Roku Streaming Stick Review

(From $49.00 Best)

For a price $50 cheaper than Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, or Roku 3, this streaming media player supports 1080p high definition, myriad subscription streaming services, and hundreds of free channels. It also has the dual-band wireless capabilities of Roku's higher-end boxes. The stick doesn't deliver all the same features, of course, but it's an amazingly capable device at a very low price. (The Roku Streaming Stick is compatible only with HDTVs; consumers without an HDMI port should opt for the Roku 1 or 2.)

Roku Streaming Stick reviews sometimes portray this as a direct competitor to Google Chromecast. Both are small dongles that plug directly into an HDMI port, draw power via USB, and allow users to watch streaming content on a TV. But they are, in fact, two very different devices. Chromecast requires a computer or mobile device to push content to the TV and for navigation, whereas the Roku Stick (starting at $49, Amazon) is a complete streaming media device that comes with a remote. CNET calls it the best of both worlds, as users can navigate with a smartphone and cast content from select mobile apps but also use the remote to pull up Roku's full spectrum of channels. In other words, for about $50, the Roku Streaming Stick offers a solution that competes with the $100 Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku 3.

No one beats Roku in terms of available content. The Roku ecosystem includes all the big players: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video (not available on Apple TV or Chromecast), YouTube, WatchESPN, and HBO Go. The Plex channel lets users stream content stored on a computer. The hundreds of official channels that Roku supports are complemented by private channels with access codes catalogued on sites such as StreamFree.TV. About all that's missing is native support for mirroring a computer screen, a feature of Chromecast and Apple TV.

The Roku Streaming Stick supports high-definition 720p or 1080p content and requires a TV with an HDMI port. This won't be a problem for anyone with a relatively new TV, but those with older models will have to opt for a Roku 1 or 2 with an RCA output (composite video and stereo audio). In one Roku Streaming Stick review on the company's website, an owner notes that the size of the device can make neighboring HDMI ports inaccessible. A Roku representative was quick to offer a complimentary HDMI extender.

What the Roku Streaming Stick lacks are some bells and whistles that may be important to some consumers. The remote doesn't have the headphone jack included on the Roku 2 and 3 remotes, a much-appreciated feature among users who like to watch TV in bed without disturbing a significant other. The Roku Streaming Stick also doesn't include motion control for games or have the high-end hardware of the Roku 3. Because of this, some apps such as Netflix and YouTube may take a little longer to load -- the primary gripe in CNET's Roku Streaming Stick review. On the flipside, the stick houses the same dual-band wireless connectivity the Roku 2 and 3 use.

This streaming device supports 1080p playback and even allows users to cast content from the Netflix and YouTube mobile apps (a feature that's not supported by Roku 1 or 2) and display content stored locally on a smartphone via the Roku app. In short, this is an excellent, fully loaded streaming media device for anyone looking to "cut the cord" or supplement a home theater setup on a budget.

Roku 2 Review

(From $70.00 Best)

The Roku 2 is a top contender, offering all the essentials of the Roku ecosystem at a lower cost than the top-of-the-line box. Owners miss out on a few bells and whistles but still get a remote with a headphone jack for viewing without disrupting someone else in the same room. The Roku 2 also works with both HD and standard-definition TVs. For some, such features may be worth an extra $30 over the Roku Streaming Stick.

Roku 2 reviews often come from consumers who've cut their cable service (and bill) and replaced it with the one-time cost of a Roku and a few monthly subscriptions to streaming services. With both HDMI and RCA output, this set-top box can hook up to almost any TV and reviewers say it's easy to set up and use (although buyers must purchase an HDMI cable separately). On the Best Buy website, one customer crows that even 80-year-old grandparents have no trouble using it (after a little training). Hundreds of other customers have left feedback on the site, and only a handful of the Roku 2 reviews lean negative.

