When many people talk about streaming devices, they refer to “Roku boxes.” While Roku does make streaming boxes and support a streaming OS, what most people mean when they say Roku box is “an Android TV box,” the most popular streaming device for smartifying your TV.
While Roku boxes and Android TV boxes do more or less the same thing, they do it in different ways and deliver a different overall experience. Today we are going to look at the difference between Roku and Android TV boxes to help you decide which one is for you.
Spoiler Alert! This shouldn’t be a surprise since the name is in the title of the website, but we recommend Android TV boxes for the best streaming experience.
Gone are the days when you had to tune your TV to pick up channels being broadcast over the air or pay for a cable TV box and connection to get access to something decent to watch. Now, everything worth watching is available on the internet, through streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, direct download, and P2P transfers.
While this is easy to do on a computer, older TVs aren’t designed to do that so streaming devices were invented to connect your TV to the internet and bring some of the functionality you get on your computer, simplified to use with a remote control.
These boxes are slowly becoming obsolete as Smart TVs with this functionality built-in are now the norm, but people still using “dumb” TVs can “smartify” them with a TV box.
Each big-name TV brand, such as Sony, Samsung, and LG, has its own operating system. They can be quite restrictive as they try to control the experience and push you toward their own products, so some people will still choose to bypass their smart TV OS and use a streaming device to allow them to do more, such as install Kodi, torrent content, and play games on their big screens.
Android and Roku both provide smart TV OS. While you can buy smart TVs that already run these OS, you can also purchase external hardware to connect to your TV that will allow you to use these.
It is worth noting here that unless you buy an IPTV box, when you are buying a streaming device you are buying a one-off piece of hardware and you need to install apps to access any content. Some apps offer free content, but the most popular streaming apps are subscription services that you will need to pay for separately.
The Android TV OS is made by the same people who make the Android OS for your smartphone, Google. The OS that runs on your TV is very similar to the one that runs on your smartphone, but tweaked, optimized, and restricted to work on a landscape TV with a limited remote rather than a portrait touchscreen.
When using Android TV you generally download apps from the Google Play Store, just like on your smartphone. This is the largest app store, and it is significantly larger than the Apple iOS app store because Google is less restrictive when it comes to who can create apps and the hoops that you have to jump through to get them released.
Android smartphones and TV boxes, while they have restrictions to ensure that novices don’t break them, are designed to be quite hackable so if you want to go “off-store” and download and install apps from other sources, you can.
Android OS is generally considered one of the most flexible and customizable platforms when it comes to smart TVs.
The other thing to note about Android is that they make their operating system available to hardware manufacturers, unlike, for example, iOS, which is only available on devices developed by the company. This means that you get a greater range of devices that run Android OS.
Because of this, you will be more likely to find an affordable streaming device running Android, or a top-end device with sophisticated extra features for IPTV or gaming.
It is worth noting that Amazon Fire TV, available on the Firestick and the Fire Cube, two of the most popular streaming devices, runs Fire TV OS, which is unique to these Amazon products but built on top of the Android OS.
Roku is also an OS that was developed in collaboration with Netflix in 2008. It was one of the first on the market and became a byword for the streaming devices that you can hook up to your TV to get Netflix and other services directly on your big screen.
Like Netflix, Roku is designed to give you an excellent user experience, which means that there are restrictions. Applications need to be downloaded from the Roku Channel Store, which is much more restricted than the Google Play Store. We are talking 30,000 apps for Roku vs around 4.5 million for Android.
Also, unlike Android TV which is relatively easy to “jailbreak,” Roku is almost impossible to use in this way. There is no option to install Kodi (since it is not available in the Channel Store) or sideload other apps that aren’t available for Roku.
Roku has also licensed their OS for some smart TVs, but the majority of Roku devices that you find are made by Roku. This means that you get a lot less selection when it comes to the hardware that you want.
You will often hear that Roku is America’s number one TV streaming platform with access to 500,000+ movies and TV episodes, but this is a separate streaming service and while there is some free content, premium content comes with a price tag, Android offers a very similar service.
Which Should You Get? Android vs Roku
In theory, if you want something that is plug-and-play and offers a seamless user experience, then the Roku box is designed for you. If you want something that you can customize and do more with, even if it is a bit fiddly, then you should be an Android client.
While I agree with this assessment of Android, even if you fall into the first category I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Roku box is the best option for you. Amazon Fire TV is designed for the same purpose. The Amazon Appstore has significantly more options, with almost 500,000 apps available, and you can also jailbreak a Fire TV device if you do want to do something else, such as install Kodi or torrent content.
For all these reasons, our verdict is really Android, then Fire TV, and then Roku.
Best Roku Devices
If we have convinced you that something running Android TV is the best device, you are in the right place. Most of this website is dedicated to finding and testing the best Android TV boxes and showing you exactly how to use them. You might want to start your search with our recommendations for the best Android TV boxes.
If you decide to opt for Roku, these are your best options.
This affordable box is available for about $30 and lets you stream anything available on Roku in full 4K, which includes Netflix. It is worth noting that only selected Android devices will get you Netflix in 4K – read more here.
The smart remote that comes with the box has sophisticated voice control and can be used to control both your TV and your box.
If you want something a bit more powerful, and a bit more expensive, you can upgrade to the Ultra. You get better sound and picture quality with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound, plus there is a headphone jack on the remote if you want to watch while the rest of the house is sleeping.
The other main difference with this box is that it has an ethernet connection so you can maximize your speed and not lose anything over Wi-Fi.
What OS does Roku TV use?
Roku TV devices run the proprietary Roku Operating System, which is currently in version 8. This is a Linux-based OS that is maintained by the manufacturer, but the code is available on the developer site to encourage others to make Roku-compatible software.
Can you change the operating system on your smart TV?
No, you can’t change the fundamental operating system of a smart TV. However, if you prefer to use a different system, such as Android or Fire TV, you can use an Android TV box or a Firestick with a smart TV, though it will duplicate many of the functions.
How do I find hidden channels on Roku?
Roku has some channels that are hidden and not immediately made available to all users. These are usually channels that are being beta tested. To access these channels, go to my.roku.com on your phone or computer and sign into your Roku account. Choose to Manage Account and then add a channel with code. Enter your channel access code and hit the Add Channel button. A warning message will appear, but just hit “OK” and “yes.” Then when you fire up your Roku box, go to Setting, System, System Update, and Check Now to sync up your new channels. Some interesting channels to add include The Space Opera Channel (soctv), Nowhere TV (NMJS5), RokuMovies (zb34ac), Silent Movies (RLQXKG), and Pro Guitar Lessons (ProGuitar).
Why is Roku charging me monthly?
While Roku delivers a range of free content, many of its premium channels require a paid subscription, and you or someone with access to your Roku box may sign up for a channel without realizing it. A small charge might start appearing on your credit card bill monthly. You can manage subscriptions on the Roku website or on your device. On your device, choose the channel and press the asterisk button to get to the Manage Subscription option. There you will have the choice to cancel. If you want to see all of your active subscriptions, use the Roku website and access them under My Account.
Android and Roku are both streaming devices that you can use to smartify your TV and gain access to online content on your big screen.
If you want something suave and sophisticated that works much like your old cable TV box, the Roku setup might be for you, though it is also worth considering Fire TV.
If you want something that you can personalize and do a bit more with, such as run Kodi or download torrents, then you will probably find what you are looking for in an Android TV box.
What is your favorite platform for TV streaming? Share your thoughts with the community in the comments section below.