Apple TV and Roku (and very recently, Chromecast) are the most popular streaming media players designed for streaming photo, audio and video content — both from the Internet and stored locally on computers, phones and tablets — to HDTVs. Roku offers more online content options, but does not have Bluetooth or an optical audio out like Apple TV. Apple TV seamlessly integrates and interacts with all existing Apple devices, which is great news for Apple fans. But to anyone not deeply entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, Roku makes for a good option with its vast array of channels and third-party content options.
|Introduction||Digital media player incorporating iTunes content and Airplay.||Digital media player with most online content options.|
|Price (latest model)||USD $99, BRL R$399, CAD $109, GBP £99 AUD $109, EUR €109 INR ₹7,900||USD $99|
|Operating system||iOS 7.0.1||Android, iOS|
|Major Internet Streaming Services||Youtube, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO GO.||Amazon, VUDU, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO GO.|
|Release date (latest model)||3rd generation Rev A: January 28, 2013||Roku 3: March 2013,|
|HDMI-capable TV Required||Yes.||Only for Roku 3. All other Roku boxes can run on almost any TV|
|Resolution||1080p HD||1080p HD|
|Mirroring||Yes, integrated via Airplay.||Possible via third-party app.|
|Smartphone Remote Control App||Yes, with iOS device only.||Yes, iOS and Android.|
|Dimensions||3.5 x 3.5 x 1.0 inches||3.9 x 3.9 x 0.9 inches|
|Weight||9.6 oz (0.6 lb)||5 oz.|
|Connectivity||HDMI, WiFi, Bluetooth.||HDMI, WiFi, USB disc, Micro SD slot, ethernet.|
|Game Apps||Only via Airplay.||Yes.|
edit Online Content
Apple TV offers a limited number of entertainment channels (around 30, but promising more) as compared to Roku, but most of the major online streaming services do work, including Netflix, Hulu Plus and HBO Go. The only major omission is Amazon’s streaming video service, but Apple TV does work with iTunes content and YouTube. In recent months, Apple has grown its streaming library by adding channels for Bloomberg, ABC, KORTV, Crackle, PBS, Vevo, HBO GO and Watch ESPN.
Roku offers far more channels — the company claims over 1,000 channels, which is probably even more than cable TV — and features a bevy of streaming services, notably Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, M-Go and Vudu. The two major omissions on Roku are iTunes content and YouTube. Third-party apps occasionally become available to allow iTunes and YouTube content on Roku, but are quickly taken down. YouTube can be mirrored with the Townky app. For users who aren’t invested in iTunes content, Roku is the clear winner when it comes to online content.
edit Local Content
Apple TV was designed with playing local content from iTunes in mind (i.e., content already stored on the phone or computer). The hassle-free setup allows all content, including music, purchased from iTunes to be immediately available on Apple TV. All local content can also be mirrored with AirPlay.
Although Roku can be setup to view already-purchased local content, it requires some effort, and Roku is unable to play any content purchased from iTunes. However, Roku does offer the option of playing media stored on USB drives and Micro SD cards. Mirroring abilities for local content are a hit-and-miss.
Apple TV connects to a television with an HDMI cable. Other ports include an optical audio out port, and an ethernet port for direct connection to a router. Apple TV interacts with devices via WiFi (and features dual-band Wireless-N capabilities) and Bluetooth.
Roku also connects to television via HDMI and has the same WiFi abilities, but with the added input options of a USB slot and Micro SD slot, allowing for any movies or photos stored on a USB memory stick or digital camera’s Micro SD card to be viewed. Roku does not have Bluetooth or an optical audio out.
One of Apple TV’s distinguishing features is AirPlay mirroring, which allows a user to display any content from their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or Mac computer on a television via Apple TV. For instance, a user could display an iPhone game or photo library on their television. This also enables any content pulled up online with a Mac computer or mobile device to be viewed on the television, thus greatly expanding the content possibilities of Apple TV. Some reviewers have found that HD content viewed over AirPlay can suffer a bit in quality.
With Roku, mirroring is not built in, but is possible to some degree with Miracast, a new screencast (mirroring) standard for WiFi devices. However, its functionality varies among different phones and tablets, and does not work with Apple devices. Twonky, a third-party app for Roku, allows mirroring of content among some devices. To put it in a nutshell, elements of Apple’s AirPlay can be mimicked on the Roku with some effort and research, but Roku does not have complete mirroring abilities as Apple TV.
Apple TV features an unmatched level of integration, but only within the Apple ecosystem. In addition to device interactions via AirPlay, Apple TV functions with iCloud, i.e. content is easily shared via other Apple devices. This means any photos or videos in a user’s iCloud account can be viewed on the television, without needing any device interaction. Movies or television shows purchased on the Apple TV could be viewed at any time on another device. These benefits are, of course, largely lost if a user has Android or Windows devices.
Roku fits more into the general Android system of third-party apps and devices featuring varying amounts of integration. Photo and video collections can be viewed from a device or storage disc, and content from a phone or tablet can possibly be streamed using a third-party app. Integrating devices and viewing local content with Roku requires more research and setup than Apple TV. But although Roku lacks that very level of integration and easy access, it does not restrict a user to iOS devices.
Apple TV does not feature any gaming apps, but this is not really necessary with AirPlay. Users can play any game from any Apple device on their television via AirPlay.
A number of gaming apps (about 30) are available for Roku, including Angry Birds, poker and some traditional arcade games. The motion-sensitive controller in Roku 3 can be used to play some games.
edit Which One is for You?
For people firmly entrenched in Apple's ecosystem — for example, with all their photos and videos in iCloud, and with a lot of audio/video content purchased via iTunes — Apple TV offers the most seamless and integrated experience. Apple's mobile devices and computers integrate very well with Apple TV to share content, and the AirPlay ability can somewhat make up for the lack of built-in channels and games. If you already own Apple devices and are not looking for a huge array of content, Apple TV is a great option.
The Roku 3 is generally considered the best digital media player on the market, at least for consumers who aren’t fully committed to the Apple ecosystem. Roku’s primary advantage is the vast array of channels and third-party content options. The remote with a built-in headphone jack (Roku 3) is also a well-loved feature. Roku is superior for streaming online content, and makes much more sense for anyone who doesn’t own other Apple devices. Roku also offers iOS apps that allow users to stream local content from their iPhones and iPads to the TV.
edit Where to buy
While you can order these devices from the manufacturers' websites, Amazon.com almost always offers lower prices. Here are the relevant links:
edit Recent News