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What is Roku and How Does it Work?


Roku is a pioneer when it comes to streaming digital content on your TV. It makes a range of streaming devices that allow a user to conveniently watch TV. Roku is one of the most cost-effective ways to watch TV without needing a cable connection.

How Does Roku Work?

All you need is the internet and a Roku device to start watching your content. Roku devices work on your TV using the HDMI port and an internet connection.

All you have to do is:

  1. Plugin the Roku device to the HDMI port on your TV.
  2. Connect it to the internet using either a wired connection or Spectrum WiFi (based on the device you have).
  3. Set up an account on Roku for free.

Voila! This is how to use Roku and start watching your favorite content.

Easy as pie, right?

Roku gives you access to tons of free as well as premium content with an easy to use interface. Just sit back and instantly start streaming just about anything from movies to TV shows and news to music. All without going through the trouble of downloading it.

Roku services come with either a standard IR remote or an enhanced remote (that you can point anywhere) along with additional features like TV power and volume buttons, headphone jack for private listening, voice search support, remote finder, and gaming buttons.

Which Roku to Buy?

Roku devices are in their 7th generation launched in September 2018 and provide the following 8 options for you to choose from.

Products Video Outputs Video Resolutions Network USB
MicroSD Slot Remote
Roku Express HDMI 720p & 1080p Wireless No No IR
Roku Express + HDMI & A/V cable composite 480i, 720p & 1080p Wireless No No IR
Roku Streaming Stick HDMI 720p & 1080p Wireless No No WiFi Direct, Voice Search
Streaming Stick +
HDMI 720p, 1080p & 4k Wireless No No WiFi Direct, Voice Search
Roku Premiere HDMI 720p, 1080p & 4k Wireless No No IR
Roku Premiere + HDMI 720p, 1080p & 4k Wireless No No IR, WiFi Direct, Voice Search
HDMI 720p, 1080p & 4k Wireless & Ethernet Yes Yes IR, WiFi Direct, Voice Search
Roku TV HDMI 720p, 1080p & 4k Wireless

(Ethernet in selected models)
Yes No Selected Models

Buying the right Roku device depends a lot on what TV you have.

If you have a traditional CRT TV, then the only device you should be interested in is the Roku Express +. It is the only one that can connect to a TV through an A/V cable. If you upgrade later to a 1080p HD LED TV, the same device is usable through the HDMI output. So you won’t have to buy a new device when you change your TV.

If you have a common 1080p HD LED TV, then the Roku Express or the Roku streaming stick is your go-to option. The Roku Express is a much cheaper option than the Roku Streaming Stick. However, there is a difference in remote functionality between the two. Also, the streaming stick can connect to dual-band WiFi. This means it gets stronger WiFi signals. These are the only two differences between the two, other than the voice search remote that comes with the Roku Streaming Stick.

Read also: How to fix “Can’t Find Network on Roku” Error?

If you have a 4K UHD TV, you want to get the Roku Streaming Stick + or Roku Ultra. Roku Ultra can directly plug-in to your internet via an Ethernet connection. It also supports microSD cards. The Roku Ultra also has game buttons that you can use to play games on your TV. However, serious gamers prefer console controllers anyway so the game buttons are not a serious feature. The Streaming Stick + is much cheaper and has most of the functions of the Roku Ultra. Other than the microSD support and Ethernet connection there is only one major difference, which is in the remote.

What is a Roku Stick?

The Roku Stick is a device about the size of a regular pen drive. Unlike a pen drive, though, it plugs into an available HDMI port on your TV or home theater system. It comes with a built-in WiFi receiver to connect to the WiFi network in your home. It uses the WiFi network to stream content onto your TV via the HDMI port.

What is Roku TV?

Roku TVs are Smart TVs manufactured by well-known TV manufacturers. The Roku TV is essentially a Smart TV with Roku already installed as firmware. This means you do not require a separate device if you already have a Roku TV. Some popular Roku TVs are manufactured by:

  • TCL
  • Hisense
  • Hitachi
  • Insignia
  • Sharp

Depending on what TV you choose, you can find a Roku TV that supports 720p, 1080p, HD and 4K formats. It’s an all-in-one solution for the 21st Century cord-cutter.

Roku TV App: Streaming Made Easy

The Roku TV app is a great companion when it comes to streaming content on your TV. The app lets you use your smartphone as a second TV remote. You also get a lot more functionality for your Roku player. For instance, you can search for content easily using your smartphone’s keyboard.

You can also use the private listening feature. Insert headphones into your phone and listen at whatever volume you want. The app has a built-in entertainment guide that comes in handy when you’re unsure of what to watch. You can even view photo and video content that’s on your phone on your TV.

What Channels Can I Get with Roku?

Roku offers thousands of free channel options along with many popular subscription-based premium channels.

Some of the best free Roku channels are:

  • YouTube
  • Pluto TV
  • Crackle
  • Popcornflix
  • Twitch

Last year, the company released its own The Roku Channel, which offers tons of free TV shows and movies.

The most popular premium channels that Roku owners subscribe to are:

  • Netflix
  • HBO Now
  • Prime Video

Does Roku Offer Live Channels?

On-demand streaming is awesome, no doubt about it. But there is still a case to be made for live TV. It’s just not going out of style. Here’s how you can watch live TV on your Roku device:

  • Get an Over-The-Air (OTA) TV antenna for live local channels. You may need to get additional hardware for this, though. Luckily you can easily find an OTA at your local electronics store.
  • If you are a cable subscriber, you can access a wide variety of cable content on your Roku streaming device.
  • Also plenty of live TV options are available on various Roku streaming channels.

Here are some of your best options when you’re using a Roku streaming device.

  • Sling TV
  • PlayStation Vue
  • Hulu
  • ESPN
  • NFL Sunday Ticket

How to Add Channels to Roku?

Adding channels or apps to your Roku is just as simple as adding an app to a typical smartphone. Simply go to the Roku channel store, select the channels and add.

Please note that some channel options will require a monthly subscription while others can be added for free.

How much is Roku a Month?

Roku is one of the most cost-effective ways to stream content. Roku streaming players start at $29.99 and require no monthly equipment charges. There are also no monthly subscription fees for free channels.

Channels like Netflix, Hulu, and Sky Store will require you to pay a monthly subscription fee.

What Internet Speed Do I Need for Roku?

Roku works well with most broadband services offered in America. A download speed of around 10Mbps is sufficient to give you a great streaming experience. However, you need to know that streaming uses up data, so you should be aware of any data caps on your internet plan.

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