Have you ever heard a friend or work colleague mention something about watching a movie or show 8220;on my Roku, 8221; and wondered what they were talking about? If so, you 8217;ve probably got questions. Like what is a Roku? How does Roku work? Do you need a subscription to use it? Is that just a device you buy or is it software? Excellent questions! We 8217;re here to provide you with answers!
Give us a few minutes of your time and we 8217;ll make you a Roku expert 8212; and help you decide if this popular streaming media platform is right for you. Ready? Let 8217;s go!
Roku also licenses its Roku OS (which it uses on its players) to third-parties including TV manufacturers like TCL, RCA, Toshiba, and Hisense. These Roku-powered TVs are known as Roku TVs, and depending on the model, they pack the entire Roku experience, plus control over the TV 8217;s dedicated functions like volume, channels, and inputs into Roku 8217;s simple interface. For a lot of folks, that 8217;s a big reason to buy a Roku TV.
Alongside the paid-content options are tons of completely free sources of content, plus most Roku devices let you access your personal collection of movies, TV shows, photos, and music. Some Roku players, like the Ultra, provide a dedicated USB port so you can plug in an external hard drive and play files from this device directly.
Whether you buy a Roku player, Roku TV, or a Roku-enabled soundbar, the experience will be very similar. All Roku devices need an internet connection. Some devices give you the option of using an Ethernet cable for a hard-wired connection to your modem/router, but all of them will work with Wi-Fi too. Once you get your device set up, including the creation of a free Roku account, you can start using it right away.
The first thing you 8217;ll see after your initial setup is the Roku home screen. This includes a main menu on the left, and a series of large graphic rectangles on the right laid out in an easy-to-read grid pattern. These rectangles, which will include items like Netflix, YouTube, The Roku Channel, and others are known as 8220;channels. 8221; Channels behave just like apps on your smartphone 8212; in fact, they are apps but because Roku is so TV-centric, it calls them channels because you watch them.
To watch a channel, simply use the included remote and navigate to the one you want and press 8220;OK. 8221; The channel will launch, and if it 8217;s a channel that requires a subscription (like Netflix) you 8217;ll be asked to sign in or create a new account. This process usually requires a second device like a smartphone, tablet or PC with a browser, but you only need to do it once.
When you want to watch another channel or get back to the home screen at any time, press the home button on the remote. Selecting and launching channels is the essence of Roku, but there 8217;s way more you can do on a Roku device.
Having access to thousands of channels is a huge benefit to using Roku, but the sheer amount of content can become overwhelming. Thankfully, Roku has a very effective universal search feature that lets you look for content based on the title, actor, or director. You can even search by famous lines of dialog like, 8220;you played it for her, you can play it for me. 8221;
It pulls results from over 500 of the top streaming channels 8212; while some of the more esoteric content may not show up, you 8217;ll still get the most popular content. If you own a Roku TV connected to an over-the-air antenna, you 8217;ll see content matches from available TV stations too.
Matches are sorted by price and icons beside the titles indicate whether it 8217;s a channel, movie, or TV show. Clicking on these search results gives you more information about the item, like a synopsis, cast and crew details, and which channels let you watch it. The best part is being able to see when a given movie or show is included within one of your subscriptions.
Recently, Roku introduced a new feature called Search Zones. These zones which include categories like Kids & Family, Award Winners, and Comedy let you further refine your searches using pre-populated themes.
If your Roku device didn 8217;t come with a voice-capable remote, or it isn 8217;t compatible with Roku 8217;s voice remotes, you can still use your voice via the free Roku app for iOS and Android. We 8217;ve got more on the Roku App and its capabilities below.
If you select a show or movie from a channel that isn 8217;t currently installed on your Roku device, you 8217;ll be prompted to add it. Once added, your content should start streaming right away.
Speaking of free content, one of the best places to find it on Roku is The Roku Channel. Almost an entire streaming experience unto itself, The Roku Channel is a collection of free-to-watch ad-supported shows and movies, which you can enhance by adding optional paid subscription services. Starz, Epix, and Showtime are among the biggest of these premium subscription options, but many more, like the Smithsonian Channel and Stingray Music are available too.
This can be a bit confusing. After all, you can already add the Epix channel to Roku if you 8217;re an Epix subscriber via cable, or the Epix Now channel if you want to sign-up directly, so why would you want one of these subscriptions inside The Roku Channel?
The answer is portability. While dedicated channels added from the Channel Store only work on Roku devices, The Roku Channel is available to watch within the Roku app for iOS and Android, and on the web. It 8217;s a clever way to extend a portion of the Roku experience onto other devices, letting you watch anywhere you go.
Along the lines of hotels and dorm rooms, many people are starting to include access to a Roku device when they rent out their homes via services like Airbnb. But you don 8217;t really want these guests using your streaming accounts, or adding their favorite streaming channels to your device. There are privacy considerations, plus it could mess up your personalized recommendations.
Another clever add-on for Guest Mode is the ability to leave a personalized message for your guests, and remotely end guest sessions on all of your Roku devices via the web.
Curious about some of the Roku devices that are available? We have in-depth reviews of some of the most popular models: