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Is Roku Worth It? An In-Depth Look at Roku Devices and the Streaming Experience They Offer

Roku streaming players have become synonymous with cord-cutting over the past decade. Their wide variety of affordable set-top boxes and streaming sticks provide easy access to thousands of streaming channels.

But with constant updates to Roku‘s product lineup and a crowded streaming device market featuring the likes of Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Google Chromecast, you may wonder: Is Roku still worth it compared to the competition? Which Roku device is best? And what exactly makes Roku a top choice for cable-cutters in the first place?

Below we‘ll take an in-depth look at those questions and more, including:

  • How Roku works under the hood
  • Latest device specs and features
  • An objective view of Roku‘s pros and cons
  • How the platform makes money
  • Trends in cord-cutting and streaming viewership
  • Recommendations for choosing the right Roku product

We‘ll also offer perspectives on where Roku fits within today‘s various entertainment streaming ecosystems. Let‘s dive in.

Overview: What Exactly is Roku?

For readers unfamiliar, Roku is both a brand of streaming devices as well as the operating system that powers them. The company first launched its initial streaming video player back in 2008, just as streaming started gaining popularity amongst cord cutters.

Roku‘s streaming boxes and sticks connect directly to your TV like cable or satellite receivers. They use your home‘s WiFi network to stream video from internet-based services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, etc. This content then displays on your television via HDMI.

Beyond the physical media players themselves, the Roku OS provides an intuitive software interface for browsing streaming services, organizing favorite channels and searching for specific titles to watch.

Over 14 years later, Roku now offers several product lines spanning a range of budgets and features:

Entry-Level Streamers

  • Roku Express – $29 HD Streaming
  • Roku Express 4K – $39 4K Streaming

Powerhouse Players

  • Roku Streaming Stick 4K – $49 4K/HDR Streaming
  • Roku Streaming Stick+ – $59 4K/HDR/Wireless Streaming
  • Roku Ultra – $99 4K/HDR/Dolby Atmos Surround Sound Streaming

Specialty Products

  • Roku Streambar – $129 Integrated 4K Streaming & Soundbar
  • Roku Wireless Speakers – $149 Home Theater Speakers, Pair with Roku TVs

Next let‘s break down Roku‘s capabilities in more detail across these product lines. We‘ll focus on the entry-level to mid-range models most suitable for average consumers.

Roku Hardware & Performance Breakdown

While easy to setup and use for novices, Roku devices offer advanced underlying hardware allowing them to keep pace with the latest AV standards and streaming technology improvements.

Here‘s an overview of the performance capabilities packed into Roku‘s most popular streamer models:

Roku Model Comparison Table

Video Quality

Pretty much all current Roku devices support sharp 4K streaming, minus the cheapest $29 Express which tops out at 1080p HD. The Streaming Stick, Streaming Stick+ and Ultra also render high dynamic range (HDR) content in vivid colors and contrast on compatible TVs. Additionally, the Ultra supports premium Dolby Vision HDR.

Audio Quality

Higher-end Roku streamers like the Ultra feature enhanced audio decoders supporting advanced surround sound formats like Dolby Atmos for dimensional sound effects placement and quality audio output.

Wireless Performance

While all Roku devices work over WiFi, pricier models integrate faster wireless radios and external wireless amplifiers to maintain stronger, more reliable connections—especially helpful if your WiFi router is in another room far from your TV.

Power and Ports

Mid-range to high-end Roku streamers draw power directly from a TV‘s USB port for concealed, cable-free installation. Only the cheapest Express model requires plugging into an AC outlet for power. In terms of wired connectivity, all current devices connect via HDMI only.


Faster processors built into premium Roku models allow snappier launching of streaming channels versus cheaper options which can lag a bit. These chips also enable better wireless performance.

Now that you understand the hardware capabilities behind Roku devices, let‘s explore the streaming software and user experience they deliver.

Inside Roku‘s Streaming Platform

Many strengths of Roku come down to software optimization as much as hardware engineering. Roku OS pieces together an intuitive smart TV interface centered around discovering, watching and managing streaming content.

Some key features and capabilities provided through the Roku user experience include:

Streaming Channel Store – Roku‘s channel store neatly organizes free and paid streaming apps in categories making it easy to find top services or discover new ones.

Automatic Account Linking – Linking existing streaming accounts like Netflix is simple. Roku automatically detects provider accounts associated with login emails making setup nearly instant.

Cross-Channel Search – Roku‘s universal search scans movie/TV show titles across both free channels and paid streaming subscriptions rather than needing to check each individually.

Customizable Home Screen – Tailor your home screen with favorite streaming channels and shortcuts to individual shows for quick access rather than default menus.

