Apple TV vs. Roku

Discover the best streaming choice for your favorite entertainment

Are you torn between an Apple TV and a Roku? Both are strong digital media players that deliver near-effortless discovery and viewing. But which one is best for you? We compare both players to find out.

Apple TV 4K vs Roku Premiere

Overall Findings

Apple TV
  • Streams video up to 4K to an HD-capable TV through an available HDMI port.

  • Offers full-featured apps that find and play content.

  • Comes with a stylish remote with voice search.

  • Streams video up to 4K to an HD-capable TV through an available HDMI port.

  • Offers full-featured apps that find and play content.

  • Comes with a clunky remote with voice search.

Apple TV and Roku created intuitive user experiences that make it easy for anyone in the house to find something to watch. Both stream video up to 4K to an HD-capable TV through an available HDMI port. The least expensive Roku model streams video at 1080p. Both Apple TV 4K and Roku Premiere are champs at delivering the eye-defying clarity of 4K video.

Roku and Apple TV offer full-featured apps that find and play content. These apps open your TV to a universe of free and premium programming, movies, games, and apps. Plus, both come with remotes featuring voice search. Apple's slender black glass, plastic, and metal remote-as-art-object is as easy to use as Roku's chunkier, plastic one.

So far, the two are evenly matched. But as you look closer, differences soon begin to emerge that put one ahead of the other.

Switching inputs with your TV remote to get Apple TV and Roku content is a drag. Both platforms support the HDMI CEC protocol. So, when you start a movie or show, the device sends a signal to a compatible TV or monitor to power on and switch inputs to the correct source. Make sure your display is set up to handle HDMI-CEC commands.

Out-Of-The-Box Experience: Smooth Setup

Apple TV
  • Has a smooth setup experience.

  • Doesn't include an HDMI cable in the box, which seems like an odd omission for a premium experience.

  • Has more steps to go through, including logging in to various channels.

When it comes to setup, Apple TV delivers an experience that's close to automatic. Connect the power cord and an HDMI cord—which isn't included in the box—then touch your iTunes-connected iPhone to the Apple TV. Wi-Fi settings and the Apple ID are then handed off to the new unit. Further, the Apple TV app logs in to many content providers with a single sign-in once it's configured.

Roku has a few more steps to go through, including network connections, setting up a Roku Store account, and individual logins for channels. Its onscreen help makes this a straightforward process. However, because it involves more button presses, we have to give this one to Apple TV.

In an unscientific timed setup of both units, Apple TV had an episode of American Horror Story up and playing in 15 minutes. It took the Roku 20 minutes to get from the box to broadcast.

Availability and Price: Roku Offers More Options

Apple TV
  • The standard HD version with 32 GB is $149.

  • Apple TV 4K comes in 32 GB or 64 GB versions for $179 and $199.

  • About seven models ranging in price from $30 to $100.

  •  Hundreds of smart TVs have Roku.

  • Works with Android devices.

You'll pay a premium for the convenience of Apple TV. The standard Apple TV model comes with 32 GB of storage and retails for $149. The 4K version comes with either 32 GB or 64 GB and costs $179 and $199, respectively. Meanwhile, the most expensive Roku set-top box, the Roku Ultra, retails for $99, but it's frequently on sale.

You also have more choices when buying a Roku. In addition to seven Roku set-top box models, you can choose from hundreds of smart TVs that include Roku. If you travel frequently, the Roku Streaming Stick is compact and competitively priced. Meanwhile, traveling with an Apple TV is cumbersome.

If you carry a lot of content on your Android device, or if you want to control what you watch with your Android phone, choose Roku. There are apps on the Google Play store that offer workarounds to control an Apple TV with an Android device. However, none of these feel as intuitive as Apple's own remote and TV apps.

Roku also allows screen mirroring, which makes it simple to stream what's on your Android phone or tablet to the big screen. Apple TV and your iPhone or iPad connect through Airplay. Getting iPhone content to play on a Roku requires a third-party app that might deliver less-than-awesome results.

Channels and Apps: Thousands of Viewing Options

Apple TV
  • Has approximately 2,000+ channels and apps.

  • The Apple TV 5X4 grid puts 20 channels on a single screen and is a better use of space.

  • The available channels feel more polished.

  • More than 8,700 apps and channels are available.

  • Many interesting Roku channels have a few shows or videos and appear as though the developers abandoned them.

  • The Roku channel icons are square and display in a 3X3 grid. Only nine tiles appear at a time, which means lots of scrolling.

There's no shortage of content on Roku. With more than 8,700 channels and apps available, there's something for everyone to watch.

Apple TV has fewer channels and apps (approximately 2,000 based on a quick scan of the Apple TV App Store). All the big names are present (Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video) along with the major broadcast networks and premium channels.

Apple's stricter requirements for developers mean that Apple TV channels feel more polished than many offered by Roku. Many Roku channels were posted, populated with content, then abandoned by the developers. This is too bad because there are some gems in the Roku Channel Store that offer classics, public domain cartoons, obscure Indian cinema, and more. So, while most users will be satisfied with the programs on either platform, we give this one to Roku based on sheer numbers.

Total Media Solution: Everything Everywhere

Apple TV
  • After you sign in, your music, movies, and programs are accessible through your Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.

  • Roku's handling of music and image files with the built-in media player feels clunky.

"Everything everywhere" seems to be the Apple TV mantra. iTunes users, and anyone who's all-in on the Apple ecosystem, will appreciate the seamless integration between TV and Apple devices. Music, photos, movies, and television shows are available on all the screens, all the time. The compact set-top box is controlled by either an app or the slender remote that ships with every unit.

Meanwhile, navigation through the Roku channels and apps is simple with the included remote or smartphone app. But because Roku is meant to be a video streamer, the built-in media player feels unfinished and tacked on as an afterthought. Roku connects to either a USB thumb drive or networked storage to access your media. This is an inelegant way to manage music, keep track of playlists, and the like.

Voice Control: Your Connected Home

Apple TV
  • Integration with Homekit controls lighting, cameras, outlets, and other smart home automation systems.

  • Connects to Alexa, Google Home Mini, Google Home, and Google Home Hub.

Chalk this one up to Apple's "everything just works" ecosystem. Whether you use the Apple TV remote, the app on your iPhone, Siri on your MacBook, or the Apple HomeHub, saying, "Hey Siri, play Maniac on the bedroom TV" launches the Apple TV Netflix app, and the Emma Stone and Jonah Hill mindfreak plays where you left off.

Meanwhile, Roku can be connected to a Google Home Mini, Google Home, or Google Home Hub, and the same instruction will get the show rolling. Ditto for Alexa and Roku.

What gives Apple the edge here is the Apple TV integration with Homekit. The Apple connectivity suite handles lighting, cameras, outlets, and other home automation systems. Connecting an Apple TV with your home automation setup is simple and straightforward.

Final Verdict: Apple TV Is Hard to Beat

For its hard-to-beat combination of easy connection, native smartphone apps, polished user interface, and seamless connection between streaming and owned content, the Apple TV wins. And if Apple and Android learn to play nicely together, the Apple TV could become the box to own.

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