Roku channels without cable

Roku channels without cable DEFAULT

Roku expanded its free live TV service Roku Channel earlier this month with the addition of live channels housed in a new program guide. The service offers linear programming from categories including news (ABC News Live, Reuters, Newsy), kids (Teletubbies, Kidz Bop), lifestyle (Bon Appetit, Bob Ross) and sports (Bein, Outside TV).

In order to watch the new channels, Roku Channel has added a "Live TV" tile at the top of the home screen. You can also press the left arrow to access the guide from within any screen of the app.

The guide itself offers 12 hours of data. Press the star button to switch the guide between All Channels and Recent Channels. The company says it's not currently possible to set reminders for upcoming programs, however. Roku also promises "Fast Channel Switching" for finding the exact channel you want to watch. 


Despite appearing in a guide and including some familiar names and even live sports (whenever it resumes), the content isn't the same as what you'll get from cable TV or live TV streaming services. Instead it's typical of other live, free-ad-supported services such as Pluto TV and Xumo TV, which present a mix of older or lesser-known shows. (Editors' note: Pluto TV and CNET are both divisions of ViacomCBS.)

Roku Channel began in and is available on Roku devices including streamers and Roku TVs as well as web browsers, iOS or Android Roku apps and Samsung Smart TVs. Roku says The Roku Channel reached households with an estimated 31 million people in the first quarter of

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The 5 best ways you can watch live TV on Roku

roku channels
  • You can watch live TV and cable content on Roku without long-term contracts or the need to buy new equipment.
  • Streaming-only packages are available in channel packages similar to cable.
  • It's possible to watch cable on any screen that can connect to Roku.
  • Cloud DVR lets you record live TV and watch it later without extra equipment. Stored recordings are available wherever you are.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Cord-cutters no longer miss out on live-broadcast content when they subscribe to a service that offers live TV streaming. Watching live TV without a cable subscription is available through multiple services now.

Here's a look at a few of the best ones available on Roku devices now.

DirecTV Now

Michelle Greenlee/Business Insider

DirecTV Now is the streaming version of DirecTV. You can stream more than 40 channels starting at $50 per month. HBO is included in the base-package pricing. Additional premium channels such as Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz can be added starting at $11 per month.

Twenty hours of DirecTV's new Cloud DVR service (in beta) is included with all packages. Select local channels and sports networks are available in some markets. DirecTV Now allows you to stream on two devices at once with all packages. You can watch it on Roku along with a variety of other streaming devices and smart TVs. Android and iOS mobile devices are also supported.

Hulu Plus Live TV

Michelle Greenlee/Business Insider

Hulu Plus Live TV adds live TV to a Hulu Plus subscription. You can stream more than 60 channels in addition to Hulu's original programming starting at $ per month (with ads). The ad-free package is priced at $ per month. Premium channels such as Cinemax, HBO, Showtime, and Starz can be added starting at $ per month.

Fifty hours of cloud DVR storage is included in both available packages. Hulu Plus Live TV limits you, however, by letting you stream to only two devices at the same time. You can watch it on Roku along with a wide variety of streaming devices and smart TVs. Android and iOS mobile devices are also supported.

PlayStation Vue

Michelle Greenlee/Business Insider

PlayStation Vueis PlayStation's streaming service with packages starting at $ per month. A large selection of channels is available to stream on supported PlayStation consoles and multiple streaming devices, including Roku. Premium channels such as HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax can be added either altogether, bumping the plan up to $ a month, or individually for varying prices. Select add-on channels can be added starting at $ per month.

PlayStation Vue allows you to watch on up to five screens at once. When it comes to cloud DVR, Sony doesn't say how much it holds — only that it has "lots of storage space."

Sling TV

Michelle Greenlee/Business Insider

Sling TV was an early streaming-only alternative to cable. Sling TV offers a variety of popular channels starting at $25 per month. You can also pick and choose certain channels to stream à la carte, adding them to your package for about $3 each. Premium channels such as Starz, Epix, and Showtime are available as add-on channels. HBO and Cinemax are not available on Sling TV. A cloud DVR service is available for an extra $5 per month.

Sling TV offers a competitive four concurrent streams, even with the base package. You can watch it on Roku and a variety of other streaming devices, along with iOS and Android mobile devices.

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What is Roku? How does Roku Work?

Lately, I have been getting questions regarding the fundamentals of cord-cutting. People don’t have the time to dig through tech articles looking for a way to watch TV without cable. With that in mind, I decided to put together a post covering every facet of every version of the Roku streaming device.

What is Roku?

Simply put, Roku allows you to watch free and paid video content on your TV via the Internet. TV and movie streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and others download onto Roku devices, similar to how apps load onto smartphones. While most of the content is prerecorded, services like Netflix allow a lot of content to be viewed just one day after its initial airing on television. Furthermore, apps like Philo and Sling TV enable content to be watched live as it airs.

While it sounds like something to replace Zumba as the latest exercise craze, the “Roku box” (as some call it) is the easiest way to stream video to your television. Roku is a small square device for your television used to watch movies and TV shows through apps (also called channels.) For those looking to buy a new TV, a Roku TV has all the functionality of a Roku built into a quality TV.

When Roku came out in , the only streaming service available was Netflix. Now, streaming internet TV has enjoyed widespread adoption. Today, there is very little content available on cable TV that you can’t stream with a Roku and watch on your TV.

Roku Models

The following four streaming devices are the most recent releases from Roku.

Generally, we currently see the recently released Roku Express 4K+ as the best budget option for new streamers as it’s very affordable and provides features like 4k Video and HDR10+ support. We even like it more than the Roku Streaming Stick+. Both are priced around $40, but the new Express 4K+ provides some newer features not available on the Streaming Stick+. There are also Roku exclusive devices at Best Buy and Walmart that I will cover in this guide.

Roku has unleashed not only a deluge of streaming devices but new functionality available in the Roku operating system. You will want to know which devices have certain features before going online and purchasing one. For example, some Roku devices support High Dynamic Range (HDR) video on HDR-compatible TVs; some do not.

How Much Does Roku Cost

I’ll cover the features and specifications  of each Roku model in the next section. The retail price of each Roku device is as follows:

  • The Roku Ultra – $
  • Roku Express 4K+ – $
  • Roku Express – $
  • Roku Streaming Stick Plus+ -$

The prices above are the retail list price. Roku devices are currently available on Amazon at better prices. Now let’s go over the differences between each version so you can see which Roku is right for you.
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Roku Device Comparison

Before I compare the differences between each Roku streaming device, let’s cover what they have in common. The most important of which is the Roku OS software on each Roku box is the same. This means you will have the same channel availability and user experience no matter which Roku device you choose. I’ll cover the Roku OS features later in the article. Roku also has a few remotes available on the market. While I touch upon the topic in this article, I put together a guide that covers Roku remote device compatibility in more detail.

In addition to the Roku OS user interface, Roku boxes have the following features in common:

  • Each Roku version has access to over 3, channels, which is more than nearly every competitor.
  • All Roku boxes can connect to the TV via an HDMI cable or built-in HDMI connector
  • All Roku devices fully support p HD video or higher.
  • Control all Roku devices with the free Roku Mobile App
  • Each Roku also supports wireless internet connections in (b/g/n) as a minimum (some support ac)
  • Each Roku comes with a remote control.

I’ll cover these features in more detail in a moment, but first, let me describe the differences between each Roku version.

