It has been a couple of years since I looked at Roku’s products. Roku has a whole lineup of streaming boxes that fit anyone’s budget from $29 up to only $129 for their top model. In addition to the set top boxes and streaming sticks that Roku makes, they also work with TV manufacturers to integrate their streaming capabilities right into the TV.
If you’ve been looking to cut cable, here’s everything you need to know about how Roku TV works, how easy it is to set up (spoiler: really easy!), integration with paid and free streaming channels, and parental controls.
About Roku TV
I was given a chance to try out a Roku TV by Sharp and I was surprised by the seamless user experience. The Roku TV isn’t a TV with an integrated Roku product, it was a TV built around the Roku operating system and menus. The HDMI inputs are listed in the main screen along with your various streaming sources.
Unlike every TV I’ve ever bought, it didn’t come with a 50 button remote. It came with a remote that looks pretty similar to the remote on Roku’s other products. The remote is tiny and stylish and contains only the buttons you need including power, volume, basic navigation, and standard play, pause, fast-forward, and rewind. Well, there are a few gratuitous buttons on the remote specifically for specific channels, but I’ll overlook that especially since Roku TV’s Netflix button makes for streaming content via Netflix for those who are technology challenged.
Roku TV Content
Roku is the Switzerland of streaming. They’re neutral and are willing to partner with everyone. This makes them the undisputed king of streaming content. They have it all: Amazon, Google Play, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Plex, Sling, HBO Go, and all the other basic cable apps. While this might not sound impressive, most other streaming boxes are on “Team Google” or “Team Amazon” or “Non-team player Apple.” The only thing missing from Roku is Apple’s iTunes content, but they don’t play nice with anyone.
According to Roku, there are over 3,500 paid or free channels of content to stream. Some are free, some link to your existing subscriptions (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, or your cable company), and some are their own subscriptions. If you were a true cord-cutter, I suspect that Roku would be your platform of choice.
Even if you’re still paying the local cable company each month, Roku is an extremely simple place to view all of your streaming content, whether it is streaming within the house (with Plex), or coming from the Internet. You can search for a movie and Roku will show you where it is available, and what it will cost (free, rental, or purchase). It’s that simple.
Just a note about commercials— many of Roku’s free channels are supported by ads while Netflix and Amazon Video are ad-free.
How to Set Up a Roku TV
Setting up the Roku TV was extremely simple. We plugged it in, typed in the WiFi password via the remote, and it connected to the WiFi flawlessly. It did a software remote and then presented us with a code to go register using a phone or computer. I signed up for a Roku account, added some channels, reviewed some offers for free trials of paid services, and was up and running in only a few minutes.
Roku’s picture quality and sound are dependent upon the source content, but most of it is full HD content. As long as you have a decent internet connection, you’ll get the same quality picture you expect from traditional sources. The menus and video controls are easy to use and intuitive. The channel list is customizable so you can hide/delete services you don’t want and only see the content you desire.
Besides the plethora of content, the Roku mobile allows you to easily cast music, photos, or videos from your iOS or Android phone or tablet directly to your TV. This means no more crowding around the little screen in your hands to share photos and movies shot on your phone with friends and loved ones. You can also turn your mobile phone into a remote using the free iOS or Android app.
Parental Controls on Roku?
For parental controls, Roku passes the buck to the channels themselves. Each channel is responsible for parental controls. For example, Netflix allows you to setup profiles for each member of your household. The Roku brings up that same menu when you launch Netflix.
While this is adequate, it’s not ideal. It could potentially lead to a fractured setup of needing to configure controls separately in things like Netflix, Amazon, Plex, plus a ton of other channels. While you may have this kind of restriction enabled already in the services like Netflix, Amazon, or Plex, you don’t want to have to do this for every single channel you have. Roku does allow you to password-protect adding channels to the service, but if you add a channel like MTV, Vice, or Spike, you’ll give your children unlimited access to any content within that channel.
Roku TVs are available in a variety of sizes and from several different manufacturers. The unit provided by Roku was a 43” Sharp Roku TV ($299 from Best Buy). The Sharp Roku TV has an extremely thin bezel around the TV and great picture quality with 3 HDMI inputs for anything else you might plug into the TV like a DVD player or gaming system.
If you’re in the market for a new TV, it’s definitely worth checking out the different Roku TVs that are available. Roku provides a better user experience than the app-store functions built into many Smart TVs, and you’re not really paying anything extra for the integrated Roku unit.
For more information about Roku TV and their other streaming products, visit their website and watch this video to see a summary of the various products available for different budgets.
We received a Sharp Roku TV from Roku for review purposes. Our family is part of the Netflix Stream Team and while we are not compensated, we do enjoy a complimentary Netflix subscription and other items for my involvement. All opinions are my own and based on personal experience.