Roku Explained: Supports Netflix, DirecTV Now, Hulu, Sling TV and More
If you’ve been thinking about cutting the cord or just want to be able to stream Netflix and other apps on your TV, you may have heard about a product called Roku. You also may be wondering “What is a Roku?”
Most of us know Roku as a small black box that allows you to instantly stream your favorite TV shows and movies to your TV, but most are unaware of how much content is really available, and that there is now a Roku TV, Roku Stick and new Roku boxes available. Not only can you stream tens of thousands of movies and TV shows from services like Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, & Amazon Video On Demand (VOD), but you can also stream sports without cable and music from Pandora, iTunes, and MOG.
Roku offers seven types of streaming devices and is widely used by people looking for cost-effective alternatives to Cable Television. Their product suite includes a line of streaming players, a streaming stick, and TVs with built-in Roku streaming technology.
Netflix Instant Streaming on the Roku offers an impressive library of new, classic and obscure movies and television shows. You can also purchase content from Amazon for more current television shows. To learn more read Amazon Video on Demand. And what recently made the Roku the streaming box to beat, was the inclusion of Hulu Plus and its practically bottomless archive of movies and TV shows.
Sports fans were also taken into consideration with the integration of services like MLB.tv, where you can watch out-of-market games live or on demand, and local games shortly after they have ended. The Roku also offers a UFC channel with live and archived fights. Plus there is the Roku Newscaster, which combines into one offering – several different channels like CNN, NBC, ESPN, Fox, NPR and the BBC.
*** To search for a specific channel, try browsing their massive selection of streaming channels.
Roku TV Technical Requirements
With Wi-Fi and the High Definition playback, the Roku Player is probably the easiest way to stream movies and TV shows directly to your TV. To get the most out of your Roku, all you need is a high-speed Internet connection, a TV and most importantly, the Roku Player.
Your Internet connection must at least be 1.5Mbps, but if you’re a big fan of live sports events or high definition movies, it should be at least 3 or 5Mbps. To test the speed of your connection click here (Visualware). Standard AV cables come with the package but if you have an HDTV, it’s highly recommended that you buy an extra HDMI cable.
There used to be only 4 versions of Roku on the market; Roku 1, Roku 2, Roku 3, and the Roku Streaming Stick. But all that has changed, and now they boast a wide line of streaming players and TVs to suit any budget and need.
Let’s take a look at the different Roku models and see what each one has to offer:
Current Roku Product Line
As for which one to purchase, my personal opinion is to buy ahead of the technology, not behind it. What I mean is, yes you can get an older Roku player with fewer features for fairly cheap (more on these later), but it won’t keep up as technology advances and things like 4k streaming become more prevalent.
With that in mind, here are the current Roku products that boast the latest features.
The Roku Express and Express+ devices are entry-level devices that offer an affordable way to add Internet video streaming capability to your TV. The Roku Express and Express+ are both super tiny and super simple to use. They both come preloaded with streaming apps like Netflix and YouTube, meaning you’ll be up and running in no time. Did we mention that the Roku Express and Express+ are some of the cheapest Internet streaming devices on the market, commanding only $29.99 and $35, respectively?
In terms of performance, the Roku Express and Express+ are exactly the same. The biggest difference between the two is how you hook them up to your TV.
- Roku Express: The Roku Express is an incredibly small streaming device that resembles a pack of gum. All you need to do is connect the device to your TV via an HDMI cable and you’re good to go. Connect the device to your Wi-Fi network and you’ll be streaming episodes of Game of Thrones in no time. Be aware that as a budget device it does suffer from slowdown from time to time due to the weaker components, but it is excellent value for money.
- Roku Express+: As we mentioned earlier, the Express+ is exactly the same as the Express in terms of performance. The only difference is that the Express+ can be hooked up to your TV using component cables, making it one of the only streaming devices on the market to do so. If you have an older TV that doesn’t support HDMI, then the Express+ is the way to go.
Roku has unveiled two new devices for 2018, the Premiere and Premiere+. If you have a vague sense of déjà vu right now, you’re not alone. Roku previously used the “Premiere” label for two devices back in 2016 which were the first Roku players to support 4K Ultra High Definition. The new line of “Premiere” devices also support 4K video streaming, however they also support High Dynamic Range or HDR. This means that they are capable of producing more vibrant colors and contrast.
