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Roku Review — Streaming Content Devices & Live TV at Home


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roku logo

Our rating

4.5/5

Pros

  • thumbs-upRelatively low cost
  • thumbs-upBasically future-proof
  • thumbs-upGrowing lineup of free original content

Cons

  • thumbs-downRequires another box or a new TV
  • thumbs-downCost of third-party services can add up

In the 40’s and 50’s, Americans began receiving their television signals over the air. In the 70’s and 80’s, cable and satellite companies largely supplanted the broadcast signal.

Today, both over the air digital television and traditional cable and satellite service are past their prime. Streaming content now reigns supreme, with dozens of paid and free providers vying for your time and attention.

Roku is one of the best-known streaming content providers thanks to its extensive array of streaming media devices and an ever-growing streaming channel offering countless episodes of free, premium, and live TV content. Roku also makes smart TVs and audio devices for a truly multisensory home entertainment experience.

Here’s what you need to know about Roku’s digital streaming devices, smart TVs, audio speakers, and content channel.

Roku Channel Availability

Roku Products — Streaming Devices, Smart TVs & Audio

Roku sells three different types of physical content delivery products:

  • Streaming devices, called Roku Players, that plug directly into your TV or connect to it via HDMI cable
  • Smart TVs, which have built-in streaming capabilities
  • Audio devices that connect to your TV wirelessly — some play audio from other devices as well

Roku Streaming Player

The Roku Streaming Player comes in one of two different configurations: a small box that sits near your television or a stick that plugs directly into the TV.

In both cases, it receives a digital transmission from your broadband Internet service, generally via WiFi. That signal is then outputted to your television via HDMI cable or direct connection. Some models are exclusively controlled by small handheld remotes; others have voice remotes as well.

Setup is super easy — just plug in the device and connect it to your TV, then follow the prompts to connect to your home WiFi network. Once you set up the digital video player, you can add and play channels, though of course you’ll need active subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or any other channels you choose to add. You’ll need to log into each channel separately as well and set up users if you haven’t already.

Roku’s streaming player lineup is always changing. Notable models as of mid-2022 include:

  • Roku Express. This base model costs about $30 and is appropriate for standard HD televisions.
  • Roku Express 4K+. This version costs $30 to $40, depending on whether Roku happens to be offering a discount at the time. It’s ideal for 4K and HDR TVs.
  • Roku Streaming Stick 4K and 4K+. These models plug directly into your TV and can support 4K models. The 4K version has a standard remote, while the 4K+ comes with a rechargeable voice remote and some other added features. Expect to pay between $40 and $70 for these devices.
  • Roku Ultra. This top-of-the-line streaming device supports all currently available definitions and boasts the lowest latencies (fastest connection speeds) of any Roku model. It costs about $100, including the rechargeable voice remote.
  • Roku Streambar and Streambar Pro. These combined audio-visual device boast theater-quality sound and picture definition. The Pro version includes some additional audio and connectivity features. Depending on the model, they cost about $130 to $180, including the rechargeable voice remote.
Roku Streaming Devices

Roku Smart TVs

Roku doesn’t manufacture its own TVs, but its technology is built into displays manufactured by some of the biggest names in television:

  • Philips
  • JVC
  • Magnavox
  • RCA
  • Hitachi
  • Sanyo
  • TCL

With a Roku smart TV, you don’t need an external device — just an easy to use traditional or voice remote and your choice of streaming subscriptions. Choose from standard HD, 4K, 8K, HDR, and Dolby picture quality.

What Can you Watch With a Roku Streaming Device or Smart TV?

The better question might be: what can’t you watch with a Roku streaming device or smart TV? Virtually every major streaming service and cable TV alternative is available with Roku, though you’ll of course have to pay those providers’ subscription fees to watch.

Here’s a simpling:

  • Hulu
  • HBO Max
  • Sling TV
  • Philo
  • Fubo TV
  • YouTube TV
  • Paramount+
  • Peacock
  • Spotify
  • PBS and PBS Kids
  • Disney+
Roku Live Tv And Featured

Roku Audio Devices

In addition to the Streambar and Streambar Pro, Roku offers some audio devices that you can use in conjunction with or separately from your Roku home entertainment system. (Most users do the former.)

For about $150, Roku’s wireless speaker set adds theater-like sound quality to your television viewing experience. For an even richer experience, add the Roku wireless subwoofer, which adds thumping bass to the equation.

