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? Well, now you know what it’s really called: Roku. So, what is Roku? Keep reading to find out.
The Roku 3 pictured above is listed on Amazon as the #1 Best Seller in TV and Video Products. It has a 4.3 overall rating and over 2000 reviews.
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 1000 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 me?
Now that I’ve answered some of the what is Roku question, the next question is, which Roku model is best for me? To begin with, all models share the following standard features:
- More than 1000 channels are available (with more always being added)
- Built-in wireless/Wi-Fi connectivity
- Plays 720p HD video
Beyond these standard features each model varies. To help you pick the best model for you, here is a chart showing what each model has to offer.
|Ethernet, USB, microSD ports|
* Please click on the Roku models above to get the latest reviews and ratings from Amazon.
For more information, including model specifications and details, please visit my Roku Models page.
What do I 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 HD quality video
What can I 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. 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
- 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
- Fitness & Outdoors: All Fitness TV, DailyBurn, BowHunting.com
What is Roku? Unlimited entertainment possibilities.
What do you own and recommend?
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) The first model I own is the Roku XD, which I bought in 2011. We have really enjoyed it. The Roku XD still works great but has been discontinued and has now been replaced by the Roku 2 XD, and therefore isn’t listed in the chart above.
2) I recently bought the Roku 2 XS. I got this newer model 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.
It appears the Roku 2 XS is beginning to be phased out and to be replaced by the Roku 3. However it is still available on Amazon for about $25 less than the Roku 3. If the Roku 2 XS hadn’t been available I would have bought the Roku 3.
Now let’s look at each of the Roku models starting with the top of the line Roku 3 and moving down the product line.
Roku 3: Fully loaded
The Roku 3 is the newest high end model. It has similar features to the Roku 2 XS, including the Ethernet port I described above. The dual-band Wi-Fi connection offers better wireless connectivity. It also has a faster processor, which I’ve read 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 3 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.
The Roku 3 is the only models that allow 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.
If you want to take advantage of all Roku features the Roku 3 is definitely the model for you.
Roku 2: Full HD video and private listening
The Roku 2 has two important features the Roku 3 has: Dual-band Wi-Fi and a headphone jack. It has these features and everything else except the Ethernet port and motion control remote for games. If those last two features aren’t important this is the model for you.
Roku 1: Full HD made easy
The Roku 1 doesn’t have the dual-band Wi-Fi or the headphone jack. However, you still have full 1080p high definition available.
Roku LT: The best value for the money
If you don’t want all the features the higher end models have, but want a good deal, the Roku LT model is for you. Sure, it only has 720p HD video (which still look great) and you can’t listen in private. But, if you want a cheap way (usually less than $50) to quickly get to over 1000 channels the Roku LT will be perfect, especially if you have another room with a TV that doesn’t need all the features.
What about the older models?
While the 2013 models are being introduced the older Roku models will probably still be available for a while. You might find some good deals, which I think the Roku 2 XS is if you can find it. Here are those models that are being discontinued.
|Reviews*||1589 reviews||1930 reviews||3049 reviews|
|1000 channels (and counting)|
|Ethernet & USB ports|
What accessories do I need?
Go to the Roku Accessories page to learn more about what type of accessories are offered.
What about Roku’s competition?
While I believe Roku is the best and most popular streaming media player out there, there are a few other digital media streaming boxes that compete against the Roku. I’m not going to go into detail about those here, but below are links to these devices so you can research further if you wish. I will be dedicating a page to these other devices soon.
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.
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