Roku Express 4K+

roku express 4k+

The Roku Express 4K+ was released on May 16th, , and you can order now at a retail price of $ It’s the Roku device we consider the top pick for value as it offers newer video standards like 4K video, HDR10+, and more at a low price. If you are looking for features like Dolby Vision and onboard Ethernet, you may want to look at the Roku Ultra. Here is a list of features you get with the express 4K:

  • Roku Express 4K+ supports 4K UHD at 60 frames per second with HDR, supporting HDR10/HDR10+
  • Supports ac dual-band wireless
  • Includes a voice remote
  • While the Roku Express 4K+ doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you can use a third-party Ethernet adapter to use the Roku Express 4K+ on a wired network. If you try this, you must connect the Ethernet adapter to the power adapter included with your Roku player and plug that into a wall outlet to provide power to your Ethernet adapter.

Roku also released an Express 4K (without the “+”) but, it’s only available at Walmart, where the Express 4K+ can be purchased online. The only differences between the Roku Express 4K and Roku Express 4K+ are the price and the remote included with each device.  The Roku Express 4K+ comes with a voice remote with TV controls, while Roku Express 4K comes with a simple remote that doesn’t feature voice or TV controls. Roku Express 4K will be priced $5 cheaper, retailing at $

Who Should Choose the Roku Express 4K+

The Roku Express 4K+ has 4K video in HDR with HDR10+ support, along with ac wireless, and it’s priced under $ These features and this price point make the Roku Express 4K+ my recommended streaming device for those not looking for a top-of-the-line device like the Roku Ultra. The Roku Express 4K+ is perfect for entry-level streamers that want access to 4K video in HDR at a great price. For more details on this device check out our review of the Roku Express 4K+.

Roku Ultra

The Roku Ultra was released in October of The device is regularly priced at $99, but you can order it from Amazon for under $ It is Roku’s most powerful streaming device. The Roku Ultra boasts more memory and an enhanced processor. It has the most powerful processor of any of the new Roku devices. It also includes the following functionality:

USB Storage – The Roku Ultra allows its USB port to play video from an external hard drive. Roku Ultra supports FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, and HFS+ drive formats.

Audio – Roku Ultra supports the following audio:

  • Digital stereo over HDMI®
  • DTS Digital Surround™ pass through over HDMI
  • Dolby Atmos® decode via HDMI. (Requires Dolby Atmos compatible speakers.)

Enhanced Voice Remote – Want to search for your favorite TV shows and movies without typing? Then press the voice search button and say the title. While experimenting with voice search, Roku was able to find well-known movies and TV shows about 90% of the time. The Ultra remote has the following features:

  • Two shortcut buttons you can personalize to launch your favorite streaming apps.
  • headphone jack for private listening
  • customizable launch buttons for launching services like Philo, Hulu, ESPN+, Sling, and more
  • voice search button
  • control your TV with volume and mute buttons
    an instant replay button to rewind and play the last 20 seconds

Premium JBL Headphones – The Ultra includes top of the line JBL headphones to use with your Roku Enhanced Voice Remote.

Remote Finder – Press the button on top of the Roku Ultra, and your remote will begin beeping alerting you to its location. This function is a necessity in my house.

Bluetooth Connectivity – You can connect your phone or tablet with Bluetooth® to play your favorite music, podcasts, and more through your TV speakers

Roku Ultra Specifications

The Roku Ultra comes with the Roku Advanced remote with batteries, headphones for private listening, a USB cable, and a power adapter. In addition to the exclusive functionality already mentioned, the Roku Ultra also does the following:

  • ac MIMO dual-band wireless
  • 10/ Base-T Ethernet
  • Works with Alexa and Google voice assistant
  • p, p, and 4K UHD with HDR and Dolby Vision video, and HLG at 60 frames per second
  • Bluetooth
  • Night listening mode
  • Advanced point anywhere remote with voice search, headphone jack, and gaming buttons
  • IR receiver for universal remotes
  • Dolby Audio pass-through via HDMI
  • HDMI cable isn’t included

Walmart exclusively offers a version of this model called the Roku Ultra LT. This model doesn’t include the premium JBL headphones, but a pair of Roku buds.  The Roku Ultra LT also lacks a USB port for app storage expansion. The remote also doesn’t have the remote under feature.

Who Should Purchase the Roku Ultra

If you are looking for any of the Roku Ultra’s exclusive functions, then it’s the obvious choice. Dolby Vision is the most obvious standout over other models. Those looking to upgrade their older Roku should also look at the Roku Ultra.  Otherwise, unless you want the added processing power the Ultra offers, you may want to consider a Roku Express 4K+.

Roku Streaming Stick+

roku streaming stick

While Roku is known for its boxes, the company also has a line of Roku Streaming Sticks. In fact, out of all the Roku devices, I recommend the Roku Streaming Stick+. It supports 4K video in HDR at 60 fps, Dolby Atmos, ac wireless, and can be found for around $40 (the regular price is $).

They weigh less than an ounce and simply plug into the back of your TV’s HDMI port. Furthermore, it includes a voice search-enabled remote that has power and volume control that will work with your TV.

There is a version, the Roku Streaming Stick+ Headphone Edition, that includes a different remote. This remote includes a mute button in addition to the power and volume control for your TV.  This version includes headphones and a headphone jack for private listening*.  The Roku Streaming Stick Headphone edition is only available at Best Buy.

*- private listing mutes the TV when headphones are plugged into the headphone jack so you can watch Roku without disturbing others in the room.

You can still find the Roku Stick from , but it’s priced around the same as the Roku Streaming Stick+ and doesn’t support 4K video resolution or HDR.

Why should you get the Roku Streaming Stick+?

With 4K video resolution, HDR, and excellent Wi-Fi range with the ac standard, at $40, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is a good value. Up until the Express 4K+ was released, it was our choice for the best Roku device.

Roku Premiere

roku premiere

The Roku Premiere was updated in September of It features HDR and 4K video at a fantastic price point of $ However, it’s a bit obsolete due to the release of the Roku Express 4K+. The Roku Premiere boasts the following features:

  • Resolution at p HD, 4K Ultra HD,  and support HDR
  • Wifi connection: b/g/n
  • Dolby Audio™ and DTS pass-through via HDMI®
  • Quad-Core Processor
  • HDMI a (Included)
  • Same Roku OS as all models

The differences between the Roku Premiere and Ultra are as follows:

  • The Roku Premiere only supports b/g/n wireless. The Ultra supports up to ac.
  • The Premiere lacks support for Dolby Vision
  • The Premiere lacks an Ethernet port and USB Port
  • The Premier lacks Bluetooth
  • The Premiere doesn’t include headphones
  • The remote only controls your Roku and not your TV. The remote also lacks voice search, remote finder, and shortcut buttons

Who Should Purchase the Premiere

People looking for an affordable, lightweight streaming device that handles 4K UHD resolution and HDR, and who don’t mind the dated Wi-Fi specs should purchase the Roku Premiere. You can find it with HDMI cable included on Amazon for about $40. However, with the release of the Express 4K+, this device is a bit obsolete.

Roku Express and Express+

roku express

Update: Roku released a new Roku Express that supports 4K video resolution and the updated HDR 10+ standard in May of It’s priced at $ You can see our review of the Roku Express 4K+ for details on the new Roku device. The Roku Express and Express+ detailed below are the entry-level products from Roku released in September

Roku Express

The Roku Express, costs about $30, and is nearly identical in features to the Roku Premiere, but lacks support for 4K video and HDR. Here are the specs that matter:

  • Wifi connection: b/g/n
  • Dolby Audio™ and DTS pass-through via HDMI®
  • Quad-Core Processor
  • HDMI b (Included)
  • Same Roku OS as all models

Roku Express+

The  Roku Express+ has the same features as the Express but comes with a better remote. The Express+ remote enables voice search and the ability to control power, volume, and mute your TV.

