With the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video, more and more people are cutting the cord and choosing streaming devices over traditional cable TV. Two of the most popular streaming platforms are Android TV and Roku. But with so many options and features to consider, choosing the right streaming device for your needs can be tricky.
In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll compare Android TV vs Roku to help you decide which is the better choice for you. We‘ll look at the history of each platform, breakdown how they work, compare designs and hardware, content offerings, special features, drawbacks, and more. Let‘s dive in!
History and Overview of Android TV and Roku
Before we compare features, let‘s first take a quick look at the background of each streaming platform.
Android TV launched in 2014 as a successor to Google TV, Google‘s previous attempt at smart TV software. Built on the Android operating system, Android TV aimed to integrate the familiar Android ecosystem into the television experience.
One of the key selling points of Android TV was its ability to turn any TV with an HDMI port into a smart TV. Android TV set-top boxes and streaming sticks like the Nvidia Shield TV allowed users to access Android TV software and features on existing "dumb" TVs.
Beyond set-top boxes, Android TV is also built directly into certain smart TVs like Sony Bravia models. So Android TV provides flexibility as both standalone streaming hardware and integrated smart TV software.
Over the years, Android TV has offered features like Google Cast for easy media playback from mobile devices, Google Assistant integration for voice controls, and access to the Google Play Store for apps and games.
Founded in 2002, Roku is one of the early pioneers of dedicated streaming devices. The first Roku player launched in 2008, offering users access to top streaming services like Amazon Video and Netflix, consolidated in one simple interface.
With its easy setup and broad content selection, Roku helped kickstart the cord-cutting revolution, offering users an affordable alternative to expensive cable packages. Roku‘s streaming players attach to TVs via an HDMI port, while Roku smart TVs have Roku software built directly into the television.
A key part of Roku‘s success is its content-agnostic platform. While some competitors favor their own content (like Amazon Fire TV and Prime Video), Roku takes a more neutral approach. Roku offers thousands of streaming channels and is compatible with virtually all major streaming services.
Over the years, Roku has continued enhancing its platform with new features like advanced voice control, 4K streaming, and wireless audio. As one of the longest-standing brands in streaming, Roku has maintained a reputation for simple, intuitive design.
Android TV vs Roku: Design and Hardware
Now that we‘ve covered a brief background, let‘s compare the designs and hardware options of Android TV and Roku devices.
Android TV Hardware
The core Android TV experience starts with standalone streaming boxes and sticks. Top Android TV hardware includes:
Nvidia Shield TV – High-end Android TV box with advanced gaming features and AI upscaling.
TiVo Stream 4K – Android TV and DVR combo device. Records and streams in 4K.
Xiaomi Mi Box – Budget-friendly Android TV streaming stick.
Sony Bravia TVs – Select Sony smart TVs run Android TV software.
Android TV devices utilize Google‘s Android operating system. So you‘ll find similar interfaces and features across different hardware options.
Key hardware specs like 4K resolution, HDR support, and Dolby technologies provide an enhanced viewing experience. Some Android TV devices like the Shield TV also support next-gen graphics with AI upscaling.
With Google Assistant built-in, Android TV devices also work with Google Home and other smart home devices. Overall, Android TV offers great flexibility across price points and capability levels.
Roku‘s streaming lineup includes:
Roku Express – Affordable and compact HD streaming.
Roku Streaming Stick – Midrange stick good for most users. Streams in 4K.
Roku Ultra – Top of the line player with 4K/HDR, wireless audio, and Ethernet port.
Roku Smart TVs – Roku OS built into budget-friendly smart TVs.
Like Android TV devices, Roku streamers are powered by a proprietary operating system (Roku OS). This creates a consistent experience across different hardware.
While Android TV caters more to techies, Roku maintains a simple, intuitive interface even on premium models. Roku streamers are also designed to be compact and work seamlessly with your existing TV setup.
Roku TVs integrate streaming directly into the television. With easy WiFi setup and automatic software updates, they make cutting the cord simple. Picture quality on Roku TVs is very good for the price.
One downside is Roku still lacks support for next-gen upgrades like Dolby Vision on some devices. But for most mainstream users, Roku hardware offers good performance for an affordable price.
Design and Hardware Comparison
Set-top boxes vs. streaming sticks – Android TV is available in both compact stick form factors like the Xiaomi Mi Box as well as more advanced set-top boxes like Nvidia Shield TV. Roku offers both streaming sticks and set-top boxes as well.
