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Roku vs AppleTV Smackdown

March 23, 2011

I don’t have cable. But I watch a lot of TV.

For my birthday I got a Roku and after tooling around with it for a couple of weeks, I cut the cable cord, much to the wife’s chagrin. Then, last Christmas, I found under the tree an AppleTV (although it is small enough it could have gone in the stocking.)

AppleTV and Roku essentially inhabit the same space. Both are around (or under) $100, both are solely media streaming devices and, unlike the mythical GoogleTV or the enigmatic Boxee, neither offer web access.

So with no methodology and no experience in product reviews, here is my official, unauthorized, David-vs-Goliath head-to-head streaming media device smackdown. In one corner, Apple, the single greatest human accomplishment in the history of the universe; the company that proves Intelligent Design is exists. And in the other corner, Roku, which means “six” in Japanese.


OK, this isn’t really fair because this is where Apple has always excelled. When I first got my Roku, I thought it was a pretty slick device. Black plastic, pleasing angles and the size of a turkey club sandwich (hold the mayo). Then I unwrapped the AppleTV and…. My God you’re beautiful! So small, so sleek…

I looked at my Roku, what is that hideous oversized slab of a streaming device currently attached to my TV?

Point: Apple


I won’t even go there. Apple’s is amazing… Roku’s has always sucked.

Point: Apple


So this is where it gets interesting. The gateway drug for both of these is Netflix and Pandora, which are both awesome services and the reasons why the sun still shines in my world. But what’s there beyond that?

With Roku, yes there is MLB if you like baseball (I don’t) and HuluPlus if you’re able to figure out why you would want it (I can’t). Where Roku really shines is access to all the weirdo webTV shows on Koldcast, Blip.TV, Revision3 and so on. You have to really like web-only TV and fortunately, I do. The wife doesn’t so I end up watching a lot of it by myself. You can also watch Al Jazeera streaming live on Roku in the event you need more proof as to how f-ed up the world is.

With Apple TV, your channel flipping will lead you to YouTube or to all the various audio and video podcasts on iTunes. That may sound lame, but it really isn’t. There is a ton of great stuff there and most of it is pretty bite-sized. So in 3-5 minute increments you can flip from news to comedy to movie trailers… unless you land on the “This American Life” podcast, in which case you’re stuck on the couch listening to your TV for an hour.

Winner of this round? I’m going to give it to Roku. I love all the cheese that webTV has to offer. My big complaint is again the UX… it is hard to find content and then to remember which channel it is on if you want to go back to it.

So here’s the knock-out blow… this goes to Roku. Yes, it is close, but Roku wins it. I found a better picture and fewer artifacts when streaming from Roku. Also, surprisingly, AppleTV hung up and crashed more than the Roku did. Not by a long shot, mind you, but enough to notice.

Final Verdict

If you like design, UX and more mainstream content, you’ll love AppleTV.

But this is my smackdown and I’m giving the prize to Roku. They’ve got the edge in reliability and I love the goofy webTV access… but that is just me.

  1. Michael permalink

    This was very well-thought-out & well-written, and it answers a number of questions. Yes, I like my Apple “toys,” but understanding the difference in “style” of content available on each gives me much more to think about.

    I have two friends with Apple TV and two with Rokus. Maybe now I can ask my friends some intelligent questions.


  2. Thanks for stopping by, Michael. Glad you found this useful.

  3. I enjoyed this writeup too. Thanks for posting!

  4. very thorough and conscientious. I would ask this guy for other toutings.

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