With no HDMI port, the Roku Express+ supports the older i video standard.  The Roku Express+ is available at Walmart for around $

While the Express and Express+ do not support Ethernet, they do support the Wi-Fi and are b/g/n compatible.

Who Should Purchase the Roku Express or Express+

Roku Express is perfect for those that want a wireless streaming device with no frills. The Express works best as a stationary streaming device.  If you plan on moving your device around to multiple TVs or want to take your Roku with you when traveling, I would recommend the Roku Streaming Stick+. Keep in mind that these devices cap out at p video resolution. If you want 4k video, I’d recommend one of the higher-tier Roku devices.

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How Roku Works

Roku plugs into your TV using an HDMI cable connected from your TV to the Roku device. Roku connects to the internet via a wired or wireless connection to your home network.

Roku works by downloading video from the Internet, you then watch on your TV. The video isn’t saved as it’s watched while Roku downloads or “streams” the video. Apps or “channels” are programs you load onto your Roku device that provide you with various movies and TV shows. This works much like installing apps on a smartphone or tablet.

While the majority of channels on Roku stream on-demand, there are now quite a few live streaming services available.

In most cases, the shows are recorded, stored by the channel provider, and streamed to your Roku. This differs from the live TV experience you receive with cable TV. However, with a Roku and the right channels, you can watch a majority of your favorite shows.

Roku gives you the power to decide what shows you want to watch and when you want to watch them. It’s like watching TV as if everything is on-demand. Since Roku greatly expands your on-demand options, you may even want one to supplement your cable subscription instead of replacing it. I’ll go into more detail on that later in the guide. 

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What Channels are on Roku?

Roku has come a long way since Roku has gone from one channel to over channels. You can even watch your local broadcast networks and cable TV networks live on a Roku.

Network TV on Roku

Many streaming services offer access to your live local Fox, ABC, CBS, and NBC networks in several parts of the country. To watch these networks on a Roku you need to subscribe to the streaming service that carries the network, download the streaming services app to your Roku, and log in. Here are the two best options for local TV:

Hulu + Live TV: Offers ABC, FOX, CBS, and NBC in most markets. Use this handy zip code tool to see which local channels are available in your area

AT&T TV Also offers live ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. You can check your Zip Code on the DIRECTV Stream website to make sure those channels are available in your area.

Cable TV on Roku

There is a lot of confusion over the cable TV channel apps on Roku. Most of them require a TV provider login. We address this issue in our article: How To Watch Cable Channels on Roku and Other Devices.

To summarize the article, if you are looking to watch live cable TV networks like AMC, ESPN, TBS, HGTV, HBO, and others, you need to subscribe to one of the Live TV streaming services in the list below:

The login credentials for these services will also allow you do unlock content on some individual channel apps. See our guide to TV everywhere apps for more information.

Other Channel Apps on Roku

Roku also has The Roku Channel, which offers movies and TV for free.

Some may think this many options would be overwhelming, but that isn’t the case. You choose which channels are available on Roku. Only a handful of the most popular channels come already installed on the device.

Here are some other examples of other top Channels available on Roku:

Movies and TV: Netflix, Hulu TV, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, VUDU, M-GO, Disney+, PBS, HBO NOW, Crackle TV, PBS, Google Play Store and more

News: CBS News, Fox News, Sky News, The Blaze, Weather Nation, and more

Sports: ESPN+, MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, NHL Game Center, NFL Now, and more

Internet: YouTube, Break, Vimeo and countless niche channels

Plex: Roku supports Plex Media Server with an official Plex channel. I recommend picking it up if you are interested in streaming your private media. It’s easily the best way to view personal content on a Roku device.

Aside from video content, there are a plethora of music Roku channels to choose from, like Pandora, Spotify, and Slacker. There aren’t enough hours in the day to enjoy all the available content on Roku’s numerous channels. Check out this link for more information on the top Roku channels.

How To Add Channels To Roku

Installing channels on Roku is easy. From the “Home Menu” scroll down to “Streaming Channels” and click the purple “OK” button on the remote.

This navigates you to the Roku Channel Store (don’t worry, most are free to install). As you can see from the picture below, there are numerous options to find channels.

roku channel store

You can use “Search Channels” to search by typing in a search term or use any of the other search options available. Once you find a channel navigate to it with the arrow keys on the remote and press the purple “OK” button. From there, the channel will install and be available on your home screen.

add channel to roku

It’s as easy as installing an app on a smartphone.

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Roku OS Features

Roku OS is the user interface available on all Roku versions. Some of the following functions are not available on all versions. I’ll let you know when that is the case. Roku OS provides cross-platform search, voice search, and other software features.

New Roku OS Features

If you have Roku OS 10 (released April ) or later, your Roku can do the following:

  • You can now control multiple Roku TVs and Devices through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
  • HDR10+ support if HDR10+ compatibility is detected on the TV
  • Virtual Surround” support for Roku Soundbar (Enabled through Sound settings menu on your Roku device)
  •  Roku’s voice search allows users to search without closing the app you are watching
  • Search for 4K by either saying or typing “4K” with your search query
  • Search movies by using a famous quote from the movie
  • Roku TVs now have a sleep timer to turn off your TV at a stated time
  • Voice Search now works to find and control personally stored music, movies, and photos through the Roku Media Player
  • iOS devices can now use Apple Airplay to connect to Roku
  • Roku TV’s can access live streaming channels from the “Live TV” tile in addition to broadcast channels when a TV antenna is connected to Roku TV.
  • Users can customize the live TV channel guide

Cross-Platform Search

This feature is available on all versions. When you search for an actor or title, it searches about 20 apps and tells you which apps have the show available. Furthermore, Roku indicates whether you have free access to it through a subscription or have to rent or purchase the program.

Roku cross-platform search supports more partners than any other platform, including Acorn TV, Amazon Video, Blockbuster On Demand, CBS All Access, CinemaNow, Crackle, Fox Now, FX Now, HBO Now, Hulu, M-GO, Met Opera On Demand, Nat Geo TV, Netflix, Popcorn Flix, SnagFilms, STARZ PLAY, Time Warner Cable, Tubi, Vudu and more. See a full list of Roku seach partners here.

Voice Search

The voice search functionality is top-notch. It’s only available through the remote that comes with the Roku Premiere+ and  Ultra. While experimenting with voice search, my Roku was able to find well-known movies and TV shows about 90% of the time.

I found when issues occurred; it was due to the way the movie is titled as opposed to Roku understanding my voice. For example, I would say “The Avengers”, but the live-action blockbuster could not be found. However, if I said “Marvel’s The Avengers”, Roku knew exactly what I wanted.

If you have Roku OS (released October ) or greater

Roku My Feed

Available on all Roku versions, “My Feed” is a feature that allows you to organize the content you watch on your Roku. Simply follow your favorite show, and Roku will let you know when a new episode is available. Say goodbye to having to check various apps to see if the new episode of your favorite TV show is now available.

The Roku App

The free Roku mobile app is a great app that I recommend every Roku owner downloads from iTunes or Google Play Store. All the power of the Roku operating system is available in the app.