This model (starting at $70, Amazon) features dual-band wireless for a quick and reliable connection, although some owners would prefer the option of an even more stable Ethernet connection (available on the Roku 3). The remote includes a headphone jack for late-night watching without disturbing the house and channel shortcut buttons for quick access to Netflix, Blockbuster, M-Go streaming movies, and Amazon Instant Video. The Roku 2 no longer has a microSD port, which allowed owners to store more games and channels on the box, or the analog stereo output that some consumers may need for their stereo systems. The pricier Roku 3 has the former but not the latter; those with home stereo systems should consider an older Roku or a competitor such as Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV.

Roku doesn't support the same mirroring of a computer's desktop to a TV screen that Apple TV and Chromecast enable, nor direct access to media from iTunes or Google Play. However, users can play content that's stored on a computer using the Plex channel on Roku. A Gizmodo reader who owns both Apple TV and Roku comments that the Apple TV comes in handy for mirroring and iTunes content, but overall the Roku gets used more often.

Roku 2 reviews on Amazon point to ease of use and access to so much content as primary selling points for this set-top box. One reviewer who owns both a Roku 2 and Roku 3 provides an in-depth comparison between the two. He concludes that the Roku 2 is a better device for the money unless you really want the Ethernet connection, casting from the YouTube mobile app, or a motion-control remote for gaming. Overall the Roku is a top choice for anyone looking to add streaming media to a home theater or cut the cable cord.

Where to buy

Google Chromecast Review

(From $35.00 Good)

Google's Chromecast is so cheap that many consumers have snatched it up "just because." The ability to mirror the content of a Chrome browser tab, or even a computer's desktop, on a TV adds to the appeal. However, the Chromecast doesn't stand on its own as a content source.

Google Chromecast reviews highlight the low price (starting at $35, Amazon) and simplicity of the device: Just plug the dongle into the back of an HDTV and use mobile apps or the Chrome web browser much as you normally would. The ability to "cast" music and video from a mobile device or computer to a TV is so desirable that a Chromecast review by Business Insider calls the decision to buy the device a no-brainer -- and that review was published before Chromecast supported many third-party apps. Chromecast owners can display content from Google's media services, such as YouTube and Google Play, and use popular services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora, and Plex.

PC Mag's updated Chromecast review rates the device excellent and gives it an Editors' Choice award. The reviewer recommends it for consumers who live by their smartphones, but it's not a stand-alone media system; there are other, simpler options. A TechRadar Chromecast review, which gives the device a 4 out of 5 rating, cites a couple of limitations: a lack of Windows phone support and a requirement to use Chrome for mirroring. On the positive, Chromecast is easy to set up, use, and bring with you anywhere, not to mention inexpensive.

Perhaps revealingly, most Chromecast reviews we read conclude that consumers might as well buy the device, given that it costs only $35. That may not be reason enough for many frugal-minded consumers, especially those who want only one streaming device. Again, this is not a content-filled addition to a home-entertainment setup. Chromecast relies on other devices to send it content, instead of standing on its own. There are no menus to navigate, but that's because there are no native apps at all. Notably, you can't plop on the couch, turn on your TV, and be good to go; you need another device. Chromecast makes a convenient relay point for displaying online content on a TV screen, but it's not the best streaming entertainment system.

Chromecast caters to consumers who want to easily and wirelessly transfer video and music from a mobile device or laptop to a TV. The ability to mirror a computer screen on a TV is another huge selling point that's still in development but sure to improve over time. Chromecast gives users the potential to access essentially any online content they want on a TV.

Where to buy

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Amazon Fire TV Review

(From $99.00 Think Twice)

The Fire TV is part streaming device and part gaming console, if you fork over an extra $40 for the controller. The box is the fastest and most powerful of any on this list, supports popular services, and offers innovative features for use with Amazon Instant Video, but a budget offering it is not.

With the Fire TV (starting at $99, Amazon), Amazon has introduced its bid for control over the living room. Fire TV reviews indicate that this set-top box -- part streaming media player and part game console -- is a potentially worthwhile addition to a home media setup but not a bargain.

One aspect of Amazon Fire TV that reviewers unfailingly highlight is the internal components. The quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and "dedicated" graphics processing unit (GPU) translate to less time spent waiting for menus or content to load. A top-rated Fire TV review from a consumer on Amazon says the box starts up and negotiates menus quickly and doesn't struggle with 1080p HD content like other streaming media players occasionally do. The dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi improves connection speeds and an Ethernet port is available for a wired connection. Amazon Fire TV also comes with an optical audio port, allowing for 5.1 surround sound, as well as an HDMI port for connecting to the TV, but an HDMI cable must be purchased separately.

Fire TV launched with support for many of the biggest content players, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, YouTube, and WatchESPN in addition to Amazon Instant Video (which is being beefed up with original content from Amazon Studios). Amazon Prime members have the added advantage of being able to stream some content as part of their $99 annual membership. Like other set-top boxes, Amazon Fire TV allows users to "fling" or mirror content from a mobile device to the TV. At release this feature was limited to the Kindle Fire HDX tablet, but support for Android and iOS devices is in development. In the meantime, Fire TV lacks support for some popular apps, including Vudu and HBO Go, although Prime members can now stream older HBO shows on Amazon Instant. Without the computer-screen-mirroring capability of a Chromecast or Apple TV, most viewers are simply stuck without access to unsupported content.

A voice-search feature built into the remote is one thing that sets this box apart from others already on the market. A Fire TV review on CNET labels the function innovative, quick, and accurate. However, voice search yields results only from Amazon Instant Video (and occasionally Vevo or Hulu Plus). The lack of voice search for Netflix and other third-party content is disappointing, especially when Amazon offers up content for purchase that's free with a subscription elsewhere. Similarly, the Advanced Streaming and Prediction (ASAP) feature preloads media when you hover over it, or if the recommendation engine thinks you will enjoy it, which does away with buffering -- but only for Amazon Instant Video. Many reviewers bristle at this sort of favoritism.

In addition to streaming media, Amazon Fire TV doubles as a casual gaming console. It's not meant to contend with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, but it offers popular titles including Minecraft Pocket Edition, Deus Ex: The Fall, and The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season. Amazon has also started its own Amazon Game Studios and staffed it with some of the best talent available. Consumers must purchase a remote ($40) to take full advantage of this side of the Fire TV and an 8GB hard drive limits the number of games the device can store at one time.

Amazon Fire TV reviews portray this as a strong but not especially novel addition to the market. It's a nice middle ground for consumers looking for a streaming media player and casual gaming console for the living room. The comparatively high-end hardware creates less lag, but many of the most innovative features are limited to content under Amazon's umbrella. The Fire TV does well against other boxes at the same price point, namely Apple TV and Roku 3. But if you're looking for the best budget option, the lower-priced Roku offerings are the way to go.

Apple TV Review

(From $99.00 Think Twice)

Like most Apple products, Apple TV has a number of fans but comes with a premium price tag. In this case the cost doesn't seem justified when other set-top boxes offer more content and just as much usability at a lower cost -- unless, perhaps, you own multiple Apple devices and a full library of iTunes content. Even so, Apple TV is due for an update.

Apple TV reviews seem to agree that this device delivers the sleek design and superb user experience Apple is known for. However, buyers may not be getting the best option for the price. CNET points out that Apple TV (starting at $99, Amazon) is somewhat limited for consumers who don't already use Apple products. Roku players offer more content options, often at a lower price. Still, this set-top box suits Apple devotees who can enjoy it to its full potential and the reviewer gives Apple TV 4 out of 5 stars.

More than 2,000 Apple TV reviews on Amazon have resulted in a similar 4.5 out of 5 rating. One reviewer calls the device elegant and was won over by the easy setup and intuitive interface. Apple TV connects to an HDTV with an HDMI cable, which is not included. In addition to the content accessible through the box itself, Apple TV allows users to transmit shows, movies, and music playing on an Apple tablet, smartphone, or computer to a TV screen using AirPlay, or even mirror the entire screen onto the TV. In other words, any video that can be found on the web can be displayed in full HD on a larger screen. Mirroring requires a newer mobile device or a computer with the Mountain Lion or Mavericks operating system (mid-2011 or later).

Considering the competition, the cost of Apple TV may not seem justified. For one, although Apple TV owners can access their subscriptions to popular streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus using an Apple TV app, the box doesn't support Amazon Instant Video (a perk of Amazon Prime membership) or Redbox Instant. Apple TV reviews by consumers point to this as a reason to switch to Roku, which includes those channels and hundreds more for as little as half the price.

Perhaps the greatest asset of Apple TV is the ability to transmit a signal from a mobile device to the TV using AirPlay. A commuter could be watching a show on an iPad on the train ride home and then, with a tap of a button, continue the show on a full-size screen once they've arrived and turned on the TV. But this is a feature that essentially works only within the Apple family of products, where other devices are more inclusive. Windows users can send content to Apple TV using iTunes but can't mirror their entire desktop on a TV like Mac users can. There are workarounds, but they require a third-party solution such as AirParrot ($10). (Some Mac owners also consider AirParrot a worthwhile buy, as it allows a TV to be an extension rather than a duplicate of the computer screen.)

All in all, Apple TV is a handy addition to a fleet of Apple products, but it doesn't fit Cheapism's definition of a best buy.

Where to buy

Shopping.com
$69.99

Buying Guide

Cheap streaming media players let users enjoy online video and other content from providers such as Netflix on a TV screen instead of crowding around a computer monitor. Streaming devices have also nudged many consumers to unplug from costly cable or satellite TV service. But when comparing Google Chromecast vs. Roku players vs. Apple TV, as well as the newer Amazon Fire TV, which is best for the budget-conscious buyer?

Streaming Media Player Buying Guide

For consumers seeking the widest array of content at a bargain price, the Roku Streaming Stick (starting at $49) takes gold. Consumers with a little more to spend can upgrade to a Roku 2 set-top box (starting at $70) with additional features. The cheapest streaming media player we recommend is Google Chromecast (starting at $35), a dongle that enables users to "cast" content from Google Play, a supported mobile app, or the Chrome web browser to a TV. Unlike the others, it relies on another device for content rather than housing its own channels. Apple TV (starting at $99) limits some of its most compelling features to Apple's family of devices and doesn't support nearly as many content providers as Roku. It's also priced at the high end for a streaming media player. A better option for consumers with available funds may be the Roku 3 (also starting at $100), which comes with USB and microSD ports to accommodate more content, an Ethernet port for a more stable connection, and a faster processor than the Roku 2. Amazon Fire TV (starting at $99) focuses far more on gaming than the others and makes a good option for Kindle owners and Prime members. But Roku's cheaper devices also serve up Amazon Instant Video, not to mention an unmatched selection of other content unavailable through Amazon.

Some households may not need to purchase a streaming media player at all, as many new HDTVs, Blu-ray players, and game consoles come equipped with the ability to connect to popular online streaming services such as Netflix. However, smart TVs, as they're called, still cost more than their "dumb" counterparts. With all the set-top boxes available for under $100, a dedicated device may be a more economical solution. The best streaming devices also add a lot more functionality.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

(from $49)
Supported Content Sources Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, Redbox Instant, YouTube, Pandora, WatchESPN, Plex, and 1,000+ other channels
Supported TVs HDTVs only
Supported Resolutions 720p, 1080p
Remote Yes
(from $70)
Supported Content Sources Same as Roku Streaming Stick minus YouTube
Supported TVs Almost any TV
Supported Resolutions 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080p
Remote Yes, with headphone jack
(from $35)
Supported Content Sources Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, YouTube, Pandora, Plex, Google Play, Chrome browser tab mirroring, and more
Supported TVs HDTVs only
Supported Resolutions 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080p
Remote No
(from $99)
Supported Content Sources Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, YouTube, WatchESPN, iTunes, Apple device mirroring, and more
Supported TVs HDTVs only
Supported Resolutions 720p, 1080p
Remote Yes
(from $99)
Supported Content Sources Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Pandora, WatchESPN, and more
Supported TVs HDTVs only
Supported Resolutions 720p, 1080p
Remote Yes, with voice search

What We Looked For in the Specs

Support for 1080p HD.