Premium features – Hardware like the Nvidia Shield TV gives Android TV an edge for premium video formats and gaming performance. Roku‘s top models can‘t quite match this level of capability.
Smart TV integration – Both platforms come built into smart TVs from select manufacturers, providing convenience and smarter capabilities right out of the box.
Voice assistant support – Android TV devices work seamlessly with Google Assistant. Roku devices also support voice commands but have less robust smart home integration.
Price range – Both platforms offer streamers at a wide range of price points. Android TV spans from $50 for the Mi Box to $200 for the Nvidia Shield. Roku devices range from $25 for the Express HD to $100 for the Ultra.
Overall, Android TV devices edge out Roku in premium hardware capabilities. But Roku streamers provide very solid performance for more budget-friendly prices. Android TV offers more flexibility while Roku prioritizes simplicity and affordability.
Android TV vs Roku: User Interface
A streaming device‘s software and user interface can make or break the experience. Let‘s see how Android TV and Roku OS compare.
Android TV UI
As an Android-powered platform, Android TV offers an interface many smartphone users will find familiar. The home screen displays app icons in a vertical list with options like:
- Search bar
- App shortcuts
- Recommended movies/shows
- Inputs like HDMI
You can customize the home screen by rearranging apps and adding favourite apps to the top row. The interface relies heavily on the Play Store for discovering and downloading new apps and games.
Settings are accessible through a sidebar menu that slides in from the right. You can manage settings for WiFi, display, apps, remotes, and accounts. Voice commands through the Google Assistant are also built-in.
Overall, Android TV provides a modern, image-driven UI tailored towards the big screen. Those familiar with Android smartphones and Chromecast will feel right at home.
Roku‘s interface is designed specifically for simplicity and ease of use. The home screen displays a horizontal ribbon of options like:
- My Channels for streaming services
- Movies and shows organized by genre
- A Roku Channel‘s shortcut
Everything is designed with large text and icons ideal for controlling from the couch. Options are kept minimal to avoid clutter and confusion.
Setting up streaming channels is straightforward – you simply search for the app you want and log in to your accounts. Customization options are limited compared to Android TV though.
Voice commands via Roku remotes are also seamlessly integrated. And Roku streamers receive frequent software updates to refine the interface and fix bugs.
Ease of use – Roku‘s simplified UI gives it the edge for usability, especially for less tech-savvy users. Options are kept to a minimum to avoid confusion.
Customization – Android TV offers much more personalization of the home screen. Roku streamers have limited customization options.
App discovery – Finding new apps is easy on Android TV thanks to the Google Play Store. Roku relies on its own more limited channel store.
Responsiveness – Some users report Android TV can suffer from lag at times. Roku streamers offer reliably snappy response.
Updates – Roku OS sees more frequent interface refinements and updates compared to Android TV.
For most mainstream users who just want an intuitive streaming portal, Roku‘s simplified interface is hard to beat. But Android TV offers better app discoverability and personalization options for power users.
Content and Apps on Android TV and Roku
Access to your favorite streaming apps is a top priority when choosing a streaming device. Here‘s how Android TV and Roku compare when it comes to content.
Android TV Apps
The Google Play Store gives Android TV access to thousands of entertainment apps, including all the major streaming services:
- Amazon Prime Video
- HBO Max
Supported live TV streaming services like YouTube TV, Sling TV, and more are also available. Android TVs essentially provide access to all the same apps and games you‘d find on an Android phone or tablet.
You can download apps from the Play Store directly on your Android TV device. Apps are neatly organized into categories like Sports, Live TV, and Games.
One downside is some streaming services like Peacock are still missing from Android TV devices. But Android TV provides access to most of today‘s top streaming platforms.
Roku Channel Store
Roku‘s channel store connects users to over 10,000 streaming channels including:
- Amazon Prime Video
- HBO Max
- Apple TV+
- Sling TV
virtually any streaming service you could want is available as a Roku channel. And Roku offers infinite scroll browsing of its channel store broken down into useful genres.
Roku has a more extensive collection of niche channels compared to Android TV, like fitness, cooking, and international programming. However, you won‘t find the same selection of games and apps as the Play Store.
Content and Apps Comparison
Mainstream apps – Both platforms offer every major streaming service. Only a few smaller services are missing on either platform.
Channel surfing – Roku makes discovering new niche channels easier thanks to its extensive channel store.