Roku App
Roku My Feed

You can search by voice or text, access “My Feed”, and install apps on your Roku by using the new Roku app. Voice search is possible through the app on all versions. If you aren’t a fan of the voice search or typing long search strings with the remote, the Roku app gives you access to a full keyboard.

Currently, your mobile device needs to be in proximity to the Roku to access “My Feed.” However, Roku has indicated that they are looking to make the functionality available when you are away from home.

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Roku Cost Per Month

Technically, Roku costs nothing per month. You can enjoy free content from channels like YouTube, Pandora, PBS, PBS Kids, Hasbro, Crackle TV, VEVO, Crunchyroll, Popcornflix, Smithsonian, and many others. However, premium content like Netflix, HBO, and Sling TV require a subscription.

To truly replace cable TV, one would need to purchase one or two paid subscriptions to enjoy current TV shows, but it’s not mandatory. To get an idea of what the paid subscriptions offer, I put together an article on which streaming services are best for you.

It’s entirely possible to purchase a Roku, and just watch free content and not pay anything per month. There are even free special interest channels. For instance, “Allrecipes” features instructional videos on cooking various recipes. Netfit provides just about any workout video you would need.

Then there is everyone’s favorite free channel, Crackle. Crackle provides quality TV and movies for free. Currently, you can watch seasons of Chosen, Seinfeld, The Shield, and many other amazing shows. You could also kick back and watch a movie.

Crackle is another good source of content. Crackle is continuously cycling TV shows and movies, providing fresh content for viewers. For more information, check out my review of Crackle TV.

Smart TV vs. Roku

Not a week goes by where someone doesn’t ask me, “Do I need a smart TV to cut the cord?” Unless you are talking about purchasing a Roku TV, then I would say No.  Roku is specifically designed to stream TV and Movies from the Internet to your TV. That’s where the people who make Roku focus % of their efforts. Streaming is a secondary feature for most TV manufacturers.

The lack of attention to detail is apparent in almost every Smart TV I’ve seen. The “smart” interface always feels clunky when compared to a streaming device, and none have the amount of content available with a Roku device.

Furthermore, it’s much cheaper to upgrade a Roku than it would be a smart TV. If streaming technology were to change in the next few years, getting the next-generation Roku device would be much cheaper than buying a new television.

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Roku vs. Cable TV

While Roku can replace cable TV, it’s a different viewing experience. Cable TV is a passive viewing activity. You sit down and flip channels until something grabs your attention. It’s almost as cable convinces you to watch something.

The Roku experience is much different. It’s an active viewing experience. The content is on individual channels that you’ve selected to be on your Roku. It’s a much more personalized way to watch TV and movies.

You seek out what you want to watch. Never again will you have the awful realization that hours of your life are now missing due to stumbling upon an “I love the 90’s” marathon.

When we had Comcast, we would typically watch the major TV networks like Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS along with shows on AMC and FX. With the right streaming services, Roku can provide all this content and more at half the cost of our cable bill.

Does Roku Require Internet?

This is one of the many questions I receive regarding internet access from people interested in getting rid of cable. To stream any content, you will need an internet connection. Internal storage for movies and TV isn’t included with Roku or any of the other top streaming devices like Apple TV, Amazon Fire, or Chromecast.

These devices require an internet connection to operate. Unfortunately, that’s still going to need an Internet provider. However, it’s much cheaper to have an internet-only plan once you factor in all the hidden fees that come with a cable bundle. We were able to get a high-speed connection at 50 Mbps for a little over $50 per month.

As for how fast your internet needs to be, the following is a decent guide for various content:

  • Standard Definition – Mbps
  • High Definition in p – 5 Mbps
  • High Definition in p – 9 Mbps
  • Ultra High Definition 4K – 16 Mbps

If you are interested in knowing more about the bandwidth needed for your internet connection, check out this article: Internet Speed to Stream TV.

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How Does Roku Work with Cable

Roku also packs a lot of benefits for those looking to keep their cable subscription. Almost every major cable network has its channels available on Roku. If you subscribe to a cable provider, these channels will allow you to log in with your cable provider username and password and provide you with loads of content online.

To me, having a Roku with your cable subscription seems odd. In most cases, the cable subscription is just for the access to the TV networks. Why use the clunky on-demand the cable company offers when you can simply watch networks like HGTV on Roku.

The Roku version of the cable channels typically has more content available, and it’s better organized. The majority of the people I know that have a Roku and a cable subscription to 90% of their TV viewing through Roku while the cable box sits and collects dust.

In many cases, a Roku negates the DVR portion of your cable subscription. You can simply stream these shows whenever you want through your Roku. When I had cable, my DVR was costing us $19 per month. This alone makes the Roku pay for itself in about months. You can use that time to see if the Roku can replace your cable subscription entirely.

Roku + DVR + Antenna = No Cable Bill

This combination is the perfect cord-cutter solution. Roku provides a way to watch most of the shows you will find on cable (along with a lot more). However, unless you subscribe to a streaming service that provides local networks in your area,  you may have to wait up to a week to watch the latest network shows on NBC, Fox, ABC, and CBS, etc. This is where adding an Antenna and DVR will fill in any gaps you may have.

Over the Air DVR or OTA DVR, allow you to connect a TV antenna to record any content you want. While a TV antenna may seem archaic, I can guarantee that modern digital TV has a higher quality picture with an antenna. I installed a Mohu Sky, and the NFL has never looked better.

Once you receive all your local broadcast networks through an antenna, the OTA DVR can record all the shows you want to watch. Now you have your own on-demand system in your own home. DVRs like Tablo, allow you to watch those shows on mobile devices even when you are away from home.

The best OTA DVR with full guide functionality can cost around $ While the DVR is pricey, it’s typically no more than cable bills. It will easily save you money in the long run. Keep in mind; this is a fully loaded cord-cutting solution. Most people, including myself, get by with simply a streaming device and a TV antenna.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to other questions people usually ask about Roku.

How to Jailbreak Roku?

This question comes up often. I even covered it in my article that explains what jailbreaking is. This is due to the buzz around the topic of jailbreaking an Amazon Fire TV Stick. First, there is no such thing as jailbreaking a Fire TV Stick (read the article to see why.)  Second, when people talk about jailbreaking and streaming devices, they usually mean installing a product like Kodi to add a lot of flexibility to their streaming device. Unfortunately, Kodi isn’t supported on Roku.

What Channels are Free on Roku?

There are thousands of channels on Roku, way too many to list here. However, check out this post on my favorite free Roku Channels.
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Filed Under: TV Streaming Devices Last Updated


Cable alternatives on Roku - Live TV streaming services

August 13, - -- RokuGuide

Cable alternatives on Roku - Live TV streaming servicesCord-cutting is popular, and with good reason - cable bills have become exorbitant, and we end up paying for dozens of channels that we never watch. For many people, though, there is no good alternative for popular cable channels like HGTV, Food Network, and Bravo. If you're willing to pay for service but want to lower your bill, or you have high-speed Internet but you don't have access to cable or satellite TV, the live TV streaming services discussed below are available on Roku and offer an alternative to traditional cable and satellite television.

Prices and channel lineups can and do change frequently, so check the providers' websites for recent updates. Also, be aware that local channels and regional sports vary by location. If your selection of a live TV streaming service is based on the availability of a specific network affiliate or the ability to watch your local sports team, verify that these will be available at your specific location.

Click the linked channel names below for more information on each channel.

