Which is better, Apple TV or Roku 3?

“I picked Apple TV mainly because our household is heavily invested in Apple’s ecosystem – my wife and I both have Macs, iPhones and iPads,” Dwight Silverman writes for The Houston Chronicle. “We’ve been pretty happy with the choice, but still, I remained intrigued by the Roku 3.”

“A few months ago, I decided to give one a try. After using it side-by-side with the Apple TV, I have to say that I’m glad I didn’t try it back in June, because it would have made the decision that much more difficult,” Silverman writes. “In many ways, the Roku 3 is superior to the Apple TV. If I’d bought it originally, I wouldn’t have regretted the decision.”

“My previous Roku experience was with the very first model, and I remember its carousel-style interface as being slow and clunky,” Silverman writes. “But with the Roku 3, the software has been overhauled and it’s much easier to use. The home screen has 3 columns – a selections menu on the left, a center well with installed channel icons, and a right column that provides information about your selection. It’s not quite as elegant as that found on the Apple TV, but it’s simple and gets the job done.”

“In terms of sheer number of channels, the Roku 3 kicks the Apple TV to the curb, but quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality,” Silverman writes. “Roku now says there are more than 1,000 channels, but the selection is a great example of Sturgeon’s Law, which says that ’90 percent of everything is crap.’ Of the supposed 1,000+ channels, I’ve only managed to find 30 that I want to keep in the My Channels list. And even then, I probably only watch a handful.”

Much more in the full review here.

59 Comments

  1. Apple TV UI is due for a big update. I hate having to hit the menu button 18 times to get out of 18 layers of choices in order to see the “home screen” (ever use Netflix on your Apple TV?). I need a home screen button, just like the iPhone.

      1. Well you learn something everyday! But will they stop moaning! Probably not. People just want change even when it is not needed.

        Here’s anothergood tip. Press MENU and the bottom of the round main button together and hold for a few seconds……the Apple TV reboots. This was really useful back in the old old days. Now I rarely have to do this. But still a useful trick.

  2. Yeah, I own the Roku, and for me, the deciding factor was third party content. Yes, the reviewer is correct, there’s a lot of garbage that’s available for the Roku, but there’s plenty that’s good stuff that wouldn’t see the light of day on Apple TV because Apple TV is a closed platform. For example:

    -The Mormon Channel
    -BYU TV
    -The Young Turks
    -TED
    -NASA TV
    -Several local news stations (I live in the NYC area and still get WTHR from Indianapolis)

    I think the market can tease out which Roku channels are good and which ones are crap. But Apple TV doesn’t even allow that level of diversity and competition to take place.

    1. NASA would be a selling point there for my wife.

      But as to your point on choice – I fully expect the next iteration of the ATV to go at least near to the full App Store experience we enjoy on our iPhones. We’ll see, and it is time. Right now, you are absolutely correct that the choices are a bit too limited. But I love my ATV.

        1. I think there are plenty of quality channels that could make it on AppleTV. But once you get to that point, you might as well just open the platform up and let the market decide.

      1. Eric,
        There literally is an app for that:

        Mormon channel app for iOS – airplay to Apple TV
        BYU TV app for iOS – airplay to Apple TV
        The Young Turks – also available on YouTube
        TED app for iOS – airplay to Apple TV
        NASA TV app – airplay to Apple TV
        Local News – if they have video on the net – airplay to Apple TV via browser
        PBS and PBS kids apps – airplay to Apple TV

        Just sayin’

  3. I use them both. There is a plethora of crap I’m not interested in on both. I prefer the AppleTV because of AirPlay. I like watching SkyNews on the AppleTV.

    If I were one of these “I gotta use anything else at all because I just hate Apple” types, I’d probably like the ROKU much better, but I’m a happy citizen of the Apple ecosphere and I love that anything I’ve ever purchased on iTunes ever is instantly accessible on my AppleTV.

    Things were very slow for me for the last couple of weeks and all I did was buy movies, binge TV shows (finally saw Game of Thrones… omg… the red wedding), and buy books.

    I love moving from computer, to iPad, then to AppleTV and back if I want. Beats the crap out of ROKU.

  4. Yeah, that ROKU remote control, which looks like it popped straight out of 1973, is pretty impressive. Big, black, boxy, and clunky. The feel of the buttons is a little more modern — say, circa 1982.

    As for the interface, it’s lame. You don’t really want to compare other people’s interfaces to those of Apple. Seriously.

    The included Netflix app doesn’t include subtitles for the movies, nor a number of other features you get with the AppleTV Netflix app.

    And if you PAUSE on Netflix on the ROKU, the picture size inexplicably shrinks by about 50%. So if you wanted to examine something up close with a still picture, you can’t.

