Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

What is Roku?

The Roku Streaming Stick 4K next to its remote

Over the past 10 years or so, our TVs have become more and more like oversized smartphones. And, even those that don’t have a smart TV or use their TV’s smart functionality often use an external device to access streaming services and other apps. One of the biggest makers of both those smart TV platforms, and the devices that power them, is Roku.

The Roku operating system has hundreds of millions of users, and in fact, is one of the most popular smart platforms out there. Here’s everything you need to know about the company.

What is Roku?

Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ Interface
Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ Interface Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

Roku is a digital streaming company that makes both the Roku operating system, and devices that can power that operating system.

But you don’t necessarily have to buy a Roku device to use the Roku operating system. One of the ways that Roku has managed to amass such a large customer base is through partnerships with third-party companies. That means that you could buy a TV from TCL, Hisense, Sharp, or JVC, and get the Roku operating system built right into it.

Of course, part of how Roku gets customers is through selling low-cost streaming devices. Roku’s streaming players start at around $25 for the entry-level Roku Express, and range up to $180 for the Roku Streambar Pro, which doubles as a soundbar. Roku also sells some accessories for its devices, like the Roku Wireless Speakers, which can connect to Roku streaming devices to improve their sound quality.

Roku OS

The main way that Roku makes money is through advertising on the Roku operating system. The Roku operating system is relatively easy to navigate, and is organized in a grid of tiles for different streaming services. The system supports most major operating systems — including the likes of Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and more.

Roku also supports and number of smart features. You can integrate Roku with Google Assistant and Alexa, meaning that you can use your voice to control certain aspects of it. And, you can set it up with Apple’s HomeKit — which lets you control your TV straight from your phone and use Siri. That’s not to mention the Google Cast and Apple AirPlay 2 support. It’s really pretty versatile when it comes to smart home compatibility.

In a recent announcement, Roku is bringing 25 free new channels to the service, available on all of the streaming devices mentioned right here.

Roku streaming devices

Roku Streaming Stick 4K+
Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

So how can you use the Roku operating system? Well, if you don’t have a TV with Roku built into it, you can use it through one of Roku’s streaming devices. Roku offers a number of streaming devices. Here are some of their best ones.

Roku Express

The Roku Express is Roku’s entry-level streaming device. The device comes in at $24.99, and is a little weak on features — though it’s great for those who just want to access the Roku operating system without the bells and whistles. This device only has a 1,080p resolution, but it still works fine if you can deal with the low resolution.

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

The Streaming Stick 4K really steps things up in terms of quality. As the name suggests, it supports a 4K resolution, plus it supports HDR for a more realistic image quality. The Streaming Stick 4K also supports Rokus voice remote. It comes at $49.99.

Roku Ultra

The Roku Ultra is Roku’s highest-end basic streaming device, offering a 4K resolution, HDR, and Dolby Vision. The device also comes with a voice remote with personal shortcuts, and more. Of course, it’s also a little more expensive than Roku’s other streaming devices, coming at $99.99.

Roku Streambar

Showing the size of the Roku Streambar
The Roku Streambar Image source: Roku/Amazon

The Roku Streambar is a little more than just a streaming box. It’s a whole soundbar, with a streaming device built right into it. It supports all the same standards as the Roku Ultra, plus it has decent speakers built into it, allowing you to get better audio than you would get with your TV’s built-in speakers.

Is there a monthly fee for Roku?

No! Actually using the Roku operating system is completely free, at least when it comes to finances. Of course, Roku still makes money, but not by charging customers a monthly fee. That said, many of the apps you want to use on Roku will charge a monthly fee. For example, you can use the Roku operating system for free, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to watch content from Amazon Prime on Roku.

Is Netflix free on Roku?

No. Like most subscription services, it’s free to download the Netflix app — but you’ll have to log in to your account after you download the app. Active Netflix accounts cost money. As of the time of this writing, a Basic Netflix subscription starts at $9.99, and subscriptions range up to $19.99 for a Premium subscription.

How does Roku make money?

There are a few ways that Roku makes money. For starters, the company makes some money on selling hardware, like the Roku Streaming Stick, though it generally sells those products at a pretty low price in an attempt to gain new customers. The second way that the company makes money is through licensing the Roku operating system to TV manufacturers, like TCL. Potentially the largest way in which Roku makes money is through advertising. Roku sells your data to advertisers, allowing them to target you with ads for content that you might want to watch. It’s how Roku managers to sell devices for cheap and not charge a fee for the Roku operating system — but it’s also something to be aware of.

Why is Roku charging me every month?

If you’re being charged monthly by Roku, it probably means that you have subscribed to a premium service of some kind. It’s hard to determine what this service actually is, but there is a way to see your Roku-billed subscriptions on your Roku. To do so, head to my.roku.com, log in, then hit the “Manage your subscriptions” button to see if you have any active subscriptions.

Can you get ABC, NBC, and CBS on Roku?

Yes! There are actually lots of ways to get live TV on Roku. The first way is through the Roku Channel app, which offers access to certain live channels like NBC News Now and ABC News Live. Alternatively, if you have a TV with Roku built-in, you can just plug a compatible antenna into your TV to get local network TV. Or, you can pay for a live TV service like YouTube TV, Sling TV, or Hulu + Live TV. For more information on how to watch live TV on Roku, check out our full guide.

Christian de Looper was born in Canberra, Australia, where he lived until the age of 14. After his father got a job in Paris, France, Christian lived there for five years, after which he moved to Minnesota for college. During college, Christian developed a passion for consumer technology by writing for tech blogs. Christian now lives in sunny Santa Cruz, California.