  • DIRECTV STREAM - (Formerly known as AT&T TV) Over TV channels are available depending on service level, and DIRECTV STREAM now requires no annual contract - you can cancel at any time with no cancellation charges. Four no-contract packages are available, ranging from $ per month to $ per month plus tax. All packages include 20 hours of cloud DVR Service, with unlimited recording time available for $10/month. Depending on the package, you may also receive HBO Max, SHOWTIME, and Regional Sports Networks with no additional fees. Several premium and international add-ons are also available. Click here to visit the DIRECTV STREAM website.
  • Sling TV - Sling offers two services, Sling Orange (32 channels) and Sling Blue (43 channels), for $10 for the first month and then $35 per month. The primary difference between the two is that Blue includes ESPN and Disney, but is limited to streaming on only one device at a time. Orange forgoes these channels but lets you stream on three devices simultaneously while adding Fox channels and CNN. Both plans include 50 hours of cloud DVR. Combine Orange & Blue to get everything from both plans for a 25% discount ($20 for the first month and then $50 per month). Many shows are also available on-demand. There are a number of add-on packages like Sports Extra, News Extra, and Lifestyle Extra, as well as international add-ons such as Best of Spanish TV, Chinese Mini, Français Mini, and Arabic Mini. You can also subscribe to premium services such as Showtime, Starz, EPIX, and many others. Some local channels are available in select markets. Click here to visit the Sling TV website.
  • Philo - A sports-free streaming TV service with just one plan that includes 63 channels for $25 per month after a 7-day free trial. The service includes unlimited cloud DVR that stores your shows for 12 months, and you can stream on up to three different devices at one time. Epix and STARZ are available as add-ons for additional fees. The service includes an extensive on-demand library of 60, movies, shows, and specials. Click here to visit the Philo website.
  • fuboTV - A sports-centered live TV streaming service, but also a full-fledged cable alternative, with up to channels. Three English-language service levels are available for $65 to $85 per month after a 7-day free trial. Stream to 3 to 10 devices at once and record to 1, hours of cloud DVR, depending on service level. Latino package includes 32 Spanish-language channels for $33 per month. Numerous add-ons are available, including Sports Plus with NFL RedZone, International Sports Plus, and Adventure Plus. Click here to visit the fuboTV website.
  • Vidgo - Includes over 95 channels, including all the ESPN and FOX channels. Vidgo also offers a Spanish-langauge package. Only one service level is available, with a new-subscriber promotional price of $10/month for the first month, then you pay the regular price of $55/month English or $30/month Spanish. Vidgo has no video on demand and no cloud DVR capability, but you can stream on three devices at a time. Click here to visit the Vidgo website.
  • Hulu + Live TV - Over 75 live TV channels that include sports, news, and entertainment for $/month after a one-week free trial. Depending on location, you may also get local ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and CW channels. The Entertainment Add-On provides ten additional channels. Other add-ons include the ability to stream to an unlimited number of devices, enhanced cloud DVR, and Spanish channels. Hulu + Live TV also includes access to the full Hulu on-demand library. Click here to visit the Hulu + Live TV website.
  • Frndly TV - Provides 21 family-friendly channels, which are included in all three service levels ranging in prices from $/month for SD streaming on one device at a time, to $/month for HD streaming on up four devices at a time. Unlimited cloud DVR recording is included in the middle and upper packages. Frndly offers a 7-day free trial. Click here to visit the Frndly TV website.
  • YouTube TV - Now available within the YouTube instead of as a standalone Roku app, YouTube TV carries over 85 channels of entertainment, news, live sports, and more for $ per month after a free trial. Local network affiliates are available in some markets. YouTube TV also provides unlimited cloud DVR storage, and you can stream simultaneously on three devices while creating personalized watch recommendations and live programming guides for up to six family members. Click here to visit the YouTube TV website.
This page is updated on a regular basis. Information is current as of August 13, , but packages, programming, and pricing are subject to change. Please visit each service's website to confirm current may receive a referral fee for any purchases or subscriptions made through links on this page, but this does not influence our reviews or recommendations. See our full FTC Disclosure Statement for more information.

What&#;s on Roku

  • What&#;s on Roku - Free Sling TV, One World global special, Michael Jordan documentary, and more

  • What&#;s on Roku - Ken Burns&#; Baseball documentary, kids TV and movies, tokusatsu shows, and more

  • What&#;s on Roku - Classic album documentaries, binge-watchable channels, free movies and TV shows

  • What&#;s on Roku - Frontline documentary, free hit movies, and popular TV series

  • What&#;s on Roku - Crackle Originals, hit movies, popular children&#;s shows, live webcams, and vintage video games

  • What&#;s on Roku - Free movies on Vudu, PGA Tour Channel on Pluto, recent TV episodes on The CW, and more!

  • What&#;s on Roku - Animated series from Adult Swim, sci-fi on Comet TV, nature and history series on Smithsonian, and more!


Cable roku channels without

Best Roku channels

The best Roku channels make it easy so stream blockbuster movies and popular TV shows. Even better, many of them are free! Not only that, Roku is constantly adding more new channels. And the platform is making it easier to access live TV channels; users can now pin the guide to their home screen.

With one of the best Roku devices, you can check out a ton of Roku channels, both free and paid (some of the latter will offer a free trial for new members). These include power players like Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock and HBO Max. 

But the list of best Roku channels doesn't stop with the big-name streaming services. Try PBS Kids for children's programming, CuriosityStream for science content or Twitch for free streaming of video gamers playing games. There's even a Peloton channel on Roku. 

A new Roku Live TV Guide is a great way to "channel surf." The grid-like feature allows users to browse free TV channels that are linear and live (linear means pre-programmed). The new Roku Live TV Guide is similar to the lineup you'd seen on a cable guide, with a list of channels down the side and the time slots across the top. It's an easy way to check out all the free live programming that Roku has to offer in addition to on-demand content.

The best Roku channels to add right now

Peacock (free and subscription)

Peacock is finally taking flight on Roku. NBCUniversal streaming platform launched in July on most major devices, excluding Roku. The companies have come to an agreement, though, and now Peacock is available as a Roku channel. Peacock comes in two tiers, Free (ad supported) and Premium. Both offer thousands of hours of movies and television shows drawn from NBCUniversal's iconic brands. Watch 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Battlestar Galactica and more with Peacock Free. If you want Peacock originals, you'll have to sign up for Premium ($ with ads, $ without).

Amazon Video (subscription and a la carte)

Whether or not you subscribe to Amazon Prime, the Amazon Video channel is a worthwhile addition to your Roku. Those who dish out the $per-year membership fee for Prime can stream a large selection of movies and TV shows. Amazon Video also offers a la carte purchases and rentals, as well as a growing number of original programs, including the acclaimed Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle. For those who don't want a full Amazon Prime subscription, you can subscribe to Amazon Video only for $9 per month. Tom's Guide has also compiled an updated list of what to watch on Amazon Video, in case you're looking for recommendations.


Crackle (free)

Crackle is one of the best Roku channels for watching free big-budget movies, provided you don't mind sitting through a few commercials. If you cut the cord on your cable subscription but still miss zoning out in front of cheesy action comedies, this app is for you. The selection at Crackle rotates frequently, but there are usually some memorable films, like Gattaca.

  • Check out the best Roku VPN to access more content

Netflix (subscription)

Netflix pioneered the art of the marathon TV watching session, which earns it an easy inclusion in our list of best Roku channels. Whether you want to watch newer hits like Black Mirror, or classics like The A-Team, Netflix has something to suit your tastes. Netflix also boasts some of the best-made and well-received original programming, from Marvel tie-ins Daredevil and Jessica Jones, to revivals of popular nostalgic shows like Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life and Fuller House. Check out our guide to the best Netflix shows for a comprehensive view on the best of big red.


