What Roku Is & How to Use It

Expand your TV viewing experience with Roku

Roku TV, Box, and Streaming Stick Examples
Roku TV, Box, and Streaming Stick Examples. Images provided by TCL and Roku

There are a lot of products available that can add internet streaming to your TV viewing and music listening experience, and Roku devices are some of the most popular.

What is a Roku?

A Roku is a device (made by the company Roku) that streams media (shows, movies and even music) from the internet to your TV. The devices require minimal setup and connects to the internet the same way your PC does. Roku media streaming devices incorporate an operating system that allows users to access and manage internet streaming content.

There are three types of Roku devices available:

  • Roku Box — This option is a standalone box that connects to the internet via your broadband router using either Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection. A Roku Box can connect directly to your TV, or through a home theater receiver, via HDMI (like a DVD or Blu-ray player).
  • Roku Streaming Stick — This option is a compact device that is slightly larger than a USB flash drive, but instead of plugging into a USB port, you plug it into an available HDMI input your TV or home theater receiver. The streaming stick has built-in Wi-Fi for connection to a broadband router.
  • Roku TV — Roku TVs are an all-in-one solution that do not require the connection of an external box or stick to access internet streaming content as the Roku operating system is already built into the TV. The TV connects your broadband router either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection. TV brands that offer Roku TVs in their product lines include: Hisense/Sharp, Hitachi, Insignia, and TCL. Roku TVS come in several screens sizes, and 720p, 1080p, and 4K Ultra HD versions are available.

    Channels and Apps Available on the Roku

    All Roku products provide access from up to 4,500 channels (location dependent) of internet streaming content. Channels range from popular services, such as Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Pandora, iHeart Radio, to niche channels such as Twit.tv, Local News Nationwide, Crunchy Roll, Euronews, and lots more.

    However, it is important to point out that although there are many free internet streaming channels, there are also many that require an additional subscription or pay-per-view fees in order to access content. To be clear, you buy the Roku device and you'll maybe still have to pay for things to watch.

    In addition to internet streaming channels, Roku also provides additional apps that allow users to access video, music, and still image content stored on PCs or media servers that may also be connected to your home network.

    For a complete channel and app listing, check out the Roku What's On Page.

    Beyond streaming, on most Roku TVs as well as select Roku boxes, the ability to play back video, music, and still image files stored on USB flash drives may be provided. Note: This capability is not available on the Roku Streaming Stick.

    How to Take Your Roku With You

    You can take your Roku Box or Streaming Stick with you when you travel. When staying in a hotel, someone else's house, or even a dorm room, you'll just need to plug the Roku device into the HDMI port of the TV. If it's not obvious yet, you'll also need access to Wi-Fi.

    Just follow the additional instructions after logging in to your account, and you'll be good to go.

    Don't forget to pack an HDMI or ethernet cable just in case you need one!

    The Roku Mobile App

    If you have a smartphone, Roku also provides a mobile app for iOS and Android devices that allow even more flexibility. The mobile app provides Voice Search, as well as duplicating several menu categories that are a part of the main Roku TV onscreen menu system, allowing you to control Roku devices directly from your phone.

    For Roku TVs, the mobile app also controls both internet streaming and TV functions, such as input selection, OTA channel scanning, and both picture and audio settings.

    You can also use a smartphone or tablet to send videos and photos from the phone to a Roku box, streaming stick, and see them on your TV, or directly from the phone to a Roku TV.

    Another added bonus is that you can use your smartphone's earphones for private listening of the content you are accessing on your Roku device.

    Setting Up A Roku Device

    Once you get a Roku device, the setup procedure is easy:

    • Connect the Roku Box or Streaming Stick to your TV, or turn on your Roku TV.
    • Select your language.
    • Establish wired or wireless network access. If using Wi-Fi, the device will search all available networks - choose yours and enter your Wi-Fi password.
    • Enter a code number to activate the Roku product. Use your PC, Laptop, Tablet, or Smartphone to go to Roku.com/Link. Enter the code as instructed.
    • Create a user, password, and address information, and also a credit card or PayPal Account number. There is no charge for using Roku devices, but payment information is requested to make it quick and easy to make content rental payments, purchases, or pay additional subscription fees, if needed.
    • If you have a Roku TV, additional items, such as verification of any antenna or cable TV connection and channel scanning will be included in the setup procedure.

    At the end of the setup process, the Roku Home Menu will appear and enable you to access the device operation and channels/apps selection.

    Which Roku Option Is Best For You?

    Roku provides several options for adding comprehensive internet streaming to your TV viewing and music listening experience, but which option is right for you?

    Here are some possibilities:

    • If you have a TV with an HDMI connection but it does not have smart features — consider adding a Roku streaming stick or Roku box.
    • If you have an older TV that does not have an HDMI input — Roku makes a limited number of models that will connect to a TV using analog video/audio connections.
    • If you have a Smart TV, but it doesn't offer the streaming channels you want — you can add a Roku streaming stick or Roku box to expand your selection.
    • If you have a 4K Ultra HD TV and it is not a smart TV, or it is a smart TV that does not offer enough streaming channels, consider a Roku Box that supports 4K streaming available from selected apps.
    • If you are in the market for a new 1080p or 4K Ultra HD Smart TV — a Roku TV might be an option to consider.

    Roku products provide a practical and affordable way to add internet streaming, or expand internet streaming options, to the TV and home theater viewing experience.