If you’re looking for a Roku review from someone that’s actually used it, buckle up: here’s my take after two years as a reluctant convert.
What Is a Roku?
Short version: it’s the magic box that connects your TV to Netflix.
The Roku brand offers a variety of “roku” devices you can attach to your TV. Some look like boxes, others more like USB drives (these are called “streaming sticks”). Overall, Roku has one of the most popular collections of streaming devices on the market. I’ll review them all in more detail below.
Roku Pros and Cons
Can the Roku replace your cable TV? Here are the pros and cons:
- Multiple models available at affordable prices.
- Access to hundreds of different channels and streaming services.
- Unique technology such as a voice remote that allows you a convenient way to find and watch content.
- Support for 4K programming with select models, giving Roku owners some of the best image quality around.
- Much less expensive overall than a traditional cable bill.
- Limited access to live TV without additional subscriptions.
- The majority of the high-quality channels require a small monthly fee.
- Streaming content requires a stable internet connection with no data caps.
- Limited “screen mirroring” functionality, such as an equivalent to the Google Chromecast ability to project a web browser onto your TV.
Overall, I feel the benefits of the Roku product family outweigh the cons when compared to both traditional Cable and other streaming sticks. While the Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire Stick are viable alternatives, no other lineup has the number of options available with Roku.
Roku Channel Review: What can I watch on Roku?
From their inception in 2008, Roku has grown from a basic streaming device manufacturer to a media powerhouse with hundreds of unique channels.
The majority of these channels are niche products that probably won’t appeal to the average viewer, but you have a lot of control over what content you have on your “home screen.” This includes all the big names in streaming, which appear as “channels” or “apps” on your Roku:
Popular TV Drama Apps
- Amazon Instant Video
- Acorn TV
- HBO Go and HBO Now
Popular Sports “Channels”
- Xfinity Stream
- Sling TV
- DirecTV Now
It’s important to note that some of these channels, such as ABC and NBC, require a traditional Cable username and password in order to access all of their content.
Still, there are hundreds of options to choose from in order to round out a suite of streaming channels that are right for you.
What Are The Different Kinds of Roku?There are several different varieties of Roku that offer different levels of features and functionality. Here’s a quick rundown:
The Roku Express is the company’s base model, offering an affordable option for streaming your favorite content. With support for HD quality streams and access to hundreds of free channels, it’s an excellent option to cut the cord without breaking the bank. The Express+ is slightly more expensive, but it also offers the ability to turn your older TV into a “smart TV” with connectors for models that don’t have an HDMI port.
The Roku Streaming Stick offers similar functionality to the less expensive Express model, but includes a unique voice controlled remote. Find your favorite shows across multiple services by just telling your remote what you want to watch. The Streaming Stick+, while slightly more expensive, also offers the capability to stream 4K programming — the gold standard in picture quality. Just make sure that you have a TV capable of displaying 4K content, as standard televisions often don’t have this capability.
As Roku’s top-of-the-line model, the Roku Ultra offers the ultimate in streaming convenience. Outfitted with a quad-core processor, this streaming device has a serious amount of power that will keep up flawlessly with 4K content. Additionally, there are several unique features such as the lost remote finder and ability to stream audio through the remote for private listening.
Roku has also partnered with several different manufacturers to build an all-in-one streaming TV. If you’re in the market for a new television and are looking to cut the cord, a Roku Smart TV might be right up your alley. With the streaming capability built right into the television, you won’t have to worry about buying any additional equipment in order to get started with watching your favorite shows.
Roku Review: Streaming on Roku vs Smart TV
As mentioned above, Roku does offer the option to purchase a smart TV that has the streaming functionality built in, but there are some downsides to this model. The most notable issue with a Roku Smart TV is a more clunky interface that can be more difficult to navigate than a regular Roku device.
Additionally, it’s far more difficult to upgrade the TV if a better streaming device comes along. While replacing a traditional Roku is as simple as going out and buying the new version, having to replace an entire television is far more costly and inconvenient.
Roku Smart TVs accomplish their purpose and will provide a comparable experience to the traditional Roku devices, but a less refined user experience and the difficulty to keep up with future technology make them inferior to a traditional HDTV with an external Roku device.
Short version: just get a standalone Roku and pair it with the swaggest HD/4K TV you can afford.
How To Set Up A Roku with your existing TV
If you purchased the Roku Express+ and are trying to convert a traditional TV into a Smart TV, you may need to hook up the television audio and visual cables (usually looking like red, yellow, and white plugs) to the included adapter before plugging the other end into your device.
Roku devices rely on an internet connection in order to stream their content, and once you’ve hooked your Roku up to your television and powered it on, you’ll need to select your WiFi network and enter your password. If you don’t see your Roku on the screen, make sure you’ve selected the right input using your TV’s remote.
After hooking the Roku up to the TV, plugging it in, and connecting to the internet, you’re free to explore the hundreds of channels that Roku has to offer. The home screen may include a number of channels by default, but you can fully customize the setup for easy access by navigating to the channel store.
Once you’ve selected your favorite channels, just use the Roku remote to control the device and get started streaming your favorite content.
Which Rokus Work With Amazon Alexa?Information regarding specific models that Amazon Alexa interfaces with is scarce, but the Alexa Quick Remote Skill FAQ states that the echo dot will be able to recognize any internet-connected Roku device.
In order to control your Roku device with Alexa, simply enable the “Quick Remote” skill in the Alexa app or at alexa.amazon.com. Then, on your mobile device, install the Quick Remote app through Google Play or the Apple App Store. Connect your phone to the same WiFi as the Roku, and select the device you’d like to control with Alexa from the device list.
At this point you should be able to control your Roku using your voice, allowing you to use commands like “start Netflix” or even adjust the volume on your Roku Smart TV. The Quick Remote skill is quite fully featured, although the majority of the commands are related to basic TV operation. If you’d like more advanced functionality such as the ability to search for movies by a specific actor or genre, you’ll need to opt for a model with a voice remote or use the official Roku App.
Which Rokus Have Voice Remotes?
The voice remote is definitely a convenient feature that allows you to operate your device hands-free, even in absence of a smart home hub like the Amazon Echo. As of today’s Roku review, the Roku Streaming Stick / Streaming Stick+ and the Roku Ultra are the only models with a voice remote, but you can also control other Roku devices using your voice by downloading the free Roku App for your mobile device. This allows you to add voice search functionality to any Roku device, allowing you to save money by purchasing a lower-tier model as long as you have your phone handy.
TV Nerd Roku Review Conclusion: Pretty much Any Roku is good enough for watching basic cable.
Overall, a Roku will afford you the option to watch your favorite streaming content in a convenient package flush with cool extra features. From the base model Roku Express to the high-end Roku Ultra, most anyone can have access to quality technology that makes enjoying your favorite shows a breeze.