 cheaper at $99.99. If you get the Streaming Stick+, that’s an $100 difference just for a 4K picture before considering how many more streaming channels Roku offers.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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