All the cheap streaming media players recommended here play back the highest of high-definition content. In fact, many require an HDMI port and work only with HDTVs. Consumers with standard-definition TVs should opt for a Roku 2 or Roku 1 (starting at $50), which can plug into a TV via an RCA connector (with a yellow plug for composite video and red and white plugs for stereo audio).

Content Galore.

Lucky for consumers, two of the most popular streaming video services -- Netflix and Hulu Plus -- work with any of the media players listed here. It must be noted that no device includes free access to such subscription-based providers. Owners still need to pay $7.99 per month for Netflix or Hulu Plus. HBO Go and WatchESPN are available only to paying cable subscribers and unlimited Amazon Instant streaming requires a Prime membership ($99 per year).

From the table below, it's clear that Roku offers the most "channels"; more than 1,000 are available. Unlike Apple TV or Chromecast, it supports Amazon Instant Video and Redbox Instant, an $8-a-month service that lets subscribers stream movies and receive rentals from Redbox vending machines. Roku also hosts free channels that typically broadcast prerecorded video, such as TED talks and AllRecipes.com cooking shows. SnagFilms gives users access to thousands of ad-supported movies. An additional 150-plus private channels are developed and distributed independently. One popular example is Nowhere TV, which streams local news and sports broadcasts.

In addition to providing such "all you can eat" streaming services, each player supports various ways to access and/or purchase media a la carte. Consumers invested in the Apple ecosystem can call up and add to an iTunes library on Apple TV and the Google Play store connects with Chromecast. Amazon users can make Amazon Instant Video purchases and display photos from Cloud Drive, although reviewers express some surprise that there's no support for Cloud Player music yet. The ability to access media files stored on a computer or mobile device using a channel called Plex helps make Roku players more flexible. Smartphone users can also download the Roku app to send videos, music, and photos on the phone to a TV.

Device Compatibility.

All the streaming media players we researched allow users to send content from a supported mobile app to a TV, but some support more devices and apps than others. Among the Roku players, only the Roku Streaming Stick and Roku 3 have this capability and the only compatible apps are Netflix and YouTube. By contrast, Apple TV and Chromecast support numerous apps and can also mirror what appears on a computer screen. In other words, whatever users can access with a web browser can also be displayed on a TV. Want to use Chromecast to watch an unsupported service such as Amazon Instant Video? Start streaming in the Chrome browser and "cast" it to the TV.

In most cases these methods of content delivery just add flexibility, but Chromecast relies on them entirely. The dongle works with Android and Apple iOS mobile devices and Windows and Mac computers running the Chrome web browser. Mirroring is primarily confined to a Chrome browser tab; an option to "cast" the entire screen is still in beta and only the Nexus 5 phone has native support for Android mirroring. One benefit is that Chromecast-compatible apps can run in the background on tablets and smartphones. Users can open the Netflix app, "cast" a movie, and then minimize the app and continue to use the device while watching. Apple TV allows multitasking with some apps -- HBO Go, for example -- but not all.

Apple TV uses the company's AirPlay technology to receive and display audio and video content sent from other devices. Users can mirror an entire Mac desktop or mobile device screen. Mirroring is generally limited to recent versions of Apple devices and Mac computers. Amazon Fire TV users can "fling" content or mirror the screen only with a Kindle Fire HDX tablet, although support for Android and iOS devices is said to be in the works.

Consumers mainly interested in connecting their computers to their TVs can also do so without a streaming device for almost nothing. A 10-foot HDMI cable costs just a few dollars and allows for mirroring and dual-screen modes. Setup is as easy as plugging in the cable to an HDTV and a computer with an HDMI port and changing the input setting on the TV.