Roku Software Screenshots

Private Listening – Higher-end Roku remotes feature headphone jacks for private listening without disturbing others. Wireless headphones also pair to models like the Roku Ultra.

Smart Home Integration – Voice control-enabled Roku devices sync with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for hands-free searching, playback control and TV power functions via associated smart speakers.

Automatic Software Updates – The Roku interface updates in the background without any effort by users to fix bugs, patch security flaws and improve performance.

Next let‘s explore why Roku makes for such a strong smart streaming platform and TV upgrade.

Key Benefits of Roku Devices and Software

Roku emphasises simple software on affordable hardware – a combo making it easy for casual viewers to cut cable TV. Based on Roku‘s stance within today‘s home entertainment landscape, we‘ve identified four core advantages attracting users to the platform:

1. Massive Content Library & Neutral Platform

Unlike streaming devices from tech giants like Amazon and Apple, Roku doesn‘t push any one streaming video provider over another. Their channel store grants equal visibility to thousands of services.

Roku also takes an unbiased approach to content search delivering results across streaming platforms. This content-first neutrality puts viewer experience front and center.

Conversely the Apple TV narrows its focus to pushing Apple TV+ programming and iTunes video store rentals/purchases. Amazon Fire TV focuses similarly on Prime Video and Amazon content sales.

By contrast according to Roku‘s latest numbers, their platform grants access to over 200 live TV channels, 250,000+ movies and TV episodes spread across thousands of free and paid channels.

That expansive, neutral access proves one major advantage drawing viewers.

2. Intuitive Interface Prioritizing Content Discovery

The Roku home screen and menus make browsing through a sea of content surprisingly manageable thanks to rows of tiles focused around certain providers, categories or personalized recommendations.

Compare that to many laggy and confusing smart TV menu systems – an indication software experience isn‘t a priority for those manufacturers. Roku‘s sole business is delivering streaming content, so that‘s where their device resources focus rather than complex smart home controls or integrated cameras you‘ll never use.

Roku OS also surfaces titles across services and remembers where you left off rather than confining watch history and recommendations within channel-specific siloes. It may seem like subtle design choices, but they better support viewers finding their next favorite show.

3. Hardware Cost Savings

Part of gaining streaming access simply through affordable add-on devices rather than pricier smart TVswith built-in Roku provides another advantage: cost savings.

For instance at the time of writing:

  • A 50" TCL 4-Series TV + Roku Streaming Stick 4K bundle runs around $330 total.
  • Comparatively, a 50" TCL 4-Series TV with integrated Roku software goes for $50+ more at $380.

You spend less overall buying an external streaming solution. Of course integrated Roku TVs provide more seamless software and control. But for shoppers viewing smart capabilities as secondary, attaching an inexpensive Roku player makes sense over paying a premium for Roku-based televisions.

We‘ll analyze this further when making recommendations later. But first, let‘s explore where Roku makes its money.

Roku‘s Business Model and Revenue Sources

Given affordable player pricing, you may wonder how Roku actually profits enough to remain sustainable. Roku generates revenue from several integrated streams:

Hardware Sales – Roku device sales represented around 41% of total 2022 Q3 revenue. Gross margins on players hover in the mid-20% range thanks to cheap manufacturing costs overseas. While hardware tops revenue, actual profits only make up around 33% contributions based on thin margins.

User Growth – Platform revenue comes next at around 33% of total 2022 Q3 revenue. This represents ad sales and cuts of subscription revenues from streaming services. Roku gets paid from providers added through their platform. They earn around $41 per user annually as of Q3 2022. Expanding user count fuels strong YoY revenue growth.

Licensing – TV manufacturer licensing of Roku OS for integration into smart TVs makes up another significant revenue stream at around 26% of the pie as of late 2022. Roku commands one-time licensing fees as well as revenue shares from content sales driven through licensed smart TVs.

Roku has performed well financially by growing revenue streams in tandem. But what about the state of streaming and cord cutting fueling Roku‘s recent success? Let‘s analyze.

Cord Cutting and Streaming Viewership Trends

Roku devices enabled by high-speed internet access facilitated cable TV cancellation by granting access to top shows for less. Roku arrived at just the right time to ride the cord-cutting wave surging over the past decade:

US Cord Cutting Trends Chart

According to eMarketer, 45.1% of US households now live without cable or satellite TV thanks rising over 10 percentage points since 2019. Other analysts peg current cord-cutting rates closer to 31-33%, but all agree the directionally matches the above chart.

Streaming has simultaneously risen to claim the majority of TV watching time across US audiences. According to Nielsen, streaming gobbled up over a quarter of viewers‘ time in 2015 then catapulted to 72.2% by early 2022.

Roku yearly active user count expanded right alongside cord-cutting trends – climbing from around 13 million in 2016 to 65.4 million over just the last 8 reported quarters.