Games – Android TV offers the Google Play Store‘s entire catalog of mobile games. Roku has no real games catalog.
App flexibility – Android TV mirrors the flexibility of the Play Store, offering many productivity and utility apps.
For most users, the streaming selection will be very similar between Android TV and Roku. Android TV gets the edge for gaming, while Roku wins for channel surfing. But both provide access to 99% of the same mainstream content.
Special Features and Capabilities
Beyond just streaming, today‘s set-top boxes include advanced features that can enhance the experience. Let‘s look at some of the unique capabilities of Android TV and Roku.
Android TV Features
Chromecast built-in – Mirror your Android or iOS device‘s screen directly to your TV.
Google Assistant voice control – Use natural voice commands to search for content, adjust settings, and control smart home devices.
Gaming – With Bluetooth controller support and Play Store games, Android TV is great for casual gaming.
Smart home control – Control lights, locks, and other Google Assistant-compatible devices right from Android TV interface.
Google Photos and calendar – View your Google Photos library and calendar directly on your television.
Play Next queue – Automatically queues up next episodes or keeps your video playlist ready.
Roku Search – Search across thousands of channels, browsers, and apps all in one place.
Private Listening – Plug headphones into your remote to listen without disturbing others. Works on mobile app too.
Roku Zones – Get easy access to free, ad-supported movies via The Roku Channel.
Roku Smart Home – Control lights, locks and other smart devices with Roku remotes.
Apple AirPlay – Stream or mirror content directly from Apple devices to your Roku.
Roku Mobile App – Use your iOS or Android device as a Roku remote or private listening device.
Gaming – With support for Bluetooth controllers and Google Play games, Android TV is the better choice for casually gaming on the TV.
Smart home control – Android TV‘s integration with Google Assistant gives it more robust voice control for smart devices.
Audio – Private listening makes Roku better for listening to streaming content without disturbing others.
Screen mirroring – Android TV‘s built-in Chromecast gives it an edge for screen mirroring from phones and tablets.
Mobile apps – Roku wins when it comes to remote control apps, offering advanced second screen functionality.
Both platforms now support most expected streaming features. But Android TV excels at gaming and screen casting, while Roku wins for private listening and remote apps.
Drawbacks and Limitations
No platform is perfect. Let‘s look at some of the downsides of each option.
Android TV Drawbacks
Cluttered interface – Too many options on home screen can overwhelm some users.
Occasional lag – Less reliable performance compared to Roku streamers.
Fewer audio options – Lacks private listening and other advanced audio features Roku offers.
Advertisements – Home screen recommendations and ads turn some users off.
No web browser – No way to access websites or video sites directly on your Roku.
Limited voice control – Voice features aren‘t as advanced as Google Assistant on Android TV.
No gaming support – You can‘t download or play games on Roku devices.
Carriage disputes – Occasional loss of channels due to conflicts between Roku and content providers.
Performance – While less of an issue today, some users still experience occasional lag or glitches on Android TV. Roku offers better stability.
Advertisements – Android TV recommendations and ads annoy some users. Roku has lighter ad integration.
Gaming and apps – Lack of games and smart home control limits Roku‘s capabilities compared to Android TV.
Carriage conflicts – Roku has historically had more public disputes with content providers, occasionally losing service.
Depending on your priorities, each platform‘s limitations may be more or less tolerable. Performance and stability issues plague Android TV more often, while Roku is more restrictive overall.
Android TV vs Roku: Which Should You Choose?
With our detailed comparison complete, should you choose Android TV or Roku for your streaming needs? Here are some quick tips:
For the most premium hardware and best gaming experience, choose Android TV.
If you want the simplest interface with rock-solid performance, choose Roku.
For extensive mobile device integration, including casting and remote apps, go with Roku.
For tighter smart home integration with Google Assistant choose Android TV.
If your budget is under $100, Roku likely offers the best value.
For the widest access to apps for productivity beyond just streaming, Android TV is better.
There are great options on both platforms at a variety of prices. Consider which features and capabilities are most important for your needs. Both Android TV and Roku also offer search functions across all the top streaming channels, easy setup, and frequent software updates.
While historically Roku led on usability and stability, Android TV has closed the gap considerably in recent years. For most mainstream users, it‘s hard to go wrong either way. But hopefully breaking down this full comparison helps steer you towards the best streaming device for your home entertainment needs.