Disney Plus (subscription)

Disney Plus brings Disney's massive library of content to the streaming scene. You've got animated princess movies, original Star Wars series, a good chunk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a whole lot of weird mid-budget live-action movies that you half-remember from your childhood. The service costs only $7 per month, which makes it a fair bit cheaper than other streaming services, too. Of course, if you prefer not to give Disney any more of your money or attention, that's fair, too; it's become a bit hegemonic in recent years.


YouTube (free and a la carte)

YouTube is not a TV or movie channel in the strictest sense, but in terms of the raw amount of video it offers, this service is unsurpassed. You'll find a little bit of everything: original web shows, small clips from popular movies and TV shows, music videos, narrated playthroughs of popular video games and just about everything else, from paid movie rentals to much racier fare.

HBO Go/Now (subscription)

While there's no (legal) way around dishing out a lot of money for HBO programming, HBO Go and HBO Now help make the investment worthwhile. These channels let you watch both past and current seasons of popular HBO shows, such as Game of Thrones, in addition to comedy specials and hit movies. While HBO Go requires an existing cable subscription, HBO Now is stand-alone streaming channel. If you're wondering why HBO Max isn't on Roku, it's because the companies are still working out a deal to include the new app.


Hulu (subscription)

Hulu is one of the best Roku channels thanks to deals with major networks, including Fox, NBC, The CW and ABC, and it uploads new episodes shortly after they air. The service has past seasons of popular shows on tap, and even hosts the entire runs of nostalgic series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Daria. A handful of decent Hulu originals, like Difficult People and Casual, sweeten the deal. Check out our guide to the best Hulu movies, shows and more.


FandangoNOW (a la carte)

At first blush, FandangoNOW is extremely similar to Amazon Video. Roku's default movie and TV show streaming service is exactly what it claims to be: a way to buy and rent movies that's pre-installed on every Roku device. While the selection isn't drastically different from competing services, there's no reason not to try it, especially since it now provides a small selection of 4K films.

Apple TV

Apple TV Plus brings a bevy of original content for $5 per month — even if it's not all that good. Viewers will be able to tune into shows like Dickinson, See and The Morning Show, starring actors such as Hailee Steinfeld, Jason Momoa and Jennifer Aniston, respectively. And if the shows aren't to your taste (they very well may not be), the Apple TV app also lets you access TV shows and movies they've purchased through iTunes.


Showtime (subscription)

Showtime has produced some of the most unusual and beloved shows on TV, including Shameless, Homeland, Billions and The Affair. If you get the channel as part of your cable or satellite package, Showtime Anytime allows you to watch the channel's TV shows, comedy specials, sports events and movies. Alternatively, you can subscribe to Showtime as a stand-alone service, with access to all of the same content.


Peloton fanatics don't need an actual Peloton bike to access the popular instructor-led classes; they can just download the app to their mobile device. Now, they can also fire up the Peloton Roku channel and select one of the cycling workouts to stream on a big-screen TV. There are also floor-based workouts available, including strength, yoga, HIIT, dance, and meditation. 

If you already have a Peloton account, you can sign into the channel with your credentials. New users can take advantage of a day free trial; after that, the app-only membership is $ per month. (You can sign up on your TV with Roku Pay.)

Sky News (free)

Sky News provides live broadcasts for the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. Although the organization originated in the U.K., it shares news that the whole English-speaking world can use, and it doesn't cost a dime. In addition to live reports, Sky News also offers cached feeds, allowing users to watch news highlights when it best suits their schedules. The channel provides live, 24/7 coverage.

CBS All Access (subscription)

CBS All Access gives users access to CBS programming in real time, as well as an on-demand library of more than 2, titles, from NCIS to Supergirl to The Twilight Zone. The main draw of the service, however, is Star Trek: Discovery, which is the first new serial adventure in the series since It's an excellent show, and at present, there's no other way to watch it in the United States. Thanks to the new Twilight Zone reboot also available on the service, CBS All Access merits a mention as one of the best Roku channels.

Sling TV (subscription)

Sling TV provides more than 20 beloved broadcast and cable channels, including ESPN, Cartoon Network, TBS and CNN. For those who want additional packages, from Spanish-language channels to additional kids' programming, Sling TV offers supplements a la carte. Sling TV is cheaper than a cable subscription and easy to access on a variety of devices, letting you watch your favorite shows in real time.


MLB.TV (subscription)

With games almost every night and 30 teams to follow, baseball is not a sport for the noncommittal. If you want to watch recorded home games, live away games, live broadcasts, replays and more stats than you can shake a bat at, MLB.TV delivers. MLB.TV is Major League Baseball's official streaming app, and will allow you to watch almost every regular season game from every team.

NBA (subscription)

NBA Game Time for the NBA app streams live basketball games for subscribers, but also has a little something for more casual courtside warriors. Through this app, fans can access live scores, team and player stats, game recaps, video highlights and up-to-the-minute information on league standings. However, be warned that the app generally can't stream local games, due to media company broadcasting restrictions.

WatchESPN (subscription)

If you can't pick just one sport to follow, WatchESPN has you covered. Although WatchESPN requires a cable or satellite subscription, you'll get plenty of bang for your buck. The channel allows you to access ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, ESPNU, ESPNews and ESPN Deportes live, 24/7. You'll also be able to stream recorded games from professional football, baseball, basketball, tennis and more.

NFL (subscription)

If you have both a Roku device and an obsession with American football, the NFL app is one of the best Roku channels for you. By default, the channel can play a number of free game highlights. With a Game Pass subscription and the NFL app, sports fans can watch every game from every team, all season long, right on their Rokus, from the opening skirmishes right up to the Super Bowl.

Pandora (free or subscription)

You've almost certainly used Pandora before. Whether you want background music for your household tasks or the soundtrack for a party, Pandora delivers. The concept is simple: enter a bunch of artists or songs that you like, then Pandora will analyze their commonalities and create a radio channel that suits your taste. You can even create multiple stations to suit various moods, tastes and events.

Spotify (subscription)

Spotify is fun way to listen to songs or entire albums from almost every major musical act of the last years, from Mississippi John Hurt to the Rolling Stones to Katy Perry. Whether your tastes skew to classical, blues, rock, pop, punk, techno or show tunes, Spotify probably has what you're looking for. You can even supplement it with music from your own collection.


Disney Channel (subscription)

Roku's Disney Channel won't do you much good unless you already have a cable or satellite subscription, but if you do, it's one of the best Roku channels for kids. Disney Channel offers both live programming and prerecorded shows, ranging from Elena of Avalor to Girl Meets World. The channel also provides original made-for-TV movies, such as Descendants. There's not much for adults, though.

PBS Kids (free)

PBS has always prided itself on supplying quality programming without advertisements or cable subscriptions, and PBS Kids is no exception. The shows on the PBS Kids Roku app definitely skew toward a younger audience, with titles like Curious George and Sesame Street. Parents may be pleased to discover that classic shows they grew up with, such as Arthur and The Electric Company, are also present and accounted for.

PlayOn (subscription)

PlayOn uses your computer as a media server, and lets your Roku access more than 60 channels through it, including broadcast TV websites, such as ABC, Fox and CBS. This allows you to watch free primetime shows on your TV just a few days after they first air. PlayOn also lets you record videos online for later. Follow the link to install; it's a private channel.