They‘ve clearly established themselves firmly amongst streaming platforms. But how does Roku compare against competitors like Fire TV and Chromecast?

How Roku Compares to Other Streaming Platforms

According to Parks Research, Roku continues holding onto US streaming device market leadership through early 2022:

2022 Q1 US Streaming Device Market Share

  • Roku – 28%
  • Amazon Fire TV – 24%
  • Google Chromecast – 19%
  • Apple TV – 18%

Roku enjoys strong retention rates thanks to their content and hardware value. But competition remains fierce with tech giants leveraging hardware subsidies and streaming loss-leaders.

Let‘s compare Roku pros and cons to alternatives:

Roku vs Fire TV

Roku still edges Amazon devices as more agnostic streamers since Fire TV upsells Prime content. But strong Prime ties appeal to existing Amazon ecosystem users along with boosted smart home integration.

Roku vs Chromecast

Chromecast only mirrors content from phones lacking standalone interface. Roku provides complete streaming environment. But Chromecast pricing can beat low-end Roku deals.

Roku vs Apple TV

Apple TV delivers premium hardware and deeper iOS ties. But pricing multiples over Roku models. Enthusiasts may favor Apple power while bargain hunters lean Roku.

Should You Buy a Roku Device?

We‘ve now covered Roku‘s full product portfolio, feature sets, business model and position amongst streamers. But should you buy one?

Whether purchasing a Roku device makes sense depends mainly on your current TV setup and streaming preferences. Let‘s analyze scenarios determining if Roku presents enough upside.

Already Have a Roku Smart TV?

If you invested in and enjoy your current name brand Roku TV from TCL, Hisense or another partner, then buying a separate Roku player likely won‘t improve much. You already access Roku‘s leading software ecosystem and can add what few missing channels you want directly.

We‘d only suggest adding an external Roku if your integrated smart platform feels sluggish. Models like the latest Ultra player pack more processing power. So for instance if your built-in interface lags, grabbing a $99 Ultra would inject responsiveness.

But otherwise enjoy your Roku television as is!

Own Another Brand‘s Smart TV?

Do you own a smart TV from LG, Sony, Samsung or another brand running proprietary software? Does it feel clunky or lack your preferred streaming apps?

Adding an external Roku device may provide an upgrade if experiencing any limitations like:

  • Missing channels – access to full Roku channel library
  • Laggy performance – snappier responses with dedicated hardware
  • Search only within apps – universal Roku search across all channels

I‘d suggest the Roku Streaming Stick 4K for $49 delivering robust software capabilities at a reasonable price.

Still Clinging to an Old Dumb TV?

For anyone still soldiering on with an aging dumb LCD or plasma TV lacking smart capabilities, Roku devices handily unlock modern streaming access delivering new life at reasonable costs.

The Roku Express 4K model for $39 makes the most sense here providing future-proof 4K/HDR support. Even if only streaming 1080p now, choosing 4K readiness leaves room to upgrade TVs later without replacing streaming hardware.

What If I‘m Considering Cutting Cable TV?

If debating ditching traditional cable, Roku can conveniently fill the streaming gap for an affordable monthly price likely less than your current pay TV bill. You‘ll regain access to many favorite channels through standalone apps from providers like HBO, Showtime and Starz while saving over bloated bundles.

The key is first totaling monthly costs for essential streaming services matching cable content you still watch before cutting over. Live TV streaming additions through apps like YouTube TV or Sling TV also help ease transition.

Overall Roku streaming sticks present the perfect way to test drive cutting cables. Their low prices minimize risk if finding you still need cable content. Buy even a baseline Express returning for $29 ifunsubscribe streaming shortly after.

Final Recommendations on Roku Devices

After breaking down Roku‘s entire streaming product portfolio along with pros, cons and best use cases amongst owners, we recommend:

1. Roku Streaming Stick 4K as the top performing balance of price to performance suitable for most potential streamers. You get full Roku capabilities including snappy menus, expanded wireless range and future-proofed 4K/HDR for only $49.

2. Roku Express 4K if strictly needing to minimize costs while still gaining full smart app access. You sacrifice some speed at $39 but not much else.

Both options leave you set for improving TV picture quality down the road. And provide plenty enough content and features to decisively upgrade over old dumb sets.

We only suggest moving up to the Ultra if needing integrated wireless sound support or wired ethernet. Otherwise mid-range streaming sticks satisfy without overspending.

In summary, while Roku can‘t match proprietary advantages amongst tech giants, its neutral platform, broad app support and affordable hardware render it a top choice for cord cutters. The technology and value Roku brings to consumers will ensure it stays a player in streaming TV futures even amongst fierce competition.