Streaming Media Player Reviews

Looking at the thousands of streaming media player reviews of devices from Apple, Google, and Roku, as well as early reviews of Amazon Fire TV, it seems that all the manufacturers have produced praise-worthy products. Aggregate ratings from Amazon and Best Buy show that none of the devices we examined receives less than four stars. We considered reviews by experts as well as the everyday consumer to find out how easy it is to set up and control each device.

Simple Setup.

Getting started with any of the options is relatively easy. The Roku Streaming Stick plugs straight into an HDMI port. Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku set-top boxes connect to an HDTV using an HDMI cable -- which is not included -- and draw power from a wall adapter. Users set up a Wi-Fi connection using an included remote. (Those who have several Wi-Fi networks should be sure the streaming media player is connected to the same network as any devices they plan to use with it.) Apple TV, Roku 3, and Fire TV can also connect to the Internet with an Ethernet cable for a faster, direct connection or in the absence of a home Wi-Fi network. With Roku, the final step takes place on the computer, where owners authenticate the device and connect to their subscription services. An easy-to-follow video can be found on Roku's website. A set-top-box review at GeekWire credits Amazon Fire TV with being the easiest to set up. Buyers receive the box preconfigured with their Amazon account and the quad-core processor loads content almost instantly.

Google's Chromecast is perhaps a smidge more complicated to set up than the others. Users plug the dongle into an HDMI port and a power cable into the wall or a USB port on the TV. Then they must download the Chromecast setup app to a computer or Android device and follow the directions to connect Chromecast to a Wi-Fi network. For those who want to broadcast content from a computer, a Chrome browser extension is an additional required download. CNET put together its own setup guide, and although some commenters report problems, most have found the process painless. When it comes down to it, no streaming device should take more than five or 10 minutes to get up and running.

Convenient Navigation.

Controlling a set-top box isn't difficult, but it can be frustrating. The Apple TV and Roku remotes easily browse menus to find and select movies or TV shows. However, streaming media player reviews complain that users who want to type in the name of a specific title face the time-consuming task of hunting down each letter onscreen. On the upside, both can connect to a smartphone with a corresponding app installed and use the phone's keyboard instead. The Apple TV Remote app is available only for iOS devices, while Roku's works with Windows, Android, and Apple smartphones and tablets. Streaming media player reviews on the Roku forums also point in the direction of Remoku.tv, a website that allows Roku owners to use a browser window on a computer as a remote.

Amazon Fire TV uses a remote similar to those of Apple TV and Roku but ups the ante with a voice search system. Set-top-box reviews blast this feature, though, for indexing content only from Amazon itself and from the Vevo music video service. A search might prompt the user to buy a movie through Amazon Instant Video, for instance, when it's available free on Netflix. Chromecast doesn't have a remote because it doesn't need one: Unlike a set-top box or Roku Streaming Stick, Chromecast is not a system unto itself; there are no menus to navigate. It is, in a sense, only a relay point for receiving content "cast" from a phone, tablet, or computer.

In short, all these devices are designed so even a novice won't have trouble. After setup, watching Netflix on a TV with Chromecast is a simple matter of opening the Netflix app on a smartphone or tablet and hitting a button to cast it, or pulling up the Netflix website on a Chrome browser and choosing the "display on TV" option. With a Roku player or Amazon Fire TV, users navigate to the built-in Netflix app. Some Roku remotes also have a quick-select button for Netflix, and the Roku Streaming Stick and Roku 3 support casting from the Netflix mobile app. Apple TV users can opt for either method: They can start a Netflix movie from an Apple mobile device or computer and then broadcast it on the TV using AirPlay or they can navigate to Apple TV's Netflix app and make a selection.