Plex (subscription)

If you'd rather watch your own content than the highly curated fare on the other best Roku channels, Plex is one of the simplest and prettiest ways to do it. Plex will organize all of your content and stream it to your Roku, complete with seasons, cover art, episode descriptions and even a snippet of the theme song for TV shows. The app makes watching your own content just as visually appealing as watching Netflix.

Twitch (free)

If you prefer watching video games to playing them, Twitch is the channel for you. The popular network is the Internet’s first stop for live streams of video games, and you’ll see everything from Overwatch to Dark Souls to Pokémon. Whether you want Let's Plays, tips and tricks or competitive play, Twitch has a streamer to appeal to both your skill level and your taste in personality.

Starz (subscription)

While perhaps not as popular as HBO or Showtime, Starz still has a lot to offer. Whether you subscribe to it as a stand-alone service or activate it through your cable or subscription, you can access hit shows like Blunt Talk and Ash vs. Evil Dead. The biggest advantage of Starz, though, is that it's often the first service to get hit movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

CuriosityStream (subscription)

Imagine the informative, scientific entertainment of the Discovery Channel or National Geographic in their heydays; now imagine it in 4K. That's what CuriosityStream is, and it's absolutely worth the subscription cost. Whether you want to learn about nature, chemistry, geology or astrophysics, CuriosityStream has something to expand your mind. Deep Time History, which combines astronomy with world history, is particularly worth checking out.

The Weather Network (free)

While you're probably not going to get immersed in The Weather Network and watch it for hours on end, it's still pretty useful to know exactly what the weather is in your neighborhood, and how it's going to change over the course of the next few hours or days. The Weather Network is a free channel that shows you local weather, as well as conditions all around the world. You can check in with numerical information displayed up top, or watch full videos from meteorologists.

Vudu (a la carte)

Vudu may seem like just another a-la-carte service, selling you movies and TV shows that you can either rent or keep at premium prices. However, Vudu has a few major advantages that makes it one of the best channels on Roku. First of all, if you've bought any Blu-rays within the past few years, you may have redeemed your digital copies on Vudu, giving you a pretty respectable library to start with. Furthermore, the service offers 4K HDR content — something that not many other video streaming services do just yet.

The Roku Channel (free)

No discussion of the best Roku channels would be complete without the titular one. The Roku Channel may not have the largest selection of movies and TV shows — but said movies and TV shows won't cost you a penny, which seems like a fair trade-off. This channel offers a rotating selection of media, including popular films like Legally Blonde and Drunken Master, supported by periodic ads, as though you were watching a movie on basic cable. Roku has also added a Kids and Family section to the channel, providing friendlier fare for a younger crowd.

Google Play TV and Movies (a la carte)

If you have an Android phone or tablet, there's a good chance that you've bought some media on Google Play TV and Movies. (Even if you haven't, Google may have given you a few titles for free; it's worth checking out.) Google Play TV and Movies lets you buy or rent a la carte films and TV episodes, and in that respect, it's a lot like Amazon, Vudu and some other entries on this list. However, Google Play's big advantage is that it syncs extremely well with the Movies Anywhere program. This lets you access titles you've purchased from a variety of sources, including iTunes — which, of course, does not have a Roku app, and probably never will. You can also access titles you purchase here on any Android device, which is helpful if you want to take your content with you.

DC Universe (subscription)

DC Universe is worth checking out, if only because it offers something unique. At first blush, DC's streaming service is simply a way to showcase a few original video titles, such as Titans and Harley Quinn. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find that it's also a grand repository of beloved DC movies and TV shows, from Christopher Reeve's Superman to Batman: The Animated Series. What really sets DC Universe apart, though, is that it doesn't restrict itself to video; it also offers comic books. From nostalgic single issues of Wonder Woman to postmodern deconstructions like The Dark Knight Returns, DC Universe offers fans a way to see what inspired its new shows firsthand.

Today's best Roku 4 deals

Top 10 FREE Roku Channels in 2021 - Every Roku Owner Should Have These

Roku: My Number One Pick for Cable Cutters

Roku Ultra

Roku is my #1 streaming player recommendation for cable-cutters looking for an easy way to watch content from the Internet on their TVs. While Amazon Fire TV is also great, Roku is probably the best choice for most people.

What is a Roku?

Roku comes in several versions but basically it is a small black box or stick that comes with a remote control and power adapter. Roku connects to the Internet through your home’s Wi-Fi network (some models also have Ethernet connector), so you need an Internet connection to use it.

Roku Ultra with accessories

Roku allows you to watch paid and free content from the Internet such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, YouTube, and many other streaming services, on your TV.

When Roku first came out, there was a lot of misunderstanding as to what it was, with many folks think it was a free replacement for traditional cable TV. It is not an exact replacement for cable. It allows you to watch some free content from the Internet (like YouTube) on your TV, as well as subscription content such as HBO Max, Netflix, and Hulu. Much of this paid content is cheaper than a cable TV contract and usually requires no long-term commitment.

Also understand that the Roku itself is not a DVR; it doesn’t record video, although there are some services that do offer recording capability.

If you already have a “smart TV”, you might not need a Roku. Your smart TV already does a lot of what the Roku does.

Most current Roku models only have HDMI output, so they won’t work with an old tube-type TV. The exception is the Roku Express+ edition, which has composite video outputs in addition to HDMI. So, if you have an old tube TV, get a Roku Express+ (confusingly, the latest Roku Express+ does not have analog outputs, so be sure to get the edition!)


Physically hooking up your Roku is pretty easy. Plug in the power adapter to the wall, and connect the other end to your Roku. Then, plug in an HDMI cable (not included!) to your Roku and your TV.

Setting up your passwords is more of a pain. You will need to choose your Wi-Fi network and enter your password using the dreaded letter-picker and remote control:

Roku letter picker

Then you’ll have to create a Roku account, if you don’t already have one. One annoying thing is that it asks for your credit card information, even if you never plan to purchase any paid programming.

Note: Carefully follow the step-by-step setup instructions. Do not Google "Roku setup" on your computer or phone and start registering at the first website that shows up. There are scammers out there collecting "registration" fees when it should be totally free!

For every streaming service that you have (such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, and so forth), you’ll have to go through the drill of authorizing your account, usually by getting a code from the Roku and entering it on your computer. If your TV and computer are far apart, you’ll be doing a lot of running back and forth (like I was). But, it’s a one-time deal. You won’t have to do it again.


Roku has the largest number of “channels” to choose from among all of the mainstream set-top boxes. Some offer free content, many offer content that you have to pay for. These are not the same as cable TV channels. Some of the content is on-demand rather than live, so it’s like renting from a video rental store.

Roku has really improved the amount of free content that is available right out of the box. In no time I was watching free videos on YouTube, the History Channel, Pluto TV, and Roku’s own free channel.

Roku Channel

But there are a ton of other channels to choose from. There are the paid services you would expect like Netflix and Hulu. Here are some free channels that I would recommend:

  • Pluto TV features over two hundred specialized channels of TV and movie content. While many of the other services are on-demand, Pluto resembles cable or broadcast TV in that the content is always streaming and you just watch what's playing at the moment. Just like cable and broadcast, there are commercials, but it’s one of the best sources of free video online.
  • Crackle offers a few “B-level” and mostly “C-level” older movies for free with ads. I already offer this channel on my Internet remote. It’s worth keeping.
  • Popcorn Flix is a free movie channel like Crackle (with ads), except that we’re talking about “C-level” and “D-level” movies here. I mean, I hadn’t even heard of any of them. They look like they went straight to video. Still, it’s free, so what the heck, I’ll keep it.
  • YouTube (the regular old free version, not to be confused with the pay version, YouTube TV) is my favorite source for free video content. It’s available on all current-generation Roku devices and some older models.

