What is Roku? How Roku’s streaming devices work

roku remote
Roku devices are a versatile option for streaming.
  • Roku is a brand of digital media streaming devices that offer content from a variety of services and providers through downloadable channels.
  • Roku players connect to your TV or operate as proprietary software within a smart TV using a wired or wireless internet connection.
  • Visit Insider's Tech Reference library for more stories.

The rise of streaming platforms has made accessing your favorite shows and movies almost effortless, allowing many people to ditch their cable subscription to view a vast library of online content through applications.

Roku, which surpassed 100 million users in the US in 2020, has steadily become one of the most popular streaming options for cord cutters.

What is Roku?

Roku is a brand of digital media streaming devices produced by the company Roku Inc. Roku devices connect to your TV or exist as software within a smart TV, and enable you to watch TV shows, news, movies, and other content over the internet through downloadable channels.

Roku's name derives from the Japanese word for "six," since it's the sixth company launched by its founder Anthony Wood. In 2008, the Roku DVP N1000 was the first product the company launched, and Roku has been improving and iterating on its devices since then.

Roku CEO Anthony Wood
Roku founder Anthony Wood with several varieties of Roku devices.

Roku functions through its proprietary operating system and on hardware that comes in several variations. The most recognizable options come in the form of a streaming stick or rounded-square box. Roku also has a line of smart TVs, or Roku TVs, with a built-in operating system. The price range for Roku devices starts with the Roku Express at $29.99 and extends to Roku TV models north of $200.

Some popular options of Roku devices include:

If you want a more immersive experience, Roku offers additional products to heighten the audio quality of your TV. Devices like the Roku Streambar connect directly to your TV and serve as both a streaming device and soundbar. There's also the option of adding a Roku Wireless Subwoofer to add deeper bass or the Roku Wireless Speakers for more immersive sound.

How Roku devices work

The design of Roku products is meant to be simplistic, with a single-connection setup that allows for immediate use. After setup, you're able to download, install, purchase or subscribe to streaming channels and remove them later at your discretion, as we detail in the sections below.

Whether you have a Roku-enabled soundbar or a Roku player, the functionality of Roku devices is similar. All Roku devices require an internet connection for use. This can be through the use of an Ethernet cord or a Wi-Fi connection.

Related Article Module: How to connect your Roku device to a TV and set it up for streaming

Each Roku box contains an HDMI cable, a power adapter, MicroUSB cable, and a Roku remote. You can insert a Roku Streaming Stick directly into your TV's USB port. For other Roku devices, you'll attach the HDMI cable, plug in the power adapter, and utilize the Roku remote to connect to a wireless or wired connection to your home network to complete the setup.

Roku
The Roku Streaming Stick is an inexpensive and portable option.

What you can watch with Roku

After initial setup, Roku gives you the opportunity to install a wide variety of applications for streaming content. Among its thousands of channels, Roku gives you access to live local networks like ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. All major streaming services have apps on Roku, including Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and HBO Max. Alongside video apps like YouTube and Vimeo, Roku allows you to download music streaming platforms like Spotify or Pandora.

Adding channels on Roku is a straightforward process. Access the Home Menu and scroll down until you reach Streaming Channels, then click OK. You'll be taken to the Roku Channel Store where a majority of the apps are free to download. You can manually search through apps using the Roku remote or voice commands. This feature allows you to search without closing the current app you may be watching.

How to connect to Roku with other devices

Roku is also available as an app for smartphone users. Its software allows you to view Roku's programming at home and on the go. Not only can you watch content from your mobile device, but it can also function as a remote for your Roku player. The integration between your Roku hardware and the mobile software gives you the power to launch, add, and remove channels. Since it's connected to your phone, you can also cast photos and videos to your TV or mirror your phone screen.

Roku's latest models support Apple's AirPlay, a feature that is integrated across MacOS, iPadOS, and iOS devices and allows for seamless casting and screen mirroring.

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