2020 has been a fantastic year for streaming. With cinemas closed, it has been the best way for new content to be distributed to the masses. There is no shortage of ways to stream, whether you have a dedicated one streaming device or one of best TVs with built-in smarts.
Despite all the competition, Roku is still making my favorite streaming devices, and with the amount of streaming I’ve done this year, the love for them has only grown.
Roku is by no means a small company by any means, but compared to the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google, they are still relatively unknown to the masses. Which does not make sense, because Roku has a lot to do for it ̵
In fact, I just bought my third Roku device, and now have more of them than I do TVs.
Get access to all the content you want
There are many reasons why I like Roku, and one big one is that they do not fall within the lines of one of the other big technology companies. Many other streaming gadgets are manufactured by big rivals, and they have been known to refuse to let competitors access their devices. Like Amazon and Google’s protracted saliva that prevented YouTube from appearing on Four TV sticks, and Prime Video on Chromecast until last year.
Roku itself has claimed status as an impartial partner, with no incentive to prioritize any service. In other words, Roku devices usually have access to all major streaming services. There are exceptions, such as the long distance that stopped Roku users from accessing HBO Max, but historically, a service is rarely missing. And Roku and HBO Max recently signed a deal.
A clean interface (that does not sell you things)
While Roku operates its own free streaming channels, the “objective partner” status means that the interface itself avoids pushing you towards any service. There are static ads in a small number of places (one of my colleagues says it’s still too much), but for the most part it’s content to let you look at what you want to see.
Roku is not like Amazon’s Fire OS, which is constantly trying to push you towards Prime Video and other Amazon services. Some Fire TVs may offer more advanced features than comparable Rokuser, such as built-in Alexa integration, but for me it’s not worth the detour.
To me, the pure interface is the real selling point. Roku OS puts your content in front of and in the middle of the homepage as soon as you turn on the TV. It’s not something that makes you navigate halfway down the page or hunt for your streaming apps, nor are you forced to radiate anything from your phone or endure any other nonsense that comes between you and the shows you want to watch.
What about Chromecast and Apple TV?
Roku is not the only company doing this. Google TV, like Android, lets you customize your home screen to your liking. Similarly, Apple TV lets you customize how app icons appear on the home page. But Apple TV boxes are very expensive in comparison, and Chromecast with Google TV has a home screen with much suggested and marketed content.
Apple TV also has the awful trackpad remote control that I have never been able to stand. It has improved over the years, from what I have experienced, but it still sucks. For a company that is proud of design, Apple makes some spectacularly stupid decisions by over-technical things that do not need it. Roku did not do it on the remote control, but that’s not really a selling point considering that all other streaming devices do it the same way.
I could do without the annoying buttons for services I never use. Roku is not alone in doing this, as Nvidia Shield TV and PS5 media remote landlords want to know. It would still be nice to either remove them or let’s adapt what they do.
The value factor
All this is pointless if a device is not affordable. Apple TV has a lot to do, but the cheapest one still costs $ 149, and it does not even support 4K. If you want to pay at least $ 179. Roko’s cheapest unit is $ 30 (Roku Express) and 4K support costs $ 40 (Roku Premiere), and the most expensive all-inclusive unit is only $ 100 Roku (Roku Ultra). It is believed that none of these devices are for sale, and Rokus often is. Especially at this time of year.
It’s about the same as Amazon’s Fire TVs, whether we’m talking about Fire TV Stick Lite, Fire TV Stick 4K or Fire TV Cube. The functions are not identical, but the point is that Rokus does not cost too much.
Roku has some drawbacks
But Rokus does not have everything. For example, they spent many years ignoring Dolby Vision, and now only included this standard in the most expensive device: the Roku Ultra. Meanwhile, Amazon’s 4K Fire TV Stick has included HDR10 and Dolby Vision from day one. And for half the price to start.
If you have a Dolby Vision TV, it will definitely deter you, and Roko’s next set of 4K streaming devices will include support for HDR10 + and Dolby Vision. Especially if Roku plans to release more sound fields. If you are trying to buy a sound bar to upgrade your living room layout, it will help to get the best features thrown.
The bottom line
The truth is, I’m willing to ignore some of Roku’s minor flaws if I get something green in return. In my mind, a clean and user-friendly interface is well worth the fact that I do not have an HDR feature I can not even use right now. But come back to me in a few years after I upgraded my TV to something better than a basic 4K set, and see if I feel the same way.