Additional Products We Considered

Roku 3 Review

(From $100.00 )

Experts and consumers alike show love for this set-top box and Roku 3 reviews from the likes of CNET and Wired declare it the best choice for cord cutters. It was released in March 2013 with a new interface and a fast processor for quicker searching and a better user experience. The huge content library available to Roku users is also a main selling point.

Reviews on Amazon praise every aspect of the Roku 3 (starting at $100, Amazon), from the plethora of content to the smooth streaming and easy-to-operate menus. But for consumers who are price-conscious, the cheaper offerings in Roku's lineup might be a better choice. The Roku Streaming Stick, Cheapism's top choice, features the same 1080p playback, dual-band wireless, and casting from the Netflix and YouTube mobile apps but is half the cost.

The high-end Roku 3 does come with a few extra perks, such as a motion-control remote for playing games. The upgraded remote also has a headphone jack, which spouses of night owls will appreciate. Another exclusive feature of the Roku 3 is a USB port, which allows users to load a thumb drive with songs, photos, and videos and play them on TV. Supported content types include MP4 and MKV video, JPG and PNG photos, and AAC and MP3 audio files. Roku 3 can connect only to HDTVs, but most modern TVs fit that definition. Internet connectivity is potentially better with the Roku 3 than with other Roku models because an Ethernet port allows for a wired connection. The box also has a microSD slot to provide additional space for channels and games.

Even with all these extra features, there are some things missing. A commenter on a Roku 3 review at HD Guru is displeased with the lack of a separate audio output, which is necessary for his entertainment-center setup. (Oddly enough, this feature was available on a previous model, the Roku 2 XD.) Consumers with similarly specific needs and tighter budgets might turn to other streaming media players, but this is almost universally considered the best available for most cord cutters.

Roku 1 Review

The low-end Roku set-top box (starting at $50, Amazon) represents a savings over most of the company's other streaming media players, but Roku 1 reviews point out it's not the best value for the money. The Roku Streaming Stick costs the same amount and has a native YouTube app, supports casting from mobile devices for YouTube and Netflix, and has dual-band wireless for a faster and more stable connection. The Roku 2, which costs an additional $20, also comes with dual-band wireless and a remote with a built-in headphone jack. Many owners use this feature to watch TV late at night without disturbing the rest of the house. The Streaming Stick and Roku 2 remotes also use radio frequency technology, which controls the device even without a clear line of sight.

The Roku 1 and Roku 2 are otherwise nearly identical set-top boxes. They sport curvy corners, a design that helps Roku media players stand apart from boxier competitors. Both have three ports on the back: one for power, one for an HDMI cable to connect to an HDTV, and one for an RCA connection to a standard-definition TV (a composite A/V cable is included but an HDMI cable is not). The RCA plug is one selling point for the Roku 1 vs. the Roku Streaming Stick, which costs the same but plugs into HDTVs only. On the company website, Roku 1 reviews generally praise the device's performance. Some consumers say this is their go-to source of content and a sufficient (cheaper) alternative to cable.

Roku devices make use of the company's vast ecosystem, which includes hundreds of channels and popular streaming services. Roku 1 users can watch content from Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, RedBox Instant, and WatchESPN, among countless others. The Plex channel lets owners supplement the offerings with content stored on their computers. Independently created "private" channels also add to the offering. These don't appear in the Roku Channel Store, so websites such as StreamFree.TV compile lists of channels and access codes. CNN, Fox Business, and YouTube have private channels and many others are still in testing, so they may not work perfectly at all times. Although Roku 1 users can't broadcast videos from their mobile devices or computers onto a TV screen like they can with Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, or Chromecast, the set-top box stands on its own as a worthwhile addition to the living room. (The Roku Streaming Stick and Roku 3 do feature casting for some apps and Roku is aiming to support more apps and bring this feature to more of its media players in the near future.)

A Roku 1 offers access to the same wealth of content at a lower price than most other Roku devices but has less impressive hardware. For the extra savings, buyers sacrifice features such as dual-band wireless and a headphone jack on the remote, but the low price and ability to connect to a non-HD TV make this a good choice for some consumers.