Entertainment Technology Explained

Here’s What Roku TV Is and How It Works

Ian Buckley 26-08-2019

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?

The Roku Logo

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?

A small selection of available Roku channels

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 TV plugs into the HDMI port

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 How to Set Up and Use Your Roku Streaming Stick So, you have bought a new Roku Streaming Stick and are wondering what to do next. We're here to help, with the complete guide to setting up your new Roku Streaming Stick. Read More 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 20 Private and Hidden Roku Channels You Should Install Right Now Here's how to add private channels to your Roku, alongside some of the best hidden Roku channels you can install right now. Read More 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:

  1. Roku Express
  2. Roku Streaming Stick+
  3. Roku Express+
  4. Roku Ultra

Let’s look at them in more detail.

1. Roku Express

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.

Roku Express Roku Express Buy Now On Amazon $39.49

2. Roku Streaming Stick+

Roku Streaming Stick+

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.

Roku Streaming Stick+ Roku Streaming Stick+ Buy Now On Amazon $35.00

3. Roku Express+

Roku Express+

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!
Roku Express+ Roku Express+ Buy Now On Amazon $49.99

4. Roku Ultra

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.
Roku Ultra Roku Ultra Buy Now On Amazon $69.95

Is Roku Better Than the Amazon Fire Stick?

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 Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku: Which One Is Better? Amazon Fire Stick or Roku? We compare the two in-depth to help you decide whether to buy the Roku or the Fire Stick. Read More 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 Chromecast vs. Roku: Which One Is Best for You? There are many streaming media devices to choose between. In this article, we compare the heaviest hitters: Chromecast vs Roku. Read More might be more suitable for your streaming needs.

Related topics: Media Streaming, Roku.

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  1. Sailor Jo
    September 1, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks for the comprehensive descriptions.
    May be you can one piece of information (or two). I was just informed by Xfinity that I exceeded my monthly limit of 1024GB. Each additional 50GB will cost me $10, an outrageous price, especially when realizing that I used barely any data in the previous months. At this time I do not know yet where all the consumption came from but I suspect most of it was watching TV.
    So far I was contemplating buying a 4K TV but that would eat even more GB. Could you add some of the basics of 4K and the ramifications of it to your article? Also, could you give some advice on how to prevent or avoid limitations to kick in?
    In South Florida we have a monopoly situation with only two bad operators fleecing the customers.

  2. juju
    August 26, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    I just got the ROKU Ultra a few months ago. Does this mean it’s already obsolete? I also have the bottom line ROKU on another TV. I can’t see a difference.