The way we watch media has changed radically in recent years. Platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer on-demand services that many prefer instead of traditional television subscriptions.
Initially, these services only worked on computers, but devices like the ones provided by Roku can turn any television into a streaming media machine.
It’s time to learn what Roku is and which set-top box or Roku smart TV dongle would be perfect for you.
What Is Roku?
Roku makes digital media players for streaming television, movies, music, and even some games. Roku devices range from small dongles that fit into the back of your television, to set-top boxes.
Some Smart TVs come with Roku software built-in. Regardless of which Roku device you get, they all provide instant access to the biggest on-demand media providers.
What Can I Watch With Roku?
All the major online providers are available through Roku. Netflix, Google Play Video, and various regional options are available, along with many free Roku channels.
Various sports channels are also available, along with music providers like Spotify, Google Music, and smaller online radio stations. You can even add local TV channels to your Roku device.
Notably, you can also access Amazon Prime Video from a Roku device. This is perhaps surprising given that Amazon Fire devices are Roku’s main competitor.
How Does Roku Work?
Roku works via an internet connection. In the same way, you may stream YouTube or Netflix content on your computer or smart-phone, Roku streams to your television.
Roku devices attach to your television via the HDMI port. Once plugged in, select the Roku as a source much like you would a DVD player or set-top box. From there, you’ll be prompted to enter your Wi-Fi details and create a Roku account.
How Much Does Roku Cost?
After the initial cost of a device, Roku is free to watch so long as you only watch the bundled channels. Paid services like Netflix or Amazon Video will require separate subscriptions to watch.
Every user requires a free Roku account. You will, however, be required to provide a credit card or PayPal account to create one. See our Roku getting started guide for an in-depth look at setting up your device.
Is Roku Legal?
Streaming movies and TV has become synonymous with piracy. Roku uses all legal free and paid channels to provide media to you, so legality is not an issue here.
This isn’t to say that Roku users cannot run into some legal issues, however. Alongside the regular channels, there are also private channels users can subscribe too. While many of these are entirely legal, others have been used to broadcast pirated content.
For regular users of Roku, you won’t ever run into legal issues. You can check out our guide to Roku private channels for more details!
The Best Roku Devices to Choose Between
Roku provides different devices for using the service. They come in two form factors:
- Boxes which plug into your TV’s HDMI port via an HDMI cable.
- Dongles which plug straight into your TV’s HDMI port.
They all provide the same number of available channels, come with a remote, and a Roku app for iOS and Android to control them. The devices also works with Alexa and Google Home voice assistants.
While Roku has streamlined its range recently, one of these four devices should suit every need:
- Roku Express
- Roku Streaming Stick+
- Roku Express+
- Roku Ultra
Let’s look at them in more detail.
1. Roku Express
The Roku Express is the cheapest device in the Roku range. A small box houses an infrared receiver for the included remote.
Viewing is limited to 1080p HD, but unless you have a 4K ready television, you won’t notice any difference. The Roku Express is the perfect budget choice.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ attaches directly into your television’s HDMI port. It is priced a little higher than the Express, but this extra money goes a long way. The Streaming Stick+ adds 4k and HDR quality and has built-in voice control.
It also features an improved wireless connection to keep high speeds even when far from the home router.
The Streaming Stick+ is the best all-round device in the Roku range.
The Roku Express+ is now discontinued, but still widely available. It provides all the same features as the Express but also features a composite cable for when no HDMI port is available.
If you have an older television, streaming with the Express+ is your best option!
4. Roku Ultra
Discontinued, though still available online, the Roku Ultra was the flagship device in the range. It is the only Roku device to feature an Ethernet port for wired connections.
If you want to plug your streaming box straight into your router, this is the choice for you.
Is Roku Better Than the Amazon Fire Stick?
It’s likely that if you are considering getting a Roku, you’ll also be aware of the Amazon Fire TV range of devices.
Both offer similar functionality and price, and there is no quick way to compare them. Luckily you can check out our in-depth comparison of the Amazon Fire Stick and Roku to help you make a decision!
Watch What You Want With a Streaming Device
Roku devices turn regular televisions into streaming machines. They add so much that we recommend them instead of Smart TVs, and you can use the money you save to buy the shows you want to watch!
After the initial outlay, a Roku is free to use, with a wide selection of streamed TV channels to choose from. If that isn’t enough, you also have a choice of popular subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video at your fingertips.
All of that said, if you already use your phone or computer for streaming media, compare whether a Roku or a Chromecast might be more suitable for your streaming needs.