You have probably heard friends, family or co-workers talk about a little box they’ve hooked up to their TV that has transformed their television viewing experience and habits. It had a funny sounding name. Was it Ruku? Maybe it was Ruko? How about Rocu? Well, now you know what it’s really called: Roku. So, what is Roku? Keep reading to find out.
Note: If you’re still interested in the 2015 Roku models, go here: Roku 2015 Models.
In a nutshell, the answer to the question of “what is Roku” (pronounced “roh koo”) is that it is a digital media player that allows you to stream Internet-based video and audio content directly to your television. With some models you can also play games, like Angry Birds. There are over 2700 channels (and counting) for you to discover, containing hundreds of thousands video and audio choices. Here are some additional Roku facts:
- There is no monthly fee just to own a Roku. Certain channels, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, require subscriptions, but plenty of other channels such as Pandora, are free.
- Roku is very easy to connect to the Internet using your wireless/Wi-Fi home network. No computer is required to use it. It works on virtually any TV and setup takes just minutes.
- Roku is easy to use. The remote control and menu selection is very straightforward to operate, making navigation quick and simple.
- Roku adds fresh content and features all the time. So there is always something new to explore.
- Roku devices are small (you can hold it in the palm of your hand) and fits easily with your other entertainment equipment.
Which Roku model is best for you?
Now that I’ve answered some of the what is Roku question, the next question is, which Roku model is best for you? To begin with, all models share the following standard features:
- More than 3500 channels are available (with more always being added)
- Built-in wireless/Wi-Fi connectivity
- Plays 1080p HD video
Beyond these standard features each model varies — including models with 4K streaming. To help you pick the best model for you, here is a chart showing what each model has to offer.
What do you need before installing Roku?
Here is what Roku says they require:
- Television (preferably HD)
- Wireless router
- High-speed connection to the Internet. Minimum requirements are 1.2 Mbps (Megabits per second), but 5 Mbps for 1080p HD quality video
What can you watch and listen to with a Roku?
Many of the channels Roku offers are free, but some require a subscription. Perhaps the most popular subscription-based Roku channel is Netflix. My family uses this lot. As a Netflix subscriber you can view thousands of hours of TV shows and movies — all on demand and ready to watch when you want to view them. If you already subscribe to Netflix’s DVD mail service and would like to watch streaming content as well, you will need to make sure your plan includes unlimited streaming. Most content is available in HD.
Another popular subscription-based service is Amazon Prime Instant Video, which is available to Amazon Prime members. It doesn’t have quite the video library that Netflix has (so far), but it is still very good. Even for Prime members, some TV shows and movies cost extra money (most are just $1.99). But if there is a movie not available on Netflix streaming and it’s on Amazon Prime, this is still a more economical and convenient option than cable on-demand or Red Box type rentals.
There is plenty of free content, too. YouTube is now available on Roku right on your TV. Crackle offers free, uncut and unedited movies and TV shows. Pandora offers free customized music stations. If you have a computer or a smart phone you might have used Pandora before. With Roku you can use your TV as a radio. Connecting your TV to an entertainment system makes Pandora even better.
I’ve covered just the tip of the Roku channel iceberg. Below is a partial list of the types of channels you can get through Roku:
- Movies & TV: Hulu Plus, Vudu, BlockBuster, HBO Go, Netflix
- Games: Angry Birds, Video Poker, You Don’t Know Jack (available on certain models)
- Music: Pandora, Amazon Cloud Player, TuneIn radio, Spotify
- Sports: MLB.TV, UFCTV, CBSSports.com, NHL Gamecenter
- Kids & Family: Disney, PBS Kids, Angry Birds Toons
- News & Weather: Weather Underground, Fox News, NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live
- Science & Tech: TED Talks, CNET, NASA TV
- Photos & Video: Facebook Photos and Video, Shutterfly, Picasa, YouTube
- Fitness & Outdoors: All Fitness TV, DailyBurn, BowHunting.com
What is Roku? Unlimited entertainment possibilities.
Are you still asking yourself what is Roku? If so, let’s move on to the models I personally own and my recommendations. I own two Roku models:
1) I own an older model, the Roku 2 XS. I got this model a few years ago because I needed an extra device in another room. I also got it because it comes with an Ethernet port, which helps me because the Wi-Fi signal in my house isn’t the best. Unfortunately, I don’t have Ethernet cable wired throughout the house, which is the case for many people. To help bridge the gap between Wi-Fi and Ethernet I found a brilliant product that has worked great: WD Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit. It delivers high-speed content directly through your home’s electrical outlets just like Ethernet cable does. It literally took me five minutes to set up. I highly recommend it and you can learn more about it on my Roku Accessories page.
2) I currently own the Roku 3 for my main television. It has all the features of the older Roku 2 XS, but with the latest technology. We absolutely love our Roku 3.
Now let’s look at each of the Roku models starting with the top of the line Roku 4 and moving down the product line.
Roku Ultra: Fully loaded 4K streamer — The best Roku player ever?
The Roku Ultra is the newest high end model, including the ability to stream 4k Ultra HD video streaming sources, plus HDR content. It also has has all the features a streaming device can have, including the Ethernet port I described earlier. The dual-band Wi-Fi connection offers better wireless connectivity. It also has a much faster Quad-core processor, which helps when navigating the Roku’s menus and loading content. As shown in the chart above, it also has a headphone jack for private listening. This is a useful feature if you have a Roku in your bedroom and you want to watch something without disturbing your significant other.
The Roku Ultra also has a built-in USB port, which allows you to watch videos, view pictures or listen to music — all from your personal USB device. This is a nice feature to have, especially if friends or family come over. For example, if you want to share pictures from a trip, instead of crowding around a small computer screen, you can connect your USB device directly to your Roku and everyone can see the pictures on your TV.
If you don’t want to plug in directly to the USB port, you can cast your photos, video and other media directly from your compatible smartphone or tablet by using the Roku’s mirroring technology. This is a great feature that we use all the time to show personal photos and video on my phone.
The Roku Ultra also allows you to play motion control games, like Angry Birds. The other models do allow you to play simpler games, however, like Video Poker or You Don’t Know Jack. It also has the instant replay function on its remote control. This allows you to skip back seven seconds instead of only rewinding.
Also, cast directly to your TV Netflix and YouTube videos from your smartphone or tablet. And if you can’t find your remote in your house because your kids (or significant other) stuffed it in the couch, there is a handy remote finder feature and digital optical audio output for pure, high-quality sound.
If you want to take advantage of all Roku features the Roku Ultra is definitely the model for you.
Roku Premiere+: Loaded 4K streamer
The Roku Premiere+ has just about all the features of the Roku Ultra, but doesn’t include the nifty remote finder feature, USB port, or the digital optical audio output.
Roku Premiere: 4k video and private listening
The Roku Premiere has two important features the Roku Premiere+ has: Dual-band Wi-Fi and a headphone jack. It has these features and everything else except the Ethernet port, micro SD port, and HDR support. If those last few features aren’t important then this is the model for you.
Roku Express: 1080p HD made easy
The Roku Express doesn’t have the dual-band Wi-Fi or the headphone jack. However, you still have full 1080p high definition available. Check the price on this one — usually the cheapest of the bunch.
Roku Streaming Stick: A small stick with big entertainment (and a small price)
If you need to save some space, but still want all the entertainment possibilities, then the Roku Streaming Stick is the one for you. This streaming stick is especially handy when traveling away from home because of its tiny size. If you want a cheap way (usually less than $50) to quickly get to over 2700 channels the Roku Streaming Stick will be perfect, especially if you have another room with a TV that doesn’t need all the features.
What accessories do you need?
Go to the Roku Accessories page to learn more about what type of accessories are offered.
Some Final Thoughts
What is Roku? I believe Roku is simply awesome and I hope you do, too. Now that you have learned what a Roku can do and have seen the various Roku models, hopefully I have answered the what is Roku question. You can now go and find the Roku model that meets your needs and is in your price range. I believe the Roku is the best streaming player you can buy and you will be very happy when you get one.
When new models arrive or old ones go away I plan to update this site. If you feel I missed something or need a question answered please feel free to contact me via the Contact page.
Thanks for reading and please check out the rest of my site for more Roku information. If you think the information I’ve provided has been helpful please considering sharing this site with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter or other sites by clicking one of the sharing buttons below.