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Key Points

  • Roku is a brand of hardware digital media players manufactured by the American company Roku, Inc.
  • The device relies on an Internet signal to access content from multiple streaming platforms. There are Roku devices that plug into the back of the TV, as well as TVs with Roku built-in.
  • You can add channels to your Roku device, such as Disney, Netflix, Hulu, etc.

Roku is a company that makes a line of streaming devices and also owns the platform that the device is run on. In addition, it creates its own content. It started the development of a video player in 2008 with the backing of Netflix. With the advent of streaming services, consumers needed a way to access this new form of content delivery.

Rather than just watching the content on a computer, Roku made a simple device that plugged into a television and offered an app-based approach to streaming. Nearly all of the other streaming devices that came after it, such as FireTV and Apple TV, used a similar approach.

In recent years Roku has seen great success by partnering with manufacturers to use their platform as the basis for smart TVs. They have also done well by creating their own channel that is exclusively available on Roku devices, free of charge.

What Is Roku?

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Roku devices have come a long way since their earliest models.

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Roku is simply a device that is used to stream TV shows and movies. The current lineup of Roku devices is smaller than most remote controls. Although they’re small, they’re extremely powerful devices capable of bringing content to any TV.

The devices rely on an Internet signal to access content from multiple streaming platforms. You can add channels such as Hulu, Disney Plus, and Netflix with an app-based interface. Part of the reason for Roku’s massive success is both its low price point and easy-to-use interface.

Older Generations

Roku Ultra 2020 | Streaming Media Player HD/4K/HDR, Bluetooth Streaming, andRoku Voice Remote with Headphone Jack and Personal Shortcuts, includes Premium HDMI Cable (Renewed)
$58.50
  • Power & Performance: Roku Ultra is our fastest and most powerful player ever; loaded with a new and improved quad-core processor, you’ll enjoy channels that launch in a snap and a responsive...
  • Our best wireless: Enjoy our smoothest TV streaming experience, even in rooms further from your router, now with up to 50% more range—you also have the choice to wire up over Ethernet if you want.
  • Cinematic streaming: The centerpiece of any home theater, experience spectacular color, contrast, and brightness. Plus, hear three-dimensional audio that soars above and around you.
  • Take control of your TV: Use your voice to set personal shortcuts for one-touch control, search across channels, turn captions on, and more with the Roku voice remote—plus, control your TV and enjoy...
  • Lost remote finder: Simply press the button on your streaming device and your Roku remote will play a sound so you can quickly find it.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/26/2023 12:12 am GMT

The original Roku devices released back in 2008 were much different than what we have today. The original streaming box looked more like a cable box than the compact devices they currently offer. Although it looked very different, the concept was still the same, an easy-to-use streaming box for everyone.

The most significant difference in the original Roku devices was that the user interface and remote were very limited. Keep in mind this was the late 2000s, and the internet was not nearly as fast as it is today. Plus, the primary streaming service at the time was Netflix, which was just getting started.

The other difference is that there were a lot of connections compared to newer streaming devices. It had a wide range of connections, such as HDMI, RCA, S-video, composite, optical audio, and ethernet.

The next generations of Roku also kept some of the connections, but they were eventually phased out, leaving the device with just a USB input for power and an HDMI connection.

Roku Express 4K+ | Streaming Media Player HD/4K/HDR with Smooth Wireless Streaming and Roku Voice Remote with TV Controls, Includes Premium HDMI® Cable
$38.27
  • Brilliant 4K picture quality: Stream in HD, 4K, and HDR with sharp resolution and vivid color optimized for your TV
  • Smooth wireless streaming: Now featuring dual-band wireless, enjoy a smooth streaming experience with faster wireless performance, even with multiple devices connected to your network
  • No more juggling remotes: Power up your TV, adjust the volume, mute, and control your Roku device all with one remote
  • Convenient voice control: Use your voice to quickly search across channels, turn captions on, and more in a touch
  • Upgrade to Roku streaming: All of your favorite channels, like HBO Max, Netflix, and Prime Video, are front and center on the customizable home screen, plus your device is always getting better with...
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01/26/2023 12:12 am GMT

Subsequent generations were also a bit confusing as Roku began using a strange combination of letters paired with numbers to differentiate devices. Eventually, this was also dropped in favor of using words such as Express, Premiere, and Ultra. Many of these older devices still work, but some are no longer supported by app streaming platforms such as Netflix.

Newest Line of Devices

Roku Streaming Stick 4K | Streaming Device 4K/HDR/Dolby Vision with Roku Voice Remote and TV Controls
$37.50
  • Hides behind your TV: The all-new design plugs right into your TV with a simple setup
  • Super-fast startup: Start streaming channels like Disney plus, Prime Video, HBO Max, Apple TV plus, Netflix, Sling, and Hulu in a snap—just turn on your TV
  • Long-range Wi-Fi: Enjoy fast, smooth TV streaming in any room with a strong Wi-Fi connection, now up to 2x faster
  • No more juggling remotes: Power up your TV, adjust the volume, and control your Roku Streaming Stick with the Roku remote
  • Voice search & control: Quickly search, play entertainment, and control your streaming device with the voice remote
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01/26/2023 12:12 am GMT

Roku launched the 10th generation of streaming devices in 2021, which included the streaming stick 4K, streaming stick 4K+, ultra Lt, and, a few months later, the Streambar Pro. This marked the return of streaming sticks for Roku, which had disappeared for several years. There’s also the second generation of soundbars, enhanced from the 2020 version.

Roku Streambar | 4K/HD/HDR Streaming Media Player & Premium Audio, All In One, Includes Roku Voice Remote
$125.21
  • Built-in 4K streaming device: Enjoy an easy, fast interface with popular channels and endless free entertainment—stream in brilliant HD, 4K, and HDR picture with sharp resolution and vivid colors...
  • Watch what you love: Stream a massive selection of free, live, and premium TV, including Roku Originals and 300+ live TV channels for free on The Roku Channel
  • Surprisingly big sound: Listen in awe as four internal speakers fill your room with clean, pure sound featuring Dolby Audio—calibrated for boosted volume and crisp dialogue, you’ll love how great...
  • Customizable home screen: Put your favorite channels like Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Prime Video, and more front and center—less scrolling, more streaming
  • Smarter than your average soundbar: Roku Streambar produces sound well beyond its size with the help of advanced audio engineering within the Roku OS—boosted volume and speech clarity will make your...
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01/26/2023 12:12 am GMT

Like previous generations, the 10th remains very affordable and continues the trend of every device having 4K capabilities. Each device gives you access to the exact same content. The only difference is that the higher-end players can provide better video and audio quality.

How Does Roku Work on Other Devices?

While we have already mentioned the soundbar, there are a number of other devices that use the Roku interface. For example, TV and electronics manufacturers such as TCL and Hisense license Roku’s software to put inside their devices.

While the soundbars are actually made and sold as a Roku device, these electronics are badged with the respective brand and advertise that they have Roku built in. The addition of Roku to TVs is great because so many people already use the platform.

By purchasing a TV with Roku built-in, you are essentially saving money. Plus, the interface is very easy to use, even if you have no experience with it. This gives cheaper televisions an edge over high-end brands like Samsung and LG that use proprietary software for their smart features.

How to Use Roku

Using a Roku streaming device or TV is very simple, and everyone can learn how to use it. First, connect your player to a TV via the included HDMI cable. Then connect it to power with the included USB cable and power brick.

On your TV, find the corresponding HDMI input, where you should see a purple screen. Select your language, and a page to connect to the internet appears. Choose your WiFi network and enter the password if required.

Depending on the Roku model, there may be other prompts to detect displays and control your TV. The next thing you need to do is enter your email address. You will then need to complete the setup process by checking your email.

Find the Roku activation message in your email and follow the link. If you have an account, it will ask you to sign in. Otherwise, it will walk you through the process of creating an account that requires entering a payment method.

Roku will then ask some questions about whether or not you have cable and the types of content you typically watch. Once complete, you are ready to start watching. Go back to your TV and select a channel to watch.

The Roku Channel

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The Roku Channel offers free TV, Roku Originals, and more.

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The Roku Channel is where you can access tons of free content. The only catch is that there are commercials. It launched in October 2017 as a free, ad-supported channel that carried content from numerous studios. Most of the content on the Roku channel was rather low quality, but some of it turned out pretty good.

Roku offers content in two ways through the Roku channel. The first is through traditional on-demand means, which is how the majority of other streaming services operate. The other way is that there are a number of actual channels that play content. Much of the content is from big-name networks such as Hallmark and History Channel.

Roku further expanded its channel’s reach by making it available to watch online outside of a Roku device. It also started making its own original content for the Roku Channel. Despite all of these expansions, it remains completely free for Roku device owners to use.

Is a Roku Device Worth it?

Roku devices are very much worth the cost, mainly because they are so affordable. While there are a number of different devices, you probably don’t need one of the more expensive ones, such as the Ultra. They are actually a very affordable way to make all of your TVs smart.

The simplicity of Roku devices means that they are also perfect for the elderly and those who are not great with technology. Plus, the Roku channel and a number of other free channels, such as Tubi and Freevee, mean you never have to pay for content if you don’t want to.

Getting a Roku device is a perfect option for those “cutting the cord” or wanting streaming capabilities on a TV. You may even want to consider getting a Roku TV next time you are in the market. With that said, you probably shouldn’t upgrade your TV just to get Roku integration and should instead opt for one of their streaming devices.

NEXT UP…

How Does Roku Work? Is It Worth It? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can you add Roku to a smart TV?

You can connect a Roku to a smart TV just like you would any other device. However, you cannot replace the smart TV’s operating system with Roku.

Do older Roku devices still work?

Many older Roku devices still work perfectly fine. However, some of the first few generations are no longer supported.

Should I upgrade my Roku device?

It depends; if you have a Roku device that is 4-5 years old or more then it is probably time to upgrade. However, if you aren’t bothered by a lack of features such as 4K and it is still running fine, then keep using it till it stops working.

Does Roku require a credit card to use their device?

Yes, Roku requires all new accounts to attach either a credit/debit card or a Paypal account.

Are Roku devices compatible with all TVs.

No, your TV must have HDMI inputs for the newest Roku devices to be compatible.

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