    If you want a better Netflix app, you have to pay four bucks to ROKU for it. Lame.

    But hey, ROKU does have the Glen Beck channel, and who doesn’t want that?

    1. *said with a suave Latin accent*

      “I don’t often watch Glenn Beck. But when I do, I prefer to watch him on The Young Turks.

      “Stay thirsty, my friends!”

    2. On the contrary, I would say the Roku interface is very Apple-like (in a good way; not the iOS 7 way). It is elegant and intuitive. I think these guys took notes from Apple.

  5. I recently finished my basement into a small media/computer room. When I moved the tv down, my Apple TV got hooked up immediately. The Roku is still upstairs connected to nothing. Just don’t feel the need for it right now.

  6. I would like my AppleTV better if it had the ability to play video files from my server, in any format they might be in. The best it can do now is to play mp4 video from my big mac’s iTunes library, which is great, but the vast majority of my media collection is in .avi .wmv .flv .mkv and Apple’s own .mov (why can’t AppleTV play .mov?).

    But the Roku cannot do the job either, so it’s got to be a dedicated Mac mini as the media server.

    1. The Roku can do that. Install Plex Media Server on your mac and download the Plex client app on the Roku and you are good to go.
      It is the best combination for playing any video type on my TV.

      1. I am aware of several streaming media applications available for the Roku, but they require using a Mac as the decoder/streaming video supplier. I’m waiting for a single device to be able to directly decode the files on my Snyology server without any other CPU but it’s own. I previously had a PS3 connected to my big Mac with a media-streaming app, but then the PS3 died.

        I hope that the next AppletTV with an A7 chip will have the power to do what I want.

    2. montex, .mov is a container (like mp4 (mov actually formed the basis for mp4 but I digress ;-)))
      At any rate mov is a container in which there can be many different types of audio & video file types & codecs (COmpression/DECompression schemes)
      Your .mov files likely contain a file (or compression) type that the Apple TV software can not decode (and there are codec’s that apple no longer has the rights to produce (like sorenson)
      This is similar to the reason that Mavericks won’t play some .mov files that lion would (codec licensing)

      Your best bet would be to DL a copy of Handbrake (free at handbrake.fr) and use it to re-encode all or your noncompliant .mov files over to mpg4/h.264 format (.mp4 container file with h.264 media format) which is not only compliant with the software in the Apple TV but also can be played on the iPad or iPhone using hardware decompression (very battery efficient)

    3. I use Air Video Server on the iMac and Air Video Watch on my iPad to stream these files via Airplay and Apple TV. I also use CineXPlayer HD which works in a different way.

  7. Roku is LEAGUES ahead of Apple TV just for sheer fact of content. If Apple would quit trying to control every bloody piece of content then the Apple TV would be amazing but alas it is not in Apples DNA to be this open with partners and developers. I regularly use several channels on the Roku which just aren’t available on ATV including a channel that connects to the media server I have running on my network (Plex) and let’s me browse and watch my own content. ATV should be this feature rich but it’s not… all it has is air play which isn’t the best solution for many things. There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to control. Up until that point, the more control the better quality and options. Once you hit that point and exceed it however, the more control the worse the quality and options… Apple always runs full steam ahead through the point of diminishing returns and then some.

    1. I just don’t understand why Apple can’t open a “channel store” on Apple TV and let everyone in who wants to develop for it. They do it for iOS and the Mac, why not the Apple TV?

      ——RM

      1. A “channel store” would put apple in the role of subscription TV provider — essentially a cable company. Broadcasters are going to want the same deal they have with existing cable companies — bundled packages of channels, etc. Effectively, this would make Apple just another provider. Not sure they want to be in that business.

        To bother getting into the business, I think they’re going to want to be able to claim they revolutionized the market a la iTunes Music Store. Direct, a la carte channel subscriptions, operating at a loss for a while, with the bulk of revenues going to the broadcasters.

        Even then, without the bundling model, I don’t believe the broadcasters will see enough profit to sign up. Why mess with a good thing?

        1. No, I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean “channels” in the broadcast sense, I meant “content apps”. For example, when Major League Soccer wanted to get onto the Apple TV, it was a big hassle for all involved as they had to negotiate with Apple to get that spot on the home screen. By contrast, when MLS wanted to get on the iPhone and iPad, all they had to do was submit their app to the App Store and wait for approval.

          Why can’t Apple TV apps be handled the same way as iOS, is what I’m asking. Content providers shouldn’t have to wait for Apple to push out an update to the home screen — they should just have an App Store like iOS and the Mac.

          ——RM

    2. +1000! Apple gives you what *they* want to give you; not what *you* want. Same reason they wouldn’t give you Blu-ray. They want to lock you into their cloud and sell you their content.

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