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What is a Roku TV? What you need to know about TVs with Roku built-in
Smart TVs are ubiquitous these days, and while Roku might be best known for its add-on streamers, quite a number of first- and third-party TVs have its platform built in. Here’s a rundown of what a Roku TV is, and how the tech stacks up against the competition.
What is a Roku TV?
Simply put, a Roku TV is a smart TV with Roku OS baked in — it’s the default interface for everything, whether you’re using streaming apps, watching cable broadcasts, or playing a console game. The company licenses its platform to other manufacturers, some examples being Onn, Sharp, RCA, and Hisense. More recently the company has launched some self-branded models in the form of the Select and Plus.
When you first turn on a Roku TV, you’ll see the standard Roku OS homescreen. From there you can access streaming apps like Netflix and Disney Plus, watch conventional television, switch inputs, and more. You’ll also be able to adjust model-specific settings, and if you have audio gear marked with the Roku TV Ready logo, you can integrate it into your home theater setup.
How is a Roku TV different from a Roku add-on?
For the most part, nothing you wouldn’t expect. It’s much cheaper to buy an add-on Roku streamer, and you can move one around or swap it out at will. That’s why we recommend planning for streaming add-ons regardless of which TV you get.
Roku TVs do have options for inputs and live broadcasts hard-coded into their software, however. Picture and audio settings meanwhile need to be tailored to a TV’s capabilities, since it doesn’t make much sense to have the same options on a vanilla 720p set as you would on a 4K HDR TV with Dolby Atmos.
Roku TVs moreover ship with branded remotes that include power and volume controls. If you buy an add-on streamer, you’ll end up having two separate remotes, although the benefit may be easier channel hopping and input selection.
The difference between Roku TVs and other smart TVs
The obvious answer is Roku OS, but what’s notable in this context is its neutrality. You’re not locked into a single voice assistant or smart home platform, so you can use Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Apple HomeKit. Both Google Cast and Apple AirPlay will work, too.
Likewise, Roku doesn’t force you to buy or rent movies from a first-party store. In fact when you search for a title you’ll see an assortment of available options and prices, including subscription services you may already have.
Roku TVs work with multiple voice assistants and smart home platforms, unlike some other offerings.
Functionally, Roku TVs tend to be on par with their rivals. Higher-end models support standards like 4K, 8K, HDMI 2.1, Dolby Atmos, and/or Dolby Vision. You’ll probably have to turn elsewhere for sets with OLED technology, but you can still get impressive color and contrast on models with Mini LED.
Roku TV vs. Samsung, Apple TV, Fire TV, webOS, and Google TV
It’s time to get into specific comparisons. One more general thing to point out, however, is that app catalogs can vary. Twitch for example doesn’t have a native Roku app, even though a client does exist for Apple TV, Fire TV, and Google TV owners. The platform is normally well-stocked, and some niche apps exist only on Roku.
Samsung uses a custom operating system known as Tizen. This allows tight integration with SmartThings and Bixby, but third-party devices and platforms may not slide in as cohesively as they do on Roku.
Samsung TVs tend to have simple user interfaces and a decent selection of apps. That includes Samsung TV Plus, which offers free TV and some movies, though the best selection is reserved for Americans.
Some people may find Tizen’s interface limiting, particularly its search features. You’re probably better off buying an add-on streamer, no matter if you get one of Samsung’s top-end TVs.
Apple doesn’t manufacture TVs, but it does make an add-on streamer called the Apple TV 4K — not to be confused with its multi-platform streaming service, Apple TV Plus.
The Apple TV 4K is often considered a gold standard in terms of performance and ease of use. It is however one of the most expensive add-on options, and you’ll only get the most out of it if you buy into other Apple products. iPhone and Apple Watch owners get pop-up controls when media is playing, for example, and you can pair a couple of HomePods as double-duty wireless speakers. Some services can’t be found on any other smart TV platform, such as Apple Arcade and Apple Fitness Plus. In terms of smart home/voice tech, you’re tied into Siri and HomeKit.
App selection is excellent, including a number of high-quality games, but you won’t be able to buy or rent movies directly unless you get them from Apple. If you want something from another store, you’ll have to pay on another device and only then launch the appropriate Apple TV app. Roku allows you to pay for some third-party content straight-up.
Like Roku, Fire TV can be found on add-on devices as well as first- and third-party TVs. Your voice assistant and smart home platform is Alexa, which is generally a good thing — Alexa remains the most popular choice when it comes to smart speakers and smart home accessories, You can pair Echo speakers for TV audio.
App selection is good, though we should note that Amazon really, really wants you to try first-party services like Prime Video and Music Unlimited. The Fire TV interface is skewed towards them, so while Amazon’s interests won’t interfere too much, Roku’s neutrality may suddenly seem more attractive.
webOS is exclusive to LG sets. Its bookmark-like interface is unique, but notably, you can choose to use Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa as your voice assistant.
Another feature here is live apps, which let you pause content in one app, then come back later and resume where you left off. This can come in handy if you’re a multitasker and want to save your progress in a show or movie.
If there’s a larger problem, it’s app availability. You shouldn’t have an issue accessing major streaming services, but you may run into gaps other platforms don’t have.
Android TV and Google TV
Android TV and Google TV are largely self-explanatory, including their integration with Google Assistant and Google Home. There’s an obvious advantage with either if you use an Android phone, even if iOS users are welcome.
We should say that Google TV is the newer of the two, and poised to take over, though both have a large stable of interchangeable apps. There are third-party TVs with the platform, and first-party add-on streamers in the form of Chromecasts.
Unlike Roku, there’s a strong focus on curation. The Google TV homescreen offers a range of personalized recommendations linked to genres, apps, individual titles, or your watchlist. Thankfully it doesn’t play favorites, so while you can certainly buy or rent from Google — or sign up to YouTube TV — third-party services get just as much limelight.
Should I buy a Roku TV?
It’s hard to go wrong with a Roku TV, especially if you value flexibility. You may sometimes forego deeper integrations with phone and smart home platforms, but you’ll never have any serious gaps, and you won’t be shoved towards a single online store.
Mind that all of the above platforms have something to offer, and what’s most important is to prioritize specs. You can always buy an add-on streamer if you don’t like a particular interface, but you can’t change your TV’s resolution, ports, or HDR support without buying an entirely new set. If you’re hellbent on OLED, you should probably be looking at something with Google TV.
Roku TVs ship in sizes from 24 inches on up, with resolutions spanning anywhere from 720p to 8K depending on a model’s size and cost.
Yes, the company now has self-branded models, although they’re only sold by Best Buy in the US.
No, Roku TV is the name applied to smart TVs that run Roku OS as built-in software.
A Roku TV is also a smart TV, simply equipped with Roku OS instead of something like Google TV or Fire TV.
There’s no monthly fee for the set itself, but of course services like Netflix and Hulu require monthly or annual subscriptions.
Like any smart TV, the main purpose is accessing online movies, music, and TV shows, whether purchased or as part of a subscription. By getting a dedicated Roku TV, you save yourself the trouble of having to buy and configure a separate Roku add-on, assuming you’re committed to using Roku OS.
Yes, you can watch regular TV on a Roku TV. Tuner inputs let you connect an antenna or cable/satellite box. Additionally there are many internet-based TV services, such as Sling TV or YouTube TV.
Yes, ABC, NBC, and CBS all have apps available on the Roku platform, allowing you to stream their content. However, live and local content may require a subscription, whether directly or through a third-party provider.
In some countries, Roku devices come with the Roku Channel, which offers live streams, Roku Originals, popular movies, children’s programming, and more.