Apple TV vs. Roku

Discover the best streaming choice for yourself

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 them to find out.

Apple TV 4K vs Roku Premiere

Overall Findings

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

  • Offers full featured apps for finding and playing content.

  • Comes with a stylish remote with voice search.

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

  • Offers full featured apps for finding and playing content.

  • Comes with a clunkier remote with voice search.

Both Apple TV and Roku have 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 your HD-capable TV through an available HDMI port. Even the least expensive Roku model will stream video at 1080p, but Apple TV 4K and Roku Premiere are both champs at delivering the eye-defying clarity of 4K video.

Both Roku and Apple TV offer full-featured apps for finding and playing content, opening 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 just as easy to use as Roku's chunkier, plastic one.

So far, the two are pretty 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 to your Apple TV and Roku content is a drag. Happily, both platforms support HDMI’s CEC protocol, meaning when you start playing a movie or show, the device sends a signal to a compatible TV/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
  • Apple TV's buttery-smooth set-up experience.

  • No HDMI cable included in the box seems like an odd omission for an otherwise premium experience.

  • Has a few more steps to go through, including logging into various channels.

When it comes to setup, Apple TV delivers an experience that's as close to "automagic" as any of us are likely to experience in our lifetime. Connect the power cord and an HDMI cord—oddly not included in Apple's tiny white box—then touch your iTunes-connected iPhone to the Apple TV. WiFi settings and Apple ID are both handed off to the new unit. Boom. Done. Further, Apple's TV app handles logging into many of the individual content providers with a single sign-in once configured.

Roku has a few more steps to go through, including network connections, setting up a Roku Store account, and individual log-ins for your various channels. Its on-screen help makes this a pretty straightforward process, but because it involves more button presses, we have to give this one to Apple TV.

In a highly unscientific timed set-up of both units, Apple TV had an episode of American Horror Story up and playing in 15 minutes, while it took the Roku 20 minutes to get from box to broadcast.

Availability and Price: Roku Offers A Lot More Options

Apple TV
  • Standard HD version with 32 GB for $149.

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

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

  •  Hundreds of smart TVs have Roku built in.

  • Works with Android devices.

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

You also have more choices when buying a Roku. In addition to seven different Roku set-top box models, you can choose one of literally hundreds of smart TVs with Roku built in. If you travel frequently, Roku's Streaming Stick is so compact and competitively priced you may be tempted to pick one up on sale and toss it in your suitcase. Meanwhile, traveling with an Apple TV is rather 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, Roku's really the only game in town. While there are apps available on the Google Play store offering workarounds to controlling an Apple TV with your Android device, none of them will feel as intuitive as Apple's native remote and TV apps. Roku also allows screen mirroring, making it simple to stream whatever's on your Android phone or tablet to the big screen. Apple TV and your iPhone/iPad will connect via Airplay, but trying to get your iPhone's 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
  • Approximately 2,000+ channels and apps.

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

  • Available channels feel more "polished."

  • More than 8,700 apps and channels available.

  • Many interesting Roku channels have just a few shows or videos, and appears as though the developers have abandoned them. Call it channel rot.

  • Roku's channel icons are square, displaying in a 3X3 grid. You can only see nine tiles at a time, which means a lot of scrolling.

There's no shortage of content on Roku. With more than 8,700 channels and apps available, you will find something to watch.

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

Apple's stricter requirements for developers means the Apple TV's channels feel more polished than many of those offered by Roku. Many Roku channels were apparently posted, populated with an initial load of content, then abandoned by their developers. Which is too bad, because there are some real gems in the Roku Channel store offering classics, public domain cartoons, obscure Indian cinema, and more. So, while most users will be satisfied with the variety of programs on either platform, give this one to Roku based on sheer numbers.

Total Media Solution: 'Everything Everywhere'

Apple TV
  • Once you're signed in, all 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 Apple TV's mantra. iTunes users, and anyone else who's gone 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 Roku's channels and apps is simple thanks to an included remote or the smartphone app. But because Roku is meant to be a video streamer first, the built-in media player feels unfinished, and sort of tacked on as an afterthought. That Roku has to connect to either a USB thumb drive or networked storage to access your media ends up being an inelegant way to manage your music, keep track of playlists, and the like.

Voice Control: Your Connected Home

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

  • Can be connected to Alexa, Google Home Mini, Google Home, or 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 Apple's HomeHub, saying, "Hey Siri, play Maniac on the Bedroom TV" launches your Apple TV's Netflix app, and the Emma Stone/Jonah Hill mindfreak starts playing wherever you left off.

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

But what gives Apple the edge here is Apple TV's integration with Homekit. If Cupertino's connectivity suite already handles lighting, cameras, outlets, and other home automation systems, you'll find connecting an Apple TV with the rest of your home automation setup 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 ever learn to play nicely together, the Apple TV could become the one box to own.