Roku provides a range of streaming devices that enable people to stream their favorite movies, music and TV shows and play games on their TV. Connecting a Roku streaming device to a TV enables people to cut the cord on cable with access to thousands of apps, including popular services like Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBO, Hulu, Netflix and Spotify.
This guide will answer the question “how does Roku work” with an overview of the various Roku streaming devices available and how users can get them set up. If you’d like to learn more about the different Roku devices, read our Roku review.
Types of Roku streaming devices
Selecting a streaming device depends on a range of factors, from the user’s preferred size and style of device to the price they want to pay and the sound and viewing quality they are looking for.
The style or type of device that a user selects for streaming content is an important consideration. For example, streaming sticks plug directly into a TV, set-top boxes can be taped onto the bottom of a TV or sit on the TV stand, while media hubs tend to be bigger and require more storage space. Furthermore, Roku’s streaming boxes and sticks are designed for watching content at home rather than on-the-go with a mobile phone or tablet.
Price is also an important factor, as the difference between an entry streaming box and a high-end media hub can be vast. The cost of any device is defined by its capabilities and features, so streamers need to consider what they want to use it for before selecting one.
A key factor that affects the price of a device is streaming quality. All Roku devices enable customers to watch their favorite content in at least high-definition (HD) quality, but for a little extra, they can up that to 4K. However, streamers should not buy a 4K capable streaming device if they do not have a TV that supports the resolution.
Roku offers everything from streaming media hubs, set-top boxes and sticks to smart TVs. Here are all the Roku devices available:
Roku Express (from $29.99)
A budget streaming set-top box that comes with a high-speed HDMI cable for users to connect it to the TV and a USB cable that handles power. It is restricted to 1080p high-definition video quality.
Roku Express+ (from $39.99)
This device features the same capabilities as Roku Express but can also be plugged into an electrical socket. It is also compatible with voice-enabled devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and provides legacy standard-definition (SD) video support.
Roku Premiere ($39.99)
Also a set-top box, Roku Premiere is the company’s budget 4K video-enabled device. It supports high-dynamic-range (HDR) and 4K resolution and includes a premium high-speed HDMI cable to boost video quality.
Roku Premiere+ (from $49.99)
Premiere+ comes with the same features as Roku Premiere but also features a voice-powered remote, which enables users to play movies and TV shows without having to move a muscle.
Roku Smart Soundbar (from $179.99)
This media hub also packs media streaming capabilities that enable users to play 4K movies and their favorite music. There are no buttons on the soundbar, so it is fully managed by a voice-supported remote control and comes with Bluetooth and Spotify Connect capabilities.
Roku Streaming Stick (from $49.99)
Roku Streaming Stick is plugged directly into a user’s TV and can be powered either by plugging it into an electrical socket or through a USB cable. The device supports video quality of up to 1080p and offers voice capabilities that enable users to control power and volume options. It also features 802.11ac dual-band MIMO wireless connectivity that offers four-times better range than Roku Express and Premiere devices.
Roku Streaming Stick+ ($59.99)
This device comes with the same features as Roku Streaming Stick but is capable of streaming 4K and HDR10 quality video. It also offers enhanced wireless connectivity through an extender placed in the middle of the power cable, which provides a more reliable signal.
Roku Ultra (from $99.99)
This high-end streaming box is designed for streaming content in 4K and offers up Roku’s most powerful video processing. Roku Ultra can be connected to Wi-Fi networks or through an Ethernet port, which is ideal for guaranteeing the speeds required for 4K video streaming. The device also ups Roku’s gaming powers with a remote control that features A and B buttons.
How do I set up my Roku device?
Despite the different sizes and styles of streaming devices available from Roku, the setup and connection process is relatively similar for each. Here is a guide to getting a Roku streaming device set up and connected to a TV to start streaming:
1. Connect the Roku device
Depending on the style of the device, power will be provided by either plugging it into an electrical socket using an AC adapter or via a micro-USB connector.
The Roku streaming device then needs to be connected to an unused HDMI input in the user’s TV or monitor via an HDMI cable. Roku Streaming Stick users can simply plug the device straight into the TV or monitor’s HDMI input.
After turning on the TV, the user needs to set the correct input for the Roku device. This should be HDMI1 or HDMI2, dependent on the HDMI port the device has been plugged into. The Roku welcome page will now show on-screen.
The user then needs to insert batteries into the Roku remote control and follow on-screen instructions. Depending on the device, the remote may need pairing, which can be achieved by holding down the reset button on the remote for a few seconds.
With the remote connected, the user can then select their preferred language and move on to connect their device to the internet.
For Roku TV users, no connecting device is required to stream content directly to their TV set.
2. Connect to the Internet
Most Roku devices connect to the user’s Wi-Fi network. In this case, the user needs to use the Roku remote control to choose the “Set up a new wireless connection” option, then select their Wi-Fi network from the available list and enter their password.
After connecting to the internet, the Roku device will most likely need to install some updates, so allow it to load and restart as required. It may then also ask the user to detect their TV display, so use the remote to start the test.
When all these checks are completed, the Roku device will direct the user to open a web browser on their computer or phone. On the Roku website, select the “Activate a Device” code and enter the code that is displayed on the TV screen.
Roku Ultra enables users to connect via Ethernet, which is typically faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi networks. In this case, simply plug an Ethernet cable into the device and the connection should be up and running, allowing the user to follow the on-screen setup process.
Internet speeds differ depending on the quality of the user’s internet connection, the number of devices connecting into a network and the amount of download activity. Roku devices typically perform well on most broadband services, but users looking to stream 4K content will likely need internet speeds of at least 25 Mbps.
3. Create a Roku account and activate
Users that have a Roku account can now log in using their existing username and password. Those that do not can easily create and activate a new Roku account but must do so in a web browser on their computer or phone.
Upon hitting “Continue,” the user will be taken to a PIN preferences page, which enables them to require a PIN to be entered for purchases and adding channels. There is an option to not require a PIN at all, but when selected, this takes the user back to the account creation page. Roku will then ask the user to create and confirm their new PIN.
With a PIN set, the user needs to set up Roku Pay by entering credit or debit card details or providing PayPal information. They can then go ahead and complete the creation of their new Roku account.
The user then needs to use their new account credentials to sign in on their Roku device. They can then assign the Roku device a nickname and provide information about which room it is in, which is helpful for households with more than one Roku.
The device may then ask the user to select the channels they want to watch and log in to those services to enable them. With that done, the user can hit continue and the Roku device will automatically complete the setup and add the channels requested. This process may take some time, but, when completed, the new Roku device will be ready to go.
Roku provides a range of streaming devices that enable users to stream their favorite movies, music and TV shows in the comfort of their bedroom, kitchen or living room. There are several options available in terms of price and usability, depending on the type of device and viewing quality that users are looking for from their streaming device. But all Roku devices are easy to set up and designed to get users streaming their content as quickly as possible.