Roku 3 vs Apple TV (3rd Gen): Best streaming TV box really depends on your needs

The Roku 3 and the 3rd generation Apple TV both have their fair share of fans. But in a world of buffets, openness and simplicity, the Roku 3 I would guess, has many more.

View attachment 2347 Both the Apple TV and Roku 3 have a small footprint (scratch that, a tiny footprint), although the Apple set-top-box has a slightly larger one. Whether that matters to you is a personal choice. However, when looking at the content selection, and not just the amount but the type, the Roku sets itself apart from the Apple TV by far as many I'm sure would have to agree.

Roku 3 at Amazon for $99
Apple TV at Amazon for $96

If an inidivudal is already married to iOS devices, Mac products, AirPlay, and iTunes and is OK with the proprietary world that they belong to, many of the limitations of the Apple box are non-existant. And "jail breaking" can certaonly open things up even more.

To explain further let's talk about the content sources for each box.

Apple TV keeps you in the Mac world while the Roku 3 lets you roam free

View attachment 2348 As far as the ports go on each box the Roku offers more ways to connect to more devices. Local content is a thumb drive or external hard drive away, a feature largely lacking on the Apple box. The Apple box has USB connectivity but it is meant for maintenance tasks and not content storage.

Have content on the local network? No problem with the Roku, but with the Apple TV, as long as you're rolling with AirPlay and the content is on a connected system part of the iTunes library, then, and only then (jailbreaking aside), you are in business.

In addition, the Roku boasts a micro SD slot for even more options to display local media including photos, music, etc.

View attachment 2349 While both boxes have top channels including Netflix, YouTube (although not natively for the Roku), Hulu and some sports channels, the Roku 3 has a wide range of channels not found on Apple TV's set-top. Why is that? It mostly has to do with the openness of the platform to 3rd party developers, something that Apple may work towards in the future but so far it is a largely closed system.

The Roku has a giant selection of both free and paid content. It even has local TV options, and options for watching episodes of TV shows the day after they air. It's a cable cutter's dream.

While both interface's are attractive, the Roku has better advanced customization and less work needs to be done to reach the desired content. Most areas of the Roku's UI have improved since the previous version, but some of the deeper layers are still using the older, less intuitive style.

The "must have" Amazon Instant Video, and HBO Go are key channels that are present on the Roku but not it's Apple competitor. It has plenty of kid's content with the Disney channel, Spotify and Pandora for music discovery, as well as social apps for connectivity to Facebook and Flickr accounts.

In terms of remotely controlling the viewing experience from a smartphone, both devices have decent apps that do the job, and as many agree, there is no clear winner there.

Play games on the Roku 3 but not the Apple TV

View attachment 2350 Games like Angry Birds and many others are available on the Roku box. So it's not just TV shows and movie content, you are given options for other types of apps as well.

In fact, even the remote control for the Roku doubles as a gamepad, similar to what is used on the Nintendo Wii. Many people like the light weight and simplicity of the Apple TV remote, while others like the fact that their Roku can easily expand to a gaming platform.

On the downside for the Roku though, many have reported the Roku as "a gaming device for non-gamers," indicating that it's just for someone that's not too into it. This has a lot to do with issues with remote-to-TV responsiveness that some people are experiencing. Perhaps the Ouya or GamePop would be more appropriate for those interested in mobile gaming.

Now, continuing on the topic of the remote control that comes with the Roku, one key feature that stands out is the headphone jack that instantly mutes the TV when in use. To understand what that means, consider the experience on an airplane where many people can watch different shows even though they are seated right near eachother. And some don't need to watch TV at all and no one is disturbed by the other's TV watching.

In essence, private TV watching is an option for Roku users, which is a stand-out feature and one many consider the best.

Search anything and everything on the Roku

The search feature on the Roku is like no other. You aren't searching individual channels, you are searching everything. You run a query and the results page will very quickly spit out all of the sources of the content that matches the query.

You can learn what the cost is, if any, to consume that content. And if the content belongs to a paid subscription service such as Netflix that you have an account with, that content will be highlighted. Why display the pay option on Amazon, when you already subscribe to Netflix?

This basic, yet powerful search functionality is not part of most set-top-boxes, it's not just the Apple TV device that lacks it.

Both streaming boxes cost the same, but Roku 3 wins with more overall value and content

Both the Apple TV and the Roku 3 can be purchased for less than $100 before taxes. The Roku is about $0.99 more if we're getting technical.

Apple lovers and those that have mass video content collections tied to iTunes might see the Apple TV box as having more value, but the clear winner, especially when starting from scratch, I feel is the Roku 3. Many reviews found online tend to agree with that.


Totally agree with your assessment! Own both an AppleTV and a Roku and if I could only keep one the Roku would win hands down. The fact that there are hundreds and hundreds of free public and hidden private Roku channels available makes Roku the clear winner in our household. Everyone is fighting for the Roku, while the Apple TV sits and collects dust. What makes the difference are Roku Private channels. These are channels by private developers that have interesting and great video content.

If you have not checked out the Roku 3 yet, it's really awesome! Much faster than the older models and luv the new graphics. The last generation Rokus are getting their graphics updated as well.


I have 2 Apple TVs, an original Roku, an Apple IMAC, MacBook pro, 2 Ipads, and 3 Iphones. Even though being all Apple does allow me to maximize use of the Apple TV, it's still Roku hands done. Why? A lot more free content. Amazon Prime free movies are important to me. Apple TV has good podcasts and a better radio station setup, but overall ROKU is by far the better value. I like being able to skip to any inning in my MLB package, on the Roku. Can't do that on apple.


I just got an apple TV, and you basically have to have another apple product like computer or tablet to use it.

You can't upload stuff from the web to it.

Would I ever buy apple again? NO WAY!

It is a now a $200+ brick on my tv stand!

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