So, out of the box, you can watch tons of free content without paying a dime, as long as you know which channels to look for.

Voice Search

If you’ve ever had to use the cumbersome letter-picker to spell out the name of a movie you’re looking for, you know why voice search is so helpful. It lets you simply say what you’re looking for instead of having to select each letter with the remote control and the Roku will find out which streaming services it is on, i.e., Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. Amazon Fire TV also has this feature.

Note, the Roku Express and Premiere models do not have built-in voice search. Voice search comes with Roku Premiere+, the Roku Streaming Sticks and the Roku Ultra. But, if you don’t have a model with voice search, you might be able to use the Roku app on your phone to get the feature.

Roku gives search results without playing favorites to particular streaming services, while Amazon heavily emphasizes Amazon sources in its search results of course.

Roku search results

Remote Control Headphone Output

One feature unique to some Roku models (Roku 3 and Roku Ultra) is headphone output in the remote control. This allows you to listen to the TV using headphones so you don’t disturb other people in the room, neighbors, etc. If you need this feature, it works well, and none of the other boxes have it! It does cause your remote to eat up batteries if you use it a lot though.

Apple AirPlay Support on 4K Rokus

In late , Roku released a software update that enabled Apple AirPlay to work in select 4K Roku models such as the Roku Ultra. This feature allows you to mirror your iOS device's screen to your TV, enabling you to watch almost any content from the internet on your TV. It works great! These are the Roku models that support AirPlay:

  • Roku Ultra (I have tested the Ultra)
  • Roku Streambar
  • Roku Smart Soundbar
  • Roku Streaming Stick+
  • Roku Premiere
  • Roku TV (select models only)

Previously, AirPlay was the pretty much the only reason I owned an Apple TV box. With this Roku software release, I'm packing up my Apple TV into my closet and solely using my Roku!

Streaming from Your Computer

Another feature I like is the ability to watch video on my computer’s hard drive on my TV. To do that, I had to add a channel called “Plex” and install the Plex server software on my computer. Once I did that and got them synced up (not too difficult), I could watch almost all of the video that I had on my computer’s hard drive – much more so than with my Apple TV, which has severe limitations to what file types it will play. So, Roku beats Apple TV here. If you have lots of video files on your computer that you want to watch on your TV, get a Roku.

Roku can mirror the screen of Android devices, but it can’t natively mirror Apple iOS devices. More info on mirroring to Roku here.

Several readers have mentioned a service called PlayOn, which allows you to stream from your computer to your Roku. The premium version gives you access to more channels, mostly the network websites. Cost is currently about $35 for a lifetime license.

Streaming from USB

Roku devices with a standard USB ports, such as the Roku 3 and Roku Ultra, have the ability to play video, music and photos from USB storage devices such as hard drives or flash sticks.  Simply plug in the USB storage device and the Roku Media Player app should appear (if not, you can download it).

Roku 3 playing from USB stick

This is great for viewing videos you already own.  Or, you can use it to show photos from your last vacation!

The one caveat is that the video file types that this will work are limited to .MKV, .M4V, .MP4, and .MOV. While many videos on the web are of these formats, many videos that you might have may not be (such as .MPG, DV-RMS video files from the old Windows Media Center and so on). 

So, if your files are in the right format, this could be a really cool and dead simple way to watch video that you already own on your Roku!

Streaming Recorded Video from Your Phone

It’s actually really easy to stream recorded videos from your iOS or Android phone/tablet to your Roku! Simply get the Roku app on your device, then choose what kind of media you want to play/display on your TV, video, photos, or music. Just make sure your phone is on the same Wi-Fi network as your Roku (if you’re at home, it probably will be).

Note this lets you stream videos stored on your phone (like videos you’ve made), but not videos streaming in real time from the Internet. So, you can't watch a video from a website on your Roku using this technique.

Another note, the Roku won’t play your iPhone videos if you plug your iPhone directly into the USB port. Use the wireless method above.

Using Roku as a Spare Cable / Satellite Box

Several readers with pay satellite or cable services have asked me if they can use a Roku to watch DirecTV, Xfinity, etc. on a second TV without having to rent another expensive decoder box from the provider.

As far as I can tell, for DirecTV, the answer is “no”. There is a DIRECTVNOW service with Roku app, but that is separate from DirecTV, and DirecTV customers can’t use the app without subscribing.

Xfinity does have a beta Roku app which lacks some features but is still usable.

Spectrum TV does have a Roku app that allows you to watch your content using a Roku, but only when connected to your home’s Internet (i.e., you can’t use it in a hotel, for example). So in this case you could use it as a substitute for a cable box.

Since this site is about cutting cable and satellite, I don’t subscribe to any paid satellite or cable TV services, so anyone who does, please chime in on the comments below to correct or clarify anything I’ve said about this! 

Roku vs. Other Streaming Boxes

Roku advantages

  • Has the most channels out of all of the mainstream set-top boxes.
  • Roku Ultra has headphone output in remote control
  • Easy to use
  • Roku Express+ edition (note the “plus” and the ) will work with old tube TVs with composite video input
  • Select 4K Roku devices (like the Roku Ultra) have Apple AirPlay built in, allowing you to mirror your iOS device's screen to your TV

Roku disadvantages

For most people, Roku is my recommended streaming player. It has the most apps and is the easiest to use.  If you like using Alexa or need a web browser on your TV, then Amazon Fire TV might be best.

Which Roku Should I Get?

If you think Roku is right for you, you might be wondering, “which one should I get?” It’s one of the most common questions people ask me, especially since Roku exploded their product lineup into a confusing mix of boxes and streaming sticks. Here are some guidelines:

  • If you have an old tube TV, the only Roku that will work for you is the Roku Express+ (note the plus at the end, and it MUST be the classic version! The newer version does not have analog outputs!) Your TV will need to have composite video inputs (round and usually colored yellow, white, and red).
  • I would avoid the regular Roku Express and Premiere, since those don’t have voice remote.
  • I would avoid the regular Roku Streaming Stick, because it can’t do 4K. Even if your TV doesn’t do 4K now, you could just get the Roku Premiere+ for the same cost, and that does support 4K.  So, that eliminates the Streaming Stick.
  • If you need headphones in the remote for private listening, go with the Roku Ultra.
  • If you need an Ethernet port (i.e., you don’t have WiFi), go with the Roku Ultra.

To summarize, my recommended Roku models are:

  • Express+ (not the latest version) if you have a tube TV. Look for the red, white, and yellow cables on the box.
  • Streaming Stick+ if you want a good mid-level solution and can’t afford an Ultra.
  • Roku Ultra if you can afford it.

Note, you will need a separate Roku box for each TV in your home.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, you can buy a Roku on Amazon:

Only the Roku Express+ edition will work with older TV’s because it has composite video output (look for the red, white, and yellow cables on the box):

Note, you'll have to look under "other sellers" on Amazon since this is an older model.

What do you think of your Roku? Questions? Please leave a comment below. – Brian

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If you have a question about this article, leave a comment below. I personally read and answer each one. If you want advice on TV reception, leave your zip code. I'd also love to hear how you're saving money on TV. Tell me your story! Note, I cannot answer individual email sent to me; please leave your questions here instead. - Brian

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