Roku is a line of digital media players produced by American company Roku Inc, that streams media (movies, music, and even shows) from the internet to your TV.
Roku media streaming devices incorporate an OS (operating system) that allows users to manage and access internet streaming content.
The line was launched in May 2008 with its first model. The first Roku model, the Roku DVP N1000, was developed in collaboration with Netflix.
The Roku series has been considered significant in the overall market for digital media players. It is helping to spread the concept of low-cost, small form factor set-top boxes designed for over-the-top media consumption.
Roku requires less setup and connects to the internet the same way our PC does. Roku offers an affordable and practical way to expand internet streaming options or add internet streaming to the home theatre viewing experience and TV.
Roku streaming media players have always concentrated on providing an easy way to stream audio and video content on our TV. Whether it is YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or hundreds of other services, a Roku device lets us watch them all.
Also, it gives viewers access to a great variety of specialized “channels” that stream everything else from the spiritual to the strange.
Is it software, or is it a device?
Roku is both a device and software. Roku sells its own hardware, the Roku players, that run from $29.99/$39.82 on the low-end (Roku Express) to $79.99/$103.55 on the high-end (Roku Ultra) with several models in between.
Also, it sells stick-style players called “Roku Streaming Stick” that can be plugged directly into your TV.
The Roku players can be used on any Television with an HDMI connection, but they’re especially useful for folks who don’t own a smart Television with its own internet connection.
Each Roku player comes with a Roku remote, an easy-to-use device that lets you control the playback of streaming media and navigate the Roku on-screen menus.
Currently, there are three types of Roku devices available:
- Roku Streaming Stick: Roku Streaming Stick is a compact device that is a little bit larger than a USB flash drive. Instead of plugging the streaming stick into a USB port, you plug it into an available HDMI input in your home theatre receiver or TV. In addition, the Roku Streaming Stick has a built-in Wi-Fi for connection to a broadband router.
- Roku TV: This is a complete solution that does not require the streaming stick to access internet streaming content or the connection of an external box as the Roku OS (operating system) is already built into the Television. The TV connects our broadband router either via an Ethernet connection or Wi-Fi.
Television brands that offer Roku TVs in their product lines include TCL, Insignia, Hisense, Hitachi, and Sharp. Roku TVs come in several screens sizes, 1080p and 720p, and 4K Ultra HD versions are available.
- Roku Box: The Roku Box is a standalone box that connects to the internet via your broadband router using either Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection. A Roku Box can connect directly to a home theatre receiver, or through your Television, via HDMI (like a Blu-ray player or DVD).
The Roku OS (operating system) has been built-in to two budget-friendly “smart” soundbars from Onn (Walmart’s exclusive brand) and one from Roku. These speakers combine a soundbar and a Roku player into one convenient package. Thanks to Roku’s wireless speakers and subwoofers, the combination of the two speakers can be expanded into full wireless surround systems.
Roku also licenses its Roku OS (operating system), which it uses on its players, to third-parties, including Television manufacturers like RCA, TCL, Hisense, and Toshiba.
These Roku-powered TVs are known as Roku TVs. Well, depending on the TV model, they pack the entire Roku experience and also have control over the TV’s dedicated functions like channels, inputs, and volume into Roku’s simple interface.
How much is a Roku?
Buying a Roku device depends on which model you want and whether you would like features such as 4K streaming.
- The Roku Express for HD streaming is $29.99.
- The Roku Premiere for 4K streaming is $39.99.
- The Roku Streaming Stick+ with 4K streaming, voice control, and an improved range is $49.99.
Features of Roku
Once we get a Roku device up and running, here are some great convenience features that we can take advantage of.
- TV Everywhere Single Sign-On: If you are using a Roku Device in combination with satellite or cable service, this feature will help reduce the constant need to log into TV Everywhere channels all the time. TV Everywhere Single-On (TVE) allows us to store up to 30 channel sign-on.
- Voice Search: Roku’s on-screen menu is simple and easy to navigate using the buttons on the remote control. However, if we are using the Roku Mobile App or a Roku device that includes a voice-enabled remote control, we can use voice search to find content. We can search for content by directors, actors, program or movie title, or launch streaming channels in natural language.
- 4K Spotlight Channel: If you are a user of either a Roku box, 4K-enabled streaming stick, or TV, there is a special on-screen menu option on your device that makes it easy to find 4k content. We can search for these 4K content via categories, such as genre.
The 4K Spotlight channel will only appear when a 4K-enabled streaming box or stick detects that it is connected to a compatible 4K Ultra HD TV.
The 4K-enabled Roku TVs already have the 4K spotlight channel built into it.