Roku Channel — What You Can Watch With a Subscription

Roku offers access to hundreds of content channels through its streaming devices. But it also has its own content channel.

That channel is a doozy. Its selection of live TV streams, current TV shows, and serialized rerun content rivals some of the biggest names in the streaming business: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+.

The Roku Channel has a growing stable of original programming too. Individual titles change too often to keep track of here, but suffice to say there’s plenty to like here.

On the live TV side, choose from old-school news channels like NBC News and ABC News, or opt for syndicated hits like Ice Road Truckers and Murder, She Wrote. Or add your favorite premium channels (separate subscription required):

  • Showtime
  • Starz
  • AMC+
  • BET+
  • Cinemax
  • EPIX
Roku Originals

Advantages of Roku

Roku has a lot of clear advantages: a wealth of content delivery devices, a nice lineup of smart TVs, and an ever-expanding content channel of its own.

  • Relatively Low Cost. For under $40, you can attach a basic Roku device to your TV and start streaming. For not much more, you can get a theater-quality experience in the comfort of your own home Even if you end up subscribing to a few paid online channels, you can recoup the costs if you cancel your cable TV or satellite television service.
  • Easy to Set Up and Enjoy. Prior to the introduction of devices like Roku, you had to run some sort of video cable from your computer to your television. You then had to use a keyboard and a mouse to browse programming. The television and the computer could not be used at the same time. However, just about anyone can quickly install Roku, and your computer is unaffected by its use.
  • Convenient Remote Control. Roku offers many advantages over using your computer to stream content, including the handheld and voice remote controls. These controls make it easy to control your programming without ever leaving the couch.
  • Future-Proof. Roku continues to update its software with support for new channels and new features. Whether your Roku player is a decade old or bought last month, it’s likely to be compatible with your home entertainment setup.
  • Growing Stable of Original and Syndicated Content. Roku has invested a lot in original and syndicated content recently, and it shows. The Roku Channel is now up there with Netflix and Hulu (which you can get on your Roku device) in terms of content breadth and depth.

Disadvantages of Roku

Roku isn’t perfect, despite incredible improvements over the past few years. The costs of its devices have steadily crept up, and if you’re not yet ready to replace your TV, you’ll have to pay for a second device to watch your favorite content.

  • Requires Another Box on Older TVs. If you have an older TV, you may already have a DVD player and a cable box or satellite tuner. This is just one more component sitting near your television and one more remote control on your coffee table.
  • Subscription Costs Can Add Up. For the full Roku experience, you need to have more than just the Roku Channel. Which means paying for several monthly streaming service subscriptions — subscriptions whose collective cost can quickly come to surpass your old cable or satellite subscription’s.
Roku Tv Brands

How Roku Stacks Up

One of Roku’s top competitors is Amazon — specifically, the Amazon Fire Stick streaming device line. 


There’s not a lot of daylight between the two, since both enjoy dominant positions in the streaming space. But it’s worth comparing them on the merits.

RokuAmazon Fire Stick
Original Content SelectionVery goodExcellent
Audio QualityExcellent Good
Free Content SelectionExcellentVery good
Entry-Level Device CostUnder $30Under $25

Final Word

Your parents or grandparents probably remember what it was like when “watching TV” meant watching whatever happened to be showing live on a handful of broadcast channels.

Your parents remember what it was like when cable TV first came into its own and they suddenly had dozens, then hundreds of live channels to choose from. You might remember when cable and satellite switched to a hybrid model, blending live TV with on-demand archived content.

Today, you have home entertainment choices beyond your wildest dreams. And while managing the cost of all those streaming subscriptions is a challenge in itself, it’s a lot easier with help from a content delivery ecosystem like Roku.

If you’re late to the party, there’s still time to join and take control of your entertainment experience.

roku logo

Our rating

4.5/5

Pros

  • thumbs-upRelatively low cost
  • thumbs-upBasically future-proof
  • thumbs-upGrowing lineup of free original content

Cons

  • thumbs-downRequires another box or a new TV
  • thumbs-downCost of third-party services can add up
Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Jason has been writing about personal finance, travel, and other topics on blogs across the Internet. When he is not writing, he has a career in information technology and is also a commercially rated pilot. Jason lives in Colorado with his wife and young daughter where he enjoys parenting, cycling, and other extreme sports.

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