Furthermore, the new line of “Premiere” devices are significantly cheaper than their predecessors, with the Roku Premiere coming in at $39.99 and the Premiere Plus at $49.99. As if that wasn’t enough, the Premiere and Premiere+ are much smaller, making them unobtrusive and less of an eyesore compared to some of their bulkier competitors.
Under the hood, both the Roku Premiere and the Premiere+ use the same Quad-core processor and rely on the 802.11n Wi-Fi protocol for connectivity. Both the Premiere and Premiere+ support 4K and HDR, meaning you’ll be able to stream high-resolution content from providers like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and more. So what’s with the ten dollar price difference? Let’s take a closer look at each device and find out.
- Roku Premiere: While the components of the Premiere and Premiere+ are identical, there are some significant differences. The cheaper $39.99 Roku Premiere comes bundles with an infrared remote. This is problematic due to the fact that infrared can be susceptible to interference. Furthermore, the remote only offers basic functionality. It does not have integrated volume or power buttons, which means you’ll need to keep your TV remote handy to issue basic TV commands. Despite the lackluster remote, there is a lot to like about the Roku Premiere. At $40 it is one of the cheapest ways take full advantage of your 4K HDR TV’s capabilities.
- Roku Premiere +: At $49.99, the Roku Premiere+ is slightly more expensive than the Premiere, but it’s ten dollars well spent. The Premiere+ has a far superior remote control compared to the Premiere. It uses a RF signal to communicate with the Roku box that doesn’t require line-of-sight to operate. This means you can tuck the Roku box somewhere out of sight and still have seamless, uninterrupted control of the Premiere+. In addition, the Premiere+ has voice search capability, which enables you to search for titles, actors and genres much quicker than navigating through the Roku interface by thumbing the directional pad. There is one slight caveat. The Roku Premiere+ is a Wal-Mart exclusive, meaning you’ll only be able to get your hands on one through the big box retailer.
Streaming Stick Line
It’s easy to mix up the Roku Streaming Stick and Streaming Stick+ with the Roku Express and Express+ as they look very similar. Despite their looks, there are some significant differences. First off, the Streaming Stick and Streaming Stick+ are powered by a quad-core processor. This means that they don’t suffer from the same playback issues as the Express and Express+. In addition, the Roku Streaming Stick and Streaming Stick+ both feature a more streamlined form factor. Instead of connecting to your TV via an HDMI cable, the devices feature an integrated HDMI so you can plug them straight into your TV.
- Roku Streaming Stick: The Roku Streaming Stick currently retails for $49.99. In addition to the upgraded hardware, the Streaming Stick is marketed as a portable streaming device, due to the aforementioned integrated HDMI. This eliminates the need for extra cables, meaning you can easily move the device from place to place, so long as you don’t forget the remote! The Roku Streaming Stick also features an upgraded remote with voice search capability as well as power and volume control buttons. Furthermore, it offers 802.11ac wireless connectivity, provided you have an AC router.
- Roku Streaming Stick+: The Roku Streaming Stick+ can be had for $59.99 and is pretty much identical to the Streaming Stick with one major exception, it has 4K Ultra High Definition and High Dynamic Range support. If you absolutely must have the best image quality possible, then you’re going to want to pony up the extra ten bucks for this one.
The Roku Ultra is the most powerful device in the Roku lineup. Of course, with great power comes a heftier price tag. At $99.99 it’s the most expensive Roku device available. As expected, the Roku Ultra supports 4K HDR video streaming, but it also offers a whole slew of bells and whistles not found on cheaper Roku devices.
The Roku Ultra features both a microSD and USB port, allowing for storage expansion and the ability to play files from an external drive. Additionally, the Roku Ultra remote has voice search capability as well as remote finder, which makes the remote easier to find when misplaced. Furthermore, the remote also has a headphone jack that allows users to watch their favorite content without disturbing others. By the way, Roku also chucks in a pair of good quality JBL earbuds in case you don’t already have a pair laying around.
All these extras are great, but the best feature of the Roku Ultra is the Ethernet port. This enables you to hard wire your Roku Ultra to your router. As great as wireless internet is, you can experience frustrating slowdown, like buffering or choppy playback, especially when streaming data heavy 4K video. A wired Internet connection will consistently outperform wireless, so it’s something you definitely want to consider.
You get all your favorite Roku features from the other models as well as a slick new design that allows you to seamlessly switch between your streaming applications, gaming console, and a DVD player. The best part is that it’s a lot cheaper than most televisions on the market. You can get a 50’ 4k Roku TV for only $400 (Amazon Link); which is a ridiculously good deal.
If you’re of the mind to ditch the box altogether and go for a completely integrated experience, then you’ll want to snap up the Roku TV.
Older Roku Product Line
You can still find these used, and they work okay for light streamers in many situations (e.g. you just want to watch Netflix or you want a cheap streaming player for a bedroom TV).
For the penny-pinching cold cutter, these are excellent options to consider.
The smallest and most affordable of the Roku streaming boxes, this little guy will set you back $50. Roku 1 offers the full Roku experience without all of the bells and whistles. There’s no headphone jack for your remote, no USB, Ethernet, or microSD slot. It also lacks dual-band wireless, so your signal may suffer a little if you have a slow connection. Roku 1 sports an IR-based remote control; so if you lose your remote you can easily replace it with a universal remote; and the remote comes with shortcuts to Netflix and Amazon Prime.
One of the biggest advantages to Roku 1 is the fact that it can still hook up to older televisions. While most of the older models could hook up to an analog television; some of the newer models are only compatible with “modern” televisions. You will notice that Roku 1 also uses some of the older version of your favorite apps like Netflix. Although it may seem like a disadvantage, it actually runs faster than some of the newer apps.
All in all Roku 1 is great for people that have an old TV, are on a tight budget, or just don’t simply care about all the extra features.
At $70 Roku 2 is more expensive than Roku 1; but it has some extra features. Roku 2 comes with dual-band wireless as well as a headphone jack. Sadly, other than that there really isn’t too much of a difference between Roku 1 and 2. They both play 1080p high definition, they both have analog jacks for older TVs, and they both lack the USB, Ethernet, and microSD slots that Roku 3 has.
Aside from the dual-band wireless and headphone jack, the only other difference is that Roku 2 actually runs slower than Roku 1. The controls are just sluggish and not as responsive as you would like; which is perplexing considering that it runs older versions of video apps like Roku 1.
If you don’t want to fork out the extra cash for Roku 3, and you really want a headphone jack, then Roku 2 will suit you fine. If you have simple streaming needs, you might want to look at a different Roku model.
Roku 3 is the most expensive of the Roku models, costing around $100. While twice as expensive as Roku 1, it has a lot of cool features that make up for it. You have all the features of Roku 2 but it is way faster and it uses the most recent versions of your favorite apps.
It also has an Ethernet port if your wireless isn’t fast enough, it has a microSD port for extra memory, and it has a USB port that can send pictures, music, and videos to your TV from a connected device like a smartphone. There are also motion controls built into the remote for playing games, but it’s not fleshed out enough to be a real selling point. Roku 3 takes a play out of Google Chromecast’s playbook and lets your cast video directly from your apps to the TV.
Roku 3 is great for the serious cord-cutter interested in using the best cable TV alternatives, and the only real disadvantage is its price. If you’re not into all the bells and whistles, you might not want it; but for everyone else, it’s the best option out there.
Last but not least is the Roku 4. This little rhomboid of a device is touted by the company as their best Roku player ever, and there is a lot to back it up. In addition to all of the features you’ve come to expect from the Roku 3, the Roku 4 can now deliver the highest HD resolution available: 4k.
One of my favorite new features is the remote finder. If you lose your remote, you can press a button on top of the Roku 4 and your missing remote will alert you to where it is. You also now have the ability to search across top channels by using keywords like an actor’s name or movie genre. There’s also a feed option where you can follow certain shows and be updated when new episodes are added.
It’s small things like that that makes the Roku 4 an integrated and enjoyable experience. The one complaint I have heard is that the fan of the player is too loud. This is kind of a bummer, and expect Roku to make adjustments soon, so this no longer an issue. The Roku 4 costs $140.
Roku Secret Menu
Before we begin, you need to know that this is for advanced Roku Users only and that these codes can factory reset your Roku player.
What is Roku?
If you don’t mind a little wait, love small things, and are on a tight budget the Roku Streaming Stick is for you.
If you are trying to choose between Roku’s Streaming Stick and Google’s Chromecast read “Roku Streaming Stick vs Google Chromecast“.
“15-20 % of Roku owners are canceling their cable or satellite services agreement and are relying solely on a broadband connection to get their television programming,” said company VP Jim Funk in this exclusive interview with Beet.TV.
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