- The Roku Channel: However, although Roku serves as an entryway to thousands of internet streaming channels and services. It also offers free TV shows and movies along with live sports and news on its own Roku Channel without the user having to log in. In addition, free content on Roku does contain limited commercials. The Roku Channel contains access to paid content from Starz, HBO, and other select services as well.
Additional Features For Roku TV Owners With Antennas
For someone using a Roku TV, he or she will be able to access TV programs using a connected antenna; the same thing applies to streaming content.
In addition, Roku provides some added benefits specifically for Roku TVs.
- Roku Search For Over-The-Air Content: As a user of Roku TV, we can search for streaming content (up to 450 channel apps), and also search through over-the-air content. If we find a program listed on both, we can just simply choose one to watch.
- Smart Guide: The Smart Guide feature combines both streaming channel app listings with over-the-air TV channel listings for a more seamless navigation experience. We can also list our favourites, and for streaming content, it allows us to resume playback from a specific point or play from the beginning. We can also display broadcast TV listings up to 14-days in advance.
- Voice Control For Roku TVs: There are a lot of functions on Roku, which include launching apps and searching etc. In addition, we can use Roku TV voice control to switch TV inputs and tune to a local broadcast channel. Also, if we do not have a voice control remote, we can use a compatible mobile phone to perform all the voice control tasks.
- Fast TV Start: We can use the voice control function to turn on the TV, launch a streaming channel app, or go to a specific over-the-air TV channel. In other words, with our TV turned off, we can give a command such as “Tune to CBS” or “Launch Netflix,” and the TV will turn on and go directly to that app or channel.
- Private Listening For Roku TVs: Users can listen to antenna-received or streaming programs via earphones. The earphones might be plugged into a compatible smartphone or either connected to a headphone jack-equipped Roku remote control.
- Optional Roku TV Wireless Speakers: If we want to get a better sound for our Roku TV, we can connect it to a home theatre audio system or a sound bar. In addition, Roku also offers up their own wireless speaker system specifically made to pair with Roku TVs.
The Roku Mobile App
Roku provides a mobile app for Android and iOS devices that allows more flexibility.
The Roku mobile application provides Voice Search, as well as duplicating various menu categories that are already part of the main Roku TV on-screen menu system. This will allow us to control Roku devices directly from our phones.
For Roku TVs, the mobile application can also control both TV functions and internet streaming, such as OTA channel scanning, input selection, and both audio and picture settings.
We can use our Tablet or smartphone to send photos and videos from our phone to a Roku streaming stick, box, and see them on our TV or directly from our phone to a Roku TV.
Another unique advantage is that we can use our smartphone’s earphones for private listening of the content that we are accessing on our Roku device.
Roku Apps and Channels
All Roku products provide their users access to up to 4,400+ channels depending on the location of the internet streaming content.
The channels on it range from popular services, such as Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, iHeartRadio, Vudu, Hulu, Pandora to niche channels such as Euronews, Twit.tv, Crunchyroll, and lots more.
Furthermore, major networks like NBC also have their own apps now, i.e., NBC’s Roku app allows us to live-stream major sporting events such as the Olympics.
Nevertheless, not all internet streaming channels on Roku Products are free; there are also many that require pay-per-view or additional subscription fees to access the content.
Furthermore, on the internet streaming channels, Roku also provides additional apps that allow users to access music, video, and still image content stored on PCs.
The additional apps can also access music, video, and still image content stored on media servers that may also be connected to our home network.
For a complete channel and app listing, you can check out the Roku What’s On Page. Beyond streaming, on most Roku boxes as well as select Roku TVs, the ability to play back music, video, and still image files stored on USB flash drives may be provided.
Setting Up A Roku Device
Once we get a Roku Device, to get it up and running is an easy task. Let’s follow these steps:
- Connect the Streaming Stick or Roku Box to your TV, or turn on your Roku TV.
- Select our preferred language.
- Establish wireless or wired network access. If you are using Wi-Fi, the device will search for available networks, then choose yours and enter the Wi-Fi password.
- Then, enter a code number to activate the Roku product. Use your Laptop, Smartphone, PC, or Tablet to go to Roku.com/Link. Enter the code as instructed.
- Then create a user, address information, and password, and also a PayPal account number or credit card. Roku doesn’t charge users that are using its products, but payment information is requested to make it easy and quick to pay additional subscription fees or make content rental payments, purchases if needed.
- If we have a Roku TV, additional items, such as cable TV connection and channel scanning or verification of an antenna, will be included in the setup procedure.
At the end of the setup process, the Roku Home Menu will appear and enable us to access the device